Hello dear readers! This is a Hermeverus Grape or should I say a Grangerus tale of ssslow building romance. No really, I mean slow. Fear not, I'll lose patience and get them together eventually! All reviews, con-crit, nonsense, flaming, chat, love letters, geeky blather- all is welcome here and much appreciated. I love you for reading and letting me know- even if you hate it. So settle in and put your feet up, as this might take a good while. Thanks to Aurora for the spelling correction. All mistakes are mine, however.
Newly edited to American Standard English! (at least I think that is what this is.) As Emmie cleverly picked up on, I am a comma junkie. I went through and got rid of the ones I thought I could do without. If someone brilliant about comma placement wishes to beta, please let me know.
Discovering the Hidden Heart
In the Garden of the Senses
After the dark days of Voldemort, came the days of heaven and honey when every day floated, soared, plummeted and bounced just like falling in love over and over again. Suddenly most everyone switched from wearing the somber and serious shades of war to colors that remembered no sadness as outrageously bright as the future. The Headmistress of Hogwarts, usually such a practical witch, took to canceling classes on days when the weather was particularly fine. To thank McGonagall for her good-hearted lapses in common sense her children flitted about the grounds on those free days like so many exotic birds flocking in the sunshine of springtime come late.
Though the weather was finally warming part of the long winter wore on. It had taken up residence in one Hermione Granger. At times, it was all she could do to keep her teeth from chattering. All around her people celebrated the fall of Voldemort. They laughed and danced. They kissed and sang living as though truly alive for the very first time. Hermione stood apart from it all. At best, she was the dispassionate observer. More often than not, she felt like the lone mourner trapped on stage in a musical trying to make sense of loss to find patterns in its chaos while sidestepping the enthusiastic chorus line.
She did not cry. When she felt like crying she reminded herself of Cho after Cedric died. She made up her mind come what may she would not be Cho Chang. She avoided the rest of the Gryffindors and everyone else for that matter as much as her position as Head Girl allowed spending most of her free time in the library. When she could not avoid the others and was too tired to be dispassionate, her anger so carefully contained over boiled the cauldron of her heart settling silently to fill the cracks in her soul.
She was alone now. Her parents were still dead. She hadn't mourned them, not properly. She had not wanted to be Cho then either. Moreover, she'd had Voldemort, her classes, and Harry and Ron to worry about. Now she was without Harry and Ron finally deprived of all the people she loved. Perhaps she felt guilty for not dying with any of them. She wasn't entirely sure that living was what she was doing. Perhaps she was like Binns now though no one had bothered to tell her. Sometimes she felt she would rather be a ghost. She wasn't sure how she felt about living anymore.
She wasn't sure how she really felt- period. On one side, there was her tremendous ghost-like numbness. On the other, was her towering anger. She swung from one to the other like an irregular pendulum. Between these two feelings that she allowed herself to feel was a larger uncharted area. She moved through that swiftly with all her defenses up. To linger or explore there would be too consuming, too tiring and painful. So instead she ignored it.
Small things seemed to set her off- Creevey snapping her photo in the Great Hall when she was sure she must have been looking especially wistful- Padma who stopped abruptly when their gazes met, her big soulful black eyes filling with pity- students from other houses trying to engage her when they had successfully ignored her for the past seven years. The worst was when she saw Neville or Seamus or someone else more like her participating in some ridiculous display of happiness. Little by little she could feel her anger fermenting into hate.
How dare they all act so bloody happy all the time? How can they just forget? Are they really that thick?
She thought about Harry often. She was sorry that she hadn't understood after Sirius died. She wondered how feebly she had tried to cheer or distract him and how many amazingly stupid and thoughtless things she must have said. She wondered how often Harry had hated her then.
Personally she liked her hate. She wore it like psychic armor to keep other people at bay. It made her feel strong enough to get through. It made her feel pure, alive, and focused. Hate was better than numbness for her studies. It also left her exhausted, confused and desperate to slip back into numbness.
Intellectually she had expected all out battle to be terrible. She'd gotten tastes of it throughout her school years. She'd seen films, read books, viewed Guernica at the Prado. The bloody, smoky, noisy, stinking, blinding reality of the final battlefield exceeded her every expectation. It was a horror beyond imagining, beyond description, beyond what even her fine mind could comprehend. At least she knew that she had fought her hardest. Because of that, perhaps in spite of it, or by some fluke of fate, she was one of only five people who had survived THE battle.
There were several battles at Hogwarts that day, the Battle of the Gate, the Battle of the Great Hall, other smaller skirmishes throughout the castle and its grounds. The Death Eaters had superior force. Their strategy beyond initial surprise (spoiled by Snape) was divide and conquer. Hers was what had come to be called the Main Battle since Harry met Voldemort there near the border of the Forbidden Forest. While 'The Main Battle' sounded so much more dignified than 'The Battle of Hagrid's Hut' the Death Eater's burning of that structure more or less started the whole thing. Since Hagrid and Fang weren't in the hut it hardly seemed serious that is until Voldemort, his elite inner circle, and a small army of his finest foot soldiers showed up.
Three, herself, Luna Lovegood, and Snape came through it all with hardly a scratch. Seamus and Blaise were near death at the end but survived thanks to Snape's skillful triage. Everyone else there, forty seven Death Eaters, one Dark Lord, thirteen Ministry aurors, Harry and Ron, Albus Dumbledore, five other Order of the Phoenix members, seven of the DA, as well as two seventh year Slytherins, Pansy and Millicent, who took a stand like Blaise with their former Head of House to the eternal glory of Slytherin were just as dead as if they had never existed. Sometimes she felt like she had dreamed them all.
Ron died quickly, one of the first casualties of the Light. He shoved past to take an Avada Kedavra that Voldemort had meant for Snape. It was somehow typical. With Ron actions always did speak louder than words. Ron gave every impression that he despised Snape. He railed against the man every chance he got. In the end, Ron had unquestionably saved Snape's life by dying in his place. She wondered if the act was just an instinctual Gryffindorism, a heroic reflex, or whether Ron was thinking chess again and viewed Snape as the more valuable piece to help Harry win the game. Neither case would surprise her.
Harry nearly made it. He stepped up and cursed Voldemort to dust right after Ron fell. He had defeated a Dark Lord. No one knows how. He did it as effortlessly as casting a Lumos. Harry then took out Death Eater after Death Eater with frightening power and precision. Even after Dumbledore fell and most of the enemy attack centered on Harry, he deflected multiple Dark spells at a time sending them back to their sources augmented by his own offensive spells. Harry was everything everyone thought he was and more. He was an army of Harry. Right at the end, as the smoke was clearing Harry turned to her and asked her if she were all right, then fell over dead the last victim of Lucius Malfoy who had simply played dead to that point and entered history as the wizard who killed the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Defeat-Voldemort.
Hermione wasn't exactly sure what happened after that. She came to her senses when Snape removed a large rock from her hands and would not give it back to her no matter how much she begged. That was when she noticed the mushy mess she had made of Lucius Malfoy's skull. She wanted to curl her arms around Lucius and sleep then. His chest smelled like sun, lemons, bay leaves, and wealth. She wanted to pull his cloak over her head to filter out the stink of war, the mingled scents of blood, smoke, and feces, and to employ the stillness of his chest for a pillow. She wanted to use a cooling enemy to shut out the death all around her.
Snape ordered her up and commanded her to help him with Finnigan and Zabini. She did as he told just as she always did going through motions, taking breaths, walking, talking when required to do so. Despite all that, she was fairly certain that she was dead too.
Life was what happened around her in a series of Muggle photos- still, black and white, two-dimensional images. Their flashes imprinted an obscene slide show on her mind- her filthy hands holding pressure on Seamus' exposed artery- Snape licking someone else's blood from his own lips- Luna pulling a lens from Dumbledore's glasses from between the bones of Blaise's wand hand- others approaching as if in stop time, official people, people with equipment, healers, clean people, strangers. Luna looking as though she had just swam a river of blood wandered off with them as they moved Seamus and Blaise to the infirmary.
Then there was only Snape looking pretty much the same in black and white as he did in full color. There was something entirely comforting about that. He stayed supporting her merely with his silent presence. She did not know how long they had lingered there or how long she had stared at him before picking herself up and stumbling over the dead back to the castle.
She had never known quite what to make of him- except in first year when she knew that he was evil and trying to kill Harry, and after sixth, when she knew that he was evil having murdered Albus Dumbledore. Somehow, she always believed even when Snape was evil that he would fight on the side of the Light in the end. Fight he did, alongside a very living Dumbledore and thirteen Ministry aurors. In the beginning, he was part of the protective wall in front of them, well, in front of Harry mainly. Even as the battle raged she was aware of him. He was magnificent, a controlled fury of Light and Dark Magic. Toward the end, after her wand had been blown to bits in her hand when she was using wandless magic and Blaise's wand as substitutes without much accuracy he was her sword as well as her shield. After six years of seeing the man nearly every day and almost a year of absence Snape was in so many ways a complete unknown.
Snape took her the next day to replace her broken wand. It was a quick, perfunctory, no nonsense visit. She ran along beside his long strides through the rowdy block party of Diagon Alley as if clambering through a dream. She came away with ten inches of teak, firm with a dolphin hair at its center. Twirling it between her fingers that night alone in her room except for Crookshanks stretched happily into oblivion across her lap she decided nothing made her feel less like the little girl she had been than this strange new wand that somehow felt so right in her hands.
Snape stepped back effortlessly into the Potions position and as Head of House for Slytherin taking over for Slughorn who was the only casualty on the side of Light in the Battle of the Great Hall. It was as if Snape had never left. In those first few days after the battle, Snape became her shadow and dark reflection. She was as alone and just as apart as Snape now. Perhaps that was why he watched her. He was always there. Even when she could not see him she sensed him at her edges.
One Wednesday night, nearly two weeks after the battle she was sitting on a stone bench in the herb garden when an unforgettable scent reached across time transporting her back to first year and to the first time she took notice of his radiant personal scent, that constant base note in an ever-changing perfume of potions ingredients. It was unmistakably male, wild, earthy, and hyper-sexual, a smell that spoke to her in equal parts of suspicion and trust, tyranny and sacrifice, venom and valor, pettiness and excellence. It was the fragrance of one of her dual-natured deities since childhood, this scent of Severus Snape.
He approached noiselessly from behind drawing close enough to touch her though he did not. She closed her eyes half expecting to feel hot breath on her neck or to hear his cyanide almonds dipped in chocolate voice very near to her ear. Minutes passed. He said and did nothing. Somehow she knew that he knew how aware she was of his presence and of his recent attention. The man was a natural Legilimens after all. Perhaps she didn't need to speak to him. She did anyway.
"Thank you for everything, sir."
"I have not given you everything, Miss Granger."
She did not turn around nor ask him to sit down. He was just a voice and a scent, a comfort in the darkness.
"You've given me much."
"Do not squander it then."
"Is that what I'm doing?"
He touched her shoulder. She turned slightly. She looked up to meet his eyes. He was pale as the moon and black as its shadow. He was the night.
"You may direct your anger at me."
"Why? Do you find you require even more punishment?" Snape pulled his hand away as if scalded. The fleeting pained expression on his features made her feel contrite. "You should forgive yourself, Professor."
Snape moved to stand beside the bench. He did not sit.
"You should not let your anger over Mister Weasley's death consume you."
"Ron did what he did. It was a good decision. You helped Harry far more than he could have. Regardless, I wouldn't wish you dead in his place, sir. It's not you I hate. It's everyone else."
"I am aware of that."
"Why are you are worried about me? No one else is."
"Dumbledore would have worried about you."
"Yes. He would have."
"The others will not notice because your schoolwork will never suffer. If anything it has improved. People who do not know the escape of work and study would not recognize your increased reliance upon them as a symptom of distress."
"Does that explain Wolfsbane Potion?"
"What would you have me do, sir?"
"Miss Granger, confide in someone who might understand. Could you speak to Miss Lovegood, perhaps?"
"Professor, have you tried speaking to Luna? Ever? About anything at all?"
"Admittedly, I have not."
"Don't start now what ever you do."
"You are welcome to speak with me. I know that I am- a poor substitute for-"
"Stop! Yes sir, I'll talk to you when I can. I'm not ready for that yet."
"You will come to my office tomorrow night at eight. You will stay the hour. I do not care whether you speak or not."
He moved away receding into the shadows. She knew he still watched her. After another half hour perhaps, Hermione left the garden and returned to her room. Though it was not cold she charmed the room warmer. She lit a fire. She drank a spicy herbal tea so hot it burned her mouth. She took a steaming bath. She dressed in her warmest flannel. She charmed a warming spell on the covers of her bed. She pulled Crookshanks close. Nothing dissipated the phantom cold, her inner winter that she felt all the way down to her bones.
A/N- Dolphins really do have hair- just the newborns, though. They are born with some, whisker-like, about the face. They lose it as they grow. Even in adults, one can see the indentations where the hairs were. To me, dolphins qualify as the most magical of creatures.