A/N: I realise that Severus might be a little mellow in this chapter, but please consider that he's changed a lot since Aurelius has appeared in his life. Since this is a more humorous story and not drama, I like to portray him this way.
Dear Lady Whitehart and Mark Darcy, thank you for helping me through this story. It has been fun for me, and I hope for you as well.
Yes, they needed the book, but the question was how to obtain it. If they had still been teachers at Hogwarts this would not have been a problem, but now their appearance at the school would raise too many questions. Since Hermione didn't seem willing to talk to them, they needed help, they needed someone who was willing to steal the book.
Cricky hummed to herself while cleaning Hermione Granger's rooms. She liked Miss Granger, oh yes. She had always liked her though she still shook her head about Miss Granger's former notion to i liberate /i the house-elves. Being given clothing was the ultimate insult to a house-elf. Fortunately, these foolish days were over, and Cricky was happy to decorate the rooms for Miss Granger. She was no common housemate –elf, but left flowers on her desk and pink embroidered doilies on table and nightstand. Cricky frowned in confusion at the thought why Miss Granger seemed to misplace the doilies so often, but anyway, some months hence, and the mistress would be i Professor /i Granger and she, Cricky, would be important once again. Her status had decreased when Professor Snape had left Hogwarts; Cricky had become a common house-elf rather than the personal elf of a professor. Nobody had known how nice Professor Snape really was and Professor Aurelius… Cricky sighed again. She was so glad to be able to serve him again. He had actually asked her to do him a favour. She, Cricky, could do the famous Mr. Snape a favour. Unfortunately, she could not tell anybody about it; this task required the strictest confidence. He needed a book from Miss Granger's shelf and didn't want to ask her herself, but as Cricky would see, there was a dedication for Mr. Snape in the book. Besides, he only wanted to look up something and then give it back. She didn't do anything wrong, did she? Miss Granger would not miss the book anyway; Cricky finally found it in the rear of a seldom used book-shelf.
Severus closed the door behind the excited house-elf who had nearly burst with self-importance. He had not wanted to show his impatience and had withstood the mindless chatter of Cricky for over twenty minutes.
Severus sat down at his desk, turned the book in his hands and examined it carefully. Outside, there was nothing unusual. He opened it and saw the dedication Aurelius had read to him, but then he froze. Below the dedication, she had written something else, something Aurelius had not seen. Dear Severus… She had had feelings for him and she had waited for him in the Room of Requirement…
Noticing Severus' shocked demeanour, Aurelius took the book from his hands. Frowning, he read the dedication and looked inquiringly at Severus.
"She's always been clever, hasn't she?" Severus laughed, but there was no mirth in his voice. "She had written something that only I am able to read, no one else. She meant to meet me, Aurelius, and I wasn't there. The next morning, she came to make sure that I had gotten the book. To add to her mortification, I even sold it, and now it's too late to do anything about it. I've blown it." Defeated, he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, his head on the backrest.
Aurelius stood motionless. "Severus, we don't know whether it's too late," he said finally.
"Aurelius, she's moved on. You've read the newspapers. The headline in "Witch Weekly" was "Wedding bells for two heroes of the war?" Severus replied in a flat voice.
Aurelius grinned. "I thought you'd rather be caught dead than to admit that you've read this, err, magazine. And you should know what to believe of the stuff written in the papers. If I recall correctly, you were described as a knight in shining armour after the fall of Voldemort."
Severus cast him a killing glance and opened his mouth but was interrupted by his twin.
"No, I don't want to mock you, Severus. This was only a precaution before you began to brood to much, dear friend. I know the reason why you read it, Severus. No need to go off. Anyway, maybe there are two reasons you might consider." Aurelius paused and then asked provocatively, "You don't want Potter, of all people, win her hand and… we've never been cowards, Severus, have we?" The glint in Severus' eyes showed him that he had pushed the right button.
"You're not much of a conscience, Aurelius," Severus said after a while. "If it's love between her and Potter, I wouldn't destroy this."
Aurelius sobered instantly. "I know you won't, Severus, neither of us would," he said solemnly. But then he grinned again. "Funny, Miss Granger has formed the same view of me."
"There are times when I don't like you at all; you are a patronizing, overbearing son of a bitch," Severus growled.
You know, Severus," Aurelius smiled, "I'm still your conscience, a very special conscience as I might say, and now, since I am here in the flesh, it is a little harder for you to overlook me."
During the following weeks, Severus followed Hermione surreptitiously as often as possible when his schedule allowed it. He watched her from afar, and of course, she didn't notice him; he had not been a spy for years for nothing.
After that fateful evening months ago when she had left the book for him, he had lived in denial, had pretended that he was over her, that she was too young for him anyway and that he wouldn't want her now that she was with Potter. Oh boy, had he been wrong! How he envied Potter who brushed away some strands of hair from her face. She wore her hair down. Loose and unconfined by pins or ornaments. It had grown and now hung down to her waist. Her robes were of a dark, rich red that suited her. But everything would suit her, he mused. He caught a glimpse of her delicate face and saw her laughing at something Potter said. He would not lie to himself any longer. Aurelius had been right; he still wanted her. It was hard to see her with Potter, hard to see him embracing her, but he also noticed that it was Potter, who played the active part in showing affection. Maybe there was hope.
Severus knew that he needed help. Hermione didn't leave Hogwarts very often and a letter wouldn't do. He winced at the thought that he, Severus Snape, had to ask for help and especially i who /i he had to ask.
Albus Dumbledore smiled benignly at his colleagues. "It is a pleasure to announce that Severus and Aurelius Snape have agreed to join us for a special dinner here in Hogwarts to meet their former colleagues and the new ones." At this he nodded towards Hermione and Rufaria Winchester. "Since it is kind of a festive affair, I suggest you wear dress robes and... "
The rest of Dumbledore's explanations went by in a blur for Hermione. Severus! She would see him again.
Severus looked… stunning, clad in elegant robes of the finest wool. He cut a marvellous figure. Still, he could not be called handsome, but somehow… He had filled out a bit and was not as thin as he used to be. His raven hair was longer now and reached past his shoulders, smooth and silky. Even his teeth were not as crooked as they used to be. Onyx eyes gazed at hers and he smiled confidently. i Too confidently/i Hermione thought. Obviously, he's very satisfied with himself and thinks that I am impressed. Well, I am not. Hermione, you're a liar, you are impressed. She wouldn't show it, however, and raised her chin belligerently, nodding only curtly. "How do you do, Mr. Snape?" She knew she was on the verge of being rude, but she couldn't help herself.
"How do you do, Miss Granger?" Severus replied, a glint in his eyes, which was probably amusement, and held out his hand.
Hermione knew she could not refuse without raising suspicions. As far as everybody knew, she had been on good terms with Severus Snape, well, as far as anybody could have been on i good /i terms with him. She had been the only student he had ever agreed to supervise and she had probably also been the only one who had defended him when other students had complained about him. When she felt his hand close around hers it was as if an electric jolt had hit her. He gazed into her eyes with an expression she could not read. Had he felt it too? Hastily, she withdrew her hand, aware of the slight blush that had crept into her cheeks. Hermione was relieved when Rufaria Winchester was introduced to Severus and turned away.
The dinner could have been pleasant if not for Hermione's inner turmoil and the constant view of Severus. She was seated opposite him and was forced to face him almost constantly. Hermione tried to concentrate on her food or chatted with her neighbours at the table, but ever so often when she looked in Severus' direction, she felt his gaze. i Why is it that I still feel topsy-turvy where he's concerned/i Hermione had read everything that had been written about him during the past months, had seen his pictures in the newspapers and in magazines, beautiful witches hanging at his arm. He had changed, definitely changed. Severus was, yes, he actually was quite charming. The dark, brooding man was gone and had obviously been replaced by a playboy. Severus' former colleagues were delighted by his changed demeanour, but Hermione decided that she was not. The more Hermione thought about it the angrier she became. People said that money spoiled the character; other people said that it only showed how you really are. i Now, he's sort of flirting with me. But probably, he flirts with every female now and is only too used to succeed in this area, too. I idealised this man for years and obviously, I've never really known him. He's turned out to be as superficial as they come. /i
From the beginning of the evening, Severus had looked Hermione time and again. She wore formal dress robes, simply cut and without any lacing but of fine, shimmering cloth. She did not need a low cut cleavage to be beautiful. Although she had a delicate figure and still looked her eighteen years, her maturity was obvious to everybody. Severus blinked once and noticed that nobody had watched Hermione but him. To the other witches and wizards, she was simply a colleague. He had noticed the slightest trembling in her hand and how she looked at him now and then. He tried to talk to her during dinner, even paid her compliments, but she was rather monosyllabic and only answered his questions, avoiding his gaze if possible. The evening didn't turn out as he had hoped. She would have noticed his intrusion if he had tried Legilimency on her, but his skills allowed him to sense her emotions. Severus felt her defiance. What had gone wrong?
Finally, dinner was over, all pleasantries exchanged and the guests took their leave. Hermione pretended to be occupied.
She was deep in her thought when she finally left the dining room. It had been hard and eye-opening to see Severus again. Until the encounter with Aurelius, Hermione had been convinced that she had moved on. That day, she had admitted to herself that she still hurt, and after this evening, she knew that her relationship with Harry should never have overstepped a certain line. She had never felt like she'd been hit by a lightning when he touched her. It was time to end this relationship. It was absolutely illogical that she wanted Severus even now that she knew that he was not the man she had thought him to be. The feelings for Severus were unwanted but she could not deny them. Hermione felt relieved now that she had come to a decision and headed towards Harry's room. He was Head Boy in the seventh year and had a room of his own. It was best to get it over with.
Whereas Aurelius had left, Severus was waiting, hidden in the shadows of the hallway, when Hermione came out of the dining room. He would try to talk to her in private; maybe this would make a difference. Severus was about to make his presence known when he saw that Hermione was not heading toward her own rooms but the boys' dormitories. When he followed her, he saw her knocking on Potter's door and being let in. Well, that answered his question, didn't it? His impression about the relationship between her and Potter had been wrong; obviously, she had moved on. Silently, Severus left.
"Hermione!" Harry beamed at Hermione, but sobered instantly when he saw her facial expression. "Is anything wrong?" he asked, ushering her to the little sofa and sitting down next to her.
Hermione swallowed and looked down, shifting nervously on the couch. "Harry, you know, I like…no…Harry, I have realised…" She looked up when Harry covered her hand with his.
"Maybe I know what's wrong," he said. "I've felt for a few weeks now that you were distracted, nervous, preoccupied, I don't know." Abruptly, he got up and paced. "I'd like to know…Is there someone else, Hermione?"
"No, Harry, at least not in the sense you are thinking of. There was a time when I was i thinking /i of someone else, but there was never a relationship. It turned out to be…He didn't have feelings for me. I'm sorry, Harry, it's so stupid to talk to you about someone else. I like you so much, and you're good-looking, you're kind and caring, everything a woman could dream of, but…" She drew a deep breath. "I do not have the feelings for you I should have. It's neither fair to you nor to me. You deserve someone who's really in love with you and I have realised I am not she. At first, I thought that maybe my expectations were sort of… romance-novel-like. Harry, I can't explain, but I want…" She burst into tears and then felt Harry's arm around her. Looking up, she clearly saw the disappointment in his face but also the wish to comfort her.
He didn't say anything for a while, only held her, and finally said. "Hermione, it's probably best if you return to your room now. I'm not made of stone and I have to sort things out myself." He helped her up and led her to the door, closing it firmly behind her.
Hermione walked slowly back to her rooms. In a way, she was relieved but also felt guilty. The way, Harry had reacted… She had known that he had matured, she had known that he was big-hearted, but this… No normal young man of his age would have reacted that way, but Harry and his life had been anything but inormal from the start. Whereas Ron had remained a boy, Harry had become a man, a nice man.
Hermione sat down on her couch, tears welling up again. She knew she had to move on and to get rid of Severus' ghost . She'd begin with burning all the paper clippings from the newspapers and magazines, all the pictures she had collected and the book she had once bought for him. Burning these things would symbolise the new page she would have to turn in her life. One thing she knew for sure now. She'd never again enter a relationship where things were only pleasant . This was not enough.
Hermione fetched the box where she kept the clippings and turned to the shelf where she had put the book. Where was it? She was sure that she had put it there; last week when she had searched for another book she'd seen it. Hermione rummaged through all her shelves; the book didn't surface. She would have to ask Cricky the next day. Perhaps she had dusted and put it somewhere else.
"Cricky, yesterday I was looking for a certain book and couldn't find it. It is an old, worn Potions book with a brown leather binding and…" Hermione frowned when she saw Cricky blush. "Cricky?"
"Please, Mistress Granger, Cricky not thinked bad and Master Snape said…"
Cricky had finally left after Hermione had insured the house-elf, who was melting into tears, that she had not done anything wrong. Hermione sat down hard on a chair. Now she knew what was this all about and in the light of this knowledge, Severus' behaviour at the dinner made sense. It had not been the overbearing attitude of a playboy but something completely different. She smiled.
Aurelius opened the door. "Miss Granger?" What was she doing here? Severus had told him what he had seen after dinner yesterday and he had seen himself how tense and cool Hermione had been towards Severus.
"Mr. Snape… Aurelius, may I come in? I have to talk to…" She paused. In her thoughts, he had been Severus for a long time, but she had never addressed him as such, never spoken the name aloud to anybody. "Is he there?"
Aurelius scrutinised her. No, this was definitely no visit just to exchange some pleasant words. He would let her in. "Yes, Hermione, he is, but I have to warn you, for he's not in the best of moods. Follow me; he's in his lab."
Hermione followed Aurelius through the hallway and down a flight of stairs. She looked around. This house was wonderful. The wooden floor was shimmering, paintings hung from walls which were painted in a light green. Nothing was gloomy or dark as everybody would have expected from the austere former Potions professor.
Carefully, Aurelius opened the door to the lab and let Hermione enter. She stopped dead in her tracks and her eyes widened; Aurelius tried to suppress a smile, then left discretely.
Severus was standing beside a steaming cauldron, his wand slightly raised, his focus completely on his potion. At the tip of his wand, a little golden bubble appeared and then exploded into a cloud of colours, briefly hovering over the cauldron and then dropping down in slow motion. She had always known that he was a powerful wizard, but at this moment, she was stunned by the power and passion he radiated. i This /i was the real art of potions making.
But this was not what had made her heart beat much faster. Severus was naked to his waist, clad only in a pair of midnight blue linen slacks, his torso painted with ornaments and runes in blue and gold. His feet were bare and his legs slightly spread. She'd never seen him even without his frock coat, less alone without his shirt. Nobody would consider him ugly now.
Suddenly, he seemed to sense that someone else was in the room and that this 'someone else' was not Aurelius; his head whipped in her direction and he froze. He looked at her, did not even try to cover himself, and waited, frowning. i What did she want? Hadn't she made it very clear yesterday that she didn't want anything to do with him/i
Hermione knew what she wanted and stepped forward. "I want you to give something back to me you have… borrowed," she said, eying him intently, "that is, unless you can give me a good reason why you would keep it."
She was teasing him, Severus realised, and behaving completely differently today. Yes, he had a reason and this time, he would not let her slip from his fingers. He approached her slowly, still giving her time to draw away, until he stood only inches from her. The last time they had stood this close they had been teacher and student and he had not been allowed to act according to his feelings, had to suppress every glance that would have been inappropriate. But now Severus' gaze showed everything he felt. He looked down at her face and into her beautiful brown eyes and saw… He didn't think then, but took her face tenderly between his hands and tilted his head, capturing her lips with his. He heard her moan lowly and knew she wanted this as much as he did. How could it feel so natural, so right? They'd never even touched before.
Aurelius was irritated. It had been a long time since he had thought of his former existence. Living in the same house as Severus had been pleasant. They had talked, joked and now he felt like a third wheel. Granted, he understood that Severus wanted to spend as much time with Hermione as possible. Last week, they'd celebrated their engagement and announced that they would look for a place of their own. They seemed to be happy, concluding from the sounds he heard from the bedroom now and then, very happy. Aurelius felt completely, utterly useless. As far as Severus was concerned he was. Hermione had replaced him as Severus' conscience ; yes, she'd always been kind of bossy. Who would have thought that the harsh Severus Snape could be as docile as a lamb where Hermione was concerned?
It seemed that Severus had found happiness at last, and Aurelius didn't envy him, well, at least not much. For the past months, Aurelius had not been able to say what lacked in his life but now he knew – a woman like Hermione. Somehow, Severus had sensed that Aurelius had been interested in Hermione. It was logical; they were two sides of the same person. But after the disaster with the book, Aurelius had not wanted to hurt Severus and had refrained from pursuing Hermione. Unlike Severus, who had dated numerous witches after the success of SNAPE & SNAPE Fine Potions Ltd. , Aurelius had not been interested in meaningless relationships based on sex only.
Aurelius ran his fingers over the carved box containing the same silver powder that had brought him here. What he needed was a woman like Hermione.
When Severus and Hermione came down the stairs to join Aurelius for tea, Aurelius held out the little box towards Hermione. "Are you interested in Apparating?"