Hermione looked for the garden Sirius had once shown her. It took her longer to find than was usual down in the Underworld, but eventually she found its four high walls. She pressed her hands against the stone, pushing them, marveling at the solid structure beneath her skin.
She sat down with her back pressed against the wall and waited.
A breeze like a sigh stirred the gray grass and rustled the leaves of the gray trees.
The sky was gray, indistinguishable from infinite atmosphere.
The soft light in the fields made it look like dawn.
Hermione heard the soft whisper of footsteps, and almost began to weep. She turned, and when Severus knelt down beside her, she grabbed the front of his robes and buried her face into the crook of his neck. He was fazed for a moment, but once recovered from his initial surprise, took her face in his hands and kissed her. His lips murmured along the crease of her eyelid, drinking warmth from where tears usually traveled.
She took his face in her hands and looked at him, searching. He looked back, politely curious, and with a mildness to his face no one had ever seen.
She almost cried in relief when Severus played with her hair, a puzzled but amused expression on his face. She sank to the ground, lying on her back and suddenly feeling deliriously happy. A giggle escaped from her.
Severus followed her down to where she lay, looking like a big, curious cat. He stretched down and laid beside her, fingertips brushing the hollow of her throat to find the source of her giggles, followed by feather light kisses that sent shivers down her spine.
From some strange turn of events, the most important person in her life regarded her in the same manner.
Firmly grasping the collar of his robes, Hermione pulled Severus down so his face was mere inches from hers.
"Come back with me, Severus. You must come back with me."
He blinked slowly, humouring smile softly playing around his lips again. Hermione whined in frustration.
"Please, Severus, say you'll come back. The world is a different place. The war is over. People think of you as a hero. All the love, appreciation and validation are yours if you just come back. Everything that was robbed of you is now yours."
He stopped smiling, but only to show her he was taking her seriously. There was no aggressive rejection of her request, but his eyes held a firm finality.
"I wasn't robbed of anything. I have no reason to go back."
Hermione looked up, suddenly afraid.
"What about me?"
She looked away, hotly embarrassed. He grinned, he liked it when she blushed, and placed his lips against the hotness of her cheek to feel it bleed in through his mouth.
"I have to go back."
"But you won't be up there forever."
His long hair fell onto her face, tickling her throat and kissing her brow. She closed her eyes and breathed him in. He smelt like autumn. The fingertips tracing the contours of her face were cool kisses of autumn. His mouth was cold.
"You died because of me, Severus."
She looked up, her voice small, her skin singing with the need to be touched. He looked at her curiously.
"I had a bottle of dittany. I could have saved you—I could have done something. You'd still be alive."
Severus' eyes creased into a smile and he laughed into her hair, placing kisses on her temple.
"Did you know so little of me when I was alive to have let that be a source of guilt?"
"W-What do you mean?"
"Well, ignoring the fact that my death was a product of a chain of events—I also, quite simply, would never have forgiven you if you had kept me alive that day. I was an unhappy man, Hermione. I had long since tired of the world."
His hands rubbed circles into her shoulders, traveling across the region of her collarbone. The smoke-cloth shifted and slipped around her body, setting her nerves alight.
"You'll never come back with me?"
Severus reached into his robes and brought out his wand.
"It doesn't let me cross over to the living, Hermione."
"You can't know that."
Nimble fingers slid over the wand and then, in a decisive move, snapped it in half. A whimper tore from Hermione's throat.
"Now, neither can you."
Severus tossed the wand pieces away and shifted so that he was directly above her.
"Forget about the wand, Hermione, and trust me. Do you trust me?"
His breath was cool and stirred the hair on her face.
"I'm not sure … "
He had a wicked grin on his face.
His hands reached under the flowing material of her robes, fingertips dancing over her hot body. She murmured, feeling her back arch. Severus pulled the gaseous, liquid-like cloth off of her body, and she lay naked on the gray grass of the dead.
Severus pulled off his own robes as well; they almost seemed to melt away from his body. He lay down beside her, scooping her into his arms, skin pressing against skin. He was cold, so cold it made her nipples erect and her skin flinch away from his until she was used to the sensation. It was like lying naked against a marble statue; that is if the statue were soft, moving flesh. His fingertips stroked and traveled along her body, sipping at her warmth, kisses from autumn leaves, making her squirm and writhe in his arms.
He pressed his icy mouth against hers and she gasped against him. He kissed her, stroking her languorously with his cold tongue, reveling and celebrating her heat, her colour, her light—needing her on a base and primal level no one had ever needed her before.
Her small, hot hand pressed against his stomach and traveled southward, making him smile against her mouth. She could feel his thigh muscle flex beneath her hand, and shifting, she cupped him, thumb and forefinger teasing sensitive skin.
He looked at her amusedly. "That doesn't happen down here."
Indeed, Hermione felt nothing stir in her hand.
He chuckled, amused. "No one needs to."
He held her gently in his arms, mouth never straying far from hers, demanding heat from time to time with lazy suckles. His cold hands touched her where she needed to be touched, and she felt tingles and electric jolts shoot over the expanse of her skin, passionate union or no.
It was more than enough being hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, and lips to mouth with the one man she'd gone through Hades to find.
When Hermione awoke it was to find herself in a bed of black robes and limbs. She sat up, propping herself up on outstretched arms. Her hair tumbled down her shoulders, unruly and truly a mess. Severus smirked and tugged gently on a strand.
Hermione patted the black robes until she found a slim piece of wood. Her wand. She looked down at Severus and reached out with a hand. Her hand was small, only with her fingers outstretched could it cover his face. He looked at her, eyes mirroring the gravity she felt in her motions.
"I'm going to miss you. I'll miss you so much it will hurt."
"Are you going back?"
Hermione nodded, clenching her jaw tightly. Severus just smiled softly back at her, hand resting cool on her thigh.
"Don't miss me; you'll be back soon enough."
Hermione shook her head, the world becoming blurry through a curtain of tears. She sniffled and sat ramrod straight and still, until the tears had dried and she was sure she would not cry. She could not cry.
"It will feel like a lifetime for me. But I can't stay any longer."
His fingers traced figure eights into her hip.
"It's just time to go."
Hermione looked at her wand and twirled it experimentally in the air. Green sparks streamed from its tip, and Severus eyed it approvingly.
A hand enclosed over hers, stopping the wand's movement. Hermione looked at him startled. Severus slowly sat up and looked her piercingly in the eye, his gaze seeing past a brown iris, vitreous humour, aqueous humour, and reaching to her very soul.
"Why do you have to go? What's waiting for you? An exciting career? Academic glory?"
There was a dangerous undercurrent to his voice, which made her toes curl.
"Will you go home to an empty flat? Or is there someone else waiting for you?"
Hermione stared at him, hypnotized by the jealousy in his eyes.
"There's no one."
He leaned forward sinuously, words slipping from his tongue in a purr.
"Then why do you have to go?"
"I-I can't stay down here like this any longer. It'll drive me mad."
Severus leaned back, and for a moment, she thought he was drawing away from her. Instead, he searched through his robes and then brought forth a red pomegranate.
He tore the fruit in half with his hands, the rind's fiber separating like heavy paper. Dozens of jewel-like seeds glistened inside the fruit, tart pips bursting with sweet nectar. Severus brought half to his mouth and divested the pomegranate of some of its seeds. The juice gushed forth from the rind and dripped onto his pale chest, staining like crimson flowers.
He looked at her through hooded eyes and with a blood-red mouth.
"Eat this pomegranate with me."
He held out the fruit to her, his eyes never leaving her face.
"Are you asking me to give up my life?"
"I'm asking you to embrace your death."
Her small hands closed over his fingers, feeling the waxy rind. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his searching gaze.
"It won't be the same. I won't be warm anymore."
"I won't need you to be warm afterwards."
What was waiting for her in the living world? An empty flat filled with books that were now redundant. An uproar in the academic community that would either hail her as a genius or shun her as a charlatan. Her friends? Friends she had grown away from.
She took the pomegranate half from his hand and examined it in the soft light of dawn. He eyed every one of her movements hungrily.
"Where did you get this fruit from, Severus?"
"From the garden. My wand allowed me to cross the boundary into the garden."
Hermione looked sharply up at him, and he nodded with a self-satisfied grin on his face. So he truly couldn't have been able to come back with her, even if he had wanted to.
The dark red juices dripped down her fingers and pooled in the cup of her palm. Severus leaned in close, sucking out more seeds from his half of the fruit.
Hermione bit into the pomegranate and felt an explosion of cold, sweet, tart juice flood into her mouth and welcome her. It trickled down her throat cold and good and pomegranate seeds burst under the pressure of her teeth, releasing their fresh contents.
Somewhere, in another place, Hermione stopped breathing.
Here, Severus cupped her face and drew her in for a kiss. Their lips were stained pomegranate red, and both their mouths were icy cold, with the lingering tartness of pomegranate seeds neither could taste.
And it wasn't the same as before, but it didn't need to be.