Title: Glad and Golden Hours
Notes: Please allow me to thank you all for reading and enjoying stories that I have written throughout the year. This is my little gift to you all in thanks.
Look now for glad and golden hours,
Come swiftly on the wind
Oh, rest beside the weary road
To hear the angels sing.
- 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear', as sung by Norah Jones.
Glad and Golden Hours
Snow was falling. Through the window on the first floor, Severus Snape watched as the grounds of Hogwarts were slowly covered in a blanket of white. His black eyes tracked flake after flake, as if they could discern each crystal facet.
Drawing his cloak tighter around his body, Severus considered the quietness of the castle. The students were long gone – perhaps a handful remained, but it was Minerva's year to monitor the children and the headmaster was left without a role to play. He laid his palms on the ice-cold glass, mulling over the idea of reaching out to the castle, learning where his staff and charges were. With a shrug, he removed his hands. Not for him was work on Christmas Eve.
He turned from the window and began to walk, wand out, echoing movements of a time when his patrols were vastly different from the stroll they so often were now. Eighteen years had passed since the end of the war; long days, short years, he often thought, and as he walked, Severus realised that he had never known such a long stretch of peace in his life.
Pausing, he rubbed his forehead. There was, of course, a path to take here: the maudlin road, with a whisky, a fire, perchance a book. Memories. Recollections. God forbid a pensieve, if he were drunk enough.
No, he decided firmly, batting a weary hand in the air. His steps resumed. Argus would not need to shuffle up the stairs to check on him this year; all that he needed was a walk and a nightcap, easily enough to procure for one—
He stopped abruptly. Turning this way and that, Severus squinted down darkened hallways and doors, searching for the source of…
"Music?" he muttered under his breath, scowling out of habit. It wouldn't be a student – each ward placed meticulously by his wand and renewed every year would have informed him of that.
A staff member, then.
His foot began to tap restlessly while he waited. The faint sound had left as swiftly as it had arrived. Carefully, Severus took one step forward, then another, and then another. He was moving further and further away from the library's first floor entrance, and it wasn't long until he was staring up at the vast ceiling above the sentient staircases. He craned his neck, checking this way and—
There. A floor above. Down the corridor, he reckoned, and slightly to the left…
He shouldn't. It was none of his business. She was none of his business.
And yet, he dared. To hope or to ruin, he knew not, but Severus followed the faint sound of music as it led him closer and closer to the quarters of the Arithmancy mistress, Hermione Granger.
He climbed the stairs. The music grew louder with each step, though not loud enough to bother any of the other inhabitants. Indeed he wondered why it was even audible at all – Granger was no stranger to silencing charms. It was pleasant; festive. A guitar, a piano. A woman's voice. It lured him; beguiled him. He gave into it; let it take over him.
How long had it been since he'd been crooned to by a woman on Christmas? More years than he wished to count.
His mother had sung to him – it was inexpensive, and it brought a smile to his lips as a child. She believed it to be a gift in itself; she was right, but it had taken him too long to agree. The older he became, the more he resisted her attempts at merriment and cheer – the very house was the antithesis of holiday spirit. How could her voice create an atmosphere that the people within it could not?
And now he would give anything to hear her again.
Should he knock? The door was mostly closed. Light and music and warmth was spilling from a mere tiny opening that was surely only present by mistake.
The headmaster faltered; ran an awkward hand over his mouth. His gaze flitted around the corridor. It was deserted, lit only by a nearby sconce and the bright snow falling, visible in window after window. Usually such scenes failed to move him. Now, though…
Curiosity danced over his skin. He felt it, spreading within him, drawing him out. Severus stared at the door, taking in the sounds of a glass clinking as it was set down every now and then, and quiet humming along to the music.
And without another thought, he raised his fist and knocked on the door.
She was a woman that left him puzzled, and slightly flustered. Each encounter was full of learning curves – that apparently, he could be enamoured with a woman that was more hair than face. Apparently, her frankness, unapologetic intelligence, and flashes of impatience that bordered on rudeness could be alluring. Apparently, the way she moved about the school, with such glorious purpose, was enough to rob him of speech.
Five years of her presence at the staff table in the Great Hall had not been enough to quieten the odd fascination.
"Who is it?" called her voice through the door; a glass was put down. "Hello? Is that…"
Awkwardly, Severus prodded the door and watched as it creaked open to reveal Hermione unfolding her body from the sofa. She was smiling; the fire was crackling. He had no idea how to proceed.
"Good evening," he decided on, taking in the Scots pine in the corner, decorated with twinkling silver ornaments, and the soft looking red jumper she wore that fell loosely over black leggings. She crossed the room. The smile hadn't left her mouth.
"Good evening to you, Headmaster," she said, glancing over her shoulder at the sofa and wine glass. "Will you join me? I opened a Bordeaux in honour of… well, the snow, I suppose." She gave a little laugh. "Not that it wasn't snowing earlier in the month, but a fresh fall means a ready excuse, don't you think?"
"A brilliant idea," he responded, caught between accepting and leaving, which would be the better option by far, lest he make a fool of himself. Of their own accord, his legs took him over the threshold and closer to the hearth.
"An elementary one by far," Hermione said wryly, beckoning him inside. "To be completely honest, I didn't even realise it had started snowing again until after I'd taken the top off."
"A lie, Professor Granger?" he quipped, choosing the single armchair.
The witch tittered as she closed the door with a click. On her way back to the sofa, she turned to the WWW contraption in the corner and tapped a button, reducing the volume of the jazz.
"'Tis the season," she returned, tucking cotton covered legs under her body as she settled down. "Forgive me. I was sure that you were either a student or Minerva, coming to drag me down to the kitchens for cocoa with the children. I'm not sure what would be worse. I've already opened a box of chocolates that were meant for Rose. Here." She summoned a white box with a purposeful wave of her hand.
The chocolates sailed into his lap. Individually wrapped, they glistened in the firelight.
"Already opened, you say?" Severus asked, fingers rifling through the Muggle sweets. "And why is this preferable to the spread in the kitchens?" He studied the ingredients on the back of the box. "I don't even know what half of these things are."
"That's the point. Just try one. They're divine." As if to prove it, she popped one into her mouth. He watched, rapt, as her eyes fluttered shut and the witch let out a delighted little laugh. "Divine. Go on."
Convinced, he unwrapped one small packet and bit into the ball of coconut. Seemingly innocent, the outside gave way quickly to a delicious, soft centre of—
"Ah," Severus sighed, leaning back in the armchair. "Melted chocolate. Inside another chocolate. It could be worse."
"Irresistible," she agreed.
The music wrapped around them. For the first time in years—not since, perhaps, his first year or two as a student—Severus began to recognise a peacefulness settling over him. He did not attempt to even begin to decipher whether that was due to the holiday, or the witch, or… both.
"Why are you here?"
Hermione arched an eyebrow. "Here at the castle on this very night, you mean? Are you asking as headmaster or… or…" she faltered, waving a vague hand, "…or as a friend?"
"A friend, I suppose," he answered, though truthfully he had no idea what on earth they were to each other.
"Well," she sighed, reaching for the bottle of wine, "my children spend Christmas Eve at the Burrow. I've always been invited, but I think… well, I think it's more important for them to be able to focus on Ron, rather than me. And I'd rather be here than home alone. I'll Floo home tomorrow morning, and we'll visit my parents for lunch."
Home, he remembered, was somewhere in North Yorkshire. Severus had been sitting at the staff table, finalising Hogsmeade rosters, when she'd described the wild and beautiful moors – apt, he thought, when he'd always thought the same of her.
"Besides," she continued, "I rather like the castle at Christmas. There's really… there's really nothing like it. Don't you think?"
She was mesmerising. Severus inclined his head. "I do."
A plate of golden biscuits appeared on the small coffee table between the sofa and armchair. Hermione laughed softly, before reaching for the iced, tiny trees.
"Perks of being a headmaster?"
Severus studied the biscuits, detecting the scent of cloves, ginger and cinnamon. He eyed the mismatched blobs of icing. A grin escaped.
"No," he chuckled. "Perks of being a teacher. These are for you. If I'm not mistaken, Min and the children have been busy."
Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth to stop a giggle – she failed. "No! Poor Minnie. Baking biscuits on Christmas Eve – I bet she's run herself half-mad with trying to stop those two fifth years from trying the cooking brandy. But," she said fondly, reaching for another biscuit, "this is lovely. Where are yours?"
"I don't think—" he began, well-conditioned to the odd way his students received him. Hermione coughed pointedly.
"You missed them," she said, chuckling, and he looked down at the lamp table beside him, a surprised bark of laughter escaping upon seeing more biscuits heaped on a plate.
"Charming," said Severus, snorting as he saw a biscuit shaped into something particularly crude. "Minerva has never had much patience for playing Mother."
"And you do?"
He frowned pensively. "I…" He cast about for words, hyper-aware of her tender smile. "I enjoy my students. They are…. The perk of being a headmaster, as you would say."
"Ah." Hermione bit into her third biscuit and patted the pile. She did not meet his eyes. "That, too, is a perk. For me, especially so."
"What – my headship?"
She gave a little shrug. "Who said anything about you?"
He hid a grin behind a biscuit.
"I'm glad I stayed," she said suddenly, quietly. "I was worried… about being alone tonight, I think. Somewhere in me is a thirteen year old that still thinks she has the social skills of a thestral."
Severus laced his fingers together over his lap. "Thestrals are quite social creatures," he said, willing her to understand. "They have their own ways."
"As many of us do," said Hermione, with a sigh of contentment. A clock beside one of the many bookcases chimed half-past ten.
He couldn't look at her. The room, the night, felt all too much – he wanted nothing more than to press his lips to hers.
"And why are you here?" asked Hermione, leaning forward on the sofa. He met her gaze. Something within it made him set down his half-full glass.
"I'm always here," he said slowly, turning until his body was angled towards her, and not the fire. He felt the heat from the flames; felt it as sure as the desire that twisted in his stomach, an odd mixture of pleasure and pain.
The witch nodded once. "Yes, you are."
"This is my school," he said simply, crossing one leg over the other. "There are not many other places I would rather be."
Hermione's lips curved into a slight smile. Her cheeks were flushed, and Severus wanted to press the pad of his thumb to the pinkness, to feel the warmth of her happiness for himself.
"I like that about you," she said then.
He was lost for words. Later he would think this reaction wise and inspired, for he stood hesitantly, and extended his hand. It was the wine, it was the snow, it was… her.
She rose with a faint titter, flicking her wand to the machine in the corner. The music grew louder and then the witch was in his arms, moving to the slow, beguiling rhythm whilst the lights on the tree lit up the room in golden light. He was not—had never been—a dancer, but for now, for this night…
"I am… glad," he confessed. The ends of her curls brushed his hand at her lower back. The sensation of her body pressed into his was like none other.
Hermione smiled, reaching for him. Her smaller hand cupped his cheek. "Glad that I am here?" she whispered.
Severus bent his head, guided by her gleaming eyes and the music. "That you are here," he murmured against her mouth, before capturing her lips in a kiss.