A/N: I normally do these at the end, but this chapter is the last, and so I've taken a different approach with it. After posting Chapter 19, I sat down and wrote a rough draft that, when I had finished, really didn't feel like an ending at all.
I decided I needed something more general, but still emotionally charged. My approach was inspired by msscribe's "Ginny Weasley Thinks She's in Love." (An amazing story that can be found at portkey.org) She has a poetic style that is very descriptive with feelings and actions, but hazy on everything else. For example, I avoided using transition words, as well as Hermione's and Snape's names, rather saying "he, him, she, etc." Also, there's absolutely no dialogue in this chapter. I thought that might be a more appropriate way to approach an ending that really is simply a beginning to another story that will never be written.
Chapter 20: Every End is a New Beginning
For every ending, there is a new beginning; or so Hermione Granger had been told.
At that moment, however, as she walked across Hogwarts grounds, the saying had no meaning. The future did not seem to exist; rather, the past had simply ended.
In fact, there were no rational thoughts, only shock at having succeeded and lived; disbelief and awe at the castle she approached, no longer twisted and mangled, but grand and towering; and a restlessness stirring within her—a sense that what once was, may no longer be.
It was an ending, nothing more.
The weeks following her return were a blur for Hermione. Much occurred, but little was retained. More than anything, she remembered the emotions that she felt.
An invasion… Of space, of privacy—people were everywhere, surrounding her from the moment she entered Hogwarts. Somehow, the news of Voldemort's downfall had preceded them, though the details were still a mystery that they would need to fill in. She felt caught up in a river's current, pushed and pulled; moved in the rush of people towards the hospital wing.
She sat on an Infirmary bed, waiting, suffocating in the racket of dozens of voices that were too loud and foreign after such a long time in seclusion. Hermione knew better, but still she hoped that Severus would give her some sign, a sideways glance or small nod.
He did not.
The last image she had of him was his black robes billowing out the door. Hermione didn't know if that familiar sight was comforting or ominous.
It would be at least a month before she returned for school. Though the castle now stood straight and tall, its towers reaching into the sky, much still needed to be done. Classes would begin in spring and continue through the summer holidays.
Until then, there were investigations and questions, inquiries and interviews—anyone and everyone of importance seemed to want a moment of Hermione's time. Sometimes it was all she could do to keep from screaming.
Meetings with family and friends, people she loved, and people who had lost loved ones. Bittersweet reunions with Ron and the Weasleys—still a family, but not complete. Many times, there was nothing she could do but cry.
It was weeks before she heard from him again.
The shift back to Muggle life was an awkward one. Hermione never felt completely at ease. This was not surprising, for it had been several years since she'd had prolonged contact with her parents. Joy at being reunited slowly turned into strained relations. In many ways, she was living with strangers. She certainly couldn't call it home.
She was lying in bed too early for actual sleep. A self-imposed isolation—locked in her room, her mind was on him as the pattering of spring rain hit the second floor windows and roof above. When they were away from the world, in the Dark Land or the little cabin in the woods, all was right. Now in this world, they were wrong. How she longed to be alone again, alone with him. When she closed her eyes, her memory of him became as clear as if he were lying above her: his smell, his taste, the glint of his black eyes that could be both cold and passionate.
In rhythm with the rain, a tapping sounded against her window; so light at first that she didn't recognize it for what it was, but the noise became louder, more insistent.
And then he was there.
It was a surprise. Suspended on a broomstick, only his pale skin showed through the window, while the rest of him, his hair and clothes, those eyes that bore into her soul, disappeared into the darkness of the wet night. She gasped, then smiled a toothy grin and rushed to open the window. With the wind and rain, he was inside, kissing her, pulling her tightly against him.
They were silent, except for small whimpers and breaths against necks and skin, as they did away with their clothes and fell onto the small bed she'd had since she was six. They moved together; her legs spread wide, his thrusts deepening within her.
After, she stayed under him, enjoying the feel of his damp chest and his warm breaths. He whispered reassurances. He told her that they'd have to be careful.
She responded that she understood, and in truth she did. Hermione was well aware of the difficulty of having an illicit affair at Hogwarts, and of the consequences they would face if they were found out, but the feel of him near her and the intimacy that had developed between them was too strong for her to resist.
And so, with one ending, came another new and dangerous beginning.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed the story, and a huge thanks to Molly(rhitmcshanm), who beta-ed all 20 chapters and has helped me immensely.