Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, shape, or form, own the Harry Potter name, world, or characters. I'm just playing with them.
Thanks to Crookshanks
I came back for my seventh year. Harry and Ron had taken Kingsley's offer of honorary NEWTS and joined the Aurors... But this was something I needed to earn for myself.
After everything, after the war, any normalcy was exactly what I'd needed. My parents don't trust me anymore; they "need some time". At least school would be some form of normalcy, Dark Lords omitted for once.
Half a wing of the school was still unusable, and there's a list of fallen students by the front gates. With that cheerfully grim little gilt plaque there, it's no wonder most returning students have avoided Hogsmeade visits this year.
I don't miss Ron as much as I thought I would. He's Ron. He'll always be Ron, and everything that comes with it - dirty socks, endless talk of Quidditch, and eyeing a good many witches.
I do miss Harry, though. Over the past year, we became so much closer. Not like lovers, don't be daft, but like family. We kept each other sane that year, you know.
At least the staff is relatively unchanged. It's a relief to see Professor McGonagall back, and even Professor Slughorn, despite his "collecting".
I'm actually so very glad to see Professor Snape back, as well. Defence Professor again, but seeing how he glares at Professor Slughorn, I'd say he rather misses his old post.
Neville's back, too, and Luna, but they're so wrapped up in each other it's a wonder they're passing any classes at all. Ginny's still grieving over Fred, not that I blame her, and I don't feel right, talking to her about "my problems". It could be so much worse.
I had ended up clinging to the "bare minimum" - my schoolwork, the fact that the library had miraculously escaped unscathed, and the orange ball of fluff that slept on my feet every night.
The week before returning to Hogwarts, I'd taken Molly and Arthur - how strange, to be invited to call them by name, rather than Mr and Mrs Weasley - up on their offer to stay at the Burrow.
And, like magic, Crooks was there; squashed face, bristled tail, penchant for leaving dead things at my feet... I didn't care. I was just so happy to see my cat again.
If you'd asked me why I'd chosen Crooks before, I would have given you some impassioned answer about "saving him", that he'd been as lonely and unwanted as I'd felt before the troll.
Now, though... He made me think, forced me to look beyond the exterior. Please don't misunderstand; he was a surly cat, most of the time, but he still came when called. He secretly loved to be petted. I don't think he was used to it.
Crooks preened under praise when he delivered his latest kill to my feet or pillow. He was loyal and stalwart and I didn't care that he was cranky and ugly. To me, the way that cat purred under my brush, the way he loved me back, was pure and utter beauty.
A lot, surprisingly, like Professor Snape. I was as glad to see he'd been on our side as I had been to see Crooks. Odd, that. I had to wonder if I'd ever truly hated him - I won't lie, I did, for that year on the run.
But I'd been so happy to be wrong. All those years of insistence, and I'd been right.
I should confess, being right didn't make me happy, either. Studying my professor covertly, I didn't pity him, didn't feel guilty...except about thanking him. I don't think he wanted it, then.
He was...a great deal like my cat. Wary. Waiting to be betrayed. I saw him in the Great hall every meal, but he rarely partook of food or drink. He snapped and snarled worse than ever.
I wanted to make friends with him - not out of the same sense that had made me take up SPEW, mind you, I honestly wanted to be his friend. He was brilliant, he was clever, he was mean and sarcastic and cruel and strange-looking.
I volunteered to help with brewing for the Hospital Wing, and Professor Slughorn was only too happy to foist said duty (and me) onto Professor Snape.
I never lied to him - I was honesty curious when I asked questions, and I was truly interested in the hows and whys. I'd never be a Potions Mistress - I realized that by the the end of sixth year, with Harry's scribbled Potions book.
Professor Snape had meant it, first year, that some possessed a predisposition for Potions. Clearly, he was one of them. The man was a bloody genius.
Didn't stop me from being curious, though, or stop him from sneering at me to "cease my relentless prattle, and allow him to work". I quit asking questions for a while, no matter how they bubbled up into my chest and burned me in their desire to break free.
The day I followed a direction without any lip-biting or held-back query was the day he glared and said, "Nothing to add, Miss Granger? Surely, you have some inane question that is just begging to be answered."
Turns out, that was Snape-ese for "I miss talking with you".
There was a lot of Snape-ese to learn, but by Easter I was fluent, and we'd even become friends, of a sort. He hated when my cat would wend his way to the lab, and I hated when he didn't answer a question, just stared at me queerly, odd and quiet and a bit lost.
By Easter, I thought I was losing my mind; Crooks seemed to agree as he purred under my scratching fingers.
Honestly, do you have any idea how much I fretted, trying to learn if there were any trouble to be had if Professor Snape discovered I'd fallen in love with him?
I stayed at school for Easter hols, my parents off in France, Ron dating some fangirl he'd met in London, and Harry had such grandiose plans with Ginny I didn't even want to inquire if I could visit the Burrow.
Instead, I spent my Easter in the library with Severus Snape, trying not to broadcast my feelings while researching the arithmantic properties of different types of bile.
And if his boot rested against my shoe, sending my heart fluttering inside my chest like an Avis spell, then no one was the wiser.
Except for Crooks, draped across both of our feet.
Towards the end of April, with May looming, I found myself unable to sleep, and took shameless advantage of the Prefect ability to wander freely. One night, I'd fallen asleep at the Astronomy tower despite the chill, where I'd been staring up at the stars, wondering if the people we'd lost were looking down on us.
When I woke a little after one, I found myself buried under a fragrant bundle of wool, Crookshanks on my lap, and Professor Snape asleep beside me in a sitting position, drawn up into himself. Crooks must have brought him.
It was comforting, for him to be there, and I shifted, spreading his teaching robes across the both of us, choosing to use his shoulder as a pillow. If he'd minded, he would have woken me, deducted points, and sent me back to the tower.
A moment passed and as I drifted back off, I felt him stir, but he didn't move away, and my heart filled with hope.
We didn't speak of it, but we ran into each other there several times throughout May, and continued to talk and sit in the library. My heart beat quicker when he spoke, and I fought down blushes.
Several times, I caught him staring at my mouth, and he'd flush and storm off to the supply cupboard, puttering around in there, glass vials tinkling as he rearranged his stores.
I didn't mind – in truth, it made me smile. I longed to kiss him, too. I simultaneously did and didn't want the year to end.
I was so preoccupied with finding ways to spend time with my professor that I didn't notice the change in my familiar for a long while.
He'd gone from independent to nearly clingy, following me about the castle and sleeping next to me each night. He joined me under the blankets, something he'd hated in the past.
Slowly, he was less quick to move, and had gone from sleek and plump to dull and thin. I didn't know what was wrong with him...and I didn't want to.
I felt so selfish, ignoring his increasing age. I don't know how old he was when I picked him at the Menagerie before third year. It seemed unfair for him to suddenly age before my eyes.
Professor Snape listened to me patiently (for him) vent during our brewing sessions. I confided my fears to him, that my beloved cat, my familiar, one of two people in the entire castle I could speak to, was getting to The End.
How I hoped he'd recover, bounce back. He'd be fine, just a change in his diet would help.
But he'd stopped eating and drinking, mostly. He was weak and wobbly and I didn't know what to do.
He slept, mostly, and meowed piteously when I left to use the loo or go to meals. When I returned, or woke, I had to check if he still breathed.
I spent the weekend after exams crying in my room, stroking his fur. I didn't want it to be time. I wanted my companion back. I wanted that jaunty spring in his step, that contemptuous flick of his bottle-brush tail. I wanted the glint of his eyes and even the gore of one of his "gifts".
I wept, I begged, I pleaded with whatever power was listening; Sunday, I looked into my dear friend's cloudy eyes, wrapped him warmly in his favorite blanket, and carried him down to Professor Snape's door.
I don't know why I chose him - I could have gone to Hagrid, or my Head of House, but I went where my heart and feet had taken me.
He'd looked at first as if he'd like to expel me from the corridor, away from his private chambers, but paused at the bundle in my arms. I can only imagine what my face looked like - I have never been a pretty crier.
"Come," he'd said tersely, but gently, after a moment's internal debate. I'd followed him, pressing a kiss to Crooks' fur.
His quarters didn't register that day - what I remembered was his hands, gentle as he took Crooks from my arms and examined him. He'd stroked him idly, casting various diagnostics, keeping my pet calm.
I'd known it was coming, but I hadn't let myself know how bad. Crooks was quite old, Professor Snape had told me, especially for a kneazle.
I'd waited for the inevitable "but". "But" had been that his kidneys were failing. He was old, and he was weak. Professor Snape could buy me time with him; various potions that could be administered over a few days.
It would buy me days only - days where Crooks would be alone, held under spells in an unfamiliar chamber, while his life slipped away.
I could choose to take him back to Gryffindor Tower, watching as he slowly suffered with quiet dignity, sleeping more and more until he just never woke.
Or I could say goodbye, here and now.
And he looked up at me with his golden eyes, so calm, so trusting. Was it a bond with my familiar? I don't know - I wanted him with me. It was selfish. He'd be sick and suffering...and it was time to say goodbye.
"Can I...have a minute? To think?" My voice caught, but the professor hesitantly placed a hand on my shoulder and left the room.
I apologized to Crooks. I didn't want him to go, to die. I loved him, and he'd given me so much. He was my friend, a part of my family. I was so sorry. I felt like a murderer.
Was this my fault? Should I have done something differently? I didn't know. I'd thought I was dry of tears, but still they fell. I soaked through my handkerchief, and my spare, between eyes and nose while my cat waited for me to be ready.
I'd been lifting the hem of my sleeve when a clean handkerchief appeared in front of my face, as silent as my tears and the man offering it.
"You've decided." It wasn't a question, there was no judgment.
"Yes. I'm sorry, sir, oh, Crooks, I'm so sorry...I love you." The last I whispered over and over.
Professor Snape hunkered down to be eye level with his golden eyes, showing him a small bottle.
"You know," he said. "Are you ready?"
I hadn't realized he was talking to my cat until Crooks gave a final lick to my fingers. The little vial was uncorked, offered to him. He sniffed at it with quiet dignity.
Crooks gave it a lap, and I stroked his fur until he was gone. Professor Snape gathered my cat into his arms gently, cradling him close, heedless of the hairs clinging to his relentlessly black attire. I pressed a final kiss to the top of his still-warm orange head.
"I'll be back, Miss Granger."
The door closed behind him and I couldn't help it - I burst into great hiccuping sobs. I hadn't cried this hard since first year. I'd given in to tight voices and silent gulps of air, but this was like a damn had burst inside of me.
One moment I was standing, the next sitting on the ground, clutching Crooks' blanket and sobbing. Hot tears were dredged up from somewhere deep in my poor broken heart.
I missed my friend. My companion. My family. My beloved Crookshanks.
At some point, I felt his arms around me. I know I was moved, carried to a couch and held against his chest, but all I can recall is the pain.
It was as if all of my love was being cried away with Crooks and I was helpless to stop it until I was empty and dry...
But I'd never be empty, my tears would never run dry. I wanted to say I was glad that I hadn't been selfish, that I'd let him go, that he was no longer old and suffering.
But no words came other than apologies. Grief wrenched through me, devastated me.
Time passed, and I gradually became aware of being rocked gently. As I calmed, I began to talk, halting for more tears into a seemingly-endless supply of clean handkerchiefs.
I talked about finding Crooks, everything I've just told you, about how he'd steal bottle caps from Mum and bat them under the fridge. About scratching on Dad's new couch. Everything. About how he'd be old and ugly and beautiful and perfect and mine and how thankful I was that I learned so much from him. I hadn't even noticed that queer, contemplative look back on my professors normally-forbidding face.
Somewhere between the story of Scabbers and another bout of tears, I'd apologized for coming down here. Professor Snape shook his head, and I thanked him. Here I was, in his embrace, on his lap, and all I could think or talk about was my cat.
"Grief does strange things to us," he'd said quietly, no trace of a sneer. I'd paled, not having realized Id spoken aloud. "Your familiar loved you. Kneazles are an exceedingly bright breed - he gave you time, and you repaid him well."
"It hurts." My voice was raw and broken.
"Yes." No sugar-coated truths. No platitudes. "And it will for a very long time. But you...you were loved. That is a precious gift, Hermione."
Despite the pain, my given name on his lips like heady - I'd kissed him then, briefly, relaxing into his arms and resting my head over his pounding heart.
"We're all loved by someone, Professor."
"...Severus." And his name on my lips was benediction and blessing.
We were quiet for a long while; I was exhausted, wrung dry.
"He came to me, you know." His voice was soft. "The past week. He's come down and watched me and let me speak with him. He wanted to know you'd continue to be loved, I think."
My breath caught and I apparently found a few more tears. My nose ran, ugly and red like my swollen eyes.
Crookshanks had loved me. I hope he knew how much I'd loved him, bad habits and all. Every purr, every gift, every warm snuggle... And he'd loved me enough to let me say goodbye, to make sure I'd be loved when it was time. He'd trusted me to do what was best, and I hadn't failed him. He'd taught me so much, opened my eyes and my heart. He gave both of us a chance to find love.
It's all thanks to Crookshanks – I don't think we would have found each other this way without him.
We've spent the past few years falling in love more every day - he doesn't say it often, but when he does, it's quiet. I tell him every day, and when he comes, his face is so expressive; he's beautiful, ethereal. I can almost feel his love. It's in simple caresses of my arm, or how he treats me with courtesy. And it lives in his eyes. Every time I see him, I know how much I'm loved.
He still works at the school, and spends his summers doing research. I'm taking over for Madame Pince this year - I've had enough of the Ministry, especially with the coming of the small life I haven't told him about yet.
Today is my wedding day. I graduated four years ago, and sewn into my bouquet is a ribbon from one of Crooks' toys. At the end of the aisle, there is a spray of cat nip in Severus' boutonniere.
I still miss Crooks, every day, but I know I was and am loved. And I swear, on nights I worrying over work or am feeling low, I feel the softest whisper of fur on my cheek and the rumble of a quiet purr. Severus has felt it, too.
So before I walk down this aisle on my daddy's arm, I wanted to say thank you, Crookshanks. Thank you so much.
So, there you go.
This fic is dedicated to our own cat, DC. He passed away almost two weeks ago, at almost 18 years old. He was our friend, our family. We loved him so very much and it took me two weeks to be able to edit this for posting. I made myself polish this because my wedding is in 9 days, and I needed to post something in memory of him.