Five years after the war ended, Hermione has everything she thought she wanted – important job, faithful boyfriend, affordable flat within walking distance of the wizarding world's second biggest library... but she feels oddly unfulfilled.
To keep from going completely out of her head, she decides to take a 12-month break from it all to travel around magical Europe alone to find herself... but what she finds is a man long thought dead, a man keeping a precious secret, a man who doesn't want to be found.
When she learns why he left, what he took with him, and who he's become since the war, she finds herself falling... and realizes the problem with having all she thought she wanted was that she didn't know what she needed.
Referenced Pairings: HGSS (Sevmione), LMNM (Lucissa), BLLV (Bellamort), HPGW (Harry/Ginny), NLLL (Neville/Luna)
Rated M: Mature Content and Consensual Citrus
Genre: Romance, mostly, but with a little mystery for our couple to solve, and some drama.
Note: This fic is as canon as possible, including information learned from Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, and Pottermore, but completely disregards the DH epilogue. If you have not read Cursed Child, seen Fantastic Beasts, or spent time on Pottermore, expect mild spoilers.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME
The Heights of Greatness
"It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness."
Rome. The Eternal City.
And her sixth city in the sixth country in six months.
Hermione sighed, pulled her scarf a little more tightly around her neck, and wished the Muggle family standing nearby would get bored or cold or hungry and go away so she could go explore the part of the Ancient Roman ruins forbidden to tourists in peace.
"Would you like me to do that?" she asked, gesturing so they'd know she meant take a photo of them with their green rectangular disposable camera. She hoped they couldn't read the judgment in her expression (who goes all the way to Italy on vacation and doesn't even bring a proper camera?).
The family matriarch said something to her husband in their native language - Russian, perhaps? - and then turned back to Hermione, smiled, and nodded. Hermione took the camera and waited for the family to pose.
She couldn't help smiling as she framed the shot through the tiny viewer window. They were a picturesque group, like something off a greeting card. Mother, maybe forty, with carefully styled dark blonde hair; tall, slim, well-dressed Father with impressive mustache; graying Grandfather leaning on his cane; teenage daughter, trying to make sure the photo captured her best angle; brother, perhaps twelve, looking like he'd rather be playing football; little sister, bright-eyed with missing teeth, grinning. All they needed was a fat-cheeked baby and a mid-sized dog.
"Spah-see-bo," said the woman. (That's what it sounded like to Hermione, anyway). She took back the camera and smiled.
"You're welcome," said Hermione, hoping the word meant 'Thank you' but realizing they probably didn't know what 'You're welcome' meant anyway.
The family hurried away. Hermione watched them go, not taking her eyes off of their retreating backs until they'd safely turned a corner. She glanced around, ensuring no one else had come up (no one should! It was nearly midnight and rather cold) then apparated to the other side of the barrier. She'd already been in Rome for a week, since the first of October, and she'd been waiting for this opportunity since her arrival.
She wandered along a worn, moss-covered path, one that was probably originally a road built with limestone and cobblestone and brick, according to her research, leading... somewhere wonderful, she hoped. Perhaps even to another country, once part of the Roman Empire.
She reached out to touch the cool, smooth, white, sun-dried stone of the wall of a partially collapsed structure, the wall of what used to be... something beautiful, she hoped. A home for a little family, perhaps.
There wasn't much light, save for that given off by the moon and oddly placed eerie green lights that made some parts of this forbidden area more visible to those who were permitted to look down upon it from the concrete sidewalks above.
Earlier in the week she'd taken a tour during which a guide explained that this particular expanse of Roman ruins had been found when excavating under 'modern' Rome (built mostly in the 18th century) in an attempt to expand the underground metro system:
"It is difficult for us to put in the tunnels," said the guide in careful English, accentuated by a shrug. "It is because, every time they dig, they discover new millennia-old ruins. They prefer to keep these as intact as possible, which is why our metro has only three lines, unlike America's massive one in New York City!"
'It truly is breathtaking,' thought Hermione.
Her research into the oldest surviving records and societies of magical peoples of Ancient Europe wasn't going well, technically, in that all she'd managed to do thus far was explore and learn what others had already documented, but she was trying to enjoy it all the same. What more could she have expected? It wasn't as though she was going to simply arrive in Ireland or Greece or Italy and suddenly discover some enchanting, wizarding world-altering secret that would land her a book deal and a reputation as one of the UK's best magical scholars. When she'd taken off on this one-year sabbatical, she was looking for her true path, and though she told her boss she thought historical research was it, she had no idea what her seemingly perfect life had been missing... all she'd known was that she was miserable and couldn't pretend otherwise anymore.
She continued along the mossy path through the ruins of Ancient Rome, even straying into some of the structures that were still, by some Muggle magic, standing after all these years. Thousands of years. Taking care to gently run her fingers over walls and columns, wondering if this might have been a chair, or that a stove... Did they have stoves? They must have had chairs. She sighed. She had been known as a know-it-all in school, but this trip had only confirmed what she'd begun to suspect over the last couple of years: there was so much that she didn't know, that she would never know, and that she couldn't truly know simply by reading books.
And she hated that. She wanted to know.
She wanted to know everything.
"Tell me your secrets, Ancient Rome," she whispered to the arch of a doorway, reaching up to touch it. "I want to know about your witches and wizards, about your gods and your goddesses, about your architects and artists, your mothers and fathers, your heroes and your villains..."
Heroes. Even thinking the word reminded her of her past as right hand of Harry Potter, hero of the wizarding world. She wondered what he and the others were doing right now.
It had hurt, saying goodbye to Harry and Ginny and Luna and Neville and especially her boyfriend of almost five years, Ron (they'd agreed to 'take a break' for the twelve months rather than try to continue something long-distance. She sensed he was secretly relieved by this, as their relationship had been on rocky ground since she turned down his marriage proposal last fall) but separating herself from her life at that point was absolutely necessary, no matter how selfish it may have seemed to everyone she left behind.
"You must be hiding some secrets," she whispered to a broken bust of a woman carved from marble or granite. "Who were you? What was your name? Were you based upon a real woman, or were you a mere figment in the imagination of the man who sculpted you?"
She wished she knew more about Muggle art. She'd been to the Palazzo Brashci, a palace-turned-museum, on her third day in Rome. It was lovely on the outside, but the art inside... she had no point of reference for most of it, no background, no knowledge of the artists on display. It was a jolting reminder of the ways her Muggle education had suffered in her seven years of Magical learning (eight, if one counts the year on the run, during which she learned an undeniable amount despite being far from books and professors).
She did, however, find herself taken by a temporary fixture, a Renaissance painting entitled Judith Slaying Holofernes in which a young woman and her handmade are violently cutting the head off a bearded man who looked to have been asleep when the attempt began.
She was captivated by the painting, with its sparingly bright colors and dramatically dark shadows.
"That's called chiaroscuro," a kind-eyed older English woman informed her. "The extreme shadows, I mean. Caravaggio made that style famous, but if you ask me, Artemisia here did it better. Down this way..." She led Hermione a few paintings down the hall, in which a young woman was turned away from two inappropriately close men, one of whom looked like he was shushing her. "This is called Susannah and the Elders. It's a bible story, but Artemisia chose to depict it anyway, even going so far as to show the female nude both twisted and straight-on, at a time when women artists were greatly restricted to painting inconsequential things like baskets of fruit. If they were permitted to paint at all."
Hermione had ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with the woman, happy to listen to her explain each image in the special exhibit in detail, even though some of those details – namely the ones surrounding the painter herself, a rape victim whose abuser was convicted but never served his sentence – were painful to listen to.
Now, alone in the ruins at midnight, Hermione kept walking along the mossy, slippery path. It had rained earlier, all day in fact, leaving it slick. No wonder they didn't allow tourists in this part. It could be dangerous.
"Were you assaulted or something?" Ginny had asked when Hermione told her of her intention to spend a year escaping – no, wait, exploring – Europe alone. "Is that why you need to get away? Because whoever hurt you, Hermione..."
"No, no, nothing like that!" Hermione had assured her truthfully. Though she'd been hit on more than she would've liked after the war ended, when she found herself something of a celebrity, no one had done worse to her than placing a hand on her knee while seated on the next barstool or accidentally brushing against her in the hall of the Ministry, and she was always quick to put these men in their place, reminding them that not only was she in a relationship, she was capable of knowing what she wanted without needing convincing otherwise, thus when she said 'no, thanks,' she meant 'no, not ever.'
A rustling noise nearby startled Hermione. She leapt up. When had she sat down? Had she fallen asleep? How could she possible have fallen asleep?
She reached up. Her head was pounding. Her fingers felt moisture against her forhead. Blood? She looked for her wand. Thankfully she'd never said Nox, thus it was still lit up, not far from where she'd been lying on the path. She retrieved it and checked her fingers. Sure enough, blood. There was some on the edge of a sharp white stone, too. Hell. She must've slipped, hit her head, and passed out for a few minutes.
She hoped it was only a few minutes.
She had just used a quick spell to stop the bleeding when she heard the rustling noise again which put her instantly on edge. She made a snapping motion with her wrist, turning out the light on her wand. Were she near a forest or bushes she wouldn't have worried, but here there was less likely to be some small, sweet animal simply scurrying about, foraging for food.
The rustling again.
Hermione was just about to apparate away when a small child stepped into the dilapidated structure from the path beyond.
"Oh! Hello!" said Hermione, crouching down.
The child looked to be perhaps five or six years old, a girl, in a strangely plain black dress, or it might've been dark blue, it was difficult to tell in the moonlight. She was pale with impossibly dark eyes and the tiniest button nose. Her hair was covered by a thin, shimmery scarf fastened tightly around her head and then wrapped around a low bun in the back. She was not dressed for the weather, having no coat, tights, or gloves. Hermione quickly removed her coat, then her jumper, and held it out toward the girl. "You must be very cold."
The girl stared back at her, unblinking.
"Where are your mum and dad?" asked Hermione. Then, feeling like an idiot, she smacked herself in the forehead (right over the cut she'd just half-healed). "You probably don't speak English! My Italian isn't very good, but I'll try to figure out... Why am I prattling on? You don't know what I'm saying. Let's see..." She had very limited ability to speak Italian, relying mostly on quick translation charms that worked on the written word to get around the country and banking on the fact that there were a number of people who could speak English if she were in a bind. "Um, your... Mamma e Papa? Perduto? Dove... is... Mamma e Papa?" She was relatively certain 'dove' meant 'where' and 'perduto' meant 'lost.'
The girl did not respond.
"Here, put on my jumper," said Hermione. She pointed to the girl then mimed getting dressed. The girl still did not respond. Hermione took a step toward her. She took one step back. Hermione tried again. The girl didn't flinch or run away, but for every small step forward Hermione took, the girl took an equal sized step back, maintaining the exact distance between them.
"Aiuto? Assistenza?" asked Hermione, hoping both words meant help.
The girl pointed at Hermione. She jutted up her chin, puffed out her chest, and stared Hermione down, making her shiver.
"You remind me of... someone," Hermione whispered. "How can I help you?"
"Witch," the girl said. Not with judgment, not with surprise, but matter-of-factly.
"No!" Hermione tried to chuckle, slipping her wand into her ponytail. "No, that was my flashlight. Uh, torcia... light... flashlight."
"Witch," the girl repeated, more insistently this time.
"No!" Hermione held up her hands. "No witch!"
"Eileen?" called a deep, resonating voice, which echoed off the ancient walls. "Eileen!"
Hermione furrowed her brow. Just as she'd felt there was something familiar about the girl, there was something familiar about that voice.
"Eileen? Eileen!" A man ducked under the low arch of the doorway, crossing from the path into the mossy-floored structure Hermione was now thinking of as a home, whether it had been or not. He let out a long burst of air and lifted the girl. "You know better than to disappear in the middle of the night! You were supposed to be asleep! I woke up and panicked to find you gone. How many times have I..."
The girl was facing Hermione over the man's shoulder. She pointed again, staring, unblinking, and repeated the word.
"What? Witch?" He swiveled around. "What do you mean, witch?"
His eyes widened.
Hermione's eyes widened.
That voice had indeed been familiar.
But no, this was impossible.
Staring back at her were the impossibly dark eyes of a man with shoulder-length black hair, pale skin, thin lips, and a hooked-nose.
Staring back at her was the face of a ghost.
"Miss Granger." There was no intonation to the man's voice. No surprise, no upset, no recognition beyond the stating of her name.
"Witch," said the little girl in his arms. She smiled, which slightly decreased the spookiness of her face in this light. "Baba? Witch."
"Miss Granger," he repeated, his gaze sweeping intrusively over her body, hovering ever so briefly over her filled out figure and less briefly over the unsightly cut above her eyebrow. The man sneered, glanced at the girl, and quickly returned his expression to one of indifference.
"Professor Snape," Hermione whispered, her cinnamon brown eyes wide, her mouth unable to close all the way. "You're alive."
"It would appear so."
"I thought you were dead."
"I worked that out for myself when you expressed surprise over finding me alive, Miss Granger."
"But you're not dead." She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. She was rubbish at healing charms, thus the cut had opened itself up and begun bleeding again. "You survived."
Professor Snape opened his mouth to respond, but the approaching voice of a man called to them furiously in Italian, breaking the tension but not in a welcome way. He was rushing toward them, flanked by two other men. Even without speaking the language Hermione was able to discern that he wanted to know what they were doing there and realized they were about to be set upon by Muggle police.
She took a step forward and stumbled – the cut had her dizzy, there was blood in her eye – and the next thing she knew, Severus, still holding the girl, grabbed roughly onto her arm, jerked her toward him, and disapparated.
NOTE 18 Oct 2017 - I have noticed that there were issues with some uploaded chapters, which seems to be from things saved on the ffnet app not actually saving in the document manager. I am going through now to try to make sure all of these are fixed but if you notice anything odd (like symbols in place of words) please let me know. Thanks!
I know I said it would be awhile before I posted another HGSS fic, but this plot bunny wouldn't leave me alone and after three days of telling myself I wouldn't start posting until the end of August I gave up and decided to share it. Updates for this will be slower than When Sorrows Come - every Monday and Thursday without extra days in between. (This week no Thursday since I'm starting this fic on Wednesday, so look for Chap 2 on Monday).
Compared to When Sorrows Come this fic is shorter and less multilayered (no original characters who are also main characters, no super crazy subplots) but it still has a bit of mystery, a somewhat slow burning romance, and interspersed lemons. Oh, and as much as I love them together, Severus didn't have any sort of fling with Narcissa in this one even though it's my headcanon preference... but if you like NMSS please check out my fic Wanting Narcissa.
Forgive any mistakes or inconsistencies about Rome, please. I was last there four years ago and am working mostly off a combination of memory and the captions I wrote for the photos I took at the time with some basic researching for certain specifics, but nothing too involved. :)
Thanks for reading! Reviews always appreciated!
PS: This fic contains mature content and themes, including references to past child abuse (physical and emotional, not sexual) with adult language and occasional citrus and is therefore M-Rated.