Disclaimer: It's not mine, it's all J. K. Rowling's.
A/N: Annie Talbot and Machshefa are the lovely ladies who beta-read this fic! : :hugs: :
Chapter 20: Happiness
Hermione's eyes were swollen from crying. She didn't know what had possessed her at Hogwarts. She should have kept her hands to herself. All she'd had in mind was relaxing him so she could make him laugh. Such an innocent desire had turned into such a definitely not innocent one.
Hermione shouldn't have fed him the chocolate candy. She'd dreamed about it more than once, she had known that making this wish become real could only lead to disaster.
She hugged the pillow, trying to avoid more tears.
Everything had been so perfect until she'd touched him. They'd been spending a nice afternoon. They'd teased each other, much like they did in their letters, he'd shared his unorthodox humor about his students, she'd laughed, and after seeing his smug expression upon making her laugh, her mind had played the first trick on her. She'd wanted to make him laugh, like she'd been promising in her letters.
Stupid, stupid idea, Hermione!
Tickling him was a very bad idea. Yes, that had been her intention when she Transfigured his armchairs and made him take his coat and shoes off. Feeding him chocolate was where she'd crossed over that thin line and destroyed their fragile friendship.
Hermione turned in bed, feeling uncomfortable but not knowing how to make the feeling go away. Eventually, she fell asleep, not a restful sleep, but one haunted by nightmares like she hadn't in years.
Almost two weeks. It was Friday, and since that fatal Sunday he hadn't heard from Hermione. Not that he'd thought she would come running after him after what he'd done. He hadn't tried to contact her, either. How could he?
He missed her, of course. If someone observant would take Severus as a subject, one would notice how he didn't go very long without reaching for his pocket, where he kept his Claddagh Ring – a token that reminded him only of Hermione these days, leaving Lily to be a ghost of his past.
He entered the Great Hall with a scowl worthy of his fame. Thinking about how he'd screwed things up with Hermione was not conducive to a good mood. Seeing Potter at the High Table, talking with Minerva, would definitely not achieve that either.
"Good evening, Severus," Minerva greeted, as always.
He didn't answer, as always. Taking his seat by her, he asked at once, "What's he doing here?"
"He needed to consult with Albus and I invited him for dinner," Minerva explained. If only she'd kept her words at that…. "Do you know what I've been thinking?"
"I hope it has nothing to do with the house-elves' toast," he mumbled.
"No, Severus. Toast has been completely absent from your diet these past weeks, so what would you know about that? I was thinking that you could take advantage of Harry's visit to inquire about Hermione. She hasn't written in weeks, I'm sure you would be delighted with news."
"She must be just fine."
"Harry, are you sure of what you were saying about Hermione earlier?" Minerva asked Potter.
"I'm afraid so, Minerva," Severus strained to hear Potter say. "I caught her crying at work last week and I've been observing her ever since. She's miserable, but I don't know why."
She's miserable? What have I done? Severus blamed himself for the situation he was hearing about.
"What do you think has depressed the poor girl?" Minerva continued to inquire of Potter.
"I'm not sure. When I asked, she told me she'd lost a ring and that she felt sad about it. I asked if I could help her find it, but she said she'd thrown it away, that it was all her fault. I couldn't understand a word."
Severus reached for his pocket reflexively upon hearing that, his mind working furiously to make sense of those words.
"She blames herself?" he asked. Potter only stared at him in confusion. "You said that she thinks it's all her fault. She's blaming herself for what happened, you moron!"
He stood to leave, but in the midst of making his way to the side door, he paused and walked back to Potter and Minerva.
"Where does she live?" he asked the gaping man. Irritated with the lack of answer, he looked at Minerva, ignored her knowing smile, and said, impatiently, "Help him."
Minerva reformulated his question. "Harry, where does Hermione live?"
"Fourteen, Wingfield Court. It's a flat. Are you thinking of going there?"
"The number, Potter, I need the number of her flat," he demanded, running out of tolerance.
"If you know what's going on, I'm going with you."
"The number, Potter!" Severus hissed.
"Tell him, Harry. I have a suspicion that only Severus will be able to help Hermione," Minerva intervened, thankfully.
"Two. Why does…."
Severus didn't stay to hear the rest of what Potter was saying. He had to go to his quarters, fetch his cloak, and leave for London. She was suffering because of him, because he was a Slytherin bastard, as she so wisely put it. He couldn't let that go on for a moment longer.
Soon Severus was at the gates of Hogwarts and a pop of Apparition from London. From the Apparition point he'd chosen, he didn't have to walk much to get to the address Potter had given him. He looked up to the windows of the small building. There were lights coming from what he supposed was number two.
A young man had the main door opened when Severus looked down. He took the opportunity to enter the building. He climbed the stairs and stopped in front of her door.
Hermione was carrying Crookshanks to curl up on the couch with her when she heard a knock on the door. She hoped it wasn't Harry. He'd been annoyingly protective these days since he'd found her crying.
She looked through the magic eye of the door and froze. Severus?
She opened the door. It was really him.
"Severus," she greeted, her voice hoarse.
"I– Come in." She stepped aside so he could enter. She let Crookshanks down and gestured towards the couch. "Please, have a seat."
He seemed to hesitate, but agreed to sit by her side on the couch. He's still obviously uncomfortable in my presence.
"We need to talk," he said.
He held a hand to interrupt her. She felt as if a knife twisted in her chest.
"Allow me, Hermione. I owe you an apology. My behavior the last day we met was undeserving of you. I… I should never have done the things I did. You–"
"You didn't do anything. Please don't blame yourself. I shouldn't have suggested any of that. It wasn't supposed to go that way. I just wanted you to relax, to make you laugh, but I got carried away. You didn't even want to see me that day; I shouldn't have gone to Hogwarts in the first place," she countered. She couldn't let him take blame for a situation when he was not at fault.
He was looking oddly at her.
"If you're willing to forgive me, I can promise to behave like the friend you see in me. I can do that for you. I know you trusted me and that I've failed you, but if you give me another chance, it won't happen again," she pleaded with him.
Now that he was here, face to face with her, she couldn't let him slip away from her life again. It was selfish, but she had to try. There was no happiness without him; these weeks had proved so.
She couldn't look at him.
"Hermione, please look at me," he asked, again.
She complied, blushing bright red under his gaze.
"What do you think you did that day?" he asked, never letting her eyes drop.
"I fed you chocolate. I wanted to see it melt in your mouth, to hear you hum in pleasure." She blushed to the tips of her toes. "I'd been dreaming about that, I'm sorry. I should have known you wouldn't want any of that."
"You'd been… dreaming about feeding me chocolate." His voice had a breathy quality when he said that.
Hermione found the courage to look up at his face again. He looked surprised at her admission. iOf course he is, you twit! He never thought of you that way!/i she admonished herself.
"Merlin," he whispered.
iHe's horrified/i, she thought. "I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing, Hermione," he told her.
She had nothing else to say if he didn't want her apologies. She felt like crying just like she'd done that fateful day in his quarters.
"Are you saying you have… feelings for me?" he asked.
"I do," she confessed quietly. It was no good hiding anymore.
He moved closer to her on the couch. He pitied her, she knew. He disentangled her hands and held her right in his. She didn't know which of them was shaking, but their united hands trembled.
He fumbled in a pocket of his robes with his free hand, and after some struggle and murmured curses, he produced a ring – his Claddagh Ring.
"Hermione," he said. He was so close that she could feel his breath on her skin.
She finally looked up from their hands. His eyes from this distance were even more fascinating than Hermione remembered.
"I've heard that you've been missing this ring," he said, looking her in the eyes. "I want you to have it," he added, and proceeded to slip it onto her ring finger.
Hermione didn't know what to say. All she could do was look in awe between his face and their hands, her heart racing in her chest. The ring was too big for her finger. She wanted to tell him that and so much more, but her voice had completely left her.
"I give you this Claddagh Ring, Hermione Granger, and want you to wear it as a sign of our feelings of friendship and companionship."
When his voice completed those words, the ring shank into a perfect size to fit her finger. Hermione gasped, looking sharply up at him, eyes big.
"Does this mean we're friends or–"
She never finished her question. His lips descended on hers, silencing her. He kissed her, never letting go of her hand. His mouth opened to take more of her in, and she couldn't believe her luck while she slipped her tongue to meet his, moaning into his mouth, melting in his arms.
But they had to breathe.
"Severus," she whispered against his moist lips. "I never missed the ring; I missed you." She made him release her hand to have both of hers on his face, caressing his skin and pushing his hair away from his eyes. Staring at those dark pools, Hermione kissed him gently, working her lips over his with veneration. His hands came up to her face and neck, holding her more firmly to deepen the kiss.
They were lost in each other, feeding from their passion, for delightful moments. His passion was so reassuring. Hermione wanted nothing more than to surrender herself to this man, body and soul. His hands, his lips, his taste, his mind, his heart… she wanted all of him.
He had been holding her since the first kiss. She rested her head on his chest, almost falling asleep listening to his heartbeats, when the vibration caused by his voice made her alert. His last words had been those of the enchantment that had activated the charm on the ring.
"I'm not good at this," he was saying.
She looked up to meet his eyes.
"I've never been in a relationship." He was frowning. "You're my first girlfriend."
So that was what he'd been thinking about while running his hand through her hair. Suddenly, she realized the enormity of what he was telling her.
"Does this mean that you never…" She trailed off, blushing.
He chuckled, sending waves of sound through the hand she had pressed to his chest. He bent his head, taking his lips so close to her ear. "I assure you that I've experimented enough in that area and am not lacking in those skills."
The feel of his breath together with his words sent a shiver down her spine. "Gods," she let out.
The sound he made at her reaction was more than a chuckle.
"Are you laughing?" she asked.
"I don't laugh, remember?"
She put some distance between them on the couch to better look at him. "Now you do," she told him, and ran her hands from his chest along his ribs, seeking sensitive spots to tickle, hoping to produce his elusive laughter.
He jerked away from her hands. "Stop that," he warned her.
"Where are you ticklish?" she asked, still searching for the right spot.
"I'm not." He jerked again. "Hermione, I'm warning you."
Another jerk and he attacked her, tickling her easily. She laughed, begging him to stop, breathless on the couch. He had a wide grin on his face, undoubtedly from his success in getting her to surrender. She stuck out her tongue to him, and that simple, childish act did it. He started to laugh, throwing his head back and emitting the most rich, beautiful sound she'd ever heard.
She grinned at him when he finally stopped. "Beautiful," she told him.
"Only for you," he answered, kissing her again.
"Hermione, something tells me that I'll regret asking this, but how could Snape make you so happy?"
"Harry, he found my ring." She showed her Claddagh Ring to her friend, and Harry seemed relieved with her answer, until she added, "And he shagged me all weekend."
Harry's face was priceless; Hermione laughed. Even if Severus never told her how he survived that snake attack and let the Claddagh Ring slip away, she would be forever grateful for the forces that had acted that day. If she was happy, it was because those events had changed their lives.
A/N: It was a sugared ending. I hope you liked it. :0)
I'd like to thank again my betas, Annie Talbot and Machshefa, for their support before, during and after the writing of these words. : :hugs: :