Rating: T for some language
Parings: Severus Snape/Hermione Granger
Timeframe: Mainly post-DH
A/N: SS/HG HEA. Mild Ron and Lily bashing. Thanks for reading.
Disclaimer: All things Harry Potter are the express property of J. K. Rowling. I adore these characters, but I don't own them.
Prologue: The Yule Ball, Christmas 1994
Viktor Krum was an awkward dancer. OK, perhaps not an awkward dancer. In truth, he was an atrocious, ghastly, dreadful dancer.
Severus Snape looked away, because, well, it was nothing less than excruciating to watch the boy botch nearly every single step. Krum was butchering a waltz, for Merlin's sake. One could easily ruin a foxtrot perhaps—or maybe a salsa without proper training—but a waltz? How does one mutilate a waltz quite like that? Hadn't Karkaroff taught those boys anything at all? Krum may be a world famous Quiddich player with athletic prowess on a broom that few could rival, but he had no idea what to do with a woman on a dance floor.
Minerva was speaking to him. Shit, what had she been saying?
"…and Severus, the Slytherins are doing a fine job this evening. You should be proud."
"Thank you, Minerva."
Severus returned his gaze to the dance floor. Indeed, his Slytherins were doing an admirable job. He would expect nothing less; his instruction had simply refined the training they had already received. Pure blood families would never permit their children to appear to be uneducated in such basic pleasantries as waltzing.
His eyes found the Krum and the Granger girl again. Miss Granger, for all her faults, was unruffled by her date's unfortunate lack of skill, and was, surprisingly, even attempting a smile. It was clear that she was trying to mask her disappointment with aplomb, while desperately trying not to lead.
As he turned away from the couple's discordance of ineptitude and the grace, he noticed the youngest Weasley boy watching Granger, noticeably miserable; he was sitting with Potter, dressed in his appallingly ancient robes, ignoring his date. Potter looked as disenchanted as Weasley. Severus nearly laughed out loud. This was going to be a delightfully fun evening to watch unfold.
The Heroes' Ball, September 1998
The Ministry of Magic's first event after the dust settled from the war was, of all things, a grand dance. Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt believed it would help the wizarding world heal, whatever the hell that meant. Shacklebolt, in all his newly-appointed arrogance, decided the best way to do this was for the Ministry to host what he stubbornly decided to call The Heroes' Ball.
And Merlin's balls, he was expected to attend. Required was more like it.
Severus surveyed the grand ballroom with a sneer as he entered from the main door. He located Lucius and Slughorn and acknowledged Shacklebolt with a brief nod. Striding to the bar and securing himself a Firewhisky, he retreated to the shadows to sip his drink.
He glanced to the expansive dance floor. His eyes found Arthur Weasley dancing with Molly…and there was Minerva…she was smiling and dancing—dancing!—with an elderly wizard from the Ministry. Hell, if a battered, dried up widow could enjoy herself at this event, perhaps all was not lost. Peering farther across the room, his eyes fell upon Miss Granger. Her hair was pinned up, and she looked…lovely. At the moment, Miss Granger had the unfortunate task of attempting a waltz with Ronald Weasley, who was tripping over his own feet. Severus chuckled to himself. Miss Granger certainly had a way of picking the worst in dance partners.
But what Severus noticed next vanished any mirth from his throat: the lout was pawing at Miss Granger, who was trying to keep composed under the mounting display of poor taste from Weasley. His hands wandered to all kinds of inappropriate places; Miss Granger stubbornly readjusted his hands, placing them back where they should have been, over and over again. Perhaps the boy had indulged in a few too many butterbeers this evening. Despicable. Whatever the reason for his reprehensible behavior, Miss Granger was uncomfortable. Undeniably uncomfortable. Merlin, why in the hell had she agreed to dance with him?
As Miss Granger pulled Weasley's sweaty hand off her backside once again, back up to where it belonged, Severus nearly swore out loud.
Enough. That was enough.
Severus cast his drink down on the nearest horizontal surface without even looking down and strode across the expansive wood floor, cutting a path directly towards the couple. "May I cut in, Mr. Weasley?" he asked evenly.
Miss Granger looked up at Severus, her brown eyes grateful, relief permeating her features. The drunk boy didn't answer, and in fact, the impertinent arse didn't even turn his blotchy face towards Severus.
"Ya don' wanna dance wi' the greasy Death Eater, do ya 'Mione?" Weasley slurred.
Severus stood motionless as the two sorted it out.
"Well do ya?" Weasley hadn't let go of her waist or her hand.
"In fact, I do," she said stiffly.
"Fine," he said and dropped her hand. "I wasn' gettin' anywhere anyway," he muttered sullenly. The boy sauntered away toward the bar.
"My apologies, Professor. Ron has had one too many this evening already."
"Please do not apologize for Mr. Weasley's behavior, Miss Granger."
She paused. Then: "Thank you. I appreciate you…rescuing me, Professor."
"May I?" and, without waiting for her answer, Severus took her hand and placed his other gently on her waist. They began to move. "Severus, Miss Granger. I am no longer your professor, as you are well aware."
She paused, regarding him with wide, honey eyes, digesting the instruction to use his given name. "Severus, then. Thank you, Severus."
"It appears Mr. Weasley has moved on, if you will." Severus nodded towards Weasley. The boy had his arms around two witches and they were giggling as though their current brush with fame were the best thing that had ever happened to them.
She glanced in the direction Severus had pointed out and huffed a small laugh. "It seems that he has," she said wryly.
They turned their focus away from Ronald Weasley to the melody of the waltz.
Apparently Miss Granger had training. And beyond training, talent.
Severus had danced with innumerable women, from pure blood witches fawning over his Death Eater status, to endless, nameless faces that were not only eager to please but insufferably obsequious. In all that experience, there were only a handful of times when he had the pleasure of dancing with a naturally-talented dancer. And of those he had discovered who possessed that rare gift, none had surpassed technical perfection to...connect with him quite the way this woman at his hand did. None. He had searched but never found a single one that utterly, perfectly complemented him. Until now.
Miss Granger moved as an extension of himself, responding to his subtle prompts impeccably, seemingly able to predict his slightest suggestion to shift, change direction, or turn. She allowed him to lead without hesitation, yielding herself fully to his control without sacrificing an ounce of her grace or lightness. It was…shocking, if he were to be honest.
Merlin, it was nothing less than heaven dancing with her.
They were both silent for several minutes as they waltzed. Severus allowed himself to close his eyes momentarily, to fully enjoy the bliss of dancing with Hermione. He opened his eyes and gazed into hers. The question was out of his mouth before he could stop it. "If I may, does Mr. Weasley still hold your interest, Miss Granger?"
She kept her doe eyes locked on his as they glided around the floor, but didn't answer right away. Finally, she admitted, "To tell you the truth, Ronald Weasley held my interest for years while we were at Hogwarts." She smiled shyly. "I'm afraid I have little interest in anything outside of friendship any more, however," she added softly.
"I see," he responded just as softly.
He looked deeper in those brown eyes and saw a different interest there. Interest in him.
The current song ended, morphing into the next. Merlin, he did not want to let her go. Perhaps she will continue to dance with me. Severus pulled Hermione somewhat closer to accommodate the music's slower rhythm. "May I…is this too close, Miss Granger?" he asked quietly.
"If you dance with me like this, you must call me Hermione."
"Of course, Hermione." He looked down at her. "But you haven't answered my question."
"Yes, it's all right, Severus." She smiled up at him shyly.
He pulled her closer still, and she was so tiny, Merlin, so small, the top of her head—now so near to his chest—only reached just past his shoulder. He permitted himself to smell her hair; it was delightful, recalling lavender, jasmine, and a hint of rose. He wanted nothing more than to circle his arms around her and protect her from the world. From anything that might touch her.
As the song ended, she looked up at him once again with her honey brown eyes, questioning. His mind reeling, he stepped back from her. Merlin, he needed a moment's reprieve otherwise he would lose his mind this night. Or maybe his heart. He bowed to her and took her gloved hand to kiss it gently.
"Let me secure us refreshments, Hermione."
He turned, reluctant to leave her, and forced himself to walk away.
"A butterbeer and a Firewhisky."
Shacklebolt turned towards Severus at the sound of his voice. The Minister had been leaning on the end of the makeshift bar with his elbow, Firewhisky in hand, examining the crowd.
Noticing Shacklebolt's movement, Severus greeted him. "Minister."
"Mr. Snape." Shacklebolt took a swallow of his Firewhisky and eyed Severus over his glass.
"Miss Granger, eh? I approve. Wholeheartedly."
So, he'd been seen dancing with her. Of course the Minister would be watching him. Them. I don't give a shit whether you approve or not, Shacklebolt.
"I was merely saving the girl from the torture of having to dance with the Weasley boy," Severus replied evenly.
"Of course," replied Shacklebolt, raising an eyebrow.
The bartender handed Severus the two drinks.
"Mr. Snape. Have a…pleasant evening," Shacklebolt said, a decided smirk on his face. Severus thought it was in his best interest not to reply as he strode away.
Hermione watched as Professor Snape—Severus—withdrew across the room to the bar to procure her a drink, his formal robes billowing in his wake like tongues of black fire. All at once, he disappeared, engulfed in the press of ball gowns and dress robes.
Hermione glanced over to see Ginny seated at the table they had reserved earlier. "Hermione!" Ginny squealed at the sight of her, waiving her over. Hermione retreated to the table and settled herself in the chair next to Ginny, lightheaded. She had trouble remembering anything as heavenly as the last fifteen minutes of her life. For a moment, she had trouble even remembering her own name.
"What?" She felt her cheeks grow hot as Ginny stared at her.
"You were dancing with Professor Snape!"
"I know who I was dancing with, Ginny," Hermione responded, feeling herself blush even more.
"I've never seen him dance like that with anyone before," Ginny said conspiratorially, leaning towards Hermione.
"So? He's very good dancer, Ginny," Hermione said, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Ob-vious-ly," Ginny said, lowering her voice to mimic his. Then: "He fancies you, Hermione. It's written all over his face," she said seriously.
"Why would you say that? We were only dancing," Hermione responded lightly. Oh, my…I wonder…I hope…
"I'm glad he does," Ginny continued as if Hermione hadn't spoken. "Ron's gone mad with fame. He's just awful. I…you know how much I love you both, Hermione, but I'm glad you aren't together anymore. He's become…disgusting. Repulsive. Embarrassing. More so than he's ever been. I wouldn't want him anywhere near you." Ginny went to take a drink, stopping the glass right before her lips. "Here comes Snape," she whispered softly from behind her butterbeer before taking a sip.
"Miss Weasley," Severus nodded at her best girlfriend as he approached the table. "Hello, Professor," Ginny responded, eyes twinkling. "Hermione, your butterbeer," he said, handing the glass to her. Hermione could see Ginny's eyes widen as Severus used her given name.
"Thank you, Severus." In response to this, Ginny's eyes widened more.
He stood and waited for her to take a drink of her butterbeer. "Another dance, Hermione?" He said, bending forward and pulling her hand to his lips and kissing it, his infinitely black eyes locking on hers. Hermione could see that Ginny's mouth fall open. Seeming to realize what she'd done, Ginny snapped it shut.
"Absolutely," said Hermione softly.
And Hermione walked to the dance floor hand in hand with Severus, never once looking back.
Severus and Hermione glided around the grand dance floor—for how long, he couldn't have said. He had completely lost any notion of time. With each turn so gracefully executed, with each step so perfectly in sync, and with each shy smile returned, he found that any reluctance to pursue her had vanished, having been replaced by a longing so powerful and deep for this woman at his hand, he had no choice but to speak. Merlin, if she were mine… "Are you content to remain here at the ball?" he asked, desperate to keep the yearning and eagerness out of his voice.
He noticed the moment's hesitation before she answered. "I may be open to other suggestions," she said neutrally.
"What if we…made our leave a bit early?"
"I would like that, Severus," she said with a delicate smile.
Taking her hand, he led her off the dance floor towards the now abandoned table to retrieve her bag.
"There is a place I would like to show you, if you will permit me."
When they reached the empty entrance hall, he turned to face her, surveying her for any reservations. He knew he was being forward, and he didn't want her to feel pressured to leave with him. "Do you trust me, Hermione?" he asked her seriously.
"Inherently," she replied without any hesitation whatsoever, the confirmation in her voice reflected in her honey eyes.
Without a word, he folded his arms gently around her, then twisted them away with a soft crack.
They appeared on path winding toward an empty beach. The sand stretched long and dark in both directions, receding in a wide arch away from them, ultimately fading into inky darkness. The gentle crash of the breaking waves and the smell of the salty air blanketed them, the moon's gift the only light to see by.
They were alone.
A gentle breeze ruffled the fabric of her dress. Pulling out his wand and pointing it at himself, he vanished his dress robes, leaving a white long sleeve shirt and black dress slacks. He removed his shoes and socks, placing them on the side of the path, then bent to roll up his pants.
"May I?" he asked, raising his wand tentatively when he had finished with his trousers.
She nodded her agreement, setting her small bag down near his shoes, standing perfectly still and wandless, her eyes bright with anticipation. There was that trust again. Her unspoken belief in him, so automatic and sure, hit him in the belly, stretching him between relieved tears and grateful laughter. How many long years had it been since someone, anyone, trusted him so implicitly?
So, at that moment, whether this was the sole night he was to be honoured by her company, or whether this was the first night of a lifetime by her side, he gifted her his tortured heart in exchange for that trust. And as she looked at him expectantly and unaware, he thought that he had fared far better than she had in the bargain.
He raised his wand. With a flick, her long gloves became a soft cardigan sweater, her gown, a knee-length flowy dress. She looked down and smiled. "They're lovely. Thank you," she said simply, removing her heels. Hermione retrieved her own wand from her bag and transformed her high heels into flat sandals. Placing them near his shoes, she picked up her bag to take it with her.
The warm ocean breeze continued its fascination with her dress. "Will you be cold?" Severus asked her, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt, then beginning to roll up his shirt sleeves.
She smiled enormously. "I think not," she said and removed her cardigan.
They walked toward the water, feet in the soft, warm sand and then turned north to parallel the shoreline.
"Where are we, Severus?"
"Corsica," he responded warmly. "It's a favourite place of mine."
He saw the surprise on her face. He supposed it was because of the distance he had Apparated them.
"Severus, it's so incredibly beautiful." she said softly, stopping to stare out at the moon's reflection rippling on the dark water.
"Yes. Beautiful," he said, staring at her as she watched the gentle waves.
"Thank you for sharing it with me," Hermione said, turning to gaze at him.
"Thank you for allowing me to," he replied, tenderly smiling down at her.
As they walked farther down the beach in comfortable silence, the surf toyed at their feet, pooling intermittently, celebrating their quiet company.
As Hermione raised her hand to tuck a wayward strand of curl behind her ear, he saw it in the moonlight: dull red strokes that had been brutally slashed into the fair skin of her inner arm. His stomach roiled and twisted at the sight of it. He didn't intend to, but he froze, unable to tear his eyes away.
He'd heard about it, of course; everyone had. But seeing it in person was an entirely different thing. Mudblood. A thought flitted across his mind: where was he precisely when it had happened and why had he not been there to protect her?
Hermione halted, a step ahead of him. She turned, a question forming on her lips. When she saw his focus pinned on her arm, she knew, of course. "Severus, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. I'll just cover it with a glamour…" and she opened her bag, presumably to retrieve her wand.
"No…I…it's fine—I..." he stumbled. Fate wasn't cruel. Fate was far worse than cruel. To defile the skin of the woman he found himself in love with, to have the one word that encapsulated all that he despised about himself—carved on her for life, no less—meant fate was one sadistic, ugly bitch.
Hermione regarded him in the moonlight, pausing before casting the spell. "Severus. They're letters on my arm, nothing more. Some might say these letters define me accurately—" He flinched when she said that and opened his mouth to correct her, but she continued, without a trace of anger, without allowing him to speak. "—since it's a word some use for Muggleborns—and it might define me in their eyes. It doesn't define me in mine. Don't you see, Severus? I am not defined by it. This scar, this word, is only what we make it, what we allow it to be." She reached out to tug at his left hand, tenderly rotating it to expose the faded but still visible brand. She looked him in the eye, her fingers softly running over his Mark. "Mine is not so unlike yours. Our scars describe us, but only in some small way. I am not simply a Mudblood any more than you are simply a Death Eater. We are so much more than what those words imply. To acknowledge anything else gives them much more power than they deserve."
He stood for a moment, regarding her, absorbing her words.
For the first time, he understood how Lily deeded the power to sever a friendship to a word that had been screamed in embarrassment by young boy, when she could have allowed its echo to evaporate without giving it any lasting significance.
He saw that Lily's response had given that word all its control: Mudblood held no authority on its own. And he saw that Lily had chosen to reject him when in fact, she hadn't needed to, and that was what had hurt most of all. Yes, he shouldn't have said it. And beyond that, he shouldn't have thought it. But it was not the word that had ruined everything. It had been Lily.
Like Lily, Hermione could have yielded to the ugliness some heard in the word and given it sway. But instead, Hermione had chosen to deprive it of strength, and its hold on her had vanished. And instead, in her indifference, in her nonchalance, she rose above it. It no longer controlled her.
Why had he never understood this before? It was all so…simple, really.
He realized that with proper focus, he, too, could drain the word of all its power over him, as Hermione had done. In time, he, too, would be able to look at Hermione's arm and not be reminded of the pain of his past. Someday he would only see a red scar against her fair skin, and not the scar on his soul.
Perhaps Hermione could teach him this.
He saw the glimmer, the whispered promise of redemption of the final piece of his regrettable past. It was not redemption from the betrayal that cost Lily her life; he had already earned that. It was redemption from speaking the word that set all of it in motion, the one word cried out in desperation by a tortured soul, the one word that had haunted him his entire life.
Suddenly fate seemed somewhat less vindictive.
Hermione raised her wand, ready to voice the glamour's incantation. Severus silenced her with a quick "No!" which erupted from him more sharply than he had intended. She glanced up at him. "Don't cover it," he added, his tone far gentler.
Hermione regarded him with wide eyes.
The woman before him was no petty, spoiled child who would proudly hold a grudge for years. She was not given to foolishness or prone to over-reaction. She was not Lily. She was more than a beautiful, well-read witch who was gifted on the dance floor. She was a war veteran with more wisdom in her possession than he could ever have imagined. And he was ashamed at his reaction to her scar.
Words flew from his lips, words that had once stuck in his throat. "Forgive me, Hermione," he whispered.
"There is nothing to forgive, Severus," she replied evenly and smiled tentatively at him.
And they turned to walk once more.
"It's my birthday. And this is the best present I have received in a very long time," Hermione commented into the moonlight as the two strolled in the ocean air.
"Would you like to return to the ball to celebrate?" he asked anxiously, concerned she had abandoned her plans to accommodate his whim.
"No, no, Severus. There is no place I would rather be," she said, staring at him with a bright smile.
The beach began to swing sharply west, departing from the dense vegetation that rose to their right. The surf picked up, casting its spray around them. He stopped, turned to her, and held out his hand. "Then I wonder, Hermione, if you might dance with me here."
She didn't reply; instead, she took hold of his outstretched hand. Hermione took a tentative step toward him. Severus pulled her into the embrace of a slow dance as the surf teased at their feet. He closed his eyes, breathing her in, moving them as one.
"Is this too close?" she asked, echoing the words he spoke to her while they were dancing at The Heroes' Ball earlier in the evening.
"No, it's not, Hermione," he responded, opening his eyes and bending to ghost a whisper of a kiss in her lips, and, then seeing that she had closed her eyes and not pulled away, kissed her fully and tenderly.
Her response was as compatible as their dance.
"Come," he said as he broke the kiss, keeping her hand in his and turning them around to head back to the path where their shoes awaited. She moved her hand to entwine her tiny fingers in his. When they arrived at the sand near the path, he turned to her and said, "It is getting late. Would you like to go?"
"Not yet," she said, smiling at him.
In response, he conjured a blanket for them to sit on.
"Tell me," he said softly, placing himself on the blanket next to her then tenderly brushing her cheek with his fingertips.
"Tell you what, Severus?" Hermione whispered in reply, gazing back at him.
"Everything," he said, and stilled himself to listen to anything and everything she might say.
As the moon began to descend towards the endless seam of water and sky, Severus and Hermione climbed the path to retrieve their shoes. Merlin, he did not want this night to end. But it was late, and it was unseemly enough that they had disappeared from the ball after dancing together. Well, if he were going to pursue her, the beasts at the Daily Prophet would know any moment anyway.
"I would be pleased to…dance with you again, should you permit me. May I…call on you tomorrow, Hermione?"
"I would like that, Severus." She paused. "But if I may ask one thing of you…?"
"Please don't make me wait too long."
At that he smiled, bent to put his arms around her small form, and Apparated them away.
Epilogue: First Dance, September 1999
"Come, Wife." Severus stood, turning towards his bride to offer her his hand. Hermione took it, her flesh to his, and stood up from their table, her white strapless gown cascading around her feet. He caught a glimpse the ragged gashes obvious on the inside of her delicate arm, long ago healed. He smiled. No glamour, no gloves covered them. Nor would he want them to, for he, too, had been healed. By them. Somehow.
"Everyone is watching," she whispered, leaning into him.
"Let them," he said, pulling her into their first waltz as a married couple. "I see only you."