A Companion Piece to Kalina's "The Last Word"
Disclaimer: My inspiration comes from Kalina and JKR. None of it belongs to me.
There are no words to describe this. I, who so enjoy the vast repertoire and shaded nuances of the English language, am utterly at a loss. I don't know what bothers me most: to discover that I am no different from the other dim-witted fools in love on this planet, or to find myself incapable of stringing a coherent sentence together.
Hermione has already documented how we came to be together, how fate in the form of Arthur Weasley pushed the Ministry of Magic into cyberspace and my orderly life into uncharted territory. Love, I quickly discovered, has much in common with the Imperius curse: one minute the world around you is steady and rational; the next, you are at the mercy of something beyond your control, helpless to behave in a sane manner.
Our relationship---a term Hermione prefers over the old-fashioned sounding "courtship"---had progressed tidily. The day we openly acknowledged our cyber friendship and budding romance, we lunched at The Three Broomsticks and took in an afternoon Quidditch game. Lunch again at The Three Broomsticks last week. And now, lunch and shopping in Diagon Alley. And in between all our meetings, a flurry of email activity that would have crippled a flock of owls, had actual parchment been involved.
This was one of those brilliant spring days when the warmth of the sun and the blue of the sky made the receding winter seem like something out of a past lifetime. I had intended to spend the morning grading papers at my desk, then Apparating to London at noon. But the mere prospect of seeing Hermione strained my concentration to the breaking point, and I finally gave up trying to make sense of the Potions essays in front of me. I notified Dumbledore that I would be leaving earlier than expected, then grabbed my cloak and fled. I sat sipping my late morning coffee and reading the Daily Prophet in the courtyard at Toddy's, the most recent addition to Diagon Alley. Toddy's serves a variety of teas, coffees, and pastries in a bright, airy setting that's frankly at odds with its surroundings. I've heard it was opened by some young American witches who found the rest of the street adorably Victorian and hopelessly obsolete. The more staid members of the wizarding community avoid it like the plague. The younger generation, of course, adores it. But the coffee was good and it was strong, and as I say, the fine day compelled me to be outside. I was near the bottom of the cup when Hermione arrived.
Trite and cliched as it may sound, my heart leapt at the sight of her. In a determined effort to prove that I'm in no way like the love-sick adolescents in my charge at Hogwarts, I told myself that my reaction was much the same whenever I had been summoned by Voldemort: stomach clenched into a knot, blood pounding within my veins... Of course, the reaction might be similar, but the stimulus was far more pleasant. At least, this was my excuse. I rose from my seat in the gentlemanly gesture and pulled her chair out for her, but not before exchanging chaste pecks on the cheek. I detest public displays of affection; the sight of a man and woman groping and clinging, oblivious to the offended onlookers, has always bothered me. But this is the woman who has turned my life upside down, the subject of my first thoughts upon waking and the last before I fall asleep, and it seems rude to greet her like a business colleague or mere acquaintance. Hermione expressed her surprise that I was early for our lunch date, and I pointed out that she was just as early as I---her shopping bag from Flourish and Blotts indicated that she had been here awhile herself.
"I couldn't wait," she admitted, an attractive pinkness rising in her cheeks. So I'm not the only one who found the morning excruciatingly long. She ordered a cup of coffee, then spotted a delectable pastry on someone's plate at a neighboring table and decided to have one of those too. I decided to partake as well. I'd picked at breakfast at Hogwarts, anticipating the day ahead, and was suddenly ravenous. We sat in the sunshine, drinking our coffee and munching our rolls, deep in conversation about our respective weeks, even though we'd emailed each other about the topic daily. The time slid by, and when we finally rose to go, I realized that I had spent an hour totally unaware of the world around me. Perhaps those gropers weren't rude after all, but truly oblivious to their surroundings.
Too full for lunch at that point, we went straight to making the rounds of the shops. I had supplies to buy at the apothecary, and wanted to spend some time myself in Flourish and Blotts. Hermione, of course, had no objection whatsoever to returning to the bookstore. Lunch forgotten, we spent a pleasant afternoon browsing and buying. By the time hunger pangs finally hit, it was nearly four. I suggested heading for the Leaky Cauldron, but a strange look came over Hermione's face and she seemed suddenly, inexplicably nervous.
"We could go the Leaky Cauldron if you like," she said. "But I wondered---that is, I stopped in this lovely little deli last night, and they had some terribly good-looking pasta, and I bought quite a bit of it, thinking that maybe we could---ah---eat at my flat. I'm not a very good cook, you see."
I understood her nervousness then. This wasn't about dinner so much as dessert. When I first proposed meeting in Diagon Alley today, had she thought I hoped to end up at her flat? Or was she taking the initiative in pushing the relationship up a notch? Or was she just anxious for me to see where she lived and the type of housekeeper she had become?
"Pasta sounds delicious," I said, although truthfully, I could take it or leave it. And so we apparated to her flat, which was like any of a million flats in London, although so tidy and well kept it looked almost as though no one lived there. Her cat---if that's what the creature truly is---sniffed once or twice in my direction, then vanished. I was relieved: I didn't want to spend the evening swatting someone's pet away from my ankles.
We decided to join forces in the kitchen in order to bring dinner to the table. Hermione's anxiety had returned, and now I wondered if her concern wasn't about how the evening might end, but that I would somehow find her lacking because she was not inclined toward domesticity. And so I put a salad together while she heated the sauce and pasta on the stove. At one point, Hermione reached for the stirring spoon to check the sauce and found it much too hot to handle. She dropped it at once: it clattered onto the counter, splattering sauce here and there.
"Damn it," she muttered, staring down in dismay at the fresh stains on her blouse. "Did I get any on my face? I thought I felt something..."
I was tempted to point out that the skills used in the culinary arts are much the same as those required for Potions, but thought better of it. "Just a bit," I said, spotting a splotch of pasta sauce on her cheek and wiping it away gently with my thumb. And then I shifted my concentration to her eyes and felt the floor drop out from under me.
The cinnamon eyes were regarding me with a gaze of love so intense, it was nearly palpable. No one has ever looked at me that way. I am accustomed to being viewed with fear and loathing, but never this. More than mere hormone-fed adoration, I saw respect and hope and awe. For me, Severus Snape, despised potions master and former Death Eater. My mouth went dry. I realized that I was utterly, completely, head-over-heels in love with Hermione Granger, and that there was absolutely no way I could go on without this incredible woman in my life forever. For a brief moment, all I could think---although thinking is truly a chore right now---is that I owed everything to Arthur Weasley and his ceaseless fascination with Muggle technology. And then the words slip past my lips as thought wrenched from my innermost depths by Veritaserum:
"I love you, Hermione."
Then something, some Thing, flashed in her eyes, causing panic to flood my overwhelmed nervous system. I read her incorrectly. I've said too much too fast. Of course she doesn't love me. I was a fool for thinking such a thing was even possible---
"I love you too, Severus." The reply was so soft, and my mind in such chaos, that I nearly missed it.
It took a moment for her words to hit home. She said she love me. I neither dreamt it nor imagined it. I did nothing to earn or deserve this love, any more than I deserved Albus Dumbledore's mercy when I came crawling back on my knees. Suddenly, anything in life was possible, miracles did exist, and there was hope for the hopeless. And then we were in each other's arms, and the kisses were no longer chaste, but desperate as we each tried to absorb the other.
I am proud to say that we at least had the foresight to turn off the stove before we ripped off our clothes and somehow found our way into Hermione's bed. I dimly recall eating the reheated pasta at some point, but I have no idea what happened to the fine salad I'd labored over. I awoke early Sunday morning to find strands of curly brown hair tickling my chest and Hermione's scent invading my senses. Nothing in my dark past had prepared me for the overwhelming feeling of joy that permeated every cell in my body. And suddenly I knew exactly why people spent their money on sappily sentimental greeting cards and useless love tokens, why they walk into walls and grope each other in plain view of the public. I, Severus Snape, was in love. If there was any reward for surviving the hell that had been my private life, this was it.
It was noon before I Apparated back to Hogwarts. I had the misfortune to run into the Headmaster almost at once. He asked about my outing, his eyes twinkling in the usual annoying way. I would give a year's salary to know how Dumbledore can be omniscient about everyone's private lives when he couldn't spot Voldemort under Quirrell's turban for the better part of a year, but anyway, he knew. Even though it was a blandly innocuous inquiry about the visit to Diagon Alley, I could tell that he knew.
"The afternoon was quite pleasant," I said, and with a sort of malice added, "and the night, in case you're wondering, was spectacular."
Albus Dumbledore is rarely nonplussed, but I had the pleasure of rendering him momentarily speechless. He recovered quickly for an old man, saying he was pleased to hear it. He went off to attend to other business then, but I could see the lecture coming about how discretion would be necessary once Hermione takes up her teaching position here. But I have a plan. No one, after all, objects to marriage among the staff. I intend to start looking at wedding rings as soon as possible. Perhaps next weekend in Diagon Alley?