Hermione stared morosely into the flames in her fireplace, the usual peace of her chambers beneath the lake having fled, leaving behind a sense of wretchedness and dread. She cursed her foolishness for having gone to Severus’ house without invitation and even more so for leaving a hastily scribbled note under the doorknocker when she had found no one home.
She had been relieved, in a sense, that he had not been there, unprepared as she was to speak to him in anyway that would be coherent but she worried that her note would have sounded too desperate.
She had not stopped to think when Minerva had told her of discussion with Severus and the words she had used to describe their relationship. The older witch clearly acting out of what she believed were the best interests of the pair, keen to see her best student and now youngest teacher take counsel and seek learning from her former professor but in declaring him a father, Hermione had worried what damage she had done to her blossoming friendship with the man.
She knew Severus hated to be forced into roles and to call him a father figure would serve no purpose save to distance them in age and experience even further than they were already aware of. She had no desire to think of him in such a way. She had much to learn from him she knew, both on the subject they shared and in other areas as well, but she knew he could learn from her too though it would only be possible if they were equals.
With a huff, she got to her feet once more, worrying a nail between her teeth as she paced in front of the fireplace. She wanted to summon her cloak and head back out into the snow. Return to his house and retrieve the letter she had pinned to the door but she had no wish to risk seeing him if he had returned home. If he arrived when she was in the process of removing the note he would no doubt think her strange and desperate, if she arrived after he had read it then she dreaded to think of the words he would say to her.
She felt tears burn her eyes, panic rising in her throat at the thought of him thinking ill of her. The familiar crushing feeling his acquaintance had been slowly lifting returned to her, the emptiness she had felt since the end of the war reasserting itself in the wake of her misstep. She was tempted to crawl into her bed and weep until she fell asleep but she galvanised herself against it, needing her strength if she had to carry on alone again.
Hermione gave a squeal of surprise as she span to face the voice addressing her, dropping her gaze to the little house elf that stood before her.
“Oh you gave me a fright,” she said, covering her racing heart with her hand as it slowed, “I’m sorry. What can I do for you?”
“Professor Granger has a visitor at the gates,” said the elf.
Any pace Hermione’s heart had lost picked up once more, “And who is this visitor?” she said, hope and trepidation warring in her chest beneath the racing organ.
“Professor…former… Professor Snape,” said the elf, “He’s says he does not want to come inside but promises not to keep Professor Granger out in the cold for too long.”
Hermione’s cloak was in her hand within a moment and she pulled it on as she tried to steady her nerves, “Could you take me to him?” she asked, “Please? It will take me forever to get there from here.”
“Misty is at Professor Granger’s service,” said the little elf, taking Hermione’s hand and speeding her through the ether to the gates.
Hermione opened her eyes once more as Misty tugged on her hand, finding the fog heavy around the castle grounds as the afternoon slowly gave way to evening. Still, despite the gloom, she could make out the tall, black-clad figure a short distance from her at the gates.
“Thank you,” she said to the elf, “You can leave us now. I’ll make my own way back.”
Misty nodded before she blinked away, leaving Hermione alone to find her courage. She drew her cloak around her, wishing she were dressed in something more refined than jeans and a moth eaten black jumper that had seen better days, and headed towards the gates, knowing that he had seen her when he approached the bars as close as the wards would allow.
It was his smile, the gentle quirk of his lips that seemed only for her, that buoyed her confidence and she hurried her footsteps to the gate, throwing it open and stepping out into the crisp snow to meet him.
“Severus,” she said, her voice catching in the chill of the air, “What are you doing here?”
“How could I have stayed home?” he said, reaching for her hand, “I could not justly answer either of your letters on the page and I…”
“I needed to see you too,” said Hermione covering his hand with her own even as she lowered her gaze from his, “I’m sorry I came to your house like that but when Minerva told me what she said to you, I had to put it right. Please tell me you didn’t believe a word of it? She meant well of course but for her to even think that I needed you to replace my father, it couldn’t be further from the truth and I…”
“Hermione,” said Severus, cutting her off and pulling her attention back to him, “Your note made Minerva’s misunderstanding quite clear. I can see how easily she came to the conclusion though. I am old enough to be your father.”
“Barely,” said Hermione with a smile, “You would have been hardly more than a boy yourself.”
“Harry’s parents would be my age were they living,” said Severus.
“And I’m nearly a full year older than him,” answered Hermione, “Biologically and socially, yes you are old enough to have been my father but that does not mean, whatever spin my employer wishes to place on it now, that that is the relationship I seek with you. I asked you to be my friend Severus and that’s still what I want from you. Surely you do not see me as a daughter?”
“Not in the slightest, you’re far too becoming to be any of mine,” said Severus before his smile turned mocking, “Besides, I would never own to a Gryffindor.”
His words broke the tension between them and Hermione laughed in a way she could not remember having done in several long years, delighting as she heard his yet reserved laughter in return.
“Well I would never own to a Slytherin either, you wicked man,” she said as she recovered herself, “Oh I was dreading this conversation but I should know us better by now.”
“Do not ever feel like you cannot talk to me,” said Severus, “No more silly letters pinned to the door knocker proclaiming yourself anxious to speak to me. From now on, let us make a promise that neither of us will feel unable to speak with the other, be as candid with me as you wish and I will do the same. We are friends and I like us to be very good friends one day.”
Hermione smiled, “I do believe we are very firmly on that path already,” she said, “And I will make the promise you ask for. No more notes pinned to the door.”
“No, you will knock and come in for tea,” said Severus.
“That had been my intent earlier today except you weren’t home,” said Hermione, “I will make sure to arrange a time that you’re in for my next panic attack.”
“A good idea,” replied Severus, as Hermione shivered, “Forgive me, I’m keeping you in this awful weather.”
“Nothing a warming charm can’t fix. Or a walk,” she said, “Would you accompany me? We still have an hour until sundown.”
“It would be my pleasure,” said Severus, guiding her hand into the crook of his arm, “Lead the way.”
Hermione turned them towards the mountains, leading them around the border of the school grounds but away from the direction of Hogsmeade, having no wish to encounter anyone they might know as they walked. They were silent for a few moments, content in each other’s presence and the understanding between them. Hermione though could not keep silent for long as she raised her gaze to his familiar features, happy to see them set in a far more relaxed expression than the scowls she had grown used to as his student.
“We’ve addressed the content of one of my letters. The silliest one,” she said, “But the other had far more pertinent questions in it. I worry I do not know you well enough to find a suitable outing for us on New Years Eve. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”
“I sincerely doubt you could disappoint me but I also doubt you can learn enough in this next hour to make the judgement you wish to,” said Severus, “But, if you please, ask what you think you need to know about me and I will answer.”
“Oh,” said Hermione, stopping them in their tracks, “I hadn’t given particular questions much thought. I haven’t a clue what to ask you. If you were muggleborn, I’d ask you about your favourite films and music and what you were like in primary school but for you, they seem foolish questions.”
“Not foolish at all. Though I cannot offer any comment on primary school as the only experience I had of that was walking passed the wretched building and wondering what the other children did there all day,” said Severus, covering her hand where it rested on his arm, “As for my preference for the mediums you suggested, I am not so restricted to our world that I know nothing of them though I sincerely doubt my tastes would appeal.”
“Why don’t you try me and see?” said Hermione, “Come now, we promised to be honest and candid with one another.”
“And if I were to mention the name Lon Chaney to you?”
Hermione smiled, “Then I would tell you that I love The Unknown,” she answered, clinging to his arm a little tighter as she saw the surprise upon his face, “See, maybe we have more in common than a shared classroom.”
“Maybe we do,” said Severus, keeping her close as they continued to walk through the snow.