Written for the 2015 SSHG_Promptfest on lj. Reveals went up a while back, but I'm slow.
Prompt: Submitted by carowren: Severus lives in a cottage, deep within a huge magical forest. He's not happy when Hermione shows up needing his help. She's not leaving until she gets what she came for. It took a long time to travel there, after all (SS/HG or SS & HG).
Warning(s): Curse words abound! Language and some non-sexual nudity.
Note: "I threw a wish in the well, don't ask me I'll never tell." —Carly Rae Jepsen
Summary: You know the saying—be careful what you wish for. Especially when a magical wishing well with a sense of the absurd is involved.
"If I never see another bloody forest for the rest of my life, it will be too soon!" Hermione roared as she hacked away yet another thick vine as its tendrils reached for her. Worse even than the Forest of Dean and all its sad memories, this magical forest in the wilds of Brazil had just about done her in. Every plant, it seemed, was murderous; the insects and other wildlife were just as dangerous and hungry for human flesh. Hermione hoped her destination was close because she honestly wasn't sure if she would make it through. This was her fourth day in the wooded hell and she only hoped it wouldn't be her last.
Viciously hacking another vindictive vine out of the way, Hermione let out a yell. There, just a few more meters, was that a cabin? With renewed fervor, Hermione pushed herself through the brambles and fired one last Diffindo before breaking free and running up to the small, dilapidated cottage. Naturally, the door was locked. Hermione tried Alohomora even though she didn't expect it to work. Of course it wouldn't—nothing on this adventure had gone as planned. Banging on the door with both fists, Hermione yelled a few choice naughty words in frustration.
Surprisingly, the door flew open and she tumbled inside. The interior was cool and dark and such a welcome relief from the humidity of the jungle that she nearly cried. As she waited for her eyes to adjust, she heard a sound to her left.
"Such terrible language from Hogwarts' best and brightest."
Hermione whirled towards the voice, gasping. "SEVERUS?!" In the gloom, she could just make out the thin figure. Relieved, exhausted, terribly overwrought—Hermione burst into tears and then fainted dead away.
When she came to, Hermione took a moment to assess her body before she opened her eyes and alerted her former professor that she was awake. She noted a few cuts and bruises—not surprising, given the difficulty she'd had finding the cottage—and an extreme depletion of her magic, but otherwise she seemed to be okay. Cracking one eye open, she located Severus standing by the bed, frowning down at her with his arms crossed. Sighing, she realized she would have to face the inevitable interrogation.
Deciding she did not wish to do that lying down, Hermione swung her legs over the side of the bed and slowly raised her battered body up. "I don't suppose you'll tell me why you're here?"
"The more important question is why are you here? I certainly didn't wish for—that is, did Crump send you after me?"
Hermione noticed the abrupt mid-sentence change, but she decided not to push it. For now. "As a matter of fact, Crump had nothing to do with this," Hermione replied, referring to their mutual boss in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry. "In fact, he was most displeased to be losing a second Unspeakable to the damned Wish-Me-Well, but I insisted." She gazed up at Severus, taking in his gaunt features and hollowed eyes. "I take it you didn't find it?"
Severus stared back at her for a moment, then looked away with a snarl. "On the contrary. It sits beneath this very house, in a deep cavern. However, I do not believe it possesses the magical properties that have been ascribed to it."
"Oh?" Now he had Hermione's insatiable curiosity engaged. "Why is that? Did you make a wish? What happened? Why haven't you come back?"
"Merlin, Granger, I had nearly forgotten how much you talked." Since this had been a usual complaint of his when they worked together, Hermione ignored the insult.
"You can't seriously expect to brush me off," she said. When no answer was forthcoming, Hermione's mouth fell open. "That's it? I come all this way to find the well and you're not even going to tell me what happened?"
Severus' head snapped back around and his unsettling dark gaze held hers. "You came here for the well?"
Hermione rubbed her temples and exhaled sharply. "Alright. Clearly we have much to discuss. However, I for one am irritable and starving, so let's eat a bit first and then we can debrief each other. I'll tell you why I came if you'll tell me what happened with the Wish-Me-Well." She stood and made her way towards the door into the main room of the cottage. "What do you have in the kitchen?"
"There's nothing here."
Thinking he was only trying to rid himself of her, Hermione ignored him and continued to the small pantry. It was empty. So was the icebox and the drawer beneath the small sink. Turning in a slow circle, Hermione looked for some sign of food.
Looking incredulously at Severus, she asked, "How can there be nothing here? What have you been eating all this time?"
He shrugged one shoulder, looking uncomfortable. "There are a few edible berries and leaves in the forest."
Hermione knew her eyes were wide as saucers. "You've been eating...berries. For a year."
Severus stared mutinously back at her. "Remind me again what your diet consisted of when you were on the run from the Dark Lord? Canned peaches, wasn't it?"
"Pears," Hermione forced past gritted teeth. Shaking her head, she looked around the small cabin. "Where's my bag? I've got a few staples in there."
Severus pointed to a tiny table that held her shoes, wand, and beaded bag. Hermione strode over and Accio'd a few packages of crackers and a jar of peanut butter from the depths of the bag. "Learned my lesson last time," she said by way of conversation as she quickly buttered some of the crackers. "The boys weren't too keen on wild mushrooms. Reckon you haven't loved the forest diet, either." She handed Severus a few of the crackers and watched with a small smile as he devoured them.
She handed him another couple of crackers when he finished and then Summoned her canteen from the bag, holding it out to Severus wordlessly. After he had eaten and drank enough to satisfy him, Hermione sat on the rickety chair and buttered her own crackers. Having worked with Severus for several years following the war and his unbelievable recovery, she knew that he would eventually fill the silence. Despite his claims to hate her chattering, he nevertheless seemed to be even more uncomfortable when she was not speaking.
She was mid-cracker when he proved her right, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. "I haven't been here the full year, you know. It took me a good eight months to find this place." Hermione nodded along encouragingly. "But I have come to doubt the veracity of the reports of the well. It has thus far failed to grant my request."
Hermione cocked her head at him. "So you threw the proper coin in and made your wish, but nothing happened? Nothing at all?"
Severus shook his head and looked at the ground. "No. Your arrival is the only thing that has changed since I've been here, despite daily visits to the alleged magical waters."
"Hmm." Hermione mulled this over. When they had first discovered the ancient scrolls mentioning a magical wish-fulfilling well, Hermione and Severus had both been skeptical. Surely such a thing would have been publicized and visited by hundreds of witches and wizards every year. But then Crump had pointed out that such a powerful source of magic must certainly have been hidden, to protect the people from their own follies. Hermione had agreed, content to move on, but there had been a peculiar gleam in Severus' eye from that day forward. He was constantly distracted, always musing about the powers of the well at odd times when they were working on other projects, and Hermione had reminded him time and again of the Mirror of Erised and its destructive properties. "Best not to dwell on it," she'd told him.
Then one day, he was gone. An owl had arrived a week later with a short note, telling her simply that he was safe and had gone seeking the only thing that could make him happy. Hermione knew, even before she realized that the Wish-Me-Well scrolls were gone, what he intended. So they waited—she and Crump agreed they would give him two months to either write them with his discovery, or return. However, no note or arrival came, so Hermione began to search for him based on what they knew from the scrolls and his last movements. But everywhere she looked was a dead-end. Crump had given up, preferring to dedicate her time to other Unspeakable projects, but Hermione refused to let Severus go a second time.
And now, here they were. Safe, she supposed, as long as they didn't venture back into the forest, and healthy enough, all things considered. She didn't much care for the amount of weight he'd clearly lost on his "berries and leaves" plan, but she supposed they'd be able to fatten him up again once they were back in England.
He turned to look at her and caught her assessing him. He scowled. "I believe it's your turn to tell me why you're here," he drawled.
"Well, obviously you know I went looking for you after you disappeared." His scowl deepened, but Hermione hurried on. "I couldn't just let you leave like that," she pointed out, "and Crump wanted you hauled back in and chastised for taking off on your own. Then the weeks passed and we realized it was more serious than we'd thought, so I doubled my efforts to find you. It was very difficult, you know. I've been in more countries than even I can count." She frowned, remembering all the trouble she'd gone to in order to find him. "Anyway, Crump called the search off...well, I guess it was about the time you arrived here, actually. Four months ago, perhaps five? One day I woke up and had an overwhelming urge to find you, and I knew with a strange sort of clarity that my last resort would be to locate the well myself, and wish for you."
She studied his reaction to this announcement. First shock, then amazement, then—yes, there it was—anger.
"You foolish girl! You had no idea what you'd be facing to get here. No idea if the well even existed, much less functioned according to the legend! It could have been Dark Magic—"
"You obviously believed it existed. And you couldn't have known what you'd have been facing, either. Yet you came." Hermione crossed her arms and glared at him.
"Yes, but I was willing to sacrifice everything to get here! If the well had only given me what I'd wished, I would have been—"
Seeming to realize that he'd been about to discuss his wish some more, he stopped and clamped his mouth shut.
"What did you wish for?" Hermione asked into the sudden silence.
"As if I would tell you. It negates the power of the wish, isn't that what Muggles believe?" His lip curled up disdainfully.
Hermione thought about this. "But it hasn't given you your wish, has it? So what can it hurt?"
Severus remained silent, his eyes blazing anger and something else—something that looked a lot like embarrassment. Realizing she'd get nothing more out of him right now, she stood and brushed the crumbs off her lap.
"Well, then, if you don't mind, I'd like to see the well. Maybe I'll make a wish, myself."
"No!" Severus reached a hand out, then let it drop to his side. "That is, I would not recommend it. Clearly, the well is useless. It will probably fail to grant your wish, or even put a horrible twist on it like it has done for me..."
He trailed off and his eyes searched her face for a moment as an unpleasant thought seemed to occur to him. Then he shook himself and gestured to the bedroom.
"No doubt you've been through a lot to get here. Why don't you rest for a bit and we'll talk again when you wake up."
Instantly, Hermione's senses went on high alert. Severus Snape was many things, but 'considerate' was not one. Distrustful, she nonetheless nodded and faked a yawn.
"You're right, Severus. I think I'll knock off for a few hours, and then we can talk." Making herself comfortable in the narrow bed, she closed her eyes and settled down to wait. She gradually slowed her breathing, aware that he was watching her with his hawk-like gaze the whole time. Soon she added in the occasional snore, even permitting herself to drool on the pillow a bit. She was rewarded soon after with the sound of his shoes on the wooden floor and a muttered spell in the vicinity of a door that must lead to the loo.
After the door swung shut, Hermione waited a full five minutes to make sure he wasn't coming back. Then she leapt up from the bed, snatched her wand—honestly, had the man forgotten all his Death Eater training?—and approached the door herself. Eyeing the simple construction, she noted a few odd carvings on one side of the jamb. Meant to look like ax marks, no doubt, the runes were nevertheless identifiable to someone who had made her life's work the study of foreign magic. Shaking her head at Severus' newfound blind trust, she muttered what she hoped was a good approximation of his spell and waited. Sure enough, a panel next to the door disappeared, and Hermione squinted into the darkness. A rock-hewn staircase led into the ground. Taking a deep breath, she scurried into the passageway and waited for the panel to reappear behind her.
Hermione made her way slowly down the staircase. The rocks were a bit slippery and she was afraid to light her wand in case it alerted Severus. As she ventured deeper into the earth, she puzzled over what he could possibly have come here to wish for. What one thing could a wishing well possibly provide that he was missing from his life? He had a much-sought-after career, he was celebrated as a hero, he'd even been awarded gobs of money from the Ministry when the dust settled from the war. She supposed he didn't have many friends, really, although most people were at least cordial when they saw him in the streets or bumped into him at the Ministry. Since they'd started working together, Hermione had thought he'd softened, just a bit, enough to where he certainly wasn't pushing people away with the fervor that he'd used to.
And she thought that they, at least, were friends.
Frowning, Hermione kept racking her brain, but no answer was forthcoming. She didn't know what Severus might be looking for, but she was hoping to catch up to him now and find out. A few more steps later, and the descent leveled out. She stumbled when the last step reached a passageway, not expecting the change. Putting her arms out, she determined she was now in a long hallway carved into the stone, so she shuffled forward as quietly as she could. After a few minutes, the air began to feel cooler and more humid, so she suspected she was getting close.
The passageway turned sharply to the left, and Hermione just barely caught her gasp at the sight before her. The passageway opened into a large rock cavern, filled with a brilliant blue pool that reflected light onto the walls, creating a lovely dancing blue pattern. She couldn't see the ceiling, but it must have led up to the surface somehow. The light had to be coming from somewhere. Scanning the perimeter, Hermione didn't see Severus at first, so she stepped further into the chamber. The blue water lapped at the edge of the pool at her feet, and she smiled. It looked so inviting. Her gaze fell on the beautifully constructed stone well in the middle of the pool, and Hermione felt her heart flip. This was it. This was the magical Wish-Me-Well of legend, the one that had been rumored to grant your every desire with a simple toss of a pure gold coin.
Reverently, Hermione slipped off her shoes and bag, wading slowly into the pure blue water. The temperature was perfect, and Hermione's whole body relaxed. She smiled as she sloshed towards the stone column. It was about knee-deep when she got there, and she peered in. Then she frowned. The well appeared to be empty. Glancing around the chamber, Hermione still didn't see any signs of Severus, so she clambered up to the ledge of the well and leaned forward to peer down.
Nope. It was empty.
Slipping back into the shallow pool, Hermione wondered if, perhaps, this was simply the wrong cavern. Maybe there was another well in another underground lair...
"You've lost your mind, Granger," she muttered to herself. She plopped down into the water, sitting cross-legged while she tried to figure out what was going on. Had Severus been wishing on an empty well? Surely even he wouldn't have been so stupid. And there were no coins in the bottom, anyway. Frustrated, she flopped back, intending to float on the water while she thought over everything she'd witnessed today and tried to remember what she'd read about the Wish-Me-Well.
But as soon as her head hit the water, she was sucked under. Screaming, Hermione choked on a mouthful of the blue liquid, her panic reflexes kicking in as she struggled to breach the surface. But the water continued to suck her down, inexorably pulling her towards—
Wait. She should have hit the bottom of the pool almost immediately—it had only come up to her knees before. The rational side of her brain reasserted its control, and she realized that some kind of magical force must be at play here. The water above had been perfectly still—there wasn't any drain or vortex. So it had just been the act of putting her body into the water that had activated...whatever this was.
Controlling her urge to struggle for the surface, Hermione blinked in the clear water and saw nothing but more blue going past her face. Furthermore, she didn't seem to require oxygen at the moment. Odd.
Another few seconds and then she was abruptly expelled through the surface of another pool, in another chamber very similar to the one she'd just left. Spluttering, Hermione shoved her hair out of her face and scrambled onto her hands and knees, coughing out the rest of the water she'd inhaled earlier. Looking up, she saw Severus' pale form at the far end of the cavern, swathed in a shimmering blue glow.
Hermione stood and took one step towards him before realizing that she was completely naked, and so was he. Danger, danger! her brain cried. Do not approach the nude professor!
But she couldn't help it. She had to know what he was doing and what this strange place was. Walking slowly towards him, she noticed that the water was the same pretty blue that it had been...wherever the other room was...except that now it was opaque rather than clear. She tucked that tidbit of information away for later.
As she neared Severus and a small pile of stones, Hermione thought at first that he was crying. But once she was practically on top of him, she realized that he was vehemently cursing, his words falling in quick staccato.
"Damn—bloody—wanker—such an illustrious fool—"
He knelt next to the stones, his head bowed and his fists clenched. Hermione was fascinated by the curve of his spine, so much so that she barely looked away in time when he turned his head and snapped, "I should have known you would follow me."
Taking a step back, Hermione held up her hands palms-out. "I only wanted to know where you'd gone."
Slowly, Severus rose, and Hermione's eyes dropped down his torso quickly before she yanked them back up to his face. His gaze flicked over her body, as well, albeit much more leisurely. "And have you found what you were looking for?" he growled.
"No, actually," Hermione replied coolly. "I came here, at great effort might I add, to wish on the magical well that the Severus I knew and lo—liked would be returned to me." She tilted her head and stared into the black depths of his eyes, challenging him to mock her. And also trying not to show her surprise at the word that had almost slipped out just now.
Because surely she didn't love Severus. She couldn't.
They continued to glare at one another for a long moment before Severus' shoulders slumped. "Wishing is a waste of your time. Go home, Hermione, and forget you found me here."
She frowned. It was unlike him to admit defeat. "Severus...why stay here? If the Wish-Me-Well isn't working?"
He glanced away, staring at the far end of the cavern with an uncharacteristically open expression on his sharp features. Hermione nearly wept at the look of devastation that crossed his face. Yes—she loved him. Damn it.
Luckily he dashed the feelings with his next words. "The only thing I want is here. I may as well stay and perhaps one day the well will bring her forth."
Suddenly, Hermione's sympathy turned to ire. "'Her'? Oh, Severus, surely you didn't come here to wish for Lily?" When he did not answer, merely pressed his lips together, Hermione exploded. "She's dead, Severus! Even the Resurrection Stone couldn't bring her back, not really! What makes you think a stupid bit of enchanted water would work?"
He didn't respond, or even look her way, so Hermione stepped forward and shoved his shoulder. "You're so stuck in the past that you can't even see what's right in front of you. You have a good life now—you're a war hero, you have a fulfilling job, you even have people in your life who care about you—" That finally caught his attention. But she drew in a deep breath, unwilling to admit the depths of her feelings to a man who would never see her the way she saw him.
Then inspiration struck. Lunging forward to grab a coin from the stack next to the well, Hermione tossed the gold into the void between the rocks and squeezed her eyes closed. I wish for Severus to see the truth, she thought. Then she thought it again, and again, thinking a mantra couldn't go awry.
His voice broke the charged silence. "You're naked," he pointed out.
Hermione's eyes popped open and she goggled first at him and then at the well. "Wow. It really is broken, isn't it?" She kicked the rocks with her bare foot, muttering about smart-ass magical waters and fool's errands.
"Why are you comfortable being naked in front of me? Shouldn't you have run screaming?" he pressed.
Hermione shot one last glare at the well before crossing her arms protectively over her chest and looking down her nose at Severus. "First of all, I don't know how to get out of this ruddy chamber, and second, I—well, if you don't know by now, then I'm not going to spell it out for you!" Violently throwing another coin into the well, she practically shouted, "I wish to go home!"
There was a great slurping sound, and Hermione felt herself spinning and falling as the bright blue filled her vision. Before she could even register what was happening, she fell onto the floor in her flat, clothed once again. Her wand clattered onto the floor next to her, and Crookshanks opened one eye from his perch by the window to see who had disturbed his nap. Hermione rubbed her hip where she had bumped the sofa and looked around, feeling numb.
"Well. I suppose it does work, then." Although it hadn't made Severus see the light, had it? And it obviously hadn't brought him Lily, so... But the thought of Severus waiting by that stupid well every day for four months, wishing for Lily Evans, was too much to bear. She heaved her wand across the room and stormed into the kitchen to make some tea. With a hefty dose of Firewhisky.
Just as she took the first gulp, there was a commotion in the front room as Severus himself fell onto the floor.
"Thanks a bloody lot," he muttered, standing and brushing his robes off. "Ruddy wishing well..." He broke off when he saw Hermione standing in the doorway. "It seems we've been miscommunicating," he said carefully.
"I'll say. I would never have requested you as my partner at work if I'd realized what a great, bloody idiot you are!" She searched the room for her wand and then pounced when she located it. She pointed it at Severus. "Leave."
He stared steadily at her wand, then his eyes rose to her face. "You requested me? I thought they'd stuck you with me and you were too nice to ask to change."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Such a flobberworm. Of course I requested you; you're bloody brilliant and only a fool would pass up the chance to partner with you."
He nodded slowly, then said, "And you spent the last year looking for me—because you like to work with me?"
Hermione nearly growled and she stabbed her wand in his direction. "No, dunderhead. I was worried about you."
"Because you...like me."
"This is just painful," Hermione muttered to herself. Glaring at her ceiling, Hermione said, "I woke up one day and felt an urgent need to find you. The idea of the well solidified in my head to the point where I couldn't think of any other option, so I set out to follow your footsteps and find the well. Which I did, by the way, even though it was bloody effing difficult to get through all the enchantments. And for all my trouble, I get—"
"What day was that? The urge, I mean?"
Startled, Hermione looked back at Severus. "I don't know. Why?"
"Was it approximately four and a half months ago on a Tuesday?"
Biting her lip, she thought back to the morning when she'd known she had to go after him any way she could. She'd Floo-called Ron, asking him to describe again—in detail—the feeling he'd gotten the morning that the Deluminator had brought him back to the Forest of Dean. The feeling of utter rightness. When she looked at Severus, she was cautiously hopeful. "How did you know?"
Now it was Severus' turn to stare at the ceiling before looking back at her. "That's the first day I wished on the well," he answered, shrugging helplessly, "asking it to bring me my love."
Hermione's mouth fell open into an O. She started to speak, then stopped. Then once again. He couldn't have come to the realization that she...that she...
"Well? Don't gape like a fish. I know you've a million questions." He sounded so resigned, and yet so amused, that Hermione actually smiled.
"The wishing well's a bit of an ass, isn't it?" she asked cheekily.
Severus' laughter was unexpected. "A little bit, yes," he agreed, the hint of a smile on his lips as well. Then he sobered. "When you arrived at the cottage, I thought it was a cruel joke of fate. The Great Hermione Granger, come to rescue Poor Severus Snape." He tucked his hands into the pockets on his robe. "Then you fed me, and followed me into the chamber, and I watched you standing there—unashamedly naked, unafraid to go after what you wanted—suddenly it became quite clear. But I...I am not accustomed to such beauty in my life."
He held up one hand, halting her. "I don't know what you wished for the first time. But when you wished to go home, I realized why you had come. And so I wished again, for the well to take me to the place where my love had gone." He swallowed thickly. "And here I am."
"I wished for you to see the truth," she whispered, finally letting her wand arm fall to her side. Then she grinned broadly. "So! You love me. That'll come in handy at work. Now I can pass off all the unpleasant business to you and—"
Severus was there in two long strides, tugging her up against his chest. "I'll never let you forget that you admitted you loved me first—"
"That's not fair, I vocalized no such thing—"
His lips on hers ceased the argument entirely.
For now, anyway.