This is the last time I'll ever walk down these stairs as a student.
Nostalgia, nerves, excitement and joy swirl around in Hermione's stomach like an emulsion; the odd juxtaposition of so many different emotions makes her feel a little nauseous. She presses a hand to her stomach in an effort to quell the storm. "Calm down," she soothes herself.
This emotional maelstrom is worse than the dizzying moment she experienced when she sat down to write her last NEWT this morning; worse than the ragged anxiety that made her left leg jiggle for the entire three hour exam; worse than the stubborn streak of desire that shot through her concentration when Severus walked past her table on his way to speak with the NEWT examiners.
Yes, it's true that she's felt a bit like a fish out of water at Hogwarts this school year, but this new world she's about to walk into is even more foreign. The teeming anticipation flips and curls, absorbing even more nervous tension, when the Great Doors come into sight. It feels like she's standing on the edge of a sheer cliff and all her brightest expectations lie strewn so far below it gives her intense vertigo when she tries to look at them for too long.
She jumps the last three stairs in a single bound and lands on the Entrance Hall floor stones with a loud thump; her beaded bag bounces off her hip with a muted thud. She pats it as if to reassure herself that her worldly belongings are still Reduced within its cavernous depths.
One of the Great Hall's doors opens, and Professor McGonagall spears a shaft of reproach from narrowed eyes in Hermione's direction. "How many times do I have to repeat that there is to be absolutely no—" Her stern expression softens when she notices Hermione. "Ah, Miss Granger. I was hoping to see you before you left."
Hermione gives her a sheepish smile; she'd forgotten the OWL students were doing their Transfiguration practical exam this afternoon. "I just stopped by your office, actually, Professor." Hermione's already said goodbye to most of the teachers—after Professor McGonagall, she's only got one more office on her list before she leaves.
Professor McGonagall clucks her tongue. "No rest for the wicked, I'm afraid." She clasps her hands in front of her, and a new expression smoothes the tight bracket of wrinkles around her hard mouth, softens her rigid posture. "I wanted to wish you the best of luck for the future, Hermione, and to tell you that it has been one of my life's greatest pleasures, watching you grow into such an accomplished witch."
A rush of pleasure at the high praise makes Hermione grin broadly. "I've had an amazing role model, Professor McGonagall; I wanted to thank you for your mentorship through the years."
Professor McGonagall waves her hand and makes a pshaw sound, but Hermione's sure that she sees a glimmer of tears behind the old witch's square glasses. "You will be back to visit all of your old teachers?"
Hermione nods. "Oh, yes. I've been assigned to the Scottish Lochs thanks to a request from the Hogwarts Aquatic High Council. So, I'll be here quite often. Syrena, for one, would never forgive me if I didn't visit her at least once a week. I'm renting a cottage in Hogsmeade, so I won't be far."
Professor McGonagall looks mildly surprised. "Hogsmeade?"
Hermione nods and tries to quash the embarrassing thought that a rather large part of her decision to live in Hogsmeade was because she'll be close to Severus. "It's nice and central for all the lochs," she says vaguely, "and I can Floo into the Ministry for office days."
"You're on your way to Hogsmeade, then?"
Hermione nods. "I just need to say goodbye to Professor Snape, and then I'll be out of your hair, Professor."
A look that faintly resembles indigestion shifts across Professor McGonagall's face. "That's very nice of you to say goodbye to all the teachers, but just be warned that Severus is in an… odd mood today. He smiled at Professor Sprout in an alarmingly friendly manner this morning, and now she's disappeared off to the greenhouses to check for booby-traps."
Hermione swallows her giggle and nods. "I'll see you soon, then, Professor." She hesitates for an awkward moment, wondering whether to extend her hand or to go with her heart and give Professor McGonagall a hug. In the end, Hermione's instincts win out, and she leans forward and exchanges an inelegant hug with the older witch, smiling at McGonagall's pleased/surprised, "Oh," as she pats Hermione's shoulder blade.
Hermione's grinning when she steps into Severus' office. June has finally come, and it feels like she's been waiting for this moment for a breathless eternity. She's no longer his student, although, ironically, DADA has been her favourite subject this year because his curriculum has challenged her beyond conventional bounds.
"What do you want, Miss Granger?" he snaps, thumping the flat of his palm down onto a thick sheaf of exam papers. "Will I never be rid of you?"
Stricken, Hermione gapes at him for a moment, feeling crystalline shards of hurt begin to pierce her hope and her heart. But then she sees the slight curve of enjoyment lifting one corner of his mouth and a bold hint of challenge in his dark eyes.
She lifts her chin and returns his stare. "I won't be your student for too much longer, sir," she says, infusing her voice with as much childish exuberance as she can manage. "I just came to thank you so much for the extra lessons this year; I got an 'O' from Professor Hagrid for my Care of Magical Creatures class mark."
He drops his quill to his desk—it's the one she bought for him from Hogsmeade a few weeks ago and delivered via the box—and gives her a perfectly acidic smirk. "It was entirely my put-upon displeasure, Miss Granger. Congratulations. I do hope you enjoy your new job—traipsing about Scotland in the pouring rain sounds delightful." Hermione has to marvel at how much insincerity he manages to inject into his voice.
Hermione suppresses the childish urge to stick her tongue out at him. "It will be delightful, yes, sir, and I get to practice my Mermish on a daily basis," she enthuses, summoning her very widest grin. "And I'm sure my NEWT scores will all be wonderful… somebody even gave me an early congratulatory present. Look." She holds up her wrist and shakes it—the silver and shell bracelet glimmers mutely in the low, dungeon light.
Severus grimaces—it looks like he's swallowed a handful of Doxy droppings. "And you are showing me your gift from some lovesick paramour because…?"
Disdain oozes from his every pore, and Hermione comes to the conclusion that he must get some kind of thrill from arguing like this—sarcasm and irony are his drugs of choice, then. Admittedly, she's enjoying herself at the moment, too, although she hopes that he never pushes this game too far—she can see that it could get nasty very quickly.
She smiles serenely at him, wondering if he realises that he's just referred to himself as a lovesick fool. "Tsk. Humbug," she sighs under her breath.
He scowls at her. "Ten points from—"
"I'm not a student any longer, sir—you can't take points from me," she says cheerfully.
"And I am exceedingly grateful that I will never have to teach you again, Miss Granger." There's a note of truth that winds through his words, shiny like Christmas tinsel.
She smiles. "Have a lovely summer, sir, and I hope the future brings you only happiness."
He picks up the quill and slides the long, dark feather between his fingertips. "The same to you, Miss Granger," he says, glancing up at her. Although his lips are set in a thin line, his eyes hold a depth of regard that makes her want to fling herself into his lap and wind her arms around his neck and never let go.
She touches the rough, stone wall to ground herself because (and she hates to admit it) this is not the time or the place for her desires to open and bloom.
"Goodbye, Professor Snape."
"Goodbye, Miss Granger."
Hermione checks the clock again and sighs with impatience. The sound seems to echo in the living room of her cottage, although it came fully furnished and is now cluttered with the tokens of her life. Perhaps it's not just the tangible reminders of friends and love that is important, she thinks. Perhaps it's the living aura of laughter and memories that makes a place feel like home. Harry and Ginny are coming for lunch tomorrow, though, and maybe she can make a start on that, then. She's sure Harry's going to want to hear all about her date with Severus, as well.
She slides her fingertips across the curve of her bracelet, and she tries to will her heart to sink back into her chest so that she can breathe properly. His gift arrived in the box yesterday morning before she went down to write her DADA NEWT. While the beautiful bangle enchanted her, it was the accompanying note that made her exultant (and expectant and ecstatic and exhilarated—and all the big emotional and bright e's):
June has come at last. If you would agree to have dinner with me tomorrow night, the bracelet is also a temporary Portkey, which will activate at 7 o'clock.
While she watches the second-hand of the clock sweep past the twelve again (just three more minutes!), Hermione slides the hem of her long, summery dress up to check that her Shaving Charm has done a proper job, and she makes sure that the strap of her bathing costume isn't peeking out. It's maddening not to know where she's going, but she can't keep his promise of going beneath the divide out of her mind. She eyes the bottle of perfume on the coffee table and decides it would be overkill to apply another squirt. Her ruby-tipped toes curl into the leather soles of her sandals as the hour approaches, and she holds her breath, anticipating the tug of the Portkey.
When it comes, Hermione feels like it's the sharp jolt she needs to really make her aware that she's being pulled into the next phase of her life.
Hermione feels the steadying pressure of long fingers at her elbow before she opens her eyes, and when the disorienting sensation of the magical dimension shift has ebbed and she looks around, she gasps with surprise.
Lit by glass orbs of flickering Bluebell Flames, the wooden cottages that encircle the forest clearing look enchanted, like they've grown right from the soul of the trees. To the right, an arc of water glimmers in the twilight, and far across the water, perched atop a cliff, is Hogwarts—its windows are lit with golden specks of Lumos light, making it look like a castle from a Muggle fairy tale.
She turns to face Severus, more interested in seeing him than absorbing the view. Her heart skitters nervously and her throat is dry and tight. Because it's impossible for her to hold the enormity of such a moment inside without feeling overwhelmed, she feels tears try to prickle behind her eyes as she looks at him without an inflexible boundary obscuring her view. He's wearing the same jeans and boots as he did that afternoon in Sydney, but it's his shirt that makes her smile, takes her breath away with its bold yet sly implication: The Gryffindor-red cotton fits snugly across his torso, and nothing could hold greater truth than the slogan that proclaims, "The Chosen One."
"Hi," she says softly, and she's mortified to realise that a wash of shyness tightens in her chest, pulls on the tension between them and tightens it so hard that her cheeks redden.
He swallows and she watches the slide of his Adam's apple as he shrugs off his own web of nervousness, perhaps even his own astonishment that she's actually here. "Hello, Hermione," he says huskily. "You… look beautiful." His fingertips slide from her skin, and he gestures towards a table, which has been set for dinner, nearby.
She really wants to say, "Sod dinner," and get on with crossing the boundary properly, but the arrival of June seems to have brought nervous hesitation along with all the desperate longing. "Where are we?" she asks, giving him a smile as he pulls her chair out for her in gentlemanly fashion.
"This is the selkie village," he tells her as he takes a seat, and then he glances up at her through his thick eyelashes. "They generally use it around the new moon…"
Heat settles low in her stomach in a warm pool of molten desire. "Oh, yes." It's not quite full moon, now, but she remembers staring out of the window last new moon and wondering if Severus felt any special pull of desire around that time of month. "I've never seen it before." She smiles when he gestures to two bottles of wine and invites her to choose one. She glances at the large platter of antipasto in the centre of the table. "Uh… the red, please."
"It is heavily protected, particularly on the forest side," he explains as he deftly pours a glass of wine for them both. "You should be added to the security bypass when you start work." He smirks. "In fact… you may even be responsible for the upkeep of security," he drawls. The lazy crawl of his voice slips into the tension she feels and loosens it slightly.
"I'll be sure to do my best to keep the selkies happy," she teases him, and she delights in the way his eyes widen fractionally, his lips part as he searches for an adequate reply.
"I… think they would… appreciate that," he tells her after a few moments.
She smiles and picks up her fork, chooses her very favourites from the platter—bitter, black olives, artichoke, spicy salami, rich and sharp cheese. "Thank you; this is one of my favourite ways to eat."
Severus wraps a sliver of salmon around his fork. "I'm not fond of Hogwarts' stodgy fare," he says simply. "I'm pleased you feel the same."
They trade conversation and smiles over dinner, and the elastic bond stretches and pulls between them so that Hermione can almost feel the presence of his foot near hers under the table. And she's positive that he's stealing glances just like she is—she's building new images of him in her mind, memories of him away from the castle and away from a past life when he was her teacher.
When Hermione's just about full, she pulls an olive pip from between her teeth and tilts her head. "What are you doing over the summer, Severus?" she asks.
"I do not have Petrificussed plans, yet," he says vaguely, and he picks up a napkin and wipes his mouth.
She watches the way he avoids her direct gaze, now, and she decides that he's waiting to see, just like she is. The thought makes her want to disappear behind one of the large tree trunks and do a happy dance, squee with delight. He rubs his lips with his index finger in a rather nervous gesture, and a glint of metal reflects in a sparkle.
"You're wearing your ring again," she notes.
He hmm's softly and glances at his hand. "I always have it with me. I usually wear it around my neck, out of sight. I'd Transfigure it into a watch or a bracelet, but it prefers to be a ring."
Hermione laughs at the way he attributes a wilful personality to the ring, although some powerfully magical objects do seem to develop a mind of their own. She's sure Hogwarts is practically sentient in some regards, observing and guiding generations of magicfolk who pass through it with an immense and detached wisdom.
"What do the Runes say?" she asks.
Severus shifts his chair until he's sitting next to her, and then he slides the ring from his thumb and drops it into the centre of his palm, tilts his hand towards her so that she can look at it. The flickering cerulean light slides and dances fluidly along the curve of the silver ring; it looks like the metal has absorbed the light into its very atoms.
Hermione tilts her head and tries to translate the line of Runes that are etched into the surface of the metal, but they don't belong to a futhark she is familiar with. "Which Runic alphabet is that?" she asks.
"It's Old Mermish."
Hermione remembers reading about rings and copper bracelets that can hold spells like Shield Charms and Chastity Charms within the ordered latticework of atoms. "Is it restraining some kind of protection spell?"
"No… Watch…" He touches the tip of his index finger to the ring, and it seems to swell slightly for a fraction of a second, pulsing with visceral magic that vibrates against her skin. And then the ring spills into a ripple of silver; falls through his long fingers with a metallic tinkle; expands into a fabric that looks like the finest silver mesh or woven strands of Pensilver.
"Oh!" Hermione breathes. "Is that…"
"My Airgead, yes."
"It's… absolutely beautiful." Her fingers hover in the air between them; she's uncertain of whether it's rude to just touch it because it is probably an intensely personal item for any selkie.
He chuckles softly. "Yes, you may."
She strokes her fingers along the silver skin—it's cool and slick, but when she examines her fingertips she sees they're not wet. "It doesn't feel like scales or skin," she murmurs.
Severus slides the skin through the 'O' of his thumb and middle finger, and he shrugs. "It's likely called a skin because it is worn as such in the water, but it is a magical item at the heart of matters. It wouldn't do to have a smelly fish skin lying around." He quirks a lopsided smile at her.
She traces her fingers along the fabric again until she meets his hand. "Severus," she whispers, "can we go into the water, now?"
"Would you please turn around, now, Hermione."
Severus is standing, barefoot and bare-chested, at the water's edge, and Hermione realises that she's pressed the Gillyweed she's holding into a tight elastic ball with the sheer force of her desire for him.
"Oh… ah…" A warm blush burns up her neck, and she turns away from him reluctantly.
She hears the tantalising rasp of a zipper, followed by the whisper of denim sliding against bare skin. Awareness and arousal make her feel dizzy when she realises that he's standing naked behind her, now.
Once she's heard a loud splash, she turns back towards the lake. His skin shimmers subtly in the grey twilight, and she takes a deep breath before sliding her dress over her head to reveal the simple, black one-piece she's worn. She wades into the warm water and stops when she's at knee-depth.
"Come, Cass" he says, staring at her with such intensity that she cannot chew the Gillyweed fast enough.
It takes her a moment to adjust to breathing through gills again once she's in the water, and she steadies herself with webbed fingers as she turns in the green water, searching for her selkie. And then he swims into sight, streaking in a wide circle around her, his black hair streaming behind him like a silk banner in the wind.
When he stops to float in front of her, he's got a tentative expression on his face—fear, perhaps, that the heart of him is too foreign, too strange for her to love. But she's had months to absorb and consider the implications of a relationship with him, and she's here, now; she's made her decision.
She stares at him, greedily taking in all the ways he's different, all the ways he's exactly the same. His bright silver tail does not begin abruptly at his waist; the large scales grade into finer ones over his hipbones until they blend into his shimmering skin like specks of glitter. It's like the mesh of the Airgead has melted into his skin, shifts just below the surface. She can't help but notice a faint bulge right where his cock should be.
She drifts closer to him and smiles. "Hello, Gallchobhar," she murmurs. Her soft greeting bubbles to the surface on the light current. Perhaps, one day, he won't carry the foreigner's name with his family, but she hopes that he'll resolve that in time, find a way to forgive his mother eventually.
"Hello, Cass," he replies.
She reaches out her hand and touches him, traces her fingers down his ribs. She catches his eye and smiles again as she feels slick scales on the side of his hip. The magical world is a place where people step right out of the pages of the most beautiful fantasy books. This is her home, her place; it only makes sense that she'd have a love who is rather more magical than ordinary humans.
Severus slides his hand over hers and then pulls her so close that she's pressed right up against his tail and chest, and their clouds of hair mingle in the water. And when his lips touch hers, sending a thrill rushing through her blood, he begins to spin them in a lazy spiral through the water. She soon realises it's an advantage to have gills, not to have to breathe, because the slide of his tongue with hers is so sensual and erotic she never wants it to end.
Hermione doesn't notice that, far above them, the sunset has turned the silvering divide blood-red… like passion.
A/N: Thank you to everybody who has read and reviewed The Silvering Divide. Writing this story has been a shining and silver experience.
And thank you, as always, to Gelsey. Big Hugs.
This is the original prompt from Mollyssister (thank you!), which set my synapses on fire and eventually blossomed into The Silvering Divide. Obviously, I've plucked certain threads from the prompt and twisted them inside-out so that they fit my own nefarious needs :D
What if the cause of Snape's pale skin is not caused from too much time in the dungeons or because he is a vampire. What if he is a merman? What if there is a secret tunnel from his room to the lake? He can pass for human for limited periods/days before he must return to the lake. I challenge you to take this theory and write me a non-crack SS/HG romance. She discovers his affliction while still a student or he tells her before they are about to make a merbaby? Can Hermione somehow turn mermaid and live with him? Why is bothering with life above the sea? Can you do it? Do you think I am crazy?