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Snape was leaning against the pillar right outside her door, hands in his pockets and dark hair loose, seemingly ruffled by the wind. He looked gorgeous, and somehow homely in his less than pristine state.
They looked at each other for a while without saying anything. Hermione felt warmth spreading through her body at his sustained eye-contact and the small smile that played around his lips sent a frisson of desire through her.
"How long have you been standing there?" Hermione asked eventually.
"A while", he responded smoothly, not giving anything more away.
Hermione walked past him in direction of the park, leaving him standing behind her, the crease between his eyebrows returning.
But then she turned around and called out to him, "are you coming or not?"
Snape turned around looking surprised, before laughing and joining her, his long legs carrying him smoothly. It was Hermione's turn to be surprised. She had never seen him laugh before.
They walked together quietly for a while, both seemingly content. Occasionally Snape's arm brushed hers and Hermione was soon blushing again.
"Thank you for the flowers," she said when they had reached the park. She was sure now that they were from him. "They were all beautiful."
Snape only nodded in response, but said nothing.
"How did you know my address?" Hermione asked, curious.
It was Snape's turn to blush, the tops of his cheeks turning pale pink and Hermione found it charming. "I might have looked up your file when the receptionist was away."
"I'm glad you did." Hermione replied honestly. "I was afraid I wouldn't see you again."
"Why?" Snape asked, looking perplexed and confused again, the deep crease returning once more. Hermione wanted to smooth it away with her thumb.
"I don't know exactly. I've avoided everything else which reminds me of the magical world, but you're different somehow. You're different to what you used to be like, and I'm curious about you. I guess I wanted to know more." They wandered down the central path of the park, they were pretty much alone, excepting a couple of joggers and dog walkers. It was already dark.
"There's not much to know," Severus said quietly. "I'm training to be a doctor and I've lost my magic. I too have lost contact with our old world."
"Why did you decide to become a doctor? You could have done anything!"
"To atone," Severus said simply. Hermione didn't know what to say to that and they continued walking in silence for a while.
Hermione was hyper aware of the man walking along beside her. He was so tall and seemed at ease with himself in his long black coat. Some strands of his hair were falling over his eyes and Hermione's hands itched to brush them aside and feel the silky strands for herself. She had never been so attracted to anyone before and wondered what exactly he felt towards her.
"Why did you send me the flowers?" she asked after a long pause.
His eyes darted to hers and then back towards the path. "You were ill. How are you feeling now? You look like yourself again."
Hermione's hands instinctively went back to her face and she laughed. "Much better, thank you. I did look awful, didn't I?"
"I wouldn't say that," Snape said, and Hermione suddenly remembered that he had seen her breasts and flushed a deep red. Snape noticed and guessed the reason for the change. He coughed. "That's not what I meant. Just that it would be hard for you to look awful."
"Oh," Hermione said, pleased at the compliment.
"What do you do?" Snape changed the subject, and Hermione told him about her research, relieved to be back on safe ground. Snape was smiling as Hermione enthusiastically talked about her subject. When she glanced at him she stopped mid-sentence.
"You have a nice smile, Professor," she said. "I don't think I've ever seen you smile before."
Snape looked at her intently. "You may call me Severus, if you like, I am no one's professor any more. And when I was, I had little to smile about, Hermione."
Hermione didn't know how to respond, she didn't want to mention the war. But she flushed with pleasure when he said her name. "Severus," she tested his name aloud and found she liked the way it felt on her lips.
She looked at him again and this time his gaze was smouldering. She stumbled as a rush of desire flowed through her, and Severus instinctively grabbed her arm to steady her. They ended up standing face to face.
Hermione felt like she was burning up at the contact and her eyes dilated visibly. She noticed that Severus hadn't let her go, that his own eyes had deepened as they stayed locked with hers. She felt a throb in her groin when she realised that he was leaning down towards her. He's going to kiss me, she thought excitedly, and her tongue darted out to moisten her lips, drawing his gaze. Closer, closer...
"No, wait!" she remembered suddenly, "I'm still contagious."
Severus drew away from her again. He said nothing, and instead drew her arm into the crook of his as they moved to continue walking through the park.
The tension between them was almost unbearable. Hermione could feel the heat radiating from his body and unconsciously tightened her hold on his arm. The bottom of his coat brushed against her legs, and her breath hitched in response. How could such an innocuous contact affect her so? She angled her body into his as she looked down at his coat, accidentally brushing her breast against his arm, and she saw his fist clench as her own nipples tightened.
"Severus," she began, trying to break the tension, but at the same time he pulled her into his arms, growled "I don't care", and pressed his mouth against hers passionately, even desperately.
Hermione let out a mewl of surprise and desire and responded enthusiastically, pulling his lower lip between her teeth before slipping her tongue into his mouth. She had never been kissed so passionately before, had never felt such strong desire. Her hands felt the sides of his face, delighting in the rough texture of his slight stubble, before moving into his hair which was as silky as she had imagined it. Severus gripped her waist in return, pulling her into his body and bending her back slightly to continue kissing her, supporting her weight with his arms.
They kissed languidly, pressing against each other, revelling in their closeness. Hermione felt utterly consumed, he was caressing every part of her mouth and she returned the favour, feeling like she couldn't get close enough.
Eventually, Severus slowed the kiss and pulled back. They were both breathing heavily but remained standing close, holding each other as they tried to catch their breath. Hermione's hands were trembling as they clutched his arms.
"Wow" Hermione sighed, shaking her head.
"Wow indeed", Severus murmured, looking down at her and smiling again. A strange warmth bloomed in Hermione's chest at the sight.
He bent towards her again and gave her another soft kiss, before taking her hand in his and continuing their walk.
"You're so different now, Severus. At the doctor's you hardly spoke to me and now you seem so free and at ease. It's like you're a completely different person."
Severus smiled again. "You surprised me. I was shocked to see you there and I didn't know how to behave. When we knew each other before, I was under an immense amount of stress and I had always been cruel to you. And even though I am not that man any more, when I saw you at the doctor's I didn't know how to be the man I've become. Not when I first saw you and was so startled, and certainly not when I had to connect you to the ECG machine."
Hermione blushed at the reminder and ducked her head.
Severus shook his head. "Don't be embarrassed. You are so beautiful, Hermione, if you weren't, I wouldn't have struggled so much with how to act. Over the last years, I've managed to let go of the past, let go of the people I used to know and let go of the pain of the war. I made peace with my past and with myself and I moved on. Except, I could never quite forget you."
Hermione looked up at him, startled. "Why me?" she asked.
"You were always a difficulty for me. At first, you reminded me so much of myself when I first got to Hogwarts. Desperate to prove yourself to others, isolated, and absolutely brilliant. But you were a muggleborn, and in Gryffindor, and I had a role to play. I couldn't mentor you, or ease your arrival, as I might have done otherwise. And I was cruel to you, at first to create necessary distance between us, and then because I resented your relationship with Harry Potter.
"But I continued watching you, and I was always impressed by what I saw, even when you antagonised me. And then I heard of what happened to you during that awful year, and I remember seeing you fight so fiercely during the final battle... I was never able to forget that image.
"And then I saw you lying on the doctor's bed, and I realised that you are not a girl any more and that even with your face swollen, you were so beautiful. But I didn't know how to say anything and then you were gone. I went home that night and thought about how I would see you again, to finally have the chance to get to know you. And after you visited the next day, I decided to take a look at your file."
Hermione stopped them again and give Severus a long kiss. She was awed by his honesty and openness "I like the man you have become", she said after a while. "I like him very, very much," and then she kissed him again.
Hours later, Severus dropped Hermione back at her block of flats and she went upstairs alone, unable to hold back the grin that was spread over her face. They had talked for hours, aimlessly walking through the large park. She had told him more about her research and he had spoken about his studies to be a doctor. They had talked about her time at Hogwarts and she had confessed to stealing his potions ingredients in her second year, resulting in another passionate kiss against a tree as Severus nipped at her lips in the best punishment she had ever received. They had even managed to talk about the war, a subject Hermione always avoided, even in her own thoughts. But with him she had felt safe, safe from past horrors and torments. It had been a relief to talk about those things she had kept bottled up for so long.
She felt like a great weight had been lifted from her chest, and more than that, she felt truly happy for the first time in so very long. And she knew Severus felt the same. She could never have imagined that it was possible for him to look so joyful, but by the end of their walk he had looked younger than ever, carefree and happy. He had granted her with a full-bodied smile more than once, and the memory of his open, ardent expression as he bade her goodnight sent a thrill through Hermione.
As she fell asleep that night, a smile was still playing about Hermione's lips.
When Hermione awoke the next morning, she could feel something had changed. She reached for her mobile phone to check the time, but before she could grab it, it flew straight into her hand.
She lay there looking at the phone in her hand in disbelief. Energy was coursing through her body. She felt powerful. She had done wandless, wordless magic and it hadn't sent fear and loss coursing through her. She wanted more. She got up and reached under her bed for the box containing her wand.
Hermione was laughing with glee. She had spent the last hour performing all of her favourite spells and now there were charmed birds flying around her room, the floor of her flat looked like a meadow of wild flowers and the ceiling reflected the sky outside. She had transfigured an old t-shirt into a yellow cotton dress, and her breakfast was making itself in the kitchen.
Just one more spell to go, a spell she had always struggled with.
"Expecto Patronum!" A black panther shot from her wand.
Hermione gasped and had to sit down. She had thought of Severus kissing her, and her Patronus had shot from her wand with unprecedented ease. But it was the form it had taken which really shocked her. She was in love with Severus Snape. After seeing him only three times after years of absence from her life, and only once with any kind of mutual understanding, she was in love with him. The panther currently prowling through the magicked wild flowers was indubitable proof of that.
Only the deepest love could change the form of a Patronus. And the sleek, elegant black panther couldn't reflect any person other than Snape. Its fur was soft and silky, its eyes were dark pools which seemed to go on for ever, and Hermione could even see a slight discolouration on its left leg, reminiscent of a dark mark.
The reminder of Voldemort didn't terrify Hermione, didn't make her want to hide away and cry. Rather, it reminded her of Severus' bravery, of his own suffering, and of his parting kiss and smile the night before.
He had given her her magic back. She was no longer afraid of it, and it no longer made her miss the magical world with an unbearable ache. He had given her happiness and hope. And he had reminded her of her own ability to love. She hadn't had anyone to love in so long.
But how to proceed? Should she reveal how far she had fallen so quickly? Should she wait, and take it slowly? Would her revelation scare him away or bind him to her irrevocably? She knew she wanted the latter.
As crazy as it seemed, she already knew she had found the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, the rest of her life loving. And from Severus' kisses the day before, from his laughter and his passionate gaze resting on hers, Hermione suspected he was not far off from feeling the same.
Before she could change her mind, Hermione sent the panther Patronus bounding through the wall of her flat and away to the man who had given it its form.