Disclaimer: I do not own these wonderful characters, and I am very thankful for it, as I can throw them together in the loveliest of ways.
Author's Note: I promised readers of 'Hints and Whispers' that a longer story would be forthcoming, and here we are. It is not related to anything else, and carries quite a different tone to it, but I hope that you will enjoy it all the same. I will aim to update weekly at least, and can promise that no chapter will ever be as short as this prologue, but in my defence, it is, after all, a prologue ;-) You all know my guilty pleasure for including lyrics in chapters, so feel free to send recs my way if you have more HG/SS songs that might fit this story.
Welcome back, readers. Enjoy.
But I dropped my head, 'cause it felt like lead,
And I'm sure I felt your fingers through my hair…
2004 - Sydney, Australia
"Hermione? Hermione… come back now, Hermione… open your eyes. Hermione! You silly, silly woman – wake up, let me tell you just how stupid you were, coming back for me… Hermione - please! Beautiful, foolish girl…"
She awoke with a gasp that tore its way out of her chest, past her thudding heart and through her dry throat. Frantic, Hermione laid her shaking hands flat on her chest, feeling her own body and surroundings, grounding herself in the familiar singlet and sleep shorts, soft cotton sheets and thin tangled blanket. The room was dark but the fan still worked on the ceiling above her with a comforting dull buzz, pushing the hot, humid air around the small space until it was almost bearable.
Sinking slowly back onto the pillow, pausing once to flip it over before resting her head of wild curls onto the now cool surface, Hermione counted her breaths. The first deep breath was always to reassure herself; she was here, in her bed, unharmed. The second breath: no one was here to threaten her, no wand was pointed at her, no lights were flashing towards her. The third: Severus Snape was alive, and so was she.
Professor Snape… She rolled over onto her side, staring out at the nothingness of the dark room. Nightmares of him had interrupted her sleep for five full years. There seemed to be no escaping the visions of bright scarlet blood seeping from his pale white throat, nor of the fading pulse under her fingers when she'd wrapped her arms around his still form and rocked him like a child, until common sense made her charm him just so, keeping him light enough to bear. And when Poppy Pomfrey had commanded her with a voice louder than his screams, Hermione had still not relinquished her hold, staying entwined with him on the bed while the Healer bustled around them.
And wasn't that a funny thing?
That after all the years of insulting comments, some enough to send her from his classroom in tears, she was there with him at the end, smoothing back his hair and pressing kisses to his forehead, begging that he would just live. Because of all people, Severus Snape should not have had to be alone – not after all that he had done.
Going back for his body had nearly killed her. She hadn't waited long enough after the end of the battle, just ran for the Shack as soon as it seemed that they'd have a chance, and her body had been struck with enough curses that by the time she reached him, her strength was draining so rapidly that using her wand long enough to move him had left her motionless in the Hospital wing long after he'd awoken. Still, it seemed fitting – he had sacrificed the most, he had lost himself, and it was all for them. To keep them safe. He was the bravest man she had ever known. Was… or is? Hermione ran a hand over her mouth, struck for what felt like the thousandth time with the lack of knowledge – where was he now? Was he even alive?
With a sigh, Hermione rolled onto her back and pressed damp palms to her forehead, willing herself back to sleep. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't; but on this night, she had the memory of his low, velvet voice in her ear, calling her, guiding her, and it was easy to cling onto the soothing tones and close her eyes just long enough to…
Her voice rang out through the house as she opened the front door, pausing to stick her neck into the front sitting room, and then continuing down the long hallway to the back of the house, following the muffled answer.
Her parents lived in a small two bedroom terrace house in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, adjacent to their dental practice. They'd had two years without her, and when she'd finally managed to track them down to the ends of the earth of all places, none of them wanted her to leave. So she stayed.
Hermione's own flat was on the other side of the city, as close to the water as she could afford, which meant that it was a tiny place, just large enough for her most important books. Her feet would often carry her to her mother and father; the thrill of seeing them whenever she wanted, without risk, without fear, had never worn off.
Today, though, the thrill was tempered somewhat. Severus' voice had haunted her steps from the moment she'd woken again and stumbled into the shower. Apparating to the small apothecary where she was working was made that much harder when he was calling her to 'come back, come back now - sweet, silly girl…' and as soon as the Tempus had struck five, she was running down tree lined streets to the only safe haven that she could count on. It was all too much – hearing his voice now, in her mind, after all of these years… Merlin, it hurt.
Clutching her stomach, Hermione made it into the kitchen and sunk into a stool at the bench, resting her head on her folded arms. She brushed off the concerns of her mother, pleading tiredness and work, but still his voice was in her ear, pleading over and over again.
"Hermione? Did you hear what I said?"
"What?" she mumbled, shaking her head. "No. Sorry, mum."
Jean smiled softly and shrugged, still beautiful in a plain type of way, not unlike her daughter. Her darker hair was shorter than Hermione's, more tameable and presentable, but the older woman's brown, sharp eyes missed nothing. "You're far away, aren't you?"
Hermione winced, conscious that her mother knew her better than most and said honestly, "Very far. At Hogwarts, it seems. Quite far from here…"
"Ah." Her mother tapped her shoulder then sat down on the stool on the other side of the bench. When her own small hands reached out to curl around Hermione's arm, the younger witch knew that she had missed something that was quite possibly monumental. Her body was tingling with it, tasting the atmosphere in the room.
"I said," her mother said slowly, drawing out the words as she trained her eyes on her daughter's face, measuring her reaction, "that your father and I think that it is time."
"Time for what?" Hermione was breathless with confusion and anticipation. And truly - for what? What did she even want, that her body would be reacting in such a way?
Jean smiled again and then her small mouth, lined with wrinkles from the last ten years, formed the words that had Hermione's heart stopping and starting like a dying engine, and the deep voice of the Professor in her ears reaching a crescendo until it broke over her in rolling waves.
"It's time to go home. For all of us – us three. We want to go home again, Hermione; and we want you to come with us."