Out Of Character-ness abounds.
Never mind. Thanks so much for all of the amazing reviews I've received for this – I'm so flattered that so many of you have enjoyed this story!
BTW, I don't own Harry Potter!
Nine months later…
The sun was setting in a dramatic sky as Hermione Granger winked into existence with a 'pop' which shattered the tranquil silence. The apparating aside, she outwardly showed no sign of being the witch that she was. Her nondescript linen clothing and sunglasses made her a late-season tourist perhaps, taking a stroll along the beach…
Red gold light was tinting everything that it touched in this southern region of Portugal called Odemira. The lonely stretch of coast to the south of a village called Almograde was dominated by the energetic surf of the Atlantic, which enthusiastically and possessively pounded the sandy shore of the beach that Hermione now stood upon, alone for miles in either direction. She turned slowly, her eyes searching…searching…
The whitewashed villa sat back from the beach, rising up from the scrubby ground some two hundred metres from where Hermione stood, singular and surprising amongst nothing but sand and sea and dust…but somehow seeming to belong there all the same. To the untrained eye it would have appeared deserted, a holiday home perhaps, standing unused and lonely before the October sunset, but Hermione knew better. Just apparating onto the beach had alerted her to the magical wards that surrounded the place, and that was not all. As she set off towards the villa and drew closer she could see the well-tended oleander and eucalyptus trees were growing in the garden. Closer still, the sweet smell of jasmine reached her nose from a bush that had been trained to grow up the front wall of the villa, where it hung low over a door. Plants, Hermione knew, did not grow well in such hot climates unless they were well tended. The villa was occupied, and she knew by whom.
As she came closer still to the building she saw that a large wooden deck extended out from one side of it, and on the deck stood a variety of wooden furniture and pots of various brightly flowering plants. The deck was deserted, but an upturned book, several glasses, and a jug of what looked like iced water sat upon a table close to the front edge of the villa. On silent feet, Hermione approached the deck, stepped up onto it and then walked slowly over to the book to look down at its' spine. Pushing her sunglasses back off her face so that they might hold her errant curls back, she read the gold-lettered title.
Jamaica Inn. Her eyebrows lifted. A book where many things are not what they seem…interesting…
She was about to pick the book up to see just how far its' reader had read when her attention was diverted by the sudden cry of a bird, and she glanced up just in time to see something plummet from the sky and dive into the sea with a loud splash. Whatever it was, it had completely disappeared beneath the surface of the waves, and Hermione was wondering if it had died in midair when it suddenly burst out of the sea carrying what was unmistakeably a fish in its hooked beak.
"An osprey," said a dry voice from over her left shoulder. "A sea hawk. From the Latin…" The voice continued conversationally, "…ossifragus, which means - "
"- Bone-breaker," Hermione supplied, turning to face the owner of the voice. "Yes. Hello Severus."
"Hermione," he tilted his head towards her in greeting, and gestured to a chair.
She sat down, looking at him closely all the while. He placed himself easily into the seat opposite and poured her a glass of water.
"You look well," she told him softly,
And it was true. He did.
Nine months of Portugal had obviously worked an entirely different kind of magic upon Severus Snape than the kind that either of them practised. He looked perfectly healthy, better even than when he was still teaching at Hogwarts. He had gained some weight, and although he was still very slim he had lost the look of starvation that had haunted him in Azkaban, he was no longer quite so angular, although the sharp lines of his face still remained. He was pale enough for her to realise that he had mostly kept himself out of the sun, but there were the markings of a faint tan dusted across his nose and upon his forearms, which were clearly visible as he had carelessly rolled up the sleeves of the white linen shirt he wore. His feet too, were bare and dusty; his ankles exposed by a too-short pair of dark trousers.
She lifted her eyes back to his face, staring into black eyes that no longer seethed with anger or resentment, and instead glinted with curiosity as he stared out at the sea over her shoulder. Catching her gaze, he held her eyes solemnly for a second or two and then –
"I am well," he said simply, placing his elbows on the table and steepling his fingers in front of him. "But I must confess that I did not expect to ever see you again, Hermione," he said. "I am…surprised."
Hermione smiled wistfully.
"I…used my influence at the Ministry." It was impossible for her to convey to him how often she had thought about him in the months since his exile, wondering if he was safe and well, wondering if he was happy. The truth was that Harry had simply become so exasperated with her constant enquires about it that he had eventually given in and told her where Snape might be found during a heated argument several days previously. The Minister had refused to speak to her ever since. "I wanted - no…" she checked herself and shrugged at him. "I needed to see you. To make sure that you were all right."
"Are you surprised or relieved?" Snape's eyes flickered over hers as he passed his water glass from hand to hand, sliding it across the smooth wood of the table.
"Both." She confessed. "I had no way of knowing, and Harry…he wasn't telling."
"The villa has been in my possession for a number of years, since even before Azkaban." His eyes darkened a little as he mentioned the prison, like a shadow passing across the sun. Not everything had been healed then, Hermione realised. "It was only logical that I came here when Mr. Potter gave his most…surprising…offer. Was that your doing, Miss Granger?"
"No," Hermione shook her head. "He decided that himself."
"Well." Snape spread his hands, palms downward, on the table. "That is a surprise."
His eyes met hers and did not look away, and they were warm and alive with curiosity. Hermione felt a flush creeping up her cheeks for reasons she could not quite identify.
"What have you been doing with yourself?" She was slightly flustered, and the question was out of her mouth before she could stop it. Finally tearing her eyes away from his, she grabbed her glass of water with both hands, drinking deeply.
When she replaced the glass on the table, Snape was staring at her in obvious amusement.
"I tend to my garden, I read my books. Sometimes I go into Almograde so that the locals can laugh at my lamentable Portuguese, which I am still learning. I walk on the beach and I swim in the sea. I think. Sometimes at night, I dream." He half-smiled. "Before I came here I had not dreamed in a long time. It is not unpleasant."
"Do you use magic?" Remembering his indifference when he had been given his wand back, Hermione would not have been shocked if he did not.
"I am still a wizard." He absently traced the condensation on the side of his glass with a long finger. "But my life is very simple now, as you can see. It is…different."
"Different, good or different, bad?"
"Different, different." He looked at her closely, hesitating. "But none of this would have been possible without you," he said quietly. She snorted, a combination of nerves and embarrassment.
"Anyone would have done the same thing. It doesn't matter that it was me."
"You are quite wrong. Most other wizards and witches would have been quite happy to let me die. What was it that Potter said to me? Ah, yes: 'I think you deserve what you get'."
"Harry is…complicated," she acknowledged. "He does not forgive easily. He is refusing to speak to me because I am here. I don't think he will ever forgive you…even if, in the end, he was wrong."
"Life is not divided into black and white. It is the shades of grey that ultimately make the difference to all of us." Snape took a drink, looking thoughtful. "For what it is worth, I do not blame Harry for the way that he feels about me. I have given him more than enough reasons to hate me."
"I suppose you are right," she conceded eventually. "But he still saved your life."
"You saved my life."
"Severus…" she pleaded. He waved her away, shaking his head.
"I was about to eat dinner when I arrived. Will you stay a while?"
She shook her head regretfully, pushing away the pang of disappointment and simultaneous urge to say 'yes'.
"Thank you, but no. I should go, really. I only wanted…" she gestured towards him. "And it's obvious that you're, well…"
They rose from the table at the same time, and he walked around it to stand by her side, peering down at her.
"Would you wait here a moment? I have something for you."
Hermione nodded wordlessly and watched him as he swept away from her with feline grace, striding across the deck and disappearing into the villa. She could not imagine what it was that he was going to give to her; especially as it had been far from clear if he would ever have the opportunity to do so anyway. She turned away and stared at the sun slipping into the sea on the horizon. It would be dark soon, she realised, looking up a sky that was blue but shot with pink and red and gold. Her nondescript London flat under nondescript grey skies beckoned, although she took no joy from it.
Snape was once again standing right behind her, holding something tightly in his right fist, which he uncurled as soon as she looked down at her. Silver glinted in the pink light, flashing up at her as he picked the item up with his left hand and let it dangle there.
The pendant was a small oval bearing the raised image of a man. It hung from a long silver chain, and both were clearly beautifully made. Hermione looked from the pendant to Snape and back again.
"What's this?" She asked softly. The pendant swung in the breeze.
"The man is St. Jude. The patron saint of desperate causes. There is an artisan in the village…I commissioned it from him."
"You were never a desperate cause, Severus." Hermione whispered, and bent her head as he unfastened the chain and placed it gently around her neck. The weight of the pendant settled just below the hollow of her collarbone, and she touched it gently.
"It is beautiful. Thank you."
On her tiptoes, she reached up and gently kissed his cheek in a combined gesture of thanks and farewell. As she drew away she saw him touch the spot she had kissed, curiously.
"I'm so glad that I could see you again," she told him. "And I'm so glad that you're free."
He said nothing, his face curiously closed, and lifted a hand in farewell as she began to walk away.
Keeping her head down and not looking backer was a harder task than Hermione had imagined, but she managed to do both as she walked back towards the ocean, staring down at her feet as they sunk into the sand with every step that she took away from him. As soon as she had cleared the villa's wards, she braced herself to apparate away and was just about to do so when a pair of hands grasped her by the shoulders and span her around.
Severus Snape's face was white, and he was breathing heavily from running after her, but Hermione had no time to assimilate either fact as he pulled her into a fierce hug. Squashed up against his chest, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, feeling his heartbeat galloping under her ear. When his hold loosened slightly, she lifted her head to look up at him and caught one glimpse of the utter determination in his eyes before he placed his mouth firmly against hers and kissed her soundly.
When he let her go, they both staggered a little on the sand and they were both flushed.
"Come back and see me again, Hermione. When you are ready." Severus told her solemnly.
"I will," she returned. "I promise."
"Until then," he inclined his head.
"Until then." She repeated, closing her eyes and allowing herself to apparate away. Upon opening them again, she found herself beneath dark London skies that were heavy with rain.
The feel of his kiss against her lips reminded her that they would indeed meet again.
And she smiled.
A/N: Both the village and area of Portugal exist, and both are geographically correct, for those who might be interested!
The St. Jude stuff is also true.