Snape, in the meantime, was seated at his desk, Hermione's journal opened before him, a dazed expression on his rather haggard face. He hardly knew where to begin filing away all the new and important information he'd been made privy to this morning. He felt if he didn't somehow organise his jumbled thoughts he'd go mad.
"I'll just start at the beginning," he breathed, rubbing his tired eyes and dropping a hand on the small leather-bound book.
He began sifting through his mind until he picked up the thought-thread in which he had found Ron Weasley holding Hermione in her rooms before the fire. He felt anew the burning jealousy that had filled his heart then.
The pain had been nearly intolerable!
He had never felt such a thing before, and had been at an absolute loss as to how to handle it. So, he had responded the only way he knew how … the way he always responded when thrust into uncertainty. He'd gotten angry.
When Hermione had tried to soothe him—to touch him—he had jerked away from her as if on instinct; as if to preserve himself from a deadly enemy. He'd seen the pain of his rejection in her eyes, but had distrusted it … to say the least. All he could think about was getting away from her with his dignity still in tact. So, he'd left her without another word, determined to return as fast as he could to the sanctuary of his rooms.
All the way there he'd worked frantically to close his heart to her. He had been a fool, he'd tried to convince himself, to have given her access to it in the first place.
What had he been thinking?
She was young, attractive, and had her whole life ahead of her. How had he allowed himself to become so delusional as to believe she'd ever find anything he had to offer her attractive? He was not handsome, by any stretch of the imagination. He was surly, reclusive, and set in his ways. It was only right she should attach herself to a young man, closer to her own age, whose company she could actually enjoy.
From these thoughts, it was no stretch to arrive at self-loathing, and Snape was wallowing in it almost gratefully by the time he'd reached his rooms. It was such a familiar place to be …
"You are an idiot!" he'd chastised himself harshly.
And, sweeping through the double doors, he'd fully determined to never leave his refuge again. As he'd re-keyed his wards at the doors to deny Miss Granger entrance into his domain, he had determined he would release her from her duties at the earliest possible moment—preferably before she attempted to come to work tomorrow. If he was very careful, he would never have to lay eyes on her again.
He would forget about her in a month …
But, the irritating little chit had not been content to only wring every last drop of life's blood from his aching heart. She had felt it necessary to make a scene outside his Potions room, as well. She'd even had the nerve to threaten to shout out the whole business right out in the corridor if he didn't let her in!
How dare she!
So, he'd let her in, with every intention of sending her screaming from his rooms, never to return! But, the little Gryffindor spit-fire had been ready for him, it seemed, and she had taken complete control over the situation from the moment she'd stepped into the room.
He'd pulled out all the stops, using every tactic in his considerable psychological arsenal—all to no avail. For, she had only blustered, yelled, and positively refused to bend to his will.
She had been magnificent …
Then, she'd said she loved him.
Snape paused in his ruminations, and his face softened at the memory. A small twitch of the lips, which could only be called a smile graced his countenance. The crease between his eyes smoothed out.
He had been so taken aback at her admission that, once again, he couldn't land on a proper response. In short, Severus Snape, possibly for the first time in his life, was speechless.
He had only been able to watch in shocked silence as she impatiently pulled out a book, marked a place in it, and all but shoved it into his hands. By the time he had fully recovered himself she was gone …
And, now here he sat, staring at the black and white evidence that her earlier profession of love for him was true. He could not deny it, even if he was yet to understand it.
How long must I wait for Severus to speak to me about our relationship! I feel that I will not be able to hold out much longer! I long to tell him all that is in my heart! I long to tell him how I love him!
Snape had read this entry over and over with avid eyes. At first, he just couldn't quite convince himself of the sentiment behind these inexpressibly sweet words. In fact, upon his first reading of them, he had literally slammed the little book shut, half in fear, half in fury. Was she having him on?
No. He knew Hermione could not be that cruel.
So, he'd found the entry again and forced himself to read it again and again, until disbelief had been overcome in him and the words became a soothing balm to his harrowed up soul.
She loves me, he thought, his mental voice full of awe. And I love her. He felt light-headed, almost giddy. How did this happen?
He leaned back in his chair and let out a tension laced breath. "It doesn't matter how it happened," he told himself firmly, feeling acceptance flood him at last. "All that matters is that it's really true. All that remains, is for me to decide exactly what to do about it."
Hermione's afternoon at work was nothing short of hell on earth. Not only was she in a nervous state, wondering what Snape's reaction was going to be to her earlier behavior. But, she had Zacharias Smith on her case load again. He was, as usual, difficult in the extreme. So much so, that Hermione was made very glad that she was still working only half shifts.
She did not relish leaving the hospital wing, however, because she did not know what she would face. Indecision tore at her thoughts. On the one hand, what if Snape was not waiting to speak with her after work? She didn't think she could bear not knowing his thoughts right away. On the other hand, what if what Snape had to say wasn't what she wished to hear. What if he rejected her?
As Hermione cautiously stepped out of the hospital wing, she half expected to find Snape waiting for her in the shadows, his arms crossed over his chest, a vicious scowl firmly in place. Cringing inwardly, if not outwardly, she let her eyes sweep the corridor anxiously.
She heaved a momentary sigh of relief and started out for her rooms. All the way there, she fought with herself. Would Snape come to her tonight? And, if he did, what would happen? Should she apologise for her outburst right away, or wait to hear what he had to say first? Her mind ground away at her mercilessly.
Exasperated, she threw up her hands. "I'm being stupid," she told herself scathingly. "He either wants me or he doesn't. It won't help anything for me to make myself miserable over this."
For a moment, she felt less out of control. The knot in her stomach loosened the merest bit. But, she couldn't turn off her reeling mind, and she felt her heart clenching within her once again.
When she arrived at her rooms, Snape was not waiting outside her door. Her insides dropped to her toes with disappointment. In that moment, she knew that she just wished to get the unavoidable confrontation over with … no matter how it was destined to turn out. Hermione wanted Snape, but if he didn't want her, she wished to know it sooner rather than later.
However, she was by no means desperate enough to go to him again. She had had enough of gut-wrenching confrontations for one day.
No, she would wait for him to come to her … no matter if it killed her … she would wait.
And she did wait—all evening long. But, there was no knock on the door … not even a note. By around eleven p.m., Hermione felt as if she could stand no more of the silence and uncertainty. Her feelings had ranged the emotional gambit, going from hurt, to embarrassed, to angry, to careless, and back to hurt several times.
In desperation, she tried to think of other things, but that afternoon's scene just kept playing itself over and over again in her mind, until she thought she would scream. Images of Snape's angry face and the remembrance of his spiteful words pummeled her poor, exhausted mind, stirring her up to near frenzied pitch.
I simply cannot keep doing this! she inwardly whined.
If there was one time when Hermione felt completely justified in taking a sleeping draught, this was it.
"But I don't have any down here!" she cried, her frustration level hitting critical mass. "I'll have to go to the hospital wing for it!"
So, donning her robes angrily, she headed to her portrait hole door. She pushed it open, and ran straight into …
"Oh, Severus!" she cried, as her heart thudded sickeningly in her chest. "I am sorry, I didn't see you!" Hermione cheeks were burning, and she could not force herself to look up at him.
"I was just coming to speak with you," he said in a low, impossibly gentle voice. "But, if you were going out …"
"No!" Hermione all but squealed, dragging her reluctant eyes to his face. She cleared her throat in an attempt to control her tone. "I was only going to Madam Pomfrey for a sleeping draught …" Her words trailed off. She dropped her gaze once again in shame.
She had said too much. Now he would know she was having trouble resting. And, she was sure, he'd also know why.
Here comes the loaded jab, dripping with sarcasm.
"I see," he said softly. Hermione tried not to hear what she thought was a slightly sympathetic lilt in the two simple words.
I'm sure you do. Hermione could not help but cringe inside, to think he might be feeling sorry for her. And why are you not chewing me up and spitting me out by now?
"Won't you come in?" she asked miserably, her eyes still on her shoes.
She didn't wait for his answer to her rather ungracious invitation, but turned back into her rooms. She felt, rather than saw Snape follow her. She had a sense of foreboding that she didn't even try to shake off. All the certainty she had felt in previous days about her true place in his heart had dissipated. She now felt sure his gentle, almost tender manner meant he was going to attempt to let her down as easily as possible.
So, I was wrong all along, was I? He really doesn't feel anything special for me. She felt sick as she gestured to him to sit down. But, he only gave her a curt shake of his head.
He looked, without a doubt, anxious to say what he had come to say so he could be gone. "I wished to speak to you about this morning's little debacle," he began, his black eyes fixed on Hermione, his expression once again unreadable.
So, it's a lecture first, and then the let down, she thought dully. All right, then.
Hermione's stomach churned, but she did not look away again. She'd take whatever was coming with as much dignity as she could muster.
When she did not speak, Snape continued in subdued tones. "I wanted to apologise for jumping to conclusions when I saw you with Mr Weasley. I should have given you a chance to explain."
Hermione felt a shockwave hit her system full force. It took all she had not to let her jaw drop.
She had expected him to chastise her for her over the top behaviour, not apologise to her. Her expression mirrored her extreme confusion. "But …"
"No, let me finish, Hermione," he said, taking a step nearer to her, his face tight with near desperation, "while I've courage enough to do so."
Hermione's mouth shut with a clatter of her teeth, and her eyes dilated. She felt she might bottom out at any moment.
What??!! Snape needs courage … Snape is admitting his courage might fail him? Snape is admitting he was wrong?
Surely the earth had turned upside down while Hermione hadn't been looking. A tiny gasp escaped her, but if Snape heard it he did not give any indication of it.
"I have something for you," he said as he reached into his robes to reveal her journal, once again in miniature form. "Engorgio," he muttered, waving a pale hand over it, before handing it to her, fully restored.
Hermione grabbed the precious book and clutched it to her chest. "Did you read it?" she asked, her voice barely audible, her face stricken.
This was the moment of truth.
"Yes," he said softly. And, in an instant, he was standing directly before her.
Snape was so near, Hermione was obliged to look up at him. She could feel warmth radiating from him. His eyes delved deeply into hers, and his long, cool hand came up to cup her cheek gently.
"Severus," she breathed, leaning into his touch and letting her eyes drop closed for a moment. "I meant what I said to you this morning …"
"Shhh." A long finger pressed her lips. Her eyes opened to see him looking at her intently. "I know, Hermione." He tilted his head down, so that she could only see the ebony blackness of those mesmerising eyes. "I only regret I did not speak to you before circumstances became so dire." He drew her to him and wrapped his arms around her waist possessively. Hermione sighed and laid her head on his chest. All the tension of the last several hours began flowing out of her. "You were right," he continued. "We should have settled things between us before now."
He gently lifted her face to his with the tips of his fingers. And the look in his eyes nearly melted her, for it spoke so clearly of his heart. She felt her knees go weak and her own heart pound, in response. And, as she leaned into him, she felt his arms tighten around her.
"I love you, Hermione," he said in reverent tones, making tears spring to her eyes. "I cannot hope to ever deserve you. And, I cannot promise I'll never hurt you again, for I am not an easy man. I have little to give you … only my heart … if you'll have it."
Hermione's own heart thrilled at his confession, and her tears fell freely as she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "Oh, yes!" she cried and let out a shaky little laugh. "Severus, yes!"
When she pulled back slightly, she saw a flash of his eyes and then his lips fervently caught hers. Hermione melted into him, fitting perfectly into his embrace. She felt his heart beating through his chest and against her own, and she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it beat only for her.
In that moment, time stood still, and all that had transpired between them, from that long ago conversation in the Headmistress's office until now, flashed through each of their minds and hearts. All those seemingly unconnected moments suddenly flowed together, ushering in the realisation that they had finally met their expected end. They had been meant for each other all along. And, it was this certain knowledge that knit their hearts together in an unbreakable bond.
Two weeks later …
Hermione sat in quiet agitation in a plush seat in the opulent waiting area of the office belonging to the Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour. She felt exhausted, overwrought, and—very, very nervous.
God, they've been in there for two hours! she thought anxiously. What is going on?
And, she was up and pacing again.
"They" were Severus, Harry, Minister Scrimgeour, and two hulking, grim-faced Aurors that Hermione did not know. Severus' day of reckoning was at hand, and he must give full account to the authorities for his actions as a Death Eater and then later as a Spy for the Order.
Hermione's only comfort as she waited for the outcome of the meeting was that Harry was in that office with Severus. She knew that the Minister, who it was clear did not look upon Severus Snape with anything approaching fair-mindedness, would feel compelled to listen very carefully to anything that Harry had to say. Harry was, after all, the Boy Who Lived and the Saviour of the wizarding world. It would not look good in the public's eyes if Scrimgeour dismissed him out of hand.
"It shouldn't be long now, dear," a sympathetic, melodic voice intoned, and Hermione looked up at the portrait on the wall opposite from her seat, and nodded absently.
Hermione and Myra the Magnificent, the subject of said portrait, had become good friends in the last two hours. Myra, dressed in flowing sapphire robes, her golden hair falling in long curls down her back, was quite beautiful. She was draped gracefully over what looked to be an ornate throne wrought of purest silver and deep red velvet cushioning.
For the first half hour of her wait, Myra had regaled Hermione with the story of her life. Gratefully, Hermione had listened, letting the soothing tones of her host's voice and her dancing blue eyes entrance her, thus keeping her taut and straining nerves from snapping.
As it turned out, Myra had had a very full, if difficult life. She had been the wife of Martin Malkirk, the Minister for Magic from 1407 to 1490. He had been a handsome and well-liked wizard, but a bit of a rake apparently. He had had an eye for a beautiful witch—or, several if his wife's account was to be believed. And, Myra had been obliged to use her considerable powers and ingenuity to keep him faithful to her.
Hermione had laughed when Myra had cheerily described the time she'd caught her husband with one of his mistresses in what she delicately termed "a compromising position" right in her own home.
"Oh, my dear!" Myra had said fervently, her eyes sparkling, a delicate blush on her pretty cheeks. "I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to turn that woman's hair into a writing mass of serpents! And, Martin! Well, I assure you, he was not half so handsome once I'd hexed him with a disfiguring curse. His face was really quite hideous to behold. He refused to leave our rooms for a week! Most peaceful week of our marriage, really," Myra had finished thoughtfully.
"But, enough about me," Myra had said, turning a radiant smile on her avidly listening audience. "Tell me about your young man. Is he honourable?" There had been a hint of apprehension in her eyes.
"Oh, yes," Hermione had quickly assured her new friend. She had not wished Severus to escape the clutches of Rufus Scrimgeour only to have to face Myra's wrath. "I've no cause to doubt his intentions."
"Good," Myra had replied approvingly, her expression one of satisfaction. "Just keep in mind I am here if you need any—advice."
"I will remember."
That had been an hour and a half ago, and Hermione's laughter had died away, leaving her with a sick feeling in her stomach. As she continued to pace, she could feel Myra's sympathetic eyes upon her.
Suddenly, the door to the Minster's inner office opened, and Hermione felt her heart skip a beat. She watched with wide eyes as the Minister, looking quite sober, appeared with Harry right beside him.
Oh, God! Where is Severus? She tried to catch Harry's eye, but he was still in a whispered conversation with Scrimgeour.
Then, Severus appeared, the two Aurors walking behind him. Hermione tried to see past Harry and the Minister. Was Severus bound? Were the Aurors about to take him away to Azkaban. She felt her heart racing.
Harry shook Minister Scrimgeour's hand and they parted to reveal Severus and the Aurors … who moved to shake Harry's hand, too, before walking right past Hermione and out the door.
"Severus," Hermione's voice squeaked. His obsidian gaze found her soft chocolate one, and he smiled, reaching his hand out to her. "Thank God!" she whispered as she hastened to take it. Relief flooded her.
He was safe. They could finally get on with their lives.
A year and a half later …
"Severus," Hermione whispered without opening her eyes.
"Severus," she whined.
"Huh." It was a grunt more than anything.
"Don't you hear him?" she hissed. "He's up, and it's your turn."
"Oh …" But, he did not move. The wails continued, and Hermione waited a few beats before shooting up in bed and poking her husband viciously.
"What!" He jumped up and out of the warm bed, crying out pitifully as his bare feet hit cold flagstone. Hermione was glaring at him.
"It's your turn," she pressed. "Augustus needs your attention." Her voice was calm, but left no room for argument.
"Yes," he growled, as he pulled on his black robe and stuffed his feet into his slippers.
He shuffled away as Hermione sunk gratefully back into the bedclothes with a sigh.
Perhaps this time I won't be needed … she thought, closing her heavy eyes. But, she really hadn't any hope, at all.
The baby stopped wailing, and Hermione could hear Severus moving about the nursery and gently murmuring in a soothing manner. He was presumably changing Augustus' nappie.
She smiled as she remembered the first time she had talked her very reluctant husband into attempting a nappie change. He had been so ridiculously methodical about it. The nappie had to be folded just so, and the pins had to be lined up perfectly. And, all the while, Augustus had watched with his big black eyes, his expression serious, as though he was encouraging his father in the task.
He certainly is taking his time about it, Hermione thought as she fell into a twilight sleep. Her false sense of peace didn't last long, though. Suddenly, she was jarred awake as Severus slid into the bed beside her. Hermione could hear the little sucking and fussing noises their son was making, and she knew what was coming.
"I think he's hungry," Severus murmured, sounding somewhat apologetic.
Hermione, wishing to pretend she wasn't required to be awake for as long as she could, sighed deeply and drug herself into a sitting position before opening her bleary eyes. She wanted to say she was exhausted and just couldn't do it. She wanted to protest that she had to be up in the morning early to prepare for the practical test she was giving to her seventh-year Charms students that day. She wanted to ask whose idea it had been for her to nurse Augustus in the first place, when the practice of bottle-feeding would have allowed for Severus' participation in the night-time feeding schedule.
She knew it was irrational for her to feel this way. But, she was just so TIRED!
"Alright," she groaned and held her arms out to receive the baby.
Warm, gentle fingers grasped her chin and she found herself gazing into the black eyes of her husband—the same black eyes she now saw in their son. "I really am sorry, Hermione," he whispered, his face full of compassion. "I know you are tired. I wish I could do more." Then, he kissed her very softly, and pulled her into the crook of his arm, and up against his side. Hermione felt warmth spread through her, at the realisation that he intended to stay up with her. She almost felt ashamed for being petulant … almost.
She leaned against her husband as she freed her breast and let little Augustus latch comfortably on. He nursed vigorously. "Poor little bloke," she whispered as she gently stroked his warm little cheek with one finger. "He really was hungry."
A low chuckle rumbled from Severus' chest and vibrated against Hermione's back, and she thought about how lucky she really was. After all, she had everything she could possibly want in life … a loving husband, a beautiful baby, and a job she loved.
Yes, here they were two years after the final battle, and the castle was restored to all its former glory, all the teaching staff had been replaced, (Hermione had replaced Professor Flitwick in the Charms position, for his injuries during the final battle had been too debilitating,) and the school was up and running, again.
Hermione loved staying at the castle. She didn't even mind living in the dungeons as much as she thought she might. Severus had been very gracious about the changes she had made to their quarters … or, at least, gracious for Severus Snape. He had been all raised eyebrows and long suffering sighs, especially when she had insisted on decorating little Augustus' nursery in bright yellows and mint greens. Severus had wanted his son's room to be done in Slytherin green, of course. But, Hermione had put her foot down.
"Severus, such somber colors will give the baby nightmares!" she'd said, her eyes blazing with a protective motherly fire. Severus had grumbled, but, in the end, he'd let her have her way.
Hermione chuckled softly at the memory of Severus reaction to her labor with Augustus. Madam Pomfrey had been bustling about, working her spells and administering her potions, while the father to be had paced and growled and generally made a nuisance of himself. He questioned everything the matron was doing, worried onyx eyes darting about with watchfulness. He had driven Madam Pomfrey to distraction.
"Really, Severus!" she'd finally barked in desperation. "I have delivered babies before, and I am a trained medi-witch. I think I can handle this!" Even in her pain, Hermione had had to smile at the scowl her husband had given her attendant in answer.
Augustus squirmed against his mother, thus drawing her out of her reverie long enough to switch sides. But, as soon as the little man was comfortably nursing again, Hermione let her mind wander to the moment she'd watched Severus hold Augustus for the very first time, just after his birth.
It had been beautiful, and she knew she would never forget it.
It had taken both Hermione's tired pleas and Madam Pomfrey's no-nonsense insistence to persuade Severus to take the baby. The new father had looked terrified to even touch his son, let alone hold him.
"What if I drop him," he'd asked, his face blanching at the thought.
"Of course you won't drop him!" Madam Pomfrey had said, her voice more than a little irritated, as she expertly swaddled Augustus tightly.
Hermione watched in wonder as the matron instructed Severus on how to cradle his son close to his chest, as she placed Augustus in his arms carefully. Hermione had had to bite back an amused laugh, for her husband looked so tense and awkward, and he held the baby so stiffly.
But, as soon as Severus looked into his son's little red, puckered face, she saw wonderment replace fear. Severus entire countenance changed, so much so that Hermione had gasped and tears had sprung to her eyes. She watched as her normally taciturn husband smiled broadly and cooed—yes, actually cooed to the small, raven-haired, pink bundle in his arms.
"Hello, Augustus," he'd said, his voice impossibly soft, as he started to instinctually rock slowly back and forth. "I am your father. It is nice to finally meet you."
Hermione had fought her exhaustion, wishing to continue watching the scene before her as long as it would play out. But, in rather short order, she felt the sleeping draught Madam Pomfrey had insisted on giving her dragging her under. And she fell into a peaceful slumber to the sounds of Severus loving ministrations to their son.
That had been three months ago. Soon, these late night feedings would stop, if Madam Pomfrey was to be believed. Suddenly, Hermione did not feel put upon, at all, about having to get up for them. Suddenly, it seemed the most wonderful thing in the world to be sitting up in bed, leaning against her precious husband, and feeding her sweet baby boy, even if her tired body was crying out for sleep.
Hermione felt Augustus' little mouth go slack at her breast as he fell back to sleep, so she carefully lifted him to her shoulder and gently patted his back until he burped. She could hear soft breathing behind her, an indication that her husband had fallen back to sleep, as well.
Hermione leaned in and softly kissed her husband. Severus really had tried to stay up with her … and that was what counted.
"Life is good," she murmured, and she kissed her baby's fat little, rosy cheek affectionately. Then, she heaved herself out of bed and took him to his own cot.
Upon her return, she crawled into bed and gently nudged Severus to encourage him to slide down into the mattress.
"Is Augustus done eating?" Severus mumbled, his eyes still closed as he turned his face into the pillow. "Shall I take him back now?"
"I already took him back," Hermione whispered, as she snuggled up close to him, letting him wrap his warm body around her. "Go to sleep, love."
"But, it's my turn," he protested feebly. And, the next moment, both of them were fast asleep.