A/N: So here it is, the final chapter. As some of you pointed out, I had quite some trouble writing the romance in this story, and I hope this isn't too sudden. Anyway, enjoy
Chapter Nineteen: All is well that ends well
As they re-entered the tent, Hermione ran over to Harry to ask him how his performance had gone – something she hadn't been able to do earlier because of her nerves. She felt a cool relaxation over her as all of the participants stepped out of the tent to line up at the field, where the winner would be announced shortly.
The host started his speech. "The history of brooms is a long and wide one. In the Muggle world they are used to clean, in our world they've become a vehicle. Quidditch is one of our most appreciated and well-known sports, and today we tried a different variant on it; figure-flying."
Hermione smiled, suddenly wondering who the hell had come up with that idea.
"First of all I want to thank you, the audience, for coming to this stadia to watch. Without you, this would've been quite pointless! Second, thanks to the all the participants as well; all of your performances were wonderful, which gave the jury a hard time deciding who would come out as the winner."
Maybe we'll be third, Hermione thought, wishing she had had the guts to watch the acts of the other couples as well.
"Well then, I'll just give the word to Remus Lupin!"
Again, there was applause as the man walked forward with twinkling eyes.
Snape groaned. "Not him!"
"Yes, yes," Remus said, smiling. "Let's get started right away – I'm not a man for long speeches anyway." The crowd stopped cheering now.
Snape blinked. Did that man really just wink at him? His mind was whirling now. He wasn't even listening to the results – all that was on his mind was winning. Did he even believe it himself? No. But they had done well, hadn't they? They had done their best... Granger had done her best. He had done his best. But would it be enough? After a few more seconds it all would be over. The past few months had been just about the flying, about this moment, and now he found that he couldn't even enjoy it. His mind then returned to Remus again, as he noticed from the sudden tense atmosphere that the winners were being announced.
"And the winners of the Hogwarts Figure-Flying Contest are... Hermione Granger and Severus Snape!"
"We WON!" Hermione exclaimed, jumping up.
"Congratulations, you won, mate!" Remus said, slapping Snape on the shoulder.
Snape just blinked again. "We won?" he asked, puzzled, his mouth falling open.
Before Hermione knew what was happening, people grabbed their hands and congratulated them, they were blinded by the flashing lights of cameras, loud music began to play and they were pushed to the center of the stage where a sonorus charm was placed on them. Hermione looked around the stadia, still beaming, then glanced at Severus, whose mouth was still slightly hanging open and was obviously unable to speak. Hermione cursed herself for not having prepared a speech.
"Erm, I think it's safe to say that we're both surprised... very surprised at that, too. When we entered this competition, I don't think anybody ever thought we'd win, but I suppose we did, so... erm." Hermione was at great loss for words and quickly whispered the counter charm for her voice.
The moment she did that, an enormous cheering burst out in the stadia. Everything now seemed to rush past her as in a dream. Flowers, a golden medal, wine, she all had to accept it.
Eventually, when it had got dark, and quiet had returned, Severus and Hermione stood alone in the large, empty stadia. Hermione let herself fall down in the grass and looked up into the dark sky. There were barely any stars tonight, Hermione thought. Severus lay down as well, groaning and closing his eyes in pain. "What a hell of a day," he muttered.
Hermione grinned. "Yes. A perfect ending to a hell of a time. To be honest, those last months have been the craziest of my life."
They lay there for a while in silence until Severus stood up again. "I'm getting the brooms. "he said.
Hermione nodded. A sudden sadness came over her. She looked once more into the starless night and realized that this was the last time and she hated it. An emptiness filled her heart and she wondered what she was going to do at midnights now. Sleep, a logical voice in her mind said. She turned on her left and braced herself against the cold that didn't come from the wind. She had got used to the cold night breeze, to the rhythm, to waking up, to the warming ups. She had got used to him.
"Are you coming?" he then called, starting her from her thoughts. He stood by the gate now, the brooms in his hand, the brooms she knew so well. She wanted to say something.
'So this is it.'
'I'll miss our practices.'
'Thanks for having given me this opportuniy.'
She bowed her head. None of these made sense, or expressed what she wanted to say. "Could we practice our act one more time? The final one? Please?" She was afraid of rejection, and when it took a while for him to answer, she began to wonder if he had heard her plea at all.
Relieved now she looked up and smiled, but his face and eyes were as unreadable as ever. He gave her the broom, and she silently took it. Stepping on it, she waited for Severus to give the starting sign.
The practice didn't go nearly as well as earlier that day, but Hermione knew it didn't matter. She didn't feel as happy and excited as he had done then anyway, and it showed. Remembering with almost every move the many times she had had to practice for it to get it right, and feeling how wonderful it had felt if she had finally succeeded in this, a tear rolled out of her eye and vanished in the wind.
When she let herself fall down at the end of the act and Severus caught her, she was weeping freely. More than ever she felt secure and safe in his arms and not at all uncomfortable like it had felt the first time. Even Severus' dark eyes no longer seemed cold but deep and welcoming. With a shock Hermione wondered when for Merlin's sake she had begun to feel this way. It made no sense whatsoever, and she closed her eyes and turned her head away in shame.
"I'm sorry," she said, not sure Severus would even understand what she was apologizing for. She was surprised when he grabbed her arm and turned her head back. Afraid he'd see what a fool she was, she kept her eyes closed. Her heart literally skipped a few beats when she felt his cold but soothing lips kiss her tears. Her eyes opened in astonishment, and for a moment she thought he had gone and she was left staring at the endless sky, but they were his eyes.
His face took some distance then, and Hermione realized that she was the one to give the sign now. This frightened her terribly, and when she reached out her hand it trembled so obviously, even in the dark there could be no mistake about it. His face was cold as well, she realized before she pressed her lips against his and they kissed, the warmth of his mouth forming a sharp contrast against the cold face in her hands.
Her mind, completely against Hermione's will, then played sceenes from a few months ago, in the back of her head. McGonagall, pulling her into the lady's office and making inquiries about the contest and Snape; Snape, leaving her no choice but to be his partner in the contest, without giving any explanation; and then Ginny, giving her own absurd explanation -- "Perhaps he fancies you."
Hermione felt her curiosity and sense of logic tickle her mind. Not now, she fought back. Don't ruin this moment! But she had to know now, now that she had the courage, so she pulled away and looked back up into Severus' eyes. "Why?" she asked, a question she had wanted to ask for so long, but she had never dared to ask. "Why did you want to participate in the flying contest with me, of all people?"
- -- - -- - -- -
Severus stared back at her. He had dreaded this moment since he had lost the bet. He had tried to make up excuses, but some would be more absurd than others. "Look, I think you'd be offended by the truth." he finally said.
"How do you know?" Her face was twisted in an expression of honest curiosity.
"Because it was a joke that got out of hand."
The expression didn't change. "How?"
Severus lifted his head a little. "I made a bet with Remus Lupin. If I lost, I was to participate in the contest with you. I lost."
Hermione's face slowly began to change. Her eyes brimmed with tears although she blinked ferociously to fight them and she continued to stare straight into Severus' eyes. "I was a bet." she said, her voice low.
Severus looked at her. He had known he would have had to tell her eventually. He had known she'd probably be offended. But he hadn't expected for the world that it would affect him as it did.
He had made children cry -- whether they were 1st or 6th years, in his class they were all like 4-year-olds again. He had made adults cry -- he had been a Death Eater; the mere sight of his mask had been enough to make the tallest guy fall on his knees and beg for mercy. Yet, this young woman's crying unsettled him more than he dared to admit. It gave him a gnawing feeling his stomach, as if he'd eaten something rotten.
When Hermione stepped back onto the ground and slowly, steadily walked back to the castle, the feeling was gnawing on his insides even more. Guilt. He pressed off against the ground and took off into the night sky.
- -- - -- - -- -
Hermione was running through the halls now, no longer even sure where she was. It didn't matter, she thought, all she wanted now, was to be alone, without anyone around her, a person talking and asking her why she was crying --
-- when someone came from around a corner and she saw it too late. She crashed fully into the person, causing herself to fall back and hit the floor hard. "I'm sorry," she sobbed, getting up and trying to get away when she heard a familiar voice.
"Hermione? Is that you?" Remus Lupin stepped into the light of the torches. "It is you! Why are you crying?" He looked genuinely worried, his eyebrows furrowed. However, Remus Lupin was the next to last person Hermione wanted to see right now, so she turned and wanted to walk away, when Remus grabbed her arm. "Hold on – oof."
'Oof' was the sound of air escaping from Remus' mouth.
Hermione wasn't of a violent nature: she didn't like violence and preferred to avoid it when she could. Sometimes, however, in exteme emotional situations, she couldn't, and when this was the case she wasn't to be taken lightly. Remus was so surprised that he immediately let go of Hermione's arm, and Hermione, having had her outburst, just fell down onto the floor, sobbing. Remus lowered himself as well, carefully putting a hand on her shoulder.
"Hermione, are you alright? That was one mighty punch." He rubbed his sore cheek, truly impressed.
Hermione's head shot up, her eyes red from crying. "I was a bet that you made." she cried, her voice hoarse.
Remus yelped. "Yes."
"Why me then?!"
"It was decided on randomly, conversation-wise." Hermione sniffed, calming down a little. Remus looked at her honestly. "Look, Hermione. If at anyone, be mad at me. I came up with the flying contest, I took advantage of Severus' words, I kept him to the bet. Because that's what's this is about, isn't it? Did he scare you, was he mean?"
"No, no, not at all." Hermione shook her head, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. "Quite the contrary, really." she added quietly, but assuming from the sudden sparkle in Remus' eyes, he had heard anyway.
"Then don't be mad. You won the contest. I saw you up there, you both were enjoying it immensely. What's wrong with that?"
"But... he's my professor..."
"No he's not! It's a month before you're graduation, no classes are being held anymore. Besides, you're an adult. Barely, but as far as maturity goes, you've always been well beyond your age." He smiled. "That punch you just gave me, on the other hand, could be anough to keep you from graduating..."
Hermione couldn't help but laugh, despite herself. "I'm sorry. I didn't really mean to – well, actually, I did mean to--"
"It's okay." Remus assured her, helping her up. "I suppose I deserved that, in some way."
"Good night, professor."
"Good night, miss Granger. And once more congratulations on your perfect flight."
She smiled as she began to head back to the dormitories now.
- -- - -- - -- -
It was a friday evening. Hermione knew classes had ended a week ago, but she also knew that Severus would still be in his office, grading the last papers, so that's where she was now. She knocked on the door, once more feeling very nervous. It seemed to take minutes instead of seconds before he answered the door. When he saw Hermione, he arched an eyebrow.
There was an awkward silence.
Hermione hadn't really prepared this moment. She had figured she'd fall around his neck or once again press her lips against his as if nothing had happened, but they all seemed very foolish things to do now. This wasn't the Quidditch field. They weren't on brooms now. She was no longer forced to be around him.
"I'm sorry..." she then said.
"You're sorry." Snape repeated, his eyebrow still arched. "What are you sorry for?"
"For walking away. For not understanding. I understand now."
He stared at her, then finally moved away. "Come in, and shut the door." He turned, allowing her to come in. She was in the office once again, the office where it had all started... "I should have told you the reason for our partnership sooner. I never thought it'd come to this. I don't mind keeping the truth from my students: most of them have no use for it anyway... but I underestimated you."
He spun around, looking into her eyes from a distance. Hermione nodded. "I understand."
Snape stepped closer, softly stroking her cheek with one hand. No longer cold. "I'm sorry."
If those words had sounded incredible from the man's mouth, then Hermione surely believed him when he kissed her and made her mind whirl.
Final A/N: So. I'd like to say that overall I did much enjoy writing this story. Writing chaptered stories always requires a lot more... stamina than one-shots. And seeing as I have little of that, I'm quite surprised myself that I finished this. Then again, with chaptered stories there's always the lovely reviews that keep encouraging you to write, and I have to say that they really helped. I mean, I kind of had a one year break, didn't I? So yes, I mainly want to thank everybody who reviewed and who's still reviewing. It really is appreciated.
As for the story, man, I realized a little too late what canon can mean to a story, and how easy it is to fall into the trap of OOC. Poor Remus. It was all for entertainment purposes though, so I can live with it :P I hope you can, as well. Another thing I realized with writing this story is that HG/SS is a thing that should be explained. It doesn't just come by itself, the tension isn't just there, as a writer you have to create it yourself, and I will never again write a story like this where the romance is all kind of heaped up in the end. I'm not sure how it worked out in this story, but it's just generally not a good idea.
So yeah. I learned some things from writing this fic. Some things about the characters, and some things about my own writing. I hope you all enjoyed it, and once more, thank you very much for putting up with me!