Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by JK Rowling and other interested parties. Any characters or locations you recognise are the property of these individuals and corporations. I make no money from the writing of this story.
This story is for Toblass and the inspiration was taken at her request from the song In the Forest by Van Morrison. It was written over a year ago, I am finally getting around to publishing it on this site.
In the Forest
There was a small glade in which she could escape to. Technically it was inside the boundaries of the Forbidden Forest but the approach to it was in that grey area of locations that could be deemed safe, as long as you successfully avoided the wildly gesticulating branches of the Whomping Willow.
It had become 'their' spot. A clearing set away from the prying eyes and wondering minds of the school. The students were almost relentless in their quest in relation to her. Where did she come from? How come no one knew about Dumbledore having family before? Why did she always look so sad? What had Sirius Black ever done to her to make her reject his advances on a regular basis? Why did she attend classes but not get sorted into any house? Why did she like hanging around with that Snape boy?
He knew her secret. Here in this sunlit clearing she had gone against the orders given to her by her 'great-uncle' and the Unspeakable in the Ministry of Magic who was helping rectify her situation. Here in this world, separate from that of the castle and its inhabitants, she felt herself to be free from her constraints and he was a good listener.
They had each taken a very carefully worded vow that anything one told the other in this dell would never leave it. They both needed this; a place where no front had to be presented, where they were free to be nothing other than their true selves. As the year wore on, they each found the other to become the one person who knew them better than anyone else.
She needed to be able to tell someone of the crushing guilt she felt every time she laid eyes on anyone that she knew was going to die an early death.
He needed to be able to admit that he had made a mistake in taking the Dark Mark that had promised so many wonderful things but in reality was the worst thing he could have done.
She needed to confess how hard it was to masquerade as a half-blood when she was in fact a Muggleborn.
He needed to have someone to listen to him about the feelings he had had for Lily Evans, how his one misspoken word caused the second biggest regret of his life.
She needed someone other than the Headmaster to know that her name was Hermione Granger, not Jean Dumbledore.
As the months passed they grew closer and closer in that glade. It was their escape, as well as their salvation. Even though Hermione was frank about the fact she came from the future due to a Time Turner accident, she was careful that Severus was not given too much information about what was to come. She believed the theory that nothing she did would change the future—it had already happened and so would again.
Severus knew that whatever was said to her would be moot by the time her little adventure here in the past was over. He was not a Slytherin for naught. He was able to read between the lines and listen to what she was carefully not saying in order to determine that he was one of the people she felt guilt about seeing due to their untimely death. The one thing he could not quite figure out was the timescale to which she was referring. There were times when he thought he must be an old man by the time they met again and others where it seemed like it would only be a few years.
But through all their meetings and discussions, all their escapes from the confines of the ancient castle, all their desires to avoid certain members of the student body, there was one almost unavoidable occurrence. They fell in love.
For Severus, this pill was bittersweet. He could have his time with her now, revel in it even, but ultimately knew he was sentencing himself to years of torment once she re-entered his life as an ignorant girl.
For Hermione, she knew that as soon as she left this time, she would return to a present where Severus was dead. She had seen him die, there was no changing it.
Their encounters were desperate, they were loving, they were melancholic; but neither one regretted allowing the other into their hearts.
Then came the day they were dreading. The Unspeakable had finally perfected his formula and successfully created a Time Forwarder. He was justifiably proud of his achievement, not least because no one could go into the future to determine what happened to them—they could only go as far as they had ever lived.
Hermione said goodbye to the few people she had allowed herself to become acquainted with; mostly people who she did not know at all in the future and a few teachers who had all been sworn to secrecy.
It was with a heavy heart that she said goodbye to Severus for all time. Their final encounter was the sweetest, most loving one yet. Both of them knew it was the end and neither held any animosity toward the other; the love they knew they shared was the only emotion allowed. They both knew it was a memory they would hold dear and sacrosanct for the rest of their lives.
Hermione re-materialised in the office of Headmistress McGonagall. She was not at all surprised to find the older woman expecting her, ready with words of comfort and fond remembrance of the young girl who had impressed her all those years ago. She assured the younger witch that no one even knew of her disappearance and would not if she did not wish to discuss it. Minerva made her sit and plied her with tea and biscuits to help her recover from her temporal displacement. All Hermione wanted to do was escape to her glade and mourn and remember her lost love. Grief was threatening to overwhelm her just before she was finally able to make her excuses and leave the Headmistress alone.
As it was still summer, the all-weather charm that she and Severus had researched and developed all those years ago was quite unnecessary to cast, but she did so out of habit and a desire to be close to him again. Their bed of leaves remained intact after a stasis charm had been placed on it one day when she had expressed a desire to always be able to lie upon it. The intervening years had meant nothing as the couple had also invented and placed other charms around the glade to keep it secret and unaffected by the changing seasons.
Her eyes swimming with tears, Hermione sank down onto the bed of soft leaves and poured her grief out. She would have to endure this alone, none of her friends would understand her choices and she had deliberately distanced herself from the very people she knew they would all ask about. She cried for their lost love. She knew from the aftermath of the battle and what Harry had revealed that Severus was in love once more with Lily Evans, something must have happened after she left the past to rekindle Severus' feelings for her. She cried because he died loving another woman, and she was left to try and figure out a way forward without him.
At one point, she fancied she felt the presence of Severus himself as he lay down behind her and offered his comfort. It was only once her tears and sobs began to die away that she realised she was not in fact alone. With a startled gasp, she turned over and looked into the dark eyes of the very one she had been mourning.
"Hello," he said simply.
Hermione did not even hesitate. She immediately pushed him onto his back, climbed on him and melded her lips to his. Frantically their hands began to caress, finding the barrier of clothes to be almost an insult. With whispered spells here and tearing of fabric there, they completely destroyed any hope of restoring their garments but neither gave a care for that—they simply needed the skin-to-skin contact as quickly as possible. Right this second, Hermione did not question how Severus came to be here, she needed him with a desperation born from the belief she had had that she would never see him again. Severus needed Hermione with an equal desperation but one which was born from finally, after twenty years, being reunited with the true love of his life.
After their initial desire had been slaked, Hermione rested her hand on Severus' chest and propped her chin upon it. "How?" she asked simply.
"I did not die," he replied.
"Yes, you did," she argued. "I saw you die."
"Did you check?" he asked.
"Of cou—oh!" she suddenly realised. "But the amount of blood…" she trailed off and a tear leaked from her eye, remembering how they had seen him, and left him. An immense amount of guilt washed over her and before she knew it, she was again crying while being held in Severus' arms as he rocked her and made soothing noises.
"I knew from all our discussions that I was one of the ones that had died," he said softly. "I knew that you believed nothing would change in the future but I was determined to be able to live my life with you. All the things I have done since the day you left were in order to bring me to this moment, to this clearing, to be able to hold you and love you again. Death was not going to be able to cheat me of that, neither was circumstance. Albus might have refused on my request to tell anyone of my true motivation and the reason he trusted me so implicitly. We even staged certain scenes between us in order to reach our ultimate goals. But he left all the evidence behind to exonerate me and prove my true allegiances."
"So, you didn't fall in love with her again?" Hermione asked, needing the confirmation.
"No, it was always you," Severus affirmed. "You don't know how hard it has been…"
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It was only a few months after I started teaching when I realised how you would return to my life," he said, needing her to understand what he had gone through. "I dreaded the day you would show up and it was the reason I kept my distance from most people—I knew I would not be able to bear their silent scrutiny and accusations when it became apparent that you had once been among us."
"Did they say anything?" Hermione asked gently.
"No they did not; not to me at any rate. Albus smoothed a lot of it over and I had a frank discussion with Minerva just a few years ago. The hardest part has been keeping you at such a distance; especially once you began to become the woman I knew, the woman I love." He caressed her cheek and neck gently. "I readied myself before the battle, I knew I was taking a risk but it was worth it. After you and Potter left, Lucius returned and healed me. He knew I had a reason to live and he needed my support to avoid another jail term. I have been recuperating at his Manor, waiting for today to come so I could meet you here and finally be able to declare myself to you, love. My love, my only love."
"Oh, Severus, I love you too," she said. "Marry me."
Severus' eyebrows rose in surprise. "Is that not a question I am supposed to ask you?" he enquired.
"It wasn't a question; and anyway, to hell with convention; nothing about us is conventional," Hermione stated. "Once we leave this sanctuary we will have to deal with the multitudes of questions and attitudes, just like we did back then. I want us to be secure in each other and our feelings before we have to face that. I want us to be united when we see them. I want us to be us."
"Yes," Severus said with a smile.
"Yes you'll marry me?" Hermione asked, needing to be sure.
"Yes, I'll marry you," he replied. Her brilliant smile mirrored his—the first time she had seen it on him as an adult. She pressed her fingers gently against his lips as though memorising it before kissing it away and initiating their second round of lovemaking. This time it was slow and sensual, their love lacing every movement, every word as they joined together.
It was several hours before Severus summoned a house elf to obtain them some fresh clothes and they prepared to return to the real world. Hand-in-hand, they traversed the path that had led them to each other in the first place. Their love was born in the forest, but it would thrive in the castle and the world beyond; thrive because they shared it and because they lived for each other.
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