Flights of Fancy

Severus stalked the halls of Hogwarts, and the letter he'd drafted to Hermione seemed to burn a hole in his pocket. He found himself rubbing his finger over the wax seal without consciously deciding to do so while he did his patrol duty. Twice his circuit passed him by the owlery, and both times he decided against going in. What if it was too much too soon?

It was certainly a faux pas on his part for such declarations – but Severus knew that there was a very good chance that he would be dead soon and he didn't want to die without having made his feelings clear. He'd made such a mistake before with Lily and he didn't want to repeat that disaster. And he was certain of his feelings for Hermione, even if the strength and depth of them were brought out prematurely. It was true that few others had the ability to annoy him the way that she did, and some of the things she did were truly baffling, but despite the apparent flaws there was still something that was simply undeniable. It would be easy to say it was her intelligence – for that drew him like a moth to a flame. Yet it wouldn't be the complete truth. She was bright, yes, but she also had a bold and daring streak that he secretly admired. She had a selflessness that at times bordered on insane, but it was a trait that many he'd known over the years had lacked entirely. She was the type of person that would throw herself in the way of a nasty curse, to protect someone she loved. She was a fighter, the sort that never gave up. She had a firm grip on her beliefs, and it would be a cold day in hell if anyone else was going to walk all over her. He enjoyed her quick wit, and her ability to carry on a conversation. He loved fighting with her, getting her riled up to the point where she'd turn a lovely shade of red before going off on him like a tea kettle. He enjoyed her flair for the dramatic as it matched his own, and she was always striving to be the very best she could be. She didn't do things half-arsed, and neither did he. Of course – he couldn't deny that she'd become an incredibly alluring woman, and kissing her had made him feel things he hadn't felt in years.

The flip side of the coin was admitting that there was a part of him, an old and insecure part, that wanted to run as far away as he could get, to protect whatever was left of his tattered heart. That part was continually telling him that it wasn't love, it was lust, and that he was a stupid old fool for showing his cards in such a juvenile way. But he'd spent the better part of the summer in denial and denying something that was real was even more childish. There was so little time left before the War reached a boiling point. Even if he got rejected from being honest at this point – it wasn't as if he'd have to live with it for very long.

Even if the girl was a fool for being in love with him – he rationalized that she would get over whatever her preoccupation with him was after he'd gone. She'd survive the war – he would make damn sure of that. She deserved a life, a real life, one that wasn't overshadowed with such dark responsibility.

He found two fourth years snogging in the library and even taking house points from the Hufflepuffs didn't give him the same thrill that it might have before. He didn't give a damn about the school, his House, his position any longer. He'd renounce it all in a second if he could. It was the largest drain on his mental and physical faculties by far. He was so sick of being a spy – of being played by two manipulative fools and having a more than full time job. But if being where he was would keep Hermione out of the middle of it – he'd serve his time. God forbid the Dark Lord from learning about Hermione's true identity.

He came upon the owlery for the third time and this time, he reluctantly climbed the stairs, feeling the cold creeping up his legs. He felt like he was walking to the gallows, moving toward certain death. But like he'd done before and would do again, he made himself move along, to do the right thing – or what he thought to be the right thing – and gritting his teeth, he tied the letter to the largest snow white owl.

He hoped that she received it well, and at least he'd included the heirloom ring. She should have it – and not only as a safeguard. There would come a time in the near future when she'd realize that she'd inherited everything from him – his childhood home, the Prince family fortune, and all the gold he'd managed to save over the years. But the most important part – the part he knew she'd appreciate above the rest – was his library. It was priceless and it would be hers. And the ring was keyed to let her into his secret library – the place where he kept his oldest manuscripts and rare first edition copies. It was also where he kept his most sacred memories – his most vulnerable experiences and his most prized inventions and innovations. He'd learned as a young man that he could separate himself from his weaknesses by removing the strong emotions tied to certain memories by using a Pensieve, and a common bottling method used for Potions. And not only were there copies of all the spells he'd ever created, but all the Potion's he'd trademarked (and many that he hadn't) including extremely detailed notes on how to brew them. He trusted no one with this knowledge while he was alive but when he'd gone – there was only one person he would allow access to such a wealth of knowledge. He hoped that providing her with essentially everything he had would ease her anger and her grief when she learned of his passing. He was giving her the most valuable parts of himself, while keeping away that which would probably end up hurting her in the long run.

He watched the owl take off into the night and stood there but for a moment, staring out into the night sky. Her name hovered in his mind and on his lips but he didn't breathe it aloud for fear of being overheard.