Disclaimer: Don't own it.
Edited by thymeisacat, without whom this fic surely would have sucked.
Chapter 20 – Starting Anew
The moment that they stepped outside, Hermione was reminded of why she had ducked into the Three Broomsticks in the first place. Rain sheeted down in torrents, blown vertically into her face by a strong, cold wind. Hunching down into her muffler and pulling her hood low over her face, she squeezed the hand that she still held and said, "There is a park near my flat in London. Maybe we should walk there instead?"
The man (she refused to think a name in order to avoid possible bitter disappointment) nodded and gestured with his free hand for her to carry on. She took that as the signal to Side-Along-Apparate them, and she did so, landing them in an alley two blocks away from her flat and approximately three from the park. The alley was neat and freshly swept, as was the norm for her neighborhood (and would remain so until someone dismantled her network of Do-Not-Litter, Do-Not-Pee, and countless other wards that discouraged uncouth behavior). The London weather was as mild as the Hogsmeade weather was foul, and the surcease of freezing rain and wind was a relief to both parties.
The compulsion to drag him to her flat was strong, but she couldn't quite allow herself to believe what she thought might be the truth. And if it weren't, she didn't necessarily want this man to know where she lived, no matter how close a friend he might be of Draco's. Then again, he could simply acquire her address from Draco, might have, in fact, and could already know where she lived. Perhaps he had let her Apparate them here to make her think she was safe, all the while knowing—
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and took a bracing breath, trying to wrangle her mind into some sense of order instead of the babbling, circular mess into which it had just spiraled. She was nervous and terrified; both that he was who she thought he was and that he wasn't. Her stomach was now the home of a nest of angry wasps, and it felt that at any moment, they would violently rebel. The alley tilted alarmingly, and she realized that instead of taking a breath, she had held it. An arm snaked around her waist and steadied her, and she found herself leaning against a body that felt comfortingly familiar, inhaling a scent that she had sorely come to miss. Keeping her eyes closed, she melted against him, finally permitting herself to entertain the idea that he was, in fact, the man she loved, and they might have the life that she had envisioned as she had lain in his arms on his parlor floor. Her hood fell back, and he nuzzled her ear, his warm breath washing over her cheek as the cold tip of his nose settled in the hollow behind the lobe.
His nose. It was wrong, wasn't it? Straight and narrow and entirely unlike Severus' nose…
She had to know for sure, before her heart was irreparably broken.
Turning in the arms that had wrapped around her body, she kept her eyes closed until she faced him. Slowly, dreading that she would be confronting the same handsome face that had walked into the Three Broomsticks, she opened her eyes.
A hooked nose and glittering, black eyes dominated a face lined with years of worry. Though not as care-worn as she remembered from her school days, his time spent doing whatever it was he had been doing having a beneficial effect on his features, it was still the face of her ex-Potions master and an older version of her beloved. She gasped as her knees buckled, but he caught her easily, holding her pressed against his chest. His smile was warm, but slightly self-mocking, and she caught a glimpse of stained, crooked teeth as he said, "By your expression, I shall assume that you have discovered enough of the truth to see through the glamour."
He shushed her with a hiss. "Not here."
"I said, not here," he repeated firmly, and if she had not finally broken through his glamour, then his supercilious tone would have convinced her.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner? Why did you let me believe—?" She shook her head forcefully when he made to interrupt her again. "You supposedly died four years ago!" she snapped, pulling out of his embrace before she gave into temptation to throw her arms around him and kiss him senseless. Fear lit at the backs of his eyes, and she regretted her decision, but she had to understand, to know. Following her heart had gotten her into a fair bit of trouble recently, and she liked to think that she learned from her mistakes. He let his arms fall to his sides and stared at her expressionlessly, his eyes shuttering his emotions.
"And just who, precisely, did you expect me to tell?"
He was absolutely right. She hadn't left him much to go on: no name, no address, not even the fact that she had traveled time to reach him. What had he thought had become of her? She was being grossly unfair. "I wanted to…" Her lips were numb and somehow not connected to her brain.
'How could I have said something so stupid,' she chastised herself as his expression twisted, and pain and fear flared to life once again in his black eyes. Unconsciously, she took a step backward, her back hitting the wall of the alley. He stood where he was, his hands clenched tightly at his sides.
"You wanted to… Tell me, Heidi, where have you been these past twenty years?"
She blinked at him miserably. Swallowing against the lump that swelled in her throat, she pressed her back against the wall, gratefully taking the support it offered. She had suffered only months since she had returned from the past, hopelessly in love and believing him dead. She had vanished on him twenty years ago, after telling him she would stay. Why wasn't he pissing mad? Then again, he had remained infatuated with Lily for years, despite the fact that she had married the man who had tormented him through their school years. She could hardly fathom the loyalty he held for those he loved, and she considered herself a loyal friend.
"The—" She swallowed again, choking down a sob that threatened to strangle her. "The Starglass, I lost it in the well. I only wanted to send a few notes and get Crookshanks before going back to stay…"
"The Starglass," he repeated, nodding to himself. "A catalyst."
"It just disappeared, and I was stuck, and you were dead." Despite her best efforts, her face was crumpling, and the spigots behind her eyes were opening to release steady streams of tears.
"And Draco?" he asked bitterly, the accusation hanging heavily between them.
She shrugged helplessly as she stared at the ground, at a loss to explain. There was a very strong likelihood that he really had died in her own timeline, and that she had influenced this change. This should have made her blissfully happy, and there was no doubt that she was happy that he was alive, but the distance between them seemed to be growing. She felt that it somehow must be her fault but wasn't sure what to do about it and was emotionally fragile enough that no choice seemed to be right. He had his prickly, defensive mantle fastened securely about his body, and though he seemed to have been pleased to see her earlier, she was afraid to approach him now, lest she be skewered on his spines. Glancing up at him, she saw that he, too, was staring at the ground. She couldn't tell if the glimmer of moisture on his face was from the rain in Hogsmeade or not.
'I've buggered this up already,' she thought despairingly. 'He was waiting for me, isn't that what he was implying? If he didn't still love me, would he have gone to the trouble and danger of revealing himself? And I pushed him away.' It occurred to her that perhaps she should have just left the questions for later and gone straight for the snogging. 'Sensitive, remember? And woefully insecure…' It would be like him to assume that she was rejecting him.
"Severus," she said quietly, hoping that he would look at her. Instead, he glanced up the alleyway, and she was struck with the thought that he might just leave.
"Sod it," she mumbled and launched off the wall. Obviously, he hadn't been expecting a full-frontal attack, for he stumbled backwards several steps, and they bumped noses painfully before her lips found his. It didn't take him long to recover. His arms wrapped around her too tightly for comfort (not that she planned to complain any time soon), and she was lifted to the tips of her toes. Even with her lips sealed to his with his tongue doing delicious things to the inside of her mouth, the contact wasn't enough. With what little leverage she had, she hopped up and coiled her legs around his hips, overbalancing him. He grunted low in his throat when his back hit the alley wall, but as neither was willing to relinquish their positions, they slid down the wall, intertwined, until she was perched astraddle on his lap. This was where she wanted to be. From her position on her lap, she could tell that he was just as pleased.
Twisting her fingers into his long, black hair, she tilted her head and kissed him for all she was worth, pouring her joy at their reunion into every sweep of her tongue, hoping that it would somehow convey what she hadn't been able to say. He kissed her back with equal fervor, his hands traveling her back and hips, having somehow found their way under her cloak.
"Oh! Erm," a voice said, accompanied by a scuff of shoes against concrete, and Severus reluctantly pried his lips away to glare at the intruder around the tangle of Hermione's hair. A Muggle dressed in a plain, brown coat carrying a folded umbrella was staring at them in embarrassed amusement, paused in the act of passing by the alley. The man's face paled, amusement fading into nervousness as Severus' scowl blackened. Without another word, the Muggle scurried out of the alley, shooting them an anxious look over his shoulder. Feeling accomplished (scowling the fear into people was an art form that he had mastered), Severus leaned back in for another kiss to find Hermione gazing down at him, her face wreathed in somewhat matted curls. She frowned at him, and his heart, which had been beating fast and irregularly since he had seen her on the street in Hogsmeade, tripped and stuttered.
"You aren't a dream, are you?" she asked, pulling a hand out of his hair and trailing an ink-stained finger down the bridge of his nose.
In answer, he pinched the hip under his left fingers, grinning when she yelped and squirmed on his lap. Catching his hand and twining their fingers together, she smiled and kissed the corner of his mouth. "Not a dream then. You'll tell me how?"
Talking was actually rather low on his list of priorities, though undoubtedly necessary, but seeing as few of the things on his mind should be performed in an alley, he nodded acquiescence. He would have agreed to just about anything, really, if it meant that she would kiss him again. It was a pity she would have to leave his lap for them to move anywhere more circumspect.
"Would you like to come up to my flat?" she asked, as if reading his mind, and flushed immediately afterward. She quickly added, "We have a lot to catch up on." When he raised a meaningful eyebrow, she blushed harder and rolled her eyes.
Having mercy on her, he said, "You do have a fair bit of explaining to do." And he wouldn't be taking cop-out answers like "It's complicated" or "It's for your own protection." Furthermore, she would describe from where the Starglass came, how she lost it, and what his blasted well had to do with it. He suspected there was a lot of back-story that he was missing. Then, he would secure his place in her life… or her place in his. Whatever the semantics, there was no way he would allow her to slip through his fingers now that he had finally found her and determined that she did, indeed, want him. When she had pushed him away earlier, he had feared the worst: that he was twenty years older and no longer the man that she loved; that she had decided that she preferred young, handsome Draco after all.
"I know." She smiled the smile that had visited his best dreams for two decades. It was tender, soft, and only for him. It begged to be kissed, so he did.
"Do you realize how utterly foolish and idiotic it was to meddle with time?" Severus asked as he traced a tickling spiral around her belly button, exposed by the hem of her jumper, which had ridden up as they snogged on her sofa.
She hummed contentedly as she twisted her fingers through the silky, black hair that lay splayed across her chest. Her head was propped on one armrest with her legs stretched across the length of the sofa. Slowly sinking behind the seat cushions as they were pushed out of place, Severus was wedged between her and the backrest. She wasn't particularly comfortable, but with his dark head resting on one breast and his fingers brushing her skin, she wouldn't have moved for the world, let alone a crick in her neck. Except for one thing that she did not want to do on the sofa, at least not the first time. "You're alive, aren't you?"
"There is no reason to believe that I wouldn't be if you hadn't. After your friends had left, you administered the coagulation salve to the snakebite before leaving yourself—"
"I didn't, Severus. That's what I've been trying to tell you. Though I rather wish I had. I assume it was your plan that everyone believed that the salve had failed and assumed that you had died."
"Astute observation," he said slightly mockingly, as if events could never have proceeded according to anyone else's schemes. "No one actually knew about the salve, for I Obliviated you as soon as I had the strength. They buried an expertly transfigured body, created in conjunction with my own blood and hair. Had I known…"
He shifted over her, his knees straddling her upper thighs so that he could look fully into her face. Staring at her searchingly, he opened his mouth to speak when one of his knees slipped into the gap between the cushion and sofa, and he fell bodily on her. She didn't mind this position, either, and wiggled against the hot, hard knot that was pressed against her. He nibbled her earlobe in appreciation. 'Maybe this concludes our discussion?' she wondered hopefully.
They had been discussing their adventures for the past hour and a half. Upon reaching her apartment, she had made tea, and they had retired to her living room, settling side-by-side on the sofa. Instead of commencing with heavy petting, which is what she would have preferred, he had directed her to "Explain yourself."
She had, to the best of her ability, though he had interrupted her frequently with often disparaging comments on her choice of actions and tangents on time-travel theory. He had speculated on changes in the timeline that she had not yet seen, and her immunity to those changes. Though horrified by her initial relationship with Ron, he had been intrigued by her observations of the changes in Draco and the fact that she had dropped into the future in the midst of that affair. He had gone quiet for a moment, his black eyes sweeping over her body from his vantage on the other side of the sofa as he seemed to struggle with a question. Hermione had put two and two together and answered, "No, I did not sleep with him. I couldn't, not after… you."
"You kissed him," he reminded her unnecessarily, the flesh between his eyebrows creasing as he frowned.
"Had I known that you weren't dead, then I wouldn't have bothered to try making that relationship work!" She had taken a bracing sip of tepid tea before continuing in a much calmer tone of voice. "You can't imagine how bizarre it was to learn that I was suddenly dating my childhood nemesis. Do you know how many times he called me a Mudblood?"
"Draco would never use that word."
"Yes, well, things changed." She had smiled and shifted her socked foot to caress his ankle, which had eventually led to their currently entwined position on the sofa.
His lips were creeping down her neck with tiny, nipping kisses, and Hermione shifted restlessly with rising ardor, suddenly very much aware of how long it had been since she had been intimate with anyone. Should she make a quick trip to the bathroom to make sure everything was in order? Which pair of knickers had she put on this morning? She couldn't quite recall, but it might be the old, torn pair with "Hello Kitty" stenciled across the arse.
'I hope he isn't terribly disappointed when he finally undresses me,' she thought and then gasped as one of his long-fingered hands crept under her jumper to knead a breast. She was fairly certain that her bra had not been chosen to impress, either.
"Severus?" she asked before she could stop herself. Her knee also rose of its own accord, frustrated in the cage made by his thighs. He seemed to understand, for after he shifted his weight, she was able to wrap her legs around his waist. "Did you, erm. Are you seeing anyone in Australia?"
His tongue paused in its path to the hollow of her throat, and she felt his sigh against the moisture on her skin. "Briefly," he said, his voice rumbling against her throat, "but it didn't last very long."
"Why not?" Hermione said and then wished she could tie her own tongue in a knot. Hadn't she just wondered if they were finished talking? Did she really want to know this?
"Because, quite frankly, she wasn't you."
And now he was staring down at her with those glittering, dark eyes instead of removing her jumper. 'Nice one, Hermione.' Unfortunately, her mouth continued to move, despite her keen wish that it wouldn't. It didn't help that she was beginning to feel quite insecure because this man seemed to have placed her on a pedestal over the past twenty years, and she didn't know if she could compare to the memories of his Heidi. His natural Legilimency, which was so much stronger than it had been when he was young, saved her from another awkward question.
"You are Heidi," he said quietly, intensely. "The question is: do you want an old, ex-professor living in hiding several continents away?"
"Oh, yes." She grinned up at him and squirmed suggestively. "My job at the Ministry was getting stale, anyway. It's time for a change of scenery."
He frowned, a hand on her hip stilling her. "Just like that?"
"I've been promoted as far as I can; the Director is decades away from stepping down. My choices are to start near the bottom again in a different department or move." He was still frowning, so she continued, "If I was ready to leave my own time period to live with you under a false identity, then why is it so difficult to believe that I would go to Australia? Unless you don't want—"
"Oh, I want. Be sure that I want. I simply expected to have to do a little more convincing." The fingers on her hip were now insinuating themselves between her bum and the cushion to firmly squeeze her flesh.
"It will take some time to get everything arranged, of course," Hermione said after a moment of reflection. "Letters of resignation and recommendation, finding a new employer, a flat… Are you using the glamour as well as the false identity?" she asked as her mind spun through the list of things she would need to accomplish before leaving England. A great bubble of excitement was swelling inside of her, the promise of love, a new adventure and a fresh start polishing off the tarnish that stained the last few months of her almost hand-me-down existence.
"No glamour, but I had assumed that you would move in with me…" he trailed off disappointedly, and she recognized the sulk that was about to overtake him. She didn't bother to suppress a fond smile. Who knew that Severus Snape was a hopeless romantic, believing that she would simply shack up with him after months (or years, depending on one's point of view) of separation and only a few weeks of interaction? Was he imagining an elopement as well, complete with tropical beach and frozen cocktails?
"As much as I am hopelessly in love with you, Severus," she said as her smile grew into a toothy grin, "I think we have a significant amount of getting-to-know-each-other to do, first. The rest will come in time." His face fell further, but she didn't need to be a Legilimens to see what he was thinking. "Except for sex. I think we should do that right now. If you are amenable."
Brightening significantly (though she suspected that he really might have been considering elopement, and she doubted that she had heard the last of his arguments), he levered himself off of the couch and gave her a hand up. "I'm sure that can be arranged."
A/N: Yay for happy endings! I know, I didn't tie up everything into a tidy package with marriage, kids, etc – but that is the end of this story. Sorry to those of you who were wanting smut, but I've written so much of that for other fandoms that I just didn't feel inclined to put it in this fic. I'm actually pleased that I managed to write a multi-chaptered fic that is relatively clean. Maybe next time.
Thanks to all of you who have stuck with this fic and to those who have left a note. I love to hear from you.