Disclaimer:  Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.  Dedicated to Lynn for giving me the idea in the first place.  I hope it does your beautiful experience justice, my dear.

Wings Beating Softly in the Night

It was a quiet, peaceful night.  The sort of night where one could sit and watch the stars for hours and think of nothing else.  Lazing by the edge of the lake.  Feet dangling just above the water…toes dipping for only a moment in its frigidity before retreating.

Severus Snape was walking slowly along the shore of the lake.  He had moderately important business in the Forbidden Forest but it was such a beautiful night that he could not resist taking a less direct path.  One foot after another, he traced along a path he knew by memory.  He had come this way so many times when he had need of privacy and solitude.  Needed a chance to think. 

This was such a time.

It was quiet in Hogwarts.  Voldemort had long since been dispatched to whatever circle of hell was most appropriate for a deranged, genocidal maniac.  The world was at peace, the term had ended and the summer holidays, begun with so many tear-filled farewells, seemed filled with weddings and announcements of impending births.  It was as if the wizarding population had decided to go for broke and make up for lost time.

And, Severus was surprised to discover, he hadn't a sarcastic remark to make about it.

Finding an old stone bench, Severus sat down and looked out over the pristine surface of the water.  There was barely a ripple to be seen on such a quiet night.  There was scarcely a breath of wind…only the gentle sighing of trees and the soft hooting of an owl that had obviously woken for the night's hunting.  Severus felt as if he could sit there until morning and watch the sun rise in the east.  It would not be the first time he had done such a thing.

"Ah, but you do have a small task to complete tonight," he thought to himself.  "The matter of collecting an ingredient that can be found only on nights like this."

With some regret, he stood up and cast one last glance at the lake before resuming his journey.

As he approached the forest, he could hear the noises that the nocturnal creatures made.  The scurrying of small animals, eager to avoid becoming a larger predator's repast.  The clicking of an immature acromantula's jaws.  The soft whinny of a unicorn.  The harsh voice of a centaur.  The sad howl of a wolf.

The sounds of a forest that was very much alive, despite the almost oppressive darkness.

Severus entered the forest with the ease of someone who knew its secrets well.  He could protect himself against anything that might wish to attack him.  After all, had he not been able to protect himself against Voldemort?  Even when his loyalty was called into question by Lucius…had he not been able to ensure his continued survival and usefulness at the cost of Lucius' sanity?  For a moment, he felt a pang of regret…he had been the one to tell Draco of his father's punishment.  It had served a worthwhile purpose in turning the young man away from the Dark Lord but did the end really justify the means?  If only Lucius had not been such a blind, arrogant fool.

If only he had thought with his head (for he had been an intelligent man) instead of his…well, Severus supposed it was not right to speak ill of the dead or the dead to the world.

Then again, if Lucius had not captured her…perhaps the situation would have been reversed.  Or turned upside-down.  In any event, Lucius paid for his crimes in the eyes of society but, in Severus' opinion, the Dementor's Kiss was far too good for him.

Lucius had sought to tame a vibrant soul, break a strong spirit, sully an innocent…in the end, he was nothing more than a passing meal.

And she had survived…not untainted or unharmed…but unbroken and that was all that mattered.

Severus shook his head slightly, wondering if she still had nightmares.  She had come to him so many times for dreamless sleep potion and he always refused it to her.

"Do not let your dreams have power over you," he told her.  She looked as if she might have cried from frustration the first few times he told her but, in time, she understood.  And she was grateful.

When he had accepted the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts, there had been no doubt in his mind she would accept his former post.  It was a well-known fact that women were much better at brewing potions than men.  They had greater dexterity in handling the ingredients…a greater sensibility to potential reactions.  Women felt things…were more intuitive.  He, for example, while considered to be a very intelligent man who had scored an impressive number of NEWTs and could follow logical conclusions when it came to researching new ideas, could not quite emulate the new Potions Mistress who could follow an idea through gut instinct alone.

They each came to the same conclusions inevitably…it was their way of getting there that differed.

She still came to him for advice when she was faced with a puzzle and he found that talking to her made him feel less useless…made him feel that she, at least, respected him for the knowledge he possessed rather than despise him for his past mistakes.  In her eyes he could still see something of the inquisitive student who was never satisfied with merely meeting expectations.  There was still that drive to prove herself but it was tempered by the knowledge that there were many who would never get that chance.  She had lost a great deal in the effort to rid the world of the Dark Lord…and there was a loneliness in her manner that, he realized, would never completely go away.

Just as his had not…until one night when he had finished putting away the paperwork of another school year and was planning to retire early for the evening.  She had come to his classroom and had chatted about summer holidays (she would be staying at Hogwarts as well) before suggesting a walk outside.  They walked in silence, quietly navigating the well-maintained paths through the gardens.  And, although they did not speak a word, he inexplicably felt a kinship with her that he had not felt before. 

And there had been many such walks, always in silence although, he had noticed, that their hands brushed gently against each other much more often than they had before.  He knew her hands by memory.  Hands that were delicate and dexterous in handling the most volatile of ingredients.  Hands that were strong enough to kill.  He could not say what that small contact meant.  He could only hope that it meant something.

It had been such a long time since he had hoped for anything other than a quick, painless death.

Shaking his head and cursing himself a Hufflepuff fool, Severus made his way down to a small clearing ringed by stones.  What he was looking for would be here tonight and he only needed the smallest bit for the potion he wished to brew.

And that was the exact moment he realized that he was not alone.  There was a cloaked figure walking in the clearing…slowly and very carefully as if afraid to alert anything to its presence.  It stood for a moment and lowered the hood that was covering its head.  Severus was shocked to see Hermione Granger.

He stood still and watched as she kneeled down and picked up something off the ground.  She opened her hand gently and he could clearly see a Moonshadow Swallowtail butterfly sitting quite contentedly on her open palm.  He saw her smile as she touched the wings in an affectionate manner.

"So dark and beautiful," she murmured.  "You avoid the garish light of day to flourish in the soft, velvety night."

Severus was entranced.  He had always known that the creatures were very timid, taking flight at the slightest hint of danger.  He had never been able to capture one in order to collect a tiny bit of wing that was the essential part of several healing potions and here she was…walking through a veritable carpet of them.  He could see them clearly now in the moonlight…all clustered around her on the ground.  Wings beating silently, flashes of blue, purple and emerald green.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them quietly tolerating the intrusion.

She touched the large insect on her hand again and smiled.  It was easily the size of a bluebird and it seemed perfectly satisfied to sit on her outstretched hand.

There was something so beautiful about the scene in front of him and Severus was afraid to move for fear of disturbing it.  He was almost holding his breath.

As if suddenly sensing his presence, she turned slightly and her eyes met his.  She could not help the small intake of breath or the slight step backwards she took.  It was barely a movement at all but it was enough to make the butterflies nervous.  They took to their wings en masse and Severus could barely see Hermione through the beating of frantic little wings.  They surrounded her in their dark beauty, the many wings causing her hair to move and her robes to ripple in the breeze they created.   She raised her arms and laughed as they circled her relentlessly…as if to punish her for frightening them so badly.

But, in Severus' mind, it was a vision of sheer beauty…this woman touched by wings of healing…he could not help coming closer to her…wanting to hold her…wanting to share in the experience…wanting her.  He reached her in moments and took her in his arms and held her close.  Her arms went around him and her head rested on his chest.  The soft beating of wings continued for several minutes and he felt the soft touches on his face and the gentle breeze in his hair.  But, even after all was quiet and the butterflies had disappeared into the night, he did not let her go.

And neither did she.

And, sometime later, he realized that he had forgotten to collect what it was he had originally gone to the forest for.  But somehow, gazing at the sleeping woman beside him, it didn't seem all that important anymore…there would be other opportunities.

What he had found instead was far more precious.