Homecoming

By tearsofphoenix

Standard disclaimer applies – it's all JKR's

This is the third part of my last trilogy, as the events from the alternative universe I imagined asked me to tell a little more of them.

It is set a few months after the end of my previous story, Forever.

Many thanks to Whitehound, who edited with her unique, wonderful care, and to my kind and patient previewer Lady Memory. Without their precious and friendly help this story couldn't be here.

I'm even more grateful for the exchanges I had with Whitehound about canon, locations and other subjects, especially Scotland's traditions and festivities; her advice made it possible for me to make this story believable.

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"In here, Severus!" she greeted him, her cheerful voice coming from a room not so far from the point in at which a loud crack had announced his arrival.

It was New Year's Eve, and he had Apparated to her flat ahead of time, unable to wait another minute.

After having spent Hogmanay in her company, heartily enjoying for the first time in his life a moment that in previous years had just been lonely and quite miserable, Severus Snape had found himself taking part in a further tradition: his first New Year resolutions.

Their parting, several hours after midnight, had in fact seemed such a waste that only his long-practised self-control had made him able to let her go.

Then, unable to sleep for a long time despite the late hour, and sensing the familiar feelings of desertion threatening to depress him with sudden loneliness, he had felt an urgent, compelling need for further changes in his life.

He was longing to confide everything to her now, while they were just the two of them, and before going out to celebrate the second night's festivities in the middle of a crowd where they would surely lack the necessary quiet and intimacy.

His determination and a renewed confidence had led him up to that moment but, before joining Hermione in her bedroom, he paused, wondering if his more than timely arrival had actually been a good idea.

He was accustomed to her candour and to her spontaneous behaviour by now. And he had shared many spaces of the house with her, no longer just the living room where their love had been declared.

But each time she received him in her most private space, he felt quite overwhelmed, and it was very difficult to keep the unspoken resolution to go on without rushing things, given her young age and the still-short length of their relationship.

Luckily, she being the over-achiever that she was, there was only a little time left before she would graduate from University and gain her independence, and everything would probably progress more easily, afterwards.

Well, their future accommodation was exactly the thing that he had started to plan and that he wanted to discuss with her, so he finally entered her room.

She hadn't dressed for their outing yet, and she was brushing her riotous curls in front of the mirror, but she looked lovely in spite of her still sleepy air, or perhaps exactly because of that.

"You're early," she said softly. "Not that I mind".

He took away the hairbrush from her hand and gently turned Hermione in front of him.

After nearly five months, and though only a few hours had passed since their last meeting, they still got lost in each other whenever their eyes met.

"If you spoil my hair, I'll have to start again, and we'll be late despite your eagerness to reach the feast," she teased him after a while, slowly disentangling herself from his arms.

He rolled his eyes and acknowledged her joke with a smirk: it hadn't been easy at all for the young woman to convince him that it was about time - for him - to have a social life again, and - for them - to meet other people together.

She couldn't count the times she had given up hope of getting him to accompany her to other gatherings, but he knew all those missed occasions all too well, and could easily have listed them: from the feast of Lammas (too soon after their first mutual revelation), to her birthday (too many insufferable friends of hers there), to Halloween (too many painful memories of his here), and so many other times…

But on Christmas Eve, when she had told him with a dreamy voice how much she would have liked to attend a traditional feast during the holidays, well, that had been her best pleading of her case, since he couldn't deny anything to those eyes, brightened in front of him.

So, he had gruffly agreed and, in the end, rather than the feasts held in Ireland, where they both were currently living, the Yule celebrations in Hogsmeade had seemed as good a moment as any to take the bull by the horns.

Since Potter's conference about his survival in fact, Snape had graced only a very small number of people with his presence, and every time just out of necessity…

Firstly, he had honoured Hogwarts with a very short and unannounced visit, as he wanted to retrieve some needed devices that had been left there, neglected, since the night of his flight. On that occasion, with great effort, he had managed to keep an impassive face in front of the awkward apologies presented by his former colleagues, whose hints at further meetings had been dismissed with all the grace that nearly a lifetime of subtleties had taught him…

An even shorter visit to Gringotts had followed, to check his savings – a visit that had entailed a little walk through Diagon Alley during which he had endured some curious stares and giggles by witches or wizards. On that occasion he had wondered, uneasily, whether he should feel relieved that they didn't approach him, and weirdly grateful for the effects of Potter's speech on the masses, or annoyed by the fact that distance and comments behind his back were still the usual way the majority chose to relate to him.

Last but not least, he had endured a further meeting with the boy himself one evening. Potter had been visiting Hermione in her flat when Snape had arrived, Apparating in the middle of the living room with the confident look of somebody back at home again. Incredibly, after an awkward moment, Potter had been able to behave, showing just a slight amusement before leaving them alone.

Now, in front of him, Hermione was radiating joy: her confidence was contagious… nevertheless, he perceived in her words not only their literal meaning, but also a sort of warning about his present desires.

"Finish what you have to do to be ready, then," he sighed resignedly. "I'll wait".

And he went back into the living room, making himself at ease.

Some copies of the Daily Prophet lay on the small table near the couch, and nonchalantly he picked up one of them, just to keep himself busy while waiting.

His composure altered abruptly, though, when he noticed a headline that spoke of impending dangers and continued by giving a list of warnings. He started to read quickly, frowning in disbelief, and suddenly he found himself lost in something very far in time, something that was distant ages from his current condition.

He still was frightened, reliving those events, and unable to feel compassion towards that kind of creature. But he couldn't feel differently, not after what he had experienced and endured in his youth. And, in a moment, more memories, much more recent, of his second such brush with death began to trouble his mind: but, before he could be completely engulfed by the rage and misery that those dreadful events elicited, Hermione's voice brought him back to the present.

"Are you ready, Severus?" she asked, and her words made him aware of having almost lost track of time.

He shuddered, avoiding her eyes; surely she was sensing the change in his mood and in fact, she was looking at him in concern. Rather than offer an answer, Snape tried to regain his calm and, after a few moments, turned to her with a question.

"Do we really want to go? It's snowing now in Scotland, and it is so far from here…"

She sat next to him and put a hand on his arm.

He knew he was sounding pathetic, his own last words echoing in his mind like a child's whine… Her glance fell on the newspaper, which lay on his outstretched legs, and she looked at him, disconcerted.

"I Apparated from there several times when I first visited you, you know… so, what's all this about, really?"

She pointed at the article in the Prophet. "That paper would make a fuss over the stupidest things, just to sell more copies. You of all people should know that, Severus, and if it's this rumour that makes you worry…"

Then, seeing his darkened features and no reaction, she tried again.

"Poor souls. They didn't choose such a horrible destiny. And the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creature should do more to ensure they get proper care. I don't even know if it is possible to defend ourselves against werewolves without killing them," she ended with a sigh.

Then insight and memory helped her next attempt.

"You were a DADA teacher, Severus, and I remember in third year that you arrived at the Shrieking Shack that night well-aware that Lupin hadn't taken his Wolsfbane; so, you surely must have known how to…"

"I wasn't myself, that night," he interrupted her, uneasiness in his voice, trying for her sake to suppress the wrath that was threatening to rise in his mind again, after her compassionate words. "If I had been, and if it hadn't been my duty to protect all of you little fools, I'd have stayed as far as possible from that damned place."

She evidently hadn't expected such an answer. But, remembering his last moments in the Shack, she understood his reaction and her face altered in emotion. He noticed that, and his eyes softened, while he forced himself to reject his unpleasant memories and the desire to vent his anger and exasperation.

For a short though incalculable time neither of them spoke, afraid of pronouncing words that could possibly turn against them. Then their closeness seemed to help them overcome the moment.

"Would you really prefer to stay here?" she asked at last, breaking the silence.

He would have liked to stay and tell her all the many things he had wanted to share earlier: how he was going to do something more effective about his job, his home and everything, now that he wasn't anymore in hiding.

But her question hadn't sounded convinced. It didn't seem to imply a real wish to stay just the two of them, again, like they had gorgeously been the previous day. So Snape repressed his feelings, and retorted bitterly.

"Regretful about all those - what did you call them? – possible meetings?" he purred, so that she couldn't work out what his true wishes were.

"Of course not!" she answered, deciding abruptly not to fidget anymore and stop wasting time, also because she didn't want to alarm the people she had informed about their presence at the celebration, with the intention of having friendly support if needed.

"Let's go," she concluded, sighing and picking up her cloak, then trying, as they waited to Disapparate, to find the concentration needed to safely reach their destination.

"Yes," he said. "Let's not delay your feast any further".

Snape got up and went to her side, throwing away the copy of the Daily Prophet with the appalling news of the last casualties of the war: a few youngsters, still missing because not even their corpses had been found. Giving credit to increasing rumours, the article suggested that they could have been bitten and turned into werewolves, but their situation hadn't of course been taken charge of by the authorities yet.

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The little village was full of lights, music and voices: that magical atmosphere enfolded them more and more in its charm as they approached.

In spite of the cold weather, a feeling of warmth was spreading around: snow wasn't falling anymore and a white blanket covered everything in a soft embrace. The oak Yule log had been put in a large area far from the houses. Powerful charms kept the ice at bay, so, before going to watch the log burn, many people seemed to enjoy a walk through the narrow streets, where enchanted candles hung from the trees.

Hermione had never before attended something like this: it was only since the second fall of Voldemort that the ancient winter celebrations had been turned into a communal instead of a private event. Even the Yule ball in fourth year, despite its magnificent facade, couldn't compare with the enchanted atmosphere of a traditional celebration of hope and rebirth that, starting at Midwinter, continued throughout the twelve days of Yule.

She glanced at her dark companion. He wasn't holding her hand - indeed he never did so when they weren't alone - but walked slowly and very close to her, matching her shorter pace. She felt reassured by the sense that whatever had worried him so much earlier now seemed to have disappeared.

Then she looked around, and relaxed even more. Entranced by the music and the excitement around the Bonfire, the other participants didn't seem to have noticed them.

Many were dancing around the great log that was burning and scattering myriads of sparkles in the air: the night looked brightened by thousands of fluttering little stars, shinier than the real ones, and even more vivid than those that decorated the Great Hall's enchanted ceiling, and that the young witch loved so much.

They had arrived in time to attend the torchlight parade: nearly fifty persons, including pipers and drummers, who formed the most fascinating of the processions. The ceremony would be duplicated every night until the end of the festivities, but these masked wizards repeated the ritual with enthralling commitment, as if each time were the first.

After a while, charmed balls of fire began to rise and hang suspended in the sky above them, joining the rhythm of the music and swinging until dissolved. Hermione found herself moving at the same rhythm, and suddenly wished to dance, and possibly with Severus, in the open…

He was motionless, and looked at her with an unreadable expression.

Flushed and almost mesmerized by the music and by her own movements, she was radiating excitement and beauty, and he suddenly felt like melting in the desire to dance with her, forgetting all the people around them. Hesitantly, Snape raised a hand as if wishing to take her waist and hold her. But, before he could even start to move, she ceased the slow swing and, glancing at him as if asking to be followed, she resumed her walking towards the centre of the feast, where the majority of witches and wizards was crowded.

The parade was ending, and people had begun to exchange greetings and wishes, finally relaxing and looking at each other again after such a bewitching ceremony. Among those gathered around the fire, she saw Harry and Ginny. She turned to glance at Severus, who had noticed them as well and had stopped walking. After having received a quick nod of assent from him, she hurried her pace to join them.

His previous enchanted sensations definitely gone, Snape resigned himself to being dragged into conversations and pleasantries, and gave up any hope of being left alone to enjoy the celebrations.

She came back with her friends in a few minutes in fact. After having noticed Potter's irritating gaze – an annoying confirmation that he wasn't surprised to see them there together - Snape acknowledged the presence of the other couple. "It will burn for days before turning into the lucky ashes," the redheaded girl commented, wrapping herself more tightly in her coat. "Perhaps some drinks would go down well now; what do you think?" she then invited.

After a little walk, they arrived at the Three Broomsticks. The inn was quite full of people who were merrily talking and enjoying the feast. Glad to receive all these celebrities, Madame Rosmerta greeted the youngsters and bowed politely to Snape. The four of them found a decent place around a small table. Then, when the beverages arrived, attempts at small talk started.

Snape wasn't really interested in conversation. He was just grateful that the brat knew already everything he needed to know about his survival, so that they didn't need to linger on those topics again. Off-handedly, he looked around and, in doing so, he recognized some others of the wizards who sat drinking on a bench nearby. Even if he wasn't able to give a name to their faces, Snape remembered from his old visits to the bar how they had seemed to be constantly part of the scene there. One of them raised a hand, as if he too was acknowledging Snape's presence, but then he returned to his bottle without further signs of greeting, and seemed to forget about everything but his drink.

Time passed slowly: Snape was paying little attention to the chattering trio, disguising his scarce interest under a neutral look, taking advantage of the long practice gained from Staff Meetings during his teaching years. Unlike Hermione in fact, he wasn't that eager to hear about Hogwarts or The Burrow, even less about the Ministry. But his attitude changed as soon as some words about a different topic caught his attention.

"Have you seen the moon, Hermione?" Ginevra was saying, answering her friend's praises of the wonderful spectacle of light and fire they'd just admired. "It's huge! It was the Old Moon today, but it occurred at midday, exactly as Firenze told us would happen this year: that's why it will be full for two nights running, last night and tonight…"

"It's fascinating," Potter agreed, and watched his fiancée, while memories of kisses under the moonlight made his tone dreamy.

Then, even though each of them had very bad memories of what the full moon could cause, they went on as if Obliviated of everything: Ginny's fear for her brother Bill, Harry and Hermione's dreadful experience during their third year at school, Hermione's terrifying encounter with Greyback… the dazzling atmosphere of the room, full of merry people still enjoying the passing of the old year, seemed to confound their senses too. As far as they knew, the Old Moon – the Moon After Yule - hadn't awakened threatening instincts anywhere near the little village during the previous night, so the general feeling of unawareness was continuing as if nothing could make it cease.

"The moon in this phase is also called the Wolf Moon, isn't it? It could be dangerous!" Hermione added with feeling, suddenly recalling what she had read and discussed with Snape just a few hours earlier.

Perceiving her anxiety, Severus understood that she too was sharing his worries; relieved, he felt that she was on the same wavelength as he was, and that she would always reach for him, whatever might happen.

Of course, Potter had to spread his knowledge around at that point, informing the audience about the new tasks that had been entrusted to the Werewolf Capture Unit lately, because of the recent rumours. "I hope that they know how to help those poor creatures, when they find one," Hermione interrupted him when he added that many members of the special squad were patrolling the most important among the magical places.

"Well, there are Werewolf Support Services, as I'm sure you know," her friend answered. "But they help only those who're registered… and nobody can even guess how many prefer to stay hidden, or where or who they are."

Snape didn't know, of course, the full details about the night on which Fenrir Greyback, leader of the Snatchers who had captured the girl and her friends, had claimed Hermione as his prey: she had been extremely close to a destiny even more horrible than the one which happened to the unfortunate wizards turned into werewolves. Now, hearing all those worries and that display of sympathy focused on those… those beasts, he suddenly remembered how a similar compassion had led Dumbledore to put other students in mortal danger, and not just once. His eyes narrowed.

Silently, Ginny Weasley was looking at the whole interaction in concern: Hermione hadn't noticed, but her companion's expression had darkened while Harry kept talking, unaware of the effects of his words. She hoped to be wrong, but disaster seemed to be impending.

Hagrid's arrival delayed it just a bit. "Harry! Hermione! And Ginny 'f corse!" he exclaimed merrily.

"Prefessor," he then added, inclining his head at Snape. He was towering over their table, and it seemed not only polite but also less overpowering to ask him to join them and sit down for a drink.

"Thanks Harry, but can't stay. Were just 'ere for a pint of summit, to warm meself up 'fore going into the Forest again."

That declaration aroused curiosity among the listeners.

"What's going on, Hagrid?"

"Nuffin' to be concerned about, lads," the half giant answered. "Usual business with some critters there".

"Well," commented Harry, "Seems like everything is going on as usual…"

"Acromantulas aside," he then added grinning. "Perhaps the Forbidden Forest wasn't that dangerous, if Professor Snape sent you there for a detention," he concluded, watching his girlfriend but giving a meaningful intonation to his words, as if wanting to reassure Snape that he had finally understood what had really happened.

Snape raised his eyebrows, but seemed to acknowledge these words with a slight nod, while Hermione beamed at Harry and added, "Well, the Forest isn't exactly a safe place, but no harm ever came to anyone who went there with you, Hagrid".

"Yep," the half-giant answered, blushing under his mane of hair and beard, and prepared to leave. "Enjoy the feast, then… And don't pay attention to those noises 'bout werewolves hiding there… they're just old rumours dating from poor Remus's school years, ye know."

An uncomfortable silence fell on them, after his departure.

Then the door opened again, and a small group of students, who had remained at Hogwarts for the holidays, entered the bar followed by a breath of cold breeze. They looked at their former Headmaster and stiffened in surprise, being too young to conceal their upset at that unexpected sight. It was impossible not to sense the hating looks and hear the contemptuous words that they were whispering while they hastened to get as far away as possible.

"If you'll excuse me…" Snape murmured, and rose from his seat, his face hardening as if he had been physically hit by the group's withdrawal and hostility.

"Stay," he added firmly, stopping Hermione's attempt to follow him. "I just need some air."

Ginny too turned to her friend and put a hand on her arm.

"Don't ask him too much," she muttered as soon as Snape left. "Perhaps coming to a place so near to the school wasn't a good idea, after all…"

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Why was everything always going wrong in his life? Why couldn't he be left alone without being constantly reminded of his worst experiences? Why wasn't he allowed to finally let them go?

That evening had been a mistake from the outset: he shouldn't have changed his original plans for the pleasure of telling her his decisions. His desires and hopes, in fact, had lasted a very little time, being swept away, bit by bit, by the echoes of the past and the uncertainties of the present. Those students' arrival had been the last straw, and now he was feeling unable to stop the flood of his painful memories any longer.

He remembered all the pain suffered in school, and what an awful, horribly long time it had been, made of suspicion, fear, panic and shame for him, which somehow spread like a contagion to everybody else who had crossed his path.

To be always at the receiving end of pranks and insults, and to feel constantly threatened… that was what those years had been, and the memory of it had often made him feel as if he would be young and helpless forever.

This last year - the first year of his second life after the final battle - had proceeded in a different way; his renewed hope had lessened the strength of those dark memories, but now everything was coming back… and the mere fact was enough to ignite the old bitterness in him. So, hearing Hermione's compassionate words, he had suddenly felt the suffocating need to leave or he would have spat out all of it, and to her too, yes, to Hermione, because she too had been there, and because she too had played a part in it.

All his worst memories surrounded him: even those that, at the time, had seemed less harmful now hurt him again, renewing his pain, because, he realized, they had never really ended.

Hermione's love and the way in which she had welcomed him since their first meeting after the war had almost led him to forget a lifetime of rejections. But what had just happened in the bar was definite proof that all the praise of his so called heroism could easily be replaced by the usual distance and contempt, in spite of the revelation of his true loyalties. He had played his part too well. For too many people, he was still "the villain".

The words heard from those students had been a virtual repetition of those listened to so many times, all through his life: murderer, bastard, greasy git, overgrown bat…

"Idiot like that, ugly git, slimeball*…"

Mr. Moony's and friends' compliments, he recalled. "Poor Remus" indeed.

He was surprised now that he had almost forgotten that humiliating list of names, so gratuitous that even Potter had seemed disconcerted, after an initial look of amusement. Years ago, those insults had appeared on a parchment carried by Potter himself and, at the time, he hadn't been able to answer properly. Not that he couldn't have, but he had hoped to unmask the werewolf's true allegiances, which was why he had called him through the fireplace and ignored the barbs.

And then, despite everything, he had gone on helping his colleague, brewing for him the potion he needed… Well, nothing new there: he would always do his duty, no matter how the help he gave to others would turn out… Of course, when he had discovered who the insulting Misters were, he had felt incredibly idiotic not to have guessed the truth earlier. Moony, Prongs, Padfoot, Wormtail… The banes of his youth, and not just of his youth, it seemed.

They were all dead, now.

He too had faced his death: he had been so close to dying that his awakening had seemed unbelievable, at first. Had he really died, he would have passed away with just the memories of years and years of pain, bitterness, sorrow and loneliness. But then a second chance had been given to him, and remembering once more the recent incredible events which had occurred in his life made him able, after a while, to let bygones go and to soothe the old anger.

Once again, he considered Hermione's trust in him, the way she cared… She toocame straight-out from his past, but she wasn't anymore the insufferable girl of those distant days. She had been and she was, more than anything else, the starting point of his new life.

However, she was obviously wrong in thinking she could change the perception the world had of him in the same way their relationship had changed, because no one would ever share her unique, exclusive trust and care. He would always meet old nemeses, reminders of who he had been, or had been forced to be… but he was discovering now that he could live through that, and not just for mere survival, as he had always done, but with a new balance, an anchor, because she was with him.

Snape recalled also his last decisions and hopes. They came back to him as forceful as they had been a few hours earlier, and he compared them, once more, to his recent bitter memories… no wonder that, during his life, he hadn't ever felt at home wherever he was, up to then. But now everything was different; at last, there would be a place for him in the world, and he felt that seeking for it was right and good.

All of a sudden, he found himself near the Bonfire, thus noticing that he had walked a fair distance from the tavern, unaware that he had wandered not only in his thoughts. Shaking his head, he turned to come back, surrounded by loud chatters, explosions and by the fragrant scent coming from the burning wood.

He was longing to reach Hermione now, ending that meeting-with-other-people nonsense and holding on to her warm, reassuring presence; so, he quickened his pace.

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"It's late," the young witch said to her friends, trying to sound nonchalant. "I'm going to find Severus and then we'll go home: it's clearly no good waiting any longer for him to come back".

"Of course," said Ginny with a sympathetic look and Harry, hugging her goodbye, added reassuringly, "Don't worry."

Hermione reached the door, and waved her hand, smiling softly. Then she went out and called his name.

She had thought to find him there, perhaps leaning alone against the old fence near the tavern and immersed in sulky considerations, or perhaps talking with somebody else… but he was nowhere to be seen and, feeling slightly annoyed, the young woman pondered if she had to Apparate home alone. Giving up so easily wasn't in character with her though, so she decided to wander around a bit more, and look for him.

But after a few steps a different sense of uneasiness started to worry Hermione while she relived the events of the last few hours.

Being aware of the fact that she should have paid more attention to Severus' wishes, and feeling somehow at fault towards him, she went on in her search, scanning the obscurity of the night with anxious eyes. Then an unexpected, terrifying sound froze her where she stood. Immediately after, a maddened crowd forced the witch to plaster herself against a wall to avoid being swept away by its frantic hurry.

Voices shouted angrily in a frightening chaos, and she saw people cry and stare in horror or fear. "Severus!" she called, more and more in panic. But no answer came. The frightening howl still resounding in her ears, Hermione desperately tried to look in the midst of the shouting multitude until, failing to see him, hot tears began to fall from her eyes, as she continued to go on, struggling against the wave.

But her search seemed doomed to failure, and an icy grip tightened her heart. Where was he? Where was Severus, now that a dangerous beast was menacing them all?

"What have I done?" she thought desperately "Why did I insist on coming here?"

Her vision blurred by tears and smoke, initially she didn't see the wizard who, staring at her from the opposite side of the street, was recognizing her presence and answering her call. Then, as if his gaze had claimed her, she finally saw him, advancing frantically to reach her; yet she couldn't feel relief, not until she had been able to touch him and see that he was truly safe.

People weren't acting sensibly, meanwhile, their panic risking causing more harm than the announced danger itself. Pressed and shoved by the witches and wizards around her, none of whom had even tried to Disapparate away, half-drunk and frightened as they were, Hermione faltered more than once, walking through the snow.

She felt the despair of not being able to reach him in time grow stronger with every step; the memory of all the time wasted that day, of the moments in which she had been less close to him, impaired her ability to go on steadily, but didn't weaken her determination. Their constantly locked gazes guided Hermione's and Severus' steps, until finally they were in front of each other, shaking. He pulled her close and held her tightly, while she encircled him with her arms, as if her own life depended on that hug. She didn't dare move and clung to him, slowly beginning to breathe regularly again only after having sobbed disconnected words like "Don't," "never again," "…away like that," and "can't lose you".

Caressing her shoulders, kissing her head softly as he felt himself calming down at the sound of her heartbeats, Snape found he didn't at all mind being seen in such tender behaviour; he could have had the largest audience in front of him, right in that moment, and he couldn't have cared less.

A few moments later, a half-naked young wizard, whose body was trembling under the powerful struggle that his second nature was fighting, was carried away by some guards, who passed by in the middle of the main street and just near the spot where Severus and Hermione stood still. Snape tightened his hold on Hermione, grateful that she had been spared that painful sight, while Potter – unexpectedly appearing to resume his official role – went to hear the whole story from his fellows Aurors.

The special unit and the Aurors soon restored order, reassuring everyone that they had escaped danger. The few werewolves whose presence seemed to have been announced by the echoes of howling in the air normally didn't leave the shelter of the deep woods where they gathered every time the full moon approached: but this time, evidently excited by the great ceremony, it seemed that they had left the depths of the Forest and gone a bit too close to its borders. Only one however had reached and trespassed on that boundary, wildly coming close to the village.

The moon which had been full at noon on the far side of the world was moving out of its fullness, now, and as its hold over him lessened he had willed himself to revert early to his human form before he could do any serious harm, and it had been his last howls that had raised the alarm. Luckily, he had soon been caught and trapped with an enchanted web; then he had been dosed with a potent draught that made it impossible for him to awake, should he lose his struggle with the moonlight and transform once more.

Eventually, the whole area was cleared, allowing the poor sod a safe escape towards help and possible care, and, little by little, everyone moved away. Snape was still motionless in his place, stunned by the emotions raised by the sight of that young wizard, considered like a disgusting dangerous beast just a few minutes before, and now revealing himself as the victim that he was.

He was also struck by the realization that he could continue helping those unfortunates too, as he had done in the past, through his talent for potions.

Nor would granting his help be only a duty, just as it had been more than mere duty whenever he had been able, and allowed, to save other lives; whether it was Katie Bell, or Dumbledore during his last year, those he had helped to evade the Death Eaters or whatever other student he had collaborated in healing by brewing potions for Madame Pomfrey. It would be a different aspect of hope, a renewal of something which had been good and positive in his past, alongside all that was being made new.

Still unaware of his recent conclusions, Hermione was finally recovering herself: and suddenly she felt impatient to leave that place and to be alone with him, to ask for his forgiveness for her blind stubbornness, forgetting whatever other meetings she had planned from there to eternity.

She lifted her chin from his chest, and expressed all those emotions in just one word.

"Home?" she whispered.

"Home, yes," he answered softly, nodding and smoothing away a last tear from her damp cheek. Surprised, he then noticed that, trusting him to Side-along Apparate both, she hadn't specified whose place she meant.

But, at the end of that day, it didn't matter to him, not anymore. There would be all the time in the world to tell her his thoughts on where their home should be, but also where it already was.

There and everywhere, wherever they were, that was home, and it would be forever.

A.N.

* the names given to Snape by the Marauder's Map, in italics, are of course quoted from PoA.

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