Her tears blinded her and her entire body was wracked in heaving sobs. She could not have gotten up if she had tried…she was spent. Why did this have to happen? Why not her? Why them? She looked at the lifeless bodies of her mother and father. She screamed and screamed and never saw the crackle of a wand being put to dark use, or heard the foul words of an Unforgiveable Curse or saw the green light that snaked towards her.
Suddenly, she felt an impact like something hitting her hard and her eyes were momentarily blinded by eerie flash of the Avada Kedavra curse. There more curses launched nearby and an unearthly scream then there was a flash of red-gold fire…it had an odd shape…something familiar.
"I am going to die," she thought dispassionately. She felt her grip on consciousness slip…someone was holding her…but no one else was here…who…
She looked up dizzily and saw someone holding her, bleeding and out of breath.
"You…" was her last thought before the blackness claimed her entirely.
* * * *
She felt warm. Was this heaven? Opening her eyes seemed like too much effort and she was quite content to keep them closed. Something smelled nice…like my mom's homemade soup. She heard crackling and thought that there must be a fire burning. Maybe I will open my eyes…just for a minute.
Slowly, her eyelids obeyed her request but everything seemed very blurry and out of focus. A dark form was hunched over a small fire. The light from the fire made her eyes close involuntarily. She heard movement and thought the figure was coming towards her. She felt a hand caress her cheek. Surprisingly it was cool to the touch. She had to try to open her eyes again. They fluttered unwillingly…
He looked down at her pale face. She was so young to have had to go through so much. She had always been very mature for her age but this…
"Don't worry Hermione, everything will be all right. Just rest. I've put together a little something that will help your body heal," he took out a small vial full of an effervescent pink liquid and, lifting her head, encouraged her to drink it.
Before she feel asleep again…she felt she had to say something. Her eyes closed…
"Thank you, Severus…" she whispered.
* * * *
Hermione felt warm and relaxed. She opened her eyes to look around her. Startled, she realized that Severus had lain next to her and covered them both with his cloak in an effort to keep her warm. He was still asleep and she didn't move for fear of waking him.
"He saved my life," she thought. She studied his face…the lines of hardship ran every which way. Sleeping, he looked less sinister, less cold.
"He saved my life…I…he saved me."
Cautiously, her hand reached out to touch his hair softly. He did not move and his breathing stayed the same. His hair was silky and she enjoyed the feel of it against her fingers. So much had happened in the past few weeks…who would have thought she would end up like this
* * * *
Voldemort had resurfaced in the year following her graduation. She, Harry and Ron had stayed on at Hogwarts as Junior Professors (Transfiguration, Charms and Care of Magical Beasts respectively). Killings and torturings were happening daily around the world. The obituary section of the Daily Prophet took up half of the publication. Hogwarts was safe. Voldemort would never be able to break down that bastion of resistance. She had worked together with Ron and Harry to formulate strategies and keep up communication with wizards and witches in the field such as Sirius and Remus. Even chaotic Mad Eye Moody was doing his bit.
Then, one day, Dumbledore had called her to his office. Snape…Severus was already there. He looked pale and tired and it was obvious that his spying was taking a toll on his health.
"Hermione, I have asked you here because you are the brightest witch to come through Hogwarts in a very long time. You have surpassed even Professor MacGonagall in your grade point average and the number of OWLS you have earned. You have the wizarding ability and the cool Muggle logic and intuition to work on a special project with Professor Snape."
I had turned to Snape in trepidation. He nodded to me with a curious look in his eyes which made me catch my breath.
"What is it we are supposed to do?" I managed to ask.
"You are going to find out if there is a potion that will render a person immune to the Unforgiveable Curses?"
"But that's impossible!" I blurted out.
"Nothing is impossible," the deep baritone voice of the Potions Master gently caressed her ears. She shivered.
* * * *
"Why did he save me? I thought he had left me. Voldemort had me in his sights. Voldemort killed my parents…he killed them…oh…" she started to cry.
Severus' eyes opened and his heart spasmed as he saw Hermione obviously reliving the deaths of her parents.
"It's okay," he said in a soft voice, holding her close.
She sobbed quietly into his robes and he caressed her hair. Soon the sobbing stopped and she slept again.
Severus looked at her sleeping face and gently wiped away a tear with his fingers. She smiled in her sleep at his touch. What a turn of events. He had been too late to save her parents but he had managed to save her. If she had only…she had insisted on being the last. How could he not have saved her? Once, long ago, he had been helpless to prevent the death of someone he loved.
This time it would be different…
* * * *
The next few weeks had been spent in the Library of Hogwarts, in the Libraries of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Hermione had even convinced him that they should look in the Muggle Research Library to see if there was anything there that could help. He was not comfortable in Muggle clothes but he had managed not to look too out of place. He even had dinner with Hermione's parents one night and realized that they were pretty decent folk who were very proud of their magical daughter.
He found himself spending more and more time with Hermione. Their project became an obsession. She owled Harry and Ron regularly just as he owled Dumbledore but it seemed that every waking moment was spent together. It was amazing what the threat of something like Voldemort could do to petty rivalries. They were a team…and a pretty damn good one at that.
Severus was also getting a first hand glimpse into the person behind the marks. While he had always thought of her as intelligent, he had never realized how committed and dedicated she was until now. As they worked on their project, read through countless books and began experimenting with different potions, he realized that she was his equal in many ways. He came to admire her tenacity (as there were initially many failures) and to…
* * * *
A movement brought Severus out of his reverie. Hermione had turned over so that her back was turned towards him. Somehow realizing that he was far away, she sleepily scuttled backwards towards him. Severus gasped at the intimate contact but he did not back away from her. A contented sigh escaped Hermione's lips and her breathing slowed, indicating that she had once again fallen into a deep sleep.
Severus let his arm drape over her waist in a protective fashion. He could not sleep. He had never felt so alive in his life.
* * * *
"Severus, I think we have done it!!" Hermione had shouted happily.
Severus looked up from his notebook and gazed thoughtfully at the two vials she held in her hands.
"This," she held up the vial of green liquid in her right hand, "is what we were able to distil from the Imperius Curse and this," holding up a vial of clear liquid in her left hand, "is the formula we have come up with. When I pour one into the other, the resulting solution should be clear."
He watched as, with trembling hands, she poured the clear liquid into the green liquid. Within seconds, the green liquid became clear.
Severus was amazed.
"We need to test this on a subject to see if it will work," he said.
Hermione reached over to another vial of the clear liquid and downed it in one gulp. Severus stared at her incredulously.
"What did you do that for?" he sputtered.
"Put the Imperius Curse on me," she answered.
"I…I can't do…there must be another way," he muttered helplessly.
"Just do it…and don't make me do anything stupid," she grinned.
Severus picked up his wand, "Imperio."
Her eyes glazed slightly and she seemed a bit unsteady on her feet.
How was he going to test if she could resist his suggestions? Hermione walked towards him, took his face in both hands and kissed him deeply. Without thinking, Severus returned the kiss. Her lips were soft and her kisses tasted like chocolate-covered cherries. He felt lost in emotions and feelings he had long kept suppressed. He wanted the kiss to continue but, realizing what was happening, stopped an instant later.
Breathing raggedly, he released her from the spell. How had that happened? Did the potion make the Imperius Curse stronger so that the merest thought could…
"Wow, the potion is a success!" she said with a smile, jolting him out of his reverie.
Severus stared at her.
"How can you say that? You followed my…please don't be angry with me, I didn't mean to…I mean, I didn't realize I was…my thoughts…I thought…"
He was effectively cut off by her kiss covering his mouth and her arms encircling his neck.
"I was never under the effect of the spell," she explained with light shining from her eyes,
"Yes, Severus," she smiled, "I wanted to kiss you."
A feeling coursed through his body as he tried to make sense of this turn of events. They had been tired…overworked…exhausted…the kiss was just a way to celebrate their apparent success. But this train of thought brought him little happiness as he realized, with that flash of intuition that suddenly brings things into sharp focus, that he loved her. He had always loved her, since he first saw her at the Sorting Ceremony.
Oh yes, he had hidden it well beneath that mantle of hatred and malice that he had become accustomed to. Why did he treat Harry and Ron so badly? He knew that most of the theories centred around Harry's mother, Lily, but that was not it. He was jealous of their friendship with Hermione. Why did he treat her so harshly? He wanted her to live up to his expectations. Now, his life rested in her hands. How did she feel about him?
"Severus," she looked at him shyly, "this may surprise you but I think I have fallen in love with you….correction, I know I have fallen in love with you."
The only sounds that came from the laboratory for the next several minutes was the sonorous melody of two hearts beating furiously as one as their lips joined.
* * * *
Hermione dreamed that she was walking in a field of bright poppies. Here and there she could see unicorns grazing peacefully. She walked over to where her parents were having a picnic lunch. Sitting down, she helped herself to some of her mom's famous chicken salad sandwiches and her dad's rather infamous coleslaw. Suddenly, there was a flash of green light and she found herself alone in a barren place devoid of life and, it seemed of hope. A hand touched her arm and, turning around, she saw Severus. She hugged him tightly, happy to have found someone. She felt herself falling…falling…
* * * *
"Hermione!" a voice called to her urgently. She felt herself being shaken roughly and called to again and again.
She opened her eyes slowly and saw Severus looking at her with concern and fear in his eyes.
"What is it?" she asked sleepily.
"You were having a dream. You were calling for someone," Severus held her hands tenderly.
"I don't remember a dream but I will take your word for it," she smiled.
Severus released her hands and busied himself with making some hot mulled wine, offering her a glass.
"It is a great restorative and assists with post-traumatic stress," he said in response to her questioning gaze.
Hermione looked at Severus with great gratitude and, he hoped, something more. She cupped the goblet in her hands, and breathed in the fragrant vapours. It reminded her of him…
* * * *
Always, he was the first to fall asleep. She joked with him about it but the fact of the matter was that Hermione found it impossible to sleep afterwards. She loved to rest in his arms and simply study his face, his body, his breathing. His arms around her was rapturous and she had never felt so wanted…so needed. Their first time had been somewhat awkward. For her, it had been the first time. For him, it felt like it because it had been such a long time. Surprisingly, he had been so loving and gentle and had left the final decision up to her even though she knew the battle raging behind those warm but enigmatic eyes. The decision had not been difficult. As she held him close to her, closer than anyone had been before, she inhaled his scent, a heady combination of spices and smoke. It was intoxicating and left her breathless. She never wanted to let him go.
* * * *
"You seem lost in your thoughts, Hermione," he said softly, "Are you sure you are all right? Tonight…well, it has been a difficult night for you."
Hermione looked at him over the goblet that was now only half full.
"I just can't believe that it really happened," she said stonily, "I should have died too."
Severus shook his head violently.
"Why did you save me? I thought you had left me forever. I thought I would never see you again. You just disappeared. I was able to give Harry the vials of antidote and asked him and Ron to make sure that as many of us as possible drank it."
"Yes, I ran into Harry and he told me how you refused to take the antidote yourself until everyone else had received it. I was worried. I knew that the test sample had only temporary blocking powers. Voldemort had called me and had assigned me a the worst possible piece of business…killing you."
Hermione shivered and her eyes glimmered strangely in the firelight, flames reflecting off of unshed tears.
"You can never know how awful I felt. I wallowed in a misery I had never known before. I avoided you because…I could not tell you about it. Finally, someone came to my assistance…a most unlikely source of aid…Sirius Black."
"What?? But you hate him!!"
"Well, we are not best friends by any stretch of the imagination but he did overhear me ranting in the dungeons. He was pretty shocked at discovering that I had actually fallen in love with someone and was even more surprised that that someone was you. He offered to help and I…well, I was not too proud to accept. We formulated a plan where we could fake your death and fool Voldemort. It would have been perfect. But then the Death Eaters attacked Hogwarts and you were caught up in defending the castle. Once I had heard that the attack had begun, I apparated to a point just outside the grounds of the castle and ran the rest of the way. I managed to grab my old Invisibility Cloak and set out to find you. Your parents, who you had brought to Hogwarts as a safety precaution, were somehow captured by Wormtail…I have my suspicions about who was responsible for that particular breach of security… and Voldemort kept them hostage. Sirius had tried to protect them but he was hit by a Stunning spell. You immediately surrendered yourself and then all of you disappeared. In a flash, I threw off my cloak in order to put a tracing spell on where you had been and summoned the closest broom in order to follow you. Harry and Ron ran up to me, brooms in hand, demanding to go along (I guess they had seen you disappear). Harry had his Invisibility Cloak and I draped mine over Ron. We took off and headed here…to Godric's Hollow…ironic. Voldemort was not expecting one of his most trusted Death Eaters to betray him and when he saw me arrive, he naturally assumed that I had come to carry out my mission. You did not see me…I made sure of that. Voldemort…tortured you and your parents and tried to get you to join him. He did not know what I know…that you are stubborn and strong-willed and would never break. So, he killed your parents and then…I knew he was going to kill you. Several things happened at once. Harry and Ron threw off their cloaks and had their wands out, screaming. I knew you had not taken the perfected antidote and so could never survive the Avada Kedavra curse. I jumped back on my broomstick and hurtled towards you…it…it didn't miss by much. Of course, Voldemort realized that I had betrayed him and so launched the curse at me. He must have been shocked to see it reflect off of me and back onto him. That did not kill him though. Ron threw every Stunning spell he could think of in order to weaken and confuse the Dark Lord. Then Harry got this strange look on his face and walked right up to Voldemort who was on his knees and screaming in agony. Harry looked at him calmly and deliberately grabbed Voldemort's arm, which somehow was still holding his wand, and touched it to his scar. He then pointed his own wand to his scar. There was a brilliant flash of red-gold light and…I would swear on everything I hold dear…I saw the image of a Phoenix swoop out of Harry's scar and utterly consume Vodemort. Suddenly, he was gone and his wand snapped in two and fell to the ground. Ron came up to Harry to make sure he was all right. I heard him say something about his scar and then Harry collapsed. I told Ron to get Harry back to Hogwarts and to Madame Pomfrey. With the Dark Lord dead, the attackers would have turned on their heels and ran. Ron asked about you and I assured him that I would watch over you and bring you back as soon as I could. That is what I did.
Severus now felt completely exhausted. He shut his eyes. Telling her had been the right thing to do. Would she forgive him for leaving her alone? He loved her too much and the thought of losing her was…well, it was more than he could bear.
* * * *
He loved to watch her sleeping. She was perfection itself. She had a streak of independence and tenacity which never ceased to amaze him and yet she was this utterly feminine creature who had completely and totally beguiled his heart…a heart he had sworn would never feel something like love.
Lily had been some sort of unreachable goddess, distant and aloof and now, with the eyes of someone who can look back impartially, it really had been for the best. Her death, and the death of her husband, had been a shock for him and he felt so guilty that he became little more than a bitter recluse. It wasn't until, years later, a certain brown-haired student started at Hogwarts, that his heart started to show signs of life.
Her slow steady breathing implied such childlike trust in the man in whose arms she was resting. He swore he would never betray that trust. He would die first. He bent his head down to kiss her cheek. She smiled in her sleep…looking like an angel. No one would ever guess that behind that angelic countenance lay a heart whose passion burned fiercely. She really took his breath away.
Caressing her cheek, he thought back to their first time. He had wanted the occasion to be perfect which meant, of course, that everything went wrong. In the end, it had not mattered about the flowers or the fairy lights or the magical harp that strummed itself beautifully. All that had mattered were their feelings for one another and that passion that they shared. It had been wonderful.
* * * *
"Severus?" she whispered.
He looked up at her. Fear. Hope. Longing. Love. These were the things she could see in his eyes.
"You are too far away. Come sit by me."
"I do love you, you know," her hand had managed to find its way into his.
Severus caressed her cheek softly and brushed his lips against hers.
"I love you and will never leave you again," he promised.
"You saved me from certain death," she smiled.
"You saved me from something worse."
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. It was all the answer he desired.