Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it belongs to the goddess, JKR. A belated holiday present for all my faithful readers who are the best presents a writer could ask for. I wish everyone a peaceful and joyous holiday season, no matter what holiday you celebrate. May it be everything you wish for. An idea that came to me while bathing our daughter (who is now over one year old…amazing!) that actually started with the first line and went on from there. This story is HBP compliant and a follow-up to "Trust". HAPPY 2006!
Oh, and for those nasty flamers who obviously need extensive clarification, let me provide that for you right now. This story is almost certainly OOC and AU and would probably never happen in canon. It involves a budding romance between Severus Snape and Hermione Granger so, if that doesn't float your boat, find a story that will and leave me to my wonderful illusions. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt, you know and, yes, my glasses are rose-coloured.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled HG/SS fanfiction.
Pine Needles and Firewhiskey
Hermione Granger knew she had condemned herself to a hitherto unknown circle of hell when she finally admitted to herself that she was in love with Severus Snape, Potions Master (formerly of Hogwarts and currently of St. Mungo's) and snarky bastard extraordinaire.
She blamed it (and the fact that she had used the word extraordinaire in a semi-coherent sentence) entirely on the firewhiskey that was dancing in her glass although, truth be told, she couldn't quite remember if it was her third or her fourth. And the dancing could very well have been due to the slight wobbliness that had settled in her fingers…and her knees.
"Damn," she thought, frowning slightly at the dancing liquid again. What exactly did a woman do after she admitted to herself that she was in love with a man most of the wizarding world still looked down upon, if not outright hated?
Her solution was to finish her drink…quickly.
Now, if only she could make her companion disappear just as easily.
Severus Snape was watching her with a rather smug smile on his face.
"Arrogant bastard," she thought as she set the empty glass down carefully…worrying momentarily about missing the table entirely.
"I do not think it necessary to continue this little exercise, Miss Granger," he said blandly as he set his glass down next to hers. "It is quite obvious that drinking yourself into a stupor will take less time than you had anticipated."
"Take points from my house then," she replied, not a little petulantly.
"As much as that might have pleased me years ago, it certainly is not possible now," he sat back in his chair and regarded her intently. "Despite assurances that I would be welcomed back in my former capacity of Potions Master, I could never return to Hogwarts after…what happened and, if memory serves me correctly, it has been some time since you could be considered a student in any capacity."
"Did you just call me an old bat?"
Severus chuckled. "No, Miss Granger, the title of old bat has been most unfortunately affixed to my name for a very long time. I am simply pointing out that you are a grown woman, a powerful witch and it is certainly not my place to take points from Gryffindor for that."
"Sounds like a compliment," Hermione pointed out.
"You may take it as such."
"This is a lousy way to spend New Year's Eve," she looked at her glass.
"Shall I take that as a compliment?" Severus smirked as he picked up his glass.
"That's not what I meant. I'm rather glad to be sharing a drink with you tonight…I think we deserve it after all the long hours we've put in at St. Mungo's…it's just…"
Hermione sighed. How could the man know exactly what was bothering her? She trusted Severus and knew he wouldn't pry into her mind. Perhaps she was just an easy person to read and it certainly didn't take a genius to notice that Harry had basically severed ties with her after Voldemort's fall…after she announced that she was going to pursue a career as a Potions Mistress with the help of Severus Snape.
Prat. He hadn't even bothered to show up at her investiture and was the only one who had refused her invitation.
"Yes, Harry bloody Potter," Hermione said in a rather Snape-like tone. "It still astonishes me that Ron is perfectly okay with my choices and Harry isn't."
"Young Weasley is not without his redeeming qualities," Severus replied, sipping from his glass.
"Not unlike you," she quipped, stopping suddenly when she realized that she had said that out loud.
Judging from his soft chuckling, she had said that out loud as well.
"Thank you for your kind assessment, Miss Granger," he smiled kindly although an amused glint still remained in his eyes.
Well, she had dug herself in this far…might as well see if a tunnel to China really was a possibility.
"Is it really necessary to continue calling me Miss Granger?" Hermione huffed as she called Rosmerta over for a refill of her glass. "It makes me feel like an old spinster of 97 or so years."
"No, I suppose it isn't a requirement any longer…although old habits do die hard. I think you would initially find it awkward to call me Severus, don't you agree?"
She sipped her drink more slowly than the previous three…or perhaps four. "You're right, of course. Calling you anything other that Professor Snape still seems somehow inappropriate even though we have been through much together and have worked together as colleagues for the past several years."
"It has been a profitable collaboration on many levels, Hermione," he commented. "Although I initially wondered what your motivations were in becoming my apprentice, I can say with certainty that you have never given me occasion to regret it."
Hermione was astonished. "Thank you…Severus."
"No, Hermione, it is I who must thank you."
"Thank you for what? You are the one who accepted me as your apprentice and taught me more than I could have ever imagined possible. You are the one who suggested setting up a new research laboratory at St. Mungo's to work on cures for some of the nastier curses that were developed in the years leading up to the final battle. You are the one who…"
"You are the one, Hermione, who trusted me when no one else would," Severus interrupted. "Anything I have done for you in return pales in comparison to the huge leap of faith you took long ago. I have not forgotten."
"Well," Hermione blushed, "you were able to provide information on the remaining horcruxes. Harry might not like to think on it but he would never have been able to destroy Voldemort without your valuable help."
"It doesn't really matter who was responsible for it…the Dark Lord is dead and will never come back. That is all that matters," Severus replied in a serious tone.
"You sacrificed a great deal," she said softly, reaching out a hand to touch his. To her great surprise, he did not pull away.
"Sacrifice was a necessary penance," he commented, looking at her hand with great interest.
"Was it worth it?" she asked.
He looked up at her and Hermione felt her heartbeat quicken as his hand turned to hold hers.
She didn't know what to say. The expression on his face was intense and serious and took her breath quite away. How had she missed that?
"How long has it been, Hermione?" he suddenly asked.
"Pardon?" she queried, confused by the ambiguity in the question. How long had it been? How long had she secretly loved this sardonic man? How long had it been since the professional respect had transformed into something more personal and more terrifying?
"How long have we been working at St. Mungo's?"
"Four years, give or take a month," she answered, still shaken by his expression and the fact that his hand felt so warm around her own.
"Are you in the habit of making resolutions, Hermione?"
Thoroughly confused now, Hermione found herself nodding before she really thought about her answer.
"Have you made a resolution for the coming year?"
"I thought I would learn to play the bagpipes," she whispered. "What about you?"
"It would surprise you to learn that I have given the matter much thought," he smirked. "For a long time, I felt it was a ridiculous gesture to make resolutions simply because of an arbitrary point in the Earth's rotation about the sun. But, I suppose I have mellowed considerably in the past several years and I find myself here with you at this apparent cusp between past and future…making a resolution that has the potential to absolutely unman me."
"What could possibly do that to you?" she asked.
"You. More specifically, my changed feelings for you."
If it were humanly possibly for her jaw to drop to the floor, it would have done so.
"Changed feelings?" she managed to ask.
"I care for you, Hermione. I don't expect you to return my feelings but…"
"But I do," she blurted out. "I…I care for you as well…I just thought you could never think of me as anything other than a student or that annoying know-it-all Gryffindor or Harry's friend or…"
And then Hermione found herself unable to continue as Severus' lips were pressed against her own…making further speech quite impossible.
When he finally pulled away, he was smiling. "Do you wish to know exactly what I think of you because, for quite possibly the first time in your life, you are completely mistaken."
"You are an intelligent woman whose capacity for compassion, passion for justice and drive for knowledge have given me a second chance in a world that I believed no longer had a place for me. You have brought me back to life, Hermione. You gave me hope in trusting me. You gave me purpose in becoming my apprentice. You gave me back my life in becoming my colleague. And, finally, you gave me the courage to believe that loving another person would not weaken or demean me but strengthen and sustain me."
"You said love," she pointed out.
"Yes, I did."
She thought about the past year and all manner of little things popped into her mind. How they had settled into a habit of sharing a cup of tea after work. How he had often invited her to dinner at his small manor to discuss their work…although the conversations had broadened into other topics as well. How he had bought her a set of sun-crystal phials for her last birthday. How he had taken such care of her when she had accidentally burned herself two months ago. How he had listened patiently as she poured out her anguish over Harry's treatment of her.
How could she have been so blind?
"What if it were returned?" she asked hesitantly, reaching up to touch his cheek.
His nostrils flared and his eyes widened.
He looked to be deep in thought and Hermione wondered what was running through his mind. She felt terribly vulnerable and yet excited in a way that could not be entirely blamed on the firewhiskey.
"In that case, I suppose I would invite you to the manor for tea…and ask you to stay to watch the sunrise on the first day of the New Year," he whispered.
"I think," she said, "that tea would be an excellent way to start. I have had far too much firewhiskey and I can think of nothing nicer than tea and biscuits in your snug little parlour. We could look over those old Assyrian potions texts that you have and have the fire roaring…"
"And you beside me."
She smiled. "And you beside me…and that's all I ever really wanted in the first place."
"Should I comment on how you are easily pleased?" he grinned.
She swatted his shoulder. "Insufferable old bat."
"Perhaps…but your insufferable old bat," he replied meaningfully.
She was again rendered speechless and they looked at each other with renewed intensity but the moment was broken by the other patrons suddenly counting down the seconds to the New Year.
And they kissed again as the fireworks began to explode outside.
"We should be leaving. I am in serious need of a Sobering potion," Hermione murmured against his lips.
Severus nodded and, reluctantly, pulled away so that he could take a few coins from his pocket. They stood to leave, hand-in-hand, much to the amusement of Rosmerta who winked rakishly at Hermione.
Hermione, determined to maintain at least a shred of dignity, managed to walk with little difficulty out the door with Severus…except, once she got outside, she turned and stepped directly into one of the many Christmas trees that Rosmerta had set up outside "The Three Broomsticks". Garishly decorated and steeped with magical enchantments, it took several frantic seconds before she extricated herself from the yuletide evergreen even with Severus' help.
"Wonderful," she huffed angrily. "I'm covered in pine needles."
Severus came closer to her and brushed away some of the pine needles in her hair and on her shoulders.
And then he stopped.
Hermione looked at him as he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
"Severus?" she asked, touching his chest lightly.
He opened his eyes and looked at her with an intensity that suddenly made breathing a most difficult venture.
"I think," he said softly, a hand reaching up to caress her cheek, "that we should research the aphrodisiac qualities of firewhiskey…particularly in combination with pine needles."
"Really?" Hermione asked, in a voice barely above a whisper.
"I believe it responsible for…this," he leaned down and brushed his lips against hers.
"Pine needles and firewhiskey?" she asked softly…her lips a heartbeat away from his. "That's the reason?"
He chuckled. "No, my dear girl…I suppose not."
"Let's go home," Hermione whispered, her eyes shining.
And he kissed her again as the snow began to fall and the revelers continued to sing "Auld Lang Syne".