Okay, so after quite a long time dawdling on this bit, I've finally decided to begin posting my first full-length, completely plotted S/H story. I love feedback as always, and give my usual disclaimers: I don't own anything and this was not intended to be a literary masterpiece so don't expect one. Enjoy the fluff!
Her nerves were in overdrive. Hermione stood before her mirror in her dress and took deep breaths to calm herself. She had to be confident—there was absolutely no reason for her to doubt herself. As she stretched her hands and arms, carefully loosening the muscles in her fingers and shoulders, she remembered what her teachers had said over the years, always in quiet awe as she finished yet another exercise perfectly: amazing, unnatural, a true prodigy. Of course, that didn't really mean much to her, she reflected idly as she stretched her back muscles in preparation to sit upright for quite some time. This had nothing to do with praise, not for her.
This was about divinity. It was about the constant struggle for perfection, for beauty, for the flawless execution of the most difficult piece and the absolute emotion evoked in others by her passion.
But perhaps it had nothing to do with others, this obsession. Perhaps it was between her and the instrument.
The instrument of her salvation.
The instrument of her damnation.
Two hours later she sat on the bench, spine erect, elbows parallel to shoulders, fingers poised. Pedals were set to their proper positions, and the large instrument rested against her right shoulder. Her placid expression gave no hint of the knot of nerves currently residing in her stomach.
The room was large and beautiful, with hardwood floors and a large chandelier in the centre. One wall was almost exclusively windows, with French doors leading out onto the huge balcony, all of which looked out over the stormy sea. There was little furniture in the room, aside from the various musical instruments placed in random intervals. Each instrument had couches or armchairs or large cushions for guests to sit upon while enjoying the music.
The room was empty aside from Hermione and three others. The three sat in richly upholstered armchairs, while Hermione seated herself erect on a cushioned cherry wood stool.
Fingers, shoulders, spine, music.
She held her head high, eyes closed, as she let the piece fill her. Comfort settled over her; the instrument was an old friend, a lover. She had dressed nicely for this: a black, low cut dress that hugged and flared in the right places and hung down to her ankles, which were bound in high heeled sandals. The only piece of jewelry she wore was a gold chain with an intricate pendant depicting a kneeling woman playing an older version of the instrument. Her hands sped up as they caressed the strings in a dance older than history. Gentle curls tossed loosely around her shoulders as they escaped from the careful French braid she'd wrought earlier that evening.
Eyes closed, body straight, Hermione Granger stroked the harp with a precision borne of devotion. The music swept over her: Gabriel Pierne's Impromptu-Caprice in A-Flat Major for Harp, op. 9.
The group of three watched and took notes, but Hermione Granger did not notice. She was consumed by the light and life and purity of the music. Far away, a world of wonders and magic slept peacefully as she ignited an ordinary night with her passion.
She played for two hours before ceasing, spent.
The harp trailed into silence and she looked over at her audience. One of them, a distinguished German with a calm presence smiled at her.
"Superb, my dear. Truly." The others nodded in assent. The German man cleared his throat. "My official grading score is excellent. Above reproach, I believe. You played with emotion and depth, beyond being simply technically correct. It was a pleasure to experience."
He sat and the woman next to him rose. In a lilting Eastern European accent, she spoke. "My scoring also reflects excellence. I have not seen one of your talent in many years now, child. Decades, at least, perhaps longer. I'm amazed that the rumours I have heard are true." She sat, with a gesture at the last member of the panel. The most exacting and difficult member. He had been known to fail examinees on a whim, because they did not seem riveted by the piece or the music or because the smiled too much or not enough.
He stood and looked at her long and hard. She stared back, placid. She had played with her soul and it was all that could be demanded of her.
He sat without further comment.
"Oi, 'Mione, where were you all weekend?"
Ron Weasley cuffed her on the shoulder. She turned to him with an eyebrow raised. "I had some business to attend to, Ron," she said calmly. "Am I permitted to have a life separate from you?" He looked hurt and she sighed. "I was at my parents' place, Ron. Nothing special, I assure you."
Harry Potter grinned. "He forgets you have parents since they're not part of the wizarding world, 'Mione."
"They accuse me of the same thing," she replied wryly. "I'm going to be late for potions. I'll see you two later."
Hermione strolled down to the dungeons, not really very rushed, letting the sheet music run through her head. Under her breath she hummed the strains of a timeless tune. Her memory coursed through the performance two nights before as she sat at her usual bench in the potions classroom. She'd faltered imperceptibly about four minutes in with a tricky finger arrangement. A minute slowing of pace that the others had not noticed but had irritated her to no end. In harpistry more so than in any other aspect of life, Hermione demanded perfection. Because in the music, the soul is revealed. A perfect performance should show the audience the secrets of the universe. Hermione frowned and shook her head to herself, dispelling the old voice with the familiar Russian patterns of speech that lingered in her mind.
Snape swept in and began the class and Hermione snapped to attention, focusing on the task at hand, but letting a small portion of her brain run the music. Snape set out the instructions for the healing potion and ran through the effects with them quickly. Hermione did not raise her hand when he asked questions; she had broken herself of the habit years earlier.
In point of fact, she'd become more self-contained in many ways. She was no longer the girl with her emotions on her sleeve and her intellect plain to see but a quieter observer. The once brash courage had resolved itself into silent threads of steel. Which was not to say she was shy: she had a gift for stimulating conversations and engaging groups of people, but she was content to spark a topic and let it be discussed by everyone instead of feeling the need to dominate. Hermione was no longer bossy, she was simply a leader.
The twelve students in the Advanced Potions Practicum gathered their ingredients and got to work. No longer were they paired off, but instead did more individual work. The first half of the class was reserved for doing potions and the second half for working on their own research projects, to be presented at the end of the year. The size of the class had fostered friendships and the group used one another as sounding boards for their ideas and sources of advice in personal matters.
Snape had relaxed somewhat, happy to let the class take its own course—the less work on his part, the better. Rarely did he yell at anyone in this class, or even deduct points. Occasionally he even enjoyed the class and their animated debates. Indeed, he was content to be a silent presence, cutting in only to point out obvious stupidity or direct the flow of a potentially brilliant discussion.
The war was over and he felt no need to behave in any particular manner. Many had expected him to become more tolerable after the war and equally many expected him to become surlier. He had done neither, really. He'd simply become…different. Snape had become even more unpredictable and private in his mannerisms, though he still showed obvious favor to Slytherins. Especially since the Slytherins who remained were the ones who'd had the courage to fight back. He'd worked in close quarters with Hermione on several occasions, and had been fairly respectful each time, with only the occasional blowup. He could be almost friendly, but only one-on-one, and he tended toward silence with increasing frequency. Groups still left him icy and caustic, and the school as a whole had decided to spare him the torture of ever having to attend a Hogwarts ball again. He and Hermione were hardly confidants, but had shifted from being active enemies or nonentities to cautious acquaintances and possible friends. His relationship with Harry remained volatile but fairly stable. He'd saved Harry's life twice at the end and nearly lost his own, and Harry had returned the favor. Both of them grew up a little by the end of the war—enough to know they quite disliked one another.
Hermione gathered her ingredients and added them to the cauldron systematically and carefully. Eventually she had only to chop wolfsbane and add it to the potion and allow it to simmer. She chopped quickly, wincing slightly at her bruised fingers. Playing too long could do that, and despite years of playing she had never developed calluses to protect her fingers.
She gathered the chopped plant into the palm of her hand and lifted it toward her cauldron when someone caught her wrist. She dropped the wolfsbane with a gasp and looked up at Snape with wide, startled eyes.
"Your hand has a cut on it, Miss Granger. How would your blood affect this particular potion?"
"Um, most blood would make it mildly poisonous and blood tainted by death would make it lethal," she said automatically. She remembered catching her fingers when tuning the harp and realized she must have cut them without noticing. With the adrenaline rush of playing, she probably wouldn't have noticed, and her fingers were bruised so she hadn't paid much attention to the ache.
"Correct. Mr. Zabini, will you add the final ingredient to Miss Granger's potion while we clean up her hand?" It was framed as a question, and Blaise nodded agreeably.
Hermione followed Snape into his office, where he pulled out a disinfectant and a healing accelerant, then dug in a drawer for bandages. He watched her struggle for a moment with the disinfectant before taking it from her.
"Allow me, Miss Granger. It will go infinitely faster." He wiped disinfectant on her wounds carefully and dabbed on the accelerant before wrapping them skillfully. He frowned and brought her hands closer to his face.
"Why are your fingers bruised, Miss Granger?" He caught her other hand in a gentle but firm grip and inspected her other hand. Snape looked up and raised an eyebrow at her expectantly. Hermione's momentary inner debate flickered in her eyes.
"I got a bit caught up in something and didn't call it a day when it would have been prudent," she replied mildly. "I'm a bit compulsive, if you hadn't noticed, sir."
"It's hard to miss, Miss Granger. Five points from Gryffindor for foolishness and dissembling."
"You're a spy, sir, I thought you of all people would appreciate good dissembling," she said without thinking.
"I would appreciate good dissembling," he replied scathingly. Hermione smiled faintly.
"Point taken, sir."
"Indeed. Feel free to get back to work at any time, Miss Granger."
Hermione returned to her potion, which Blaise relinquished with a smile. He sat on her bench and proceeded to grill her for suggestions on his thesis project. Hermione smiled as she threw out ideas and soon others were adding their thoughts till it was time to leave.
Hermione bottled her potion and left it on her workbench. She tossed her materials into her bag and caught up with Blaise as she left the class, chatting amiably with him as they departed.