As some of you may recall from "A Likely Story," I'm all about realism. As a result, it was a real struggle for me to find a new way to go about Sev/Herm without sacrificing that in the process. What came out is a story about a lot of things – friendship, love, social labels, and truth. Severus and Hermione just ended up being the vessels to convey what the story is really about.
Also, in order to have some realism, and still pick up right after book 5 ends, it will naturally be quite some time before there is any interaction of a romantic nature between them. If you are looking for between-the-sheets action, allow me to, as always, recommend some alternative fics:
Just about anything by Dryad is sure to be well written, and move at a relatively fast pace. (Relative to my stories, that is. Possibly not relative to your internal time clock.) Or you could just skip to the epilogue of A Likely Story.
Now, without further ado, here's how it all started (with a letter)
Dear Professor Snape,
It has taken me some time to find the courage and will to write this letter, and I'm aware that it is long overdue. You are probably not interested in the long days and nights of thought that have made up my summer and brought me to this humbling situation.
My behavior at our last Occlumency lesson was inexcusable. I have no defense, and hold no illusions concerning your forgiveness. I cannot say that I want it any more than I deserve it. What I can say is that I am desperately in need of the training. Though I still clear my mind each night, I have dreamt several times, as I am sure the Headmaster has mentioned. I got the impression that Professor Dumbledore wouldn't make you aware of the exact nature of the dreams, however. He was certainly adamant that I not do so, but after talking it over with Ron and Hermione, I've determined that you deserve to know. I know how I hate to be kept in the dark, and last year you were the only one willing to give me answers.
The most recent dream specifically concerned you. I have no idea if it was real, and I was unable to block it completely, though I did manage to awaken myself before your face was revealed. I am aware that it would be disastrous should he discover that I was not surprised to find you in his presence (hence the security on this letter, courtesy of Hermione).
I bought several Occlumency books in Diagon Alley and have finished reading them. Thanks to that I think I managed to convey enough confusion upon waking to convince him that I hadn't recognized anyone.
Although we have never gotten along, I am unwilling to be the cause, through my ignorance, of another needless death. It is for this reason that I am writing. The Headmaster is unwilling to teach me himself, presumably because he can least afford to be laid bare before Voldemort through me. I put to you that in your own position that is the lesser threat.
I hope you will reconsider and agree to meet with me following the Sorting Ceremony. If this is amenable, please owl me. Hedwig will wait.
"Should we leave off his last name, do you think?" Hermione asked, chewing nervously on the end of her quill.
"We should burn it. Harry's going to kill us!" Ron said firmly, and not for the first time.
"Not if he gives away his own location to Voldemort first and gets himself killed!" Hermione snapped, irritated by the need to continually remind Ron why this was important enough to anger Harry over. She was also painfully aware of just how closely he was leaning over the back of her chair.
Hedwig hooted from the windowsill, obviously anxious to depart. Hermione quickly cast a spell on the parchment, causing her handwriting to turn into Harry's. It had taken half the summer just to find that spell, but it would be worth it if Professor Snape would give Harry another chance.
"We're going to have to tell him before we get off the train, at the very latest," Ron commented, already trying to work out how best to keep himself and Hermione from being hexed for this. "And Ginny should be in the compartment with us. He won't want to lose his temper in front of her. Maybe Neville, too." Hermione nodded as they watched Hedwig fly away. It was going to be a long school year.
Severus Snape reread the morning's solitary piece of mail for the third time before jumping to any conclusions. Then he jumped headlong. He threw his napkin vigorously into his eggs and pushed back his chair to depart. Of course he'd felt the concerned gaze of the Headmaster as he read, but he didn't give the twinkling old fool the satisfaction of returning it. There would be too much anger in his eyes, and Dumbledore would be sure to know whom the letter was supposedly from.
Supposedly. But the language was wrong. Too formal. Not nearly petulant enough for the childish, arrogant prat that was Harry Potter. It took only a moment, once he'd reached his desk, to cast the spell that revealed the true author. He would recognize that handwriting anywhere. After all, he had to read nearly twice as much in that handwriting as any other single student's.
So the little know-it-all thought he should give Potter lessons again? He found himself intrigued. Firstly, that Potter had not given her the 'remedial potions' excuse as he was supposed to have done. Secondly, and a smirk crept across his face as he thought of it, had she warned the hapless Gryffindor what she'd done? He thought not. In fact, were it him, he'd wait until the last possible moment to tell him, considering Potter's volatile temper in the past year or so. Without another thought, he pulled a piece of blank parchment from a drawer with a flourish. He would have his satisfaction for this little – stunt. But as he began to write, another thought occurred to him.
The know-it-all was right.
Harry Potter was sitting in his room. It was August first, his birthday only one day gone, and he'd just gotten a letter from the Headmaster explaining that the Burrow was still off limits this year. And as he had no desire to spend the rest of the summer in Sirius' house, he'd responded that he'd be glad to just stay with the Dursleys. He was meditating that 'glad' had perhaps been the wrong term. Though Aunt Petunia had opened up a bit after last summer's talk about Voldemort, Uncle Vernon was worse than ever. He hardly ever let Harry into the house if he could help it. The long walks to the park that Harry had enjoyed during previous summers were now enforced absences. He supposed it was because his Uncle had finally discerned that trouble followed Harry like a starving puppy. Harry himself had come to the same conclusion years ago.
He lay back on his bed, staring at the ceiling as the light from the window faded. He had no real desire to sleep, but knew he couldn't stay awake again. As a special birthday treat, he had allowed himself a wakeful night last night to avoid the dreams, but now he was exhausted. He purposely cleared his mind as Professor Snape had instructed him, trying to ignore a sense of foreboding as his eyes fell shut. He'd not had time to truly fall asleep, however, before there was a knock on the door downstairs. A loud, demanding, rather obnoxious knock. It was plainly not one of the neighbors stopping by to gossip about Mrs. Garris' prize tulips. Curious, he climbed out of bed and headed for the stairs.
Just as he reached the bottom, he heard his Uncle Vernon. "Now wait just a minute! You can't just barge – " the beefy fellow was cut off by another voice, one that Harry recognized all too well.
"Potter? Get your things, you're coming to Hogwarts."
A quick glance around the corner confirmed that Professor Snape, in full wizarding robes, was standing in the living room, obviously uninvited. "Hurry up!" he snapped, upon seeing Harry.
"Just a second!" Harry replied, startled, as he trotted back up the stairs for his trunk. He wondered whether this was really an improvement. He had no idea, of course, that his least favorite Professor was contemplating exactly the same thing as he waited, keeping a wary eye on the older man before him. In the end, however, it was not Vernon who did anything surprising.
"I recognize you," a twittery voice said from his left. Turning, he took in the sight of Petunia Dursley, clean apron and heels still very much a part of her evening wardrobe. He would have smirked, but he had a nasty idea why she might remember him. Sure enough, she continued, "I saw you once at King's Cross and you said something to my sister that made her cry."
Severus suppressed a wince. "I recall that, madam. And if I recall correctly, you laughed, though you could not have understood the insult."
Vernon was watching the exchange incredulously, his gaze bounding from one to the other. He'd never really associated his precious wife with that sort of unnaturalness. Severus resisted the urge to snap at the man to close his gaping mouth. Petunia seemed at a loss. Finally she mumbled, "Perhaps we have both grown up since then." Severus acknowledged this statement with a slight incline of his head. A moment later, Harry appeared, his trunk floating serenely behind him, and Hedwig's empty cage in one hand. At this sight, Vernon's control snapped.
"What are you doing? You know you aren't allowed to use that – that I thing /I in this house!" he exclaimed, a shaking finger pointed towards Harry's wand. He advanced on Harry menacingly, but was brought up short when Severus replied from behind him, long before Harry had thought of what to say.
"Mr. Potter was given special permission to perform magic outside the school after last summer's dementor incident," Snape informed them smoothly, his distaste for Harry's new privilege quite obvious. "He may use his wand wherever he chooses. Stand aside." He swept past Vernon and placed one hand on the trunk, pulling out a port key with the other. "When you're ready, Mr. Potter," he said impatiently.
"Bye," Harry said, lifting his hand to touch the object.
"Goodbye," came Vernon's gruff and grudging reply. It seemed he was unwilling to have yet another adult wizard explain courtesy to him, not that Severus would have done any such thing. Petunia waved shortly, a tight smile gracing her avian features. And then they were gone.