I love his whole body, but I am most infatuated with his face. The way his mouth quirks up when he's trying not to laugh, the gentle slope of his nose, the way his hair falls into his eyes… oh, those eyes! They are what entice me the most. I've always known they were fascinating, ever since my first year at Hogwarts, but I didn't realize just how amazing they are until much later! I can lose myself in them. They're such an amazing shade -

No.

Oh, gods, no.

- of green.

My mind, sharply honed from years of secrecy and covertness, wasn't nearly capable of handling the myriad of emotions that flooded through me.

Nauseating disbelief.

Ferocious anger.

Debilitating fear.

And – strangest of all – an almost mollifying sense of relief, because so much of it made sense now. So many little signs and clues that I had chosen to justify…

When I first kissed her in the snow, it wasn't a snowflake the she wiped from her cheek.

She cried when we first made love, and when I asked her to marry me… because I wasn't him.

The evenings out with Miss Weasley. She was with him.

All the times that she looked at me sadly… all the times that she didn't want to make love… all the words in the diary…

All of it him.

None of it me.

I was sitting on the couch when she returned home that evening. I don't really remember when I sat down there, no more than I remember what happened after I dropped the diary. I was vaguely aware that the room was darkened and cold; I had allowed the fire to die out at some point.

I don't know if Hermione was surprised to find me sitting there in the dark, but somehow I don't think she was. I heard her walk softly across the floor and sit down in the chair across from me. I continued staring at the same spot on the floor that had been holding my attention for Merlin knows how long.

"I'm sorry," she said after a few moments.

I couldn't bring myself to look at her. If I did, and saw the sadness that I heard in her voice, it would mean that this was real.

"Severus?"

"How long?" I asked, unaware that I was going to say anything until it was already out. My voice was raspy and foreign to my ears.

"Last winter. Just after Christmas."

"How?"

"He came back," she answered simply.

Anger began to burn in the back of my throat, like a swallow of a particularly harsh drink.

"So he walks back into your life after leaving you years ago – with no word, no goodbye – and to you that is sufficient reason to destroy our relationship?"

"Severus…"

"You bitch!" I hissed, finally looking at her. She flinched visibly at my words, but held my gaze.

"You lied to me."

"Yes."

To her credit, she never once tried to make excuses.

"Well," I snarled, "apparently he was able to help you get over Weasley in a way that I was not."

"Severus, Ron and I were never a couple."

I glared at her. "Stop lying, Hermione. Just stop it! Gods, woman, haven't you lied to me enough?"

She was shaking her head before I finished speaking. "No, you don't understand, Severus. Ron was a… a cover. For us… Harry and me." I stared at her, understanding but not believing. "We knew that I was in enough danger as it was, just being Harry's friend. If anyone had known that we were…"

"Don't," I groaned.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled again.

"So all that time that everyone believed that you and Weasley were… together… it was really you and… Potter." My stomach churned as I said his name.

"Yes. No one knew except for Ron and Ginny."

"And then he just left you." I stood up and walked to the fireplace, staring down at the orange embers burning faintly underneath the ash. "He just up and left you, isn't that right?"

"Yes, but – "

"No." I turned toward her and cut her off quickly. "I don't want to know what ridiculous reason he has given you for abandoning you, Hermione. I don't want to know what asinine drivel he dished up to get you to forgive him, and I most certainly do not want to know how he lured you back into his bed!" By this point I had strode over to where she sat, leaning down to thrust my face into hers. "What I want to know is why you have continued to lie to me for all these months and pretend that you were going to marry me when you were fucking HIM!" I saw spittle fly from my mouth and land on her cheek, and for a moment it took all of my willpower not to draw up a mouthful of saliva and spit properly in her face.

She had pulled back from me instinctively, but now she looked at me pleadingly and softly answered, "Because I still intend to marry you, Severus."

Shocked, I stumbled backward and sat heavily on the couch. "You what?"

"If you'll still have me, of course," she quickly amended. "I love you, Severus."

I stared at her in disbelief. Did she honestly think that I would stay with her, marry her – hell, did she think I would even touch her again – now that I knew that she had been with unfaithful to me? And with Potter, no less!

Rage had been simmering deep inside of me since I had realized that Hermione was writing in her diary not about me, but about James Potter's son. With that awareness came the further realization that history had repeated itself; I was losing Hermione to the son now, just as I had lost the mother to the father all those years ago.

I was mildly surprised to find that I wasn't nearly as angry at Potter as I was at Hermione… I almost expected it from him, but her act was one of ultimate betrayal. I wanted to lash out, to strike her, to hurt her as badly as she was hurting me. I'd been looking for an impassioned Hermione for ages; Now that I'd found her, her passion was directed at another… an act that I wouldn't have thought possible from a Gryffindor.

"How can you possibly say that you still love me?"

"Because it's true."

"And what do you know of truth?" I spat at her.

She sighed, and I remember a flare of shock at her audacity. Oh, do excuse me, I thought. What nerve to expect you to explain yourself!

"I don't really know how to make you understand this, Severus, but I do still love you. I never stopped loving you. I didn't realize before… well, before all of this… that it's possible to love two people at the same time, but I do. And I still want to marry you."

"Whom do you love more?"

"It's not like that," she explained, shaking her head. "I love you in very different ways. I can't…"

"You said that he is the love that you've been waiting for," I reminded her, my mouth bitter with her words. "That doesn't sound as though there's much question in your mind."

"Oh, Severus," she moaned, dropping her head into her hands, "I wish you'd never read that diary!"

"Really?" I sneered. "You seemed awfully careless about where you left it lying about. If I wished to psychoanalyze you, I might think that you wanted to be found out."

"I didn't. Maybe I did… I don't know. I've been telling Harry that I have to stop seeing him. I know I do."

The part of my heart that she had awoken twinged at the pain in her voice. I looked at her sitting there, her head bowed and shoulders slumped, and I realized that things would never, ever be the same. I would never be able to look at her again without knowing that she had lied to me, ruining the life that we had planned together. Never again would I hold her and think about our future, looking forward to a lifetime of peace and contentment.

On the heels of that, the understanding that I would never hold her again, period.

"Oh, gods, Hermione… why?" I could not keep the anguish from my voice as I covered my face with my hands.

"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry!" she sobbed. "We can work it out, can't we, Severus? Please, tell me that we can try."

"No." My voice was no more than a whisper; harsh, grating air pulled from my body. "No. The thought of you being with him sickens me! I can't stand to look at you anymore, Hermione! Get out! Get out!"

"Severus, no!" she cried out, running to kneel before me. "No, please don't!"

I stared down at her, and images rose unbidden to my mind. Hermione, her back arched beneath Potter's sweaty body… Potter kneeling behind her, his hands grasping her hips… Hermione's hair spilling over his lap as her mouth…

"NO!" I wailed, pushing her away from me. "No, Hermione! I can't!"

The room was quiet except for her soft sobbing. I thought of all the nights that we had spent in that room: quietly reading in front of the fire; talking late into the night; making love on more than one occasion, the flames lighting up our glistening skin so that we seemed to make each other glow. I remembered one winter night during a blizzard, when Hermione surprised me with a picnic dinner on the floor. My eyes burned as I realized that now she would be doing small acts of love such as that for Potter.

And just like that, it came to me.

She didn't want to leave. I didn't have to let her go.

I could still win.

"You will not see him again." I stated coldly, my back to her. "You and I will marry, as we had planned, and you will NEVER see him again."

"Yes, Severus."

"You will not speak of him in my presence. And if you wish to see Miss Weasley again, it will be at our home, under my supervision."

"Yes. All right."

I walked back over and stood in front of her. "You must understand that I cannot trust you to keep your job, correct?" At her nod, I continued. "You will give your two weeks notice tomorrow. For those two weeks, I will place a tracking charm on you, to make sure that you go nowhere except the bookstore and back. Is that clear?"

"Yes." She looked up at me, her eyes puffy and red, her skin pale. "Severus…" She reached out to touch my face and I stepped back.

"One more thing, Hermione: You will not share my bed until I am prepared to allow you back into it."

I left her standing there, alone.

The day of the wedding could not have been more perfect if it had been charmed to be so. At least, that is what I heard guests say repeatedly as I walked through the crowd. I did have to agree that it was a truly spectacular setting. The ceremony would take place in a small clearing in the woods, and the trees were in the full splendor of their fall foliage. A white trellis was set in the clearing, decorated in climbing roses of varying shades of pink, yellow and peach. The sky above was a clear, cerulean blue that only amplified the red, gold and orange of the forest.

I stood off to the side for a few minutes, watching Molly Weasley as she mingled amongst the others. She was in her element, acting as Hermione's surrogate mother, making sure that all of the last-minute preparations were ready and that everyone was having a good time. She looked happier than I had seen her since she had lost her husband and son.

From the corner of my eye I saw the Matrimony Wizard approach the trellis, signaling that the ceremony was about to begin. I quickly hurried over to take my place.

Hermione had chosen Ginny Weasley to be her only attendant, and she walked slowly down the aisle, the emerald green robes she wore setting off her crimson hair and fair skin. She smiled confidently toward me, her eyes shining with obvious pleasure for her friend.

And then I saw Hermione.

She glided down the aisle on the arm of Bill Weasley, and she took my breath away. Her robes were an iridescent champagne color, her hair loose and flowing around her shoulders. Tiny peach-colored flowers were woven into her curls, and she carried a small bouquet of tiger-lilies and pink roses. Her cheeks glowed, her eyes sparkled, and the smile on her face would have been worth fighting another war for.

I couldn't take my eyes off of her as the ceremony proceeded. I heard the words that the Matrimony Wizard spoke, but nothing reached my line of vision except for the woman in front of me. When it came time for her to recite her vows, I took in every line of her face, promising myself that I would remember the moment forever. And then it was my turn.

I listened carefully to the words that I was to repeat, and then I looked at Hermione and opened my mouth.

She never heard me, of course. I simply whispered them under my breath as Harry held her hands and spoke them aloud.

In the end, you see, I hadn't been able to do it.

I wanted to keep her with me, to make her love me more than she loved him, to win this battle with Potter that I felt like I had been waging nearly all my life. But when it came right down to it, I could not. I thought of her growing older, the light gone from her, being little more than a slave to me. As much as she claimed to love me, I knew that it would turn to resentment, and she would go through her life bitter… unhappy… and never be the Hermione that I had wanted so desperately to revive. I realized that keeping her with me would be even worse than losing her.

When it came right down to it, I loved her too much to make her stay.

The next morning, when she had awoken on the sofa near the fire, I'd been sitting near her. She had looked at me with a measure of sadness in her eyes that hadn't been there before, and I'd known that I was making the right decision.

As it turned out, Hermione had instilled some Gryffindor courage in me after all.

Leaning forward, I had brushed the hair back from her forehead. "Go, Hermione. You don't belong here."

We had held each other and cried, and when she'd reached up to kiss me, I had wound my fingers in her hair and committed her taste, touch and smell to memory. Later that morning, as I'd stood with her at the door to the house, feeling a pain in my chest that I knew would never completely fade away, she had placed another kiss in my palm, folded my fingers around it and said, "It was never you, Severus. There was nothing that you lacked, nothing that you didn't give to me. It was just supposed to be Harry."

And so it came to pass that I stood there in the clearing that day; not under the trellis as I had thought I would be, but off to the side; a trespasser looking in. Though Invisibility Cloaks are notorious for distorting the wearer's view, mine was specially charmed that day to allow me to see – in crystal clarity – the woman I loved marrying another. I looked at Hermione's eyes as Harry spoke to her, and I put every trace of feeling that I had left inside of me into the words I quietly mouthed.

"I, Severus, take you Hermione to be my wife."

Holding her in my arms as we danced…

"I will be faithful to you and honest with you…"

Her laughter ringing through the house…

"…I will respect, trust, help and care for you…"

The touch of her hand on my cheek…

"… I will forgive you as we have been forgiven…"

Every kiss…

"… I will try with you to better understand ourselves and the world…"

Every smile…

"…and I promise…"

Every thing I'll never get a chance to tell her…

"…that I will love you forever."

I looked away when they kissed.

When the applause had died down and the music started back up, I knew that the ceremony was over. I turned for one last look at Hermione, and – although it could well have been my imagination – I swear she turned back and looked directly at me. Smiling sadly, she mouthed, "Thank you."

And then she was gone.

The house seems much larger, much quieter. I still do my work and enjoy my reading. I go out occasionally, usually for dinner with Minerva, and even went so far as to adopt myself a cat; an ornery, ugly old black tom that I named Nox. Life has continued on.

I think of Hermione every day, and I hope that she is happy. I know that there will never be another woman in my life. It is not a dramatic, sweeping statement; rather, it is a truth I feel deep inside what remains of my heart. Trying to give myself to someone else would be no fairer than keeping Hermione here with me would have been.

Maybe someday I will reach a point where I can invite someone to my house… perhaps for lunch, or even just to talk. Maybe we will walk the grounds, and I will show them the different plants and herbs I grow for my potions.

And if they see the chair on the porch, and ask me why I no longer sit out there, I will see her face, and I will smile.

You see, she was the love that I had waited for.

THE END.

LYRICS

I found her diary underneath a tree.
And started reading about me.
The words she'd written took me by surprise
You'd never read them in her eyes.
They said that she had found the love she'd waited for.
Wouldn't you know it, she wouldn't show it.

When she confronted with the writing there,
simply pretended not to care.
I passed it off as just in keeping with
her total disconcerting air.
And though she tried to hide
the love that she denied,
wouldn't you know it, she wouldn't show it.

And as I go through my life, I will give to her, my wife,
all the sweet things I can find.

I found her diary underneath a tree
and started reading about me.
The words began to stick and tears to flow;
her meaning now was clear to see.
The love she'd waited for was someone else not me.
Wouldn't you know it, she wouldn't show it.

And as I go through my life, I will wish for her, his wife,
All the sweet things she can find.
All the sweet things they can find.

- "Diary" by Bread

Disclaimer: Not mine. Not yours, either.

Author's Notes:

This song has always seemed terribly poignant to me, and I found myself inspired. Although I've included the lyrics, I highly suggest you find a copy of the song and listen to it… the music and the singer's voice make it all the more powerful.

Snape is a bit OOC in this story, but I hope I've kept him from being too squishy. His complete adoration of Hermione was essential to the storyline.

I, too, was lucky enough to find the love I'd waited for; thankfully, I was also his. I don't tell him that I love him nearly enough. And – I swear to God this is true – as I sat here at work, typing that last line, an arrangement of 36 beautiful petite roses were delivered to my desk, with a very lovely card from my hubby! It's not even a special occasion… he just wanted me to know how special he thinks I am. sigh Back off, ladies! He's MINE! The wedding vows I used are very similar to ours – a combination of traditional Lutheran vows and our own creations.

I hope you've all enjoyed this story. I apologize if I haven't responded to your review, but I swear that I read and cherish every single one of them. Thank you!

And now, back to "To Be a Hero!"