“Are you here again? I thought you had gone back to the Fates. I haven’t heard from you for a month.” And a lonely month it had been, although Severus was reluctant to admit that to anyone, even himself.
“I did. But they’ve sent me back for one last thing before I can move on.”
“What’s that? Granger’s gone back to her old life. She sent me a note, telling me that she’s working for Ollivander. She seemed happy enough, so you can leave me in peace now.”
“I can’t. I wish I could... you have no idea. But Shivvy insists, and you know how she gets.”
Severus nodded, remembering his own brief meeting with the British Fates nearly four years earlier.
“Anyway, I didn’t complete my mission. There is something Hermione desperately needs in order to fulfil her destiny and find happiness. I was supposed to arrange for her to have it, but... well, it disturbed me, so I didn’t. But Shivvy’s right, even though it galls me to admit it.
“Anyway, she’s going to knock on your door any minute, and I wanted you to be prepared. Just do yourself a favour... and me, too, for that matter. Whatever she wants, just agree to it, all right? I promise you, you won’t regret it. You’ll be happier, and I’ll finally get to move on.”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about, Weasley?”
Whatever Ron would have answered was lost in the sound of a firm rapping at the door. He hurried to open it.
“Hermione! What are you doing here?” He stepped back to allow her entry, then shut the door firmly behind her. Completely at a loss as to what to do next, he took the light spring jacket from her hand and hung it on the hook he’d come to think of as hers.
“I thought I heard voices. Is someone else here?” She craned her neck curiously, searching for any stray visitors who might be hiding beneath the kitchen table.
“No, I was just speaking to Moggy.” Upon hearing his name, the cat looked around, blinked, then re-pretzelled himself to resume his bath.
“Ah.” She stood in the middle of the tiny sitting room, ignoring his gesture towards a chair. Weasley’s chair. Dammit.
“Hermione, why are you here? Aren’t you happy with Ollivander? Didn’t Potter and the Weasleys make you welcome?” He’d kill them. Seriously, he would. If she’d been sent running back to Muggle London after all his hard work...
“Oh, no, everything’s going really well. I’m learning a lot from Mr Ollivander. And Harry was so glad to see me. Mr Weasley is keeping Mrs Weasley from smothering me too much. Fortunately, George and Angelina are about to get married—she’s expecting a little boy; they’re planning to call him Ron—so Mrs Weasley’s a bit distracted, planning two weddings this spring. But... well... I’ve realised something while I’ve been there. I forgot to bring something back with me, and it was really important. So I came back for it.”
Her huge brown eyes were fixed on his face. She seemed to be willing him to understand something, but he hadn’t the faintest idea what it was.
“Do you remember what you said to me, when you told me I should go?” She deepened her voice. “‘There are people who love you and miss you there. People whom you love in return. You belong there: it’s your home, and that’s where you’ll find your true happiness.’”
She smiled at him expectantly. He gave a short nod.
“Yes, that’s what I said. Are you telling me that I was mistaken?”
“No, Severus, not at all.” She stepped close to him and laid a hand on his chest, right where his traitorous heart was thumping in double time. “I just have one thing to say to you.” She cleared her throat.
“There is someone who loves you and misses you there. Someone whom you love in return. You belong there: it’s your home, and that’s where you’ll find your true happiness.” She rose to the tips of her toes and pressed a kiss to the side of his mouth. “Please come back. I need you and Moggy with me every day.”
He found himself gaping at her in a most undignified fashion. “I can’t. I’m dead.” And Shivvy forbade me to have anything to do with that world ever again.
“You’re not, you know. I’ve spent the last month testing the waters. The people who matter know you’re alive and are ready to welcome you back. Please.” She held tightly to his hands, her eyes imploring.
His heart broke and he drew a deep, shuddering breath. He was about to send her on her way, when another voice intervened.
“You’re free to return,” Ron said. “This was Shivvy’s plan all along. I just couldn’t let you have her until I knew that you would make her happy.”
He exhaled, closing his eyes momentarily in relief. Hermione, who had got very good at reading his expressions, uttered a cry of joy and surged forward, flinging her arms around his neck and kissing him as if she’d never stop.
He hoped that Weasley would leave; otherwise he’d get quite an eyeful.