Disclaimer: JKR owns all recognizable characters and settings. No copyright infringement is intended.
A huge thank you to reader, sarahiola, who alerted me that this story had been plagiarized in another section on this site. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. I wish I could have thanked you personally, but your account was not set to accept private messages. So, I thank you here and hope that someday you will see this. I am enormously grateful for your keen memory!
Hermione raised one gloved hand and used the back of her forearm to wipe the bead of perspiration from her brow. It was an unusually sunny day, and the sky was a brilliant blue with not a cloud in sight. She had decided it was a perfect time to help Luna with the rather neglected garden; she also thought it would be a perfect way to keep the children—and her mind—occupied.
"Not those, Rose," Hermione said as her daughter was about to pluck a seedling from the ground. "Those will grow into flowers. We only want to pull the ones that look like these. You see?"
Rose leaned in to take a closer look at the small green plant. "Why, Mummy? Won't they grow into pretty flowers, too?"
"No, these are weeds, sweetheart. They'll choke the flowers and not allow them to grow. That's why we want to pull them out, so our flowers can be pretty and healthy."
"Oh," Rose replied, her eyes wide with understanding as she began to pull the weeds.
Hermione smiled, then looked over her shoulder at Hugo and laughed. She had placed the toddler in the magical equivalent of a playpen—a type of shield charm used by wizarding parents that she had learned from Molly. He could only go as far as the charm would allow. Hermione had brought out plenty of toys for him to play with, but Hugo was too busy entertaining himself. She watched as he ran as fast as his short little legs would carry him, threw himself against the magical barrier, and then bounced off, falling on his bum. He chortled happily and then did it again. And again. And again.
Chuckling, Hermione shook her head and returned to the weeding. She knew she could complete the task much more quickly if she used magic, but there was something about her hands in the earth that she found soothing—and perhaps, she hoped, the physical work would be distracting.
She sighed. Even if that were the case, it wouldn't have made a difference; her thoughts would inevitably turn to Severus, whether she wanted them to or not.
"I've brought more flowers!" Luna declared as she entered the garden. In her hands were dozens of seedlings. Luna closed the gate behind her with her foot. "Oh, I do hope you've been watchful for Billywigs. They're quite abundant this time of year, and we don't want anyone levitating away."
Rose giggled. "We're weeding!"
"Oh yes, I can see," Luna replied, crouching down next to the little girl and wiping off a bit of dirt from the child's nose. "And what a lovely job you're doing." Then she plopped down on the ground beside Rose and set to work.
After the weeds had been cleared away, the planting began in earnest. Hugo had tired himself out and was napping on the quilt Hermione had laid out for him. Rose was having a grand time working in the garden, but eventually she also succumbed to the need for sleep, curling up on the quilt beside her brother.
When they had finished planting half the seedlings, Luna brought out some bread and cheese, and the two witches chatted as they sat outside with their small repast and enjoyed the warm sunshine.
"You seem to be doing much better—well, better than you were," Luna said; her eyes closed as she raised her face to the sky.
"Mm," Hermione hummed in agreement as she plucked a blade of grass and twirled it between her fingers. "It's different now."
Hermione shrugged. "He's alive. Whether or not he chooses to have anything to do with me, he got his second chance at life. I can be satisfied with that."
"But not happy," Luna said knowingly.
Hermione smiled sadly. "I can be happy for him … and that will have to be enough."
Luna opened her eyes and reached over to place a hand over Hermione's. "It's only been a week. I'm sure he'll respond to my owl soon."
"You and I both know that the likelihood of him wanting to have anything to do with me is slim to none."
Hermione shook her head and interrupted. "No. I may not recall everything with vivid clarity, but my instincts tell me that he'll be angry, uncomfortable … perhaps even bitter about the sphere being activated. He won't want to see me."
Luna sighed, conceding that Hermione was probably correct in her assumption. "I've asked him to return to Britain. Daddy is trying to convince him. It would be nice to see him more often, and we wouldn't have to keep his connection to my family a secret any longer. I don't like that he has to hide—he's done enough hiding for one lifetime." Luna's brow furrowed in consternation. "I don't know what he'll decide."
"He adores you, you know. He'll come back, if only because you and your father have asked him to."
"Do you think?"
"I've never been more certain about anything. He'll be back."
Luna grinned. "That will be lovely. I miss him terribly."
Hermione swallowed and then gave Luna a wobbly smile. "So do I."
The blonde-haired witch stared at Hermione, her grey eyes seeming to seek out some untold secret. "You really do love him, don't you?"
Hermione stared at the blade of grass she held in her hand. "The memories may be fading, but the emotions are not. I still love him. I always will."
Luna opened her mouth to reply, but her response was interrupted by the arrival of a large, brown barn owl as it swooped into the garden, a piece of rolled parchment attached to its leg. Hermione's tummy swooped along with the bird as it approached; it had to be from Severus.
The owl landed beside Luna and hooted softly as she untied the string securing the parchment.
"I'll get a treat for him," Hermione said, her hands shaking as she pushed herself off the ground and then ran into the house. She quickly grabbed an owl treat, and then stopped, bracing her arms against the counter. A few deep breaths helped to calm her nerves, and then she straightened and returned to the garden.
"Here you are," she said to the owl, offering him the treat. Taking the bit of meat in its beak, the owl spread his wings and flew off in the direction from which it had come.
Hermione turned to Luna, who had already opened the letter and begun to read. Hermione shifted from foot to foot as she waited. "Well? What does it say?"
"Hm? Oh. He says that Daddy is returning in a few weeks. Isn't that lovely?" Luna's eyes continued to scan the parchment. "He had some rather good luck finding the potions ingredients he was looking for, and he thinks he'll have a nice batch of Wolfsbane to sell to the … well, to the ministry of the country he's been living in." Luna looked up at her apologetically.
Hermione knew that Luna wished she could reveal where Severus was living—for her own inscrutable reasons, the witch believed that if Severus saw her, things would fall into place—but his location was under a Fidelius Charm, and Severus himself was the Secret-Keeper. If he didn't want to see her, she would have no recourse.
"That's nice," Hermione said. She worried her lower lip between her teeth, then blurted, "Did he mention me?" She flushed and closed her eyes, mortified by her lack of control.
Luna continued reading and then nodded.
"May I see it?"
"Oh, Hermione," Luna said, shaking her head. "I don't think you want to—"
"No, I really do. I think I need to. Please?"
Luna was visibly uncomfortable with the idea, but after a moment's pause, she handed Hermione the piece of parchment, her eyes sad.
Hermione felt the blood drain from her face. She had known it hadn't been likely, but she had hoped that maybe he would agree to see her at least once. Maybe. Hermione slowly reached out and grasped the parchment, though by Luna's reaction, she already knew his answer.
As per your inquiries regarding Ms Granger, yes, I was affected by the charm. Yes, I do have memories of the event. Unfortunately, they do not appear to be diminishing in clarity, unlike those of Ms Granger. And no, I have no interest in either seeing or speaking with the insufferable know-it-all who took it upon herself to violate my privacy in such an obtrusive manner. If I never see her again, it will be entirely too soon.
Hermione flinched as if she had been dealt a physical blow; there was no sign of the man who had known and loved her, only the sardonic professor who had felt nothing more for her than impatience and disdain. She ran the tips of her fingers along the parchment, the familiar scrawl becoming unfocussed as she struggled to hold back tears—she was sick of crying. She took a deliberate breath, then slowly exhaled.
He remembered everything—how they had loved and laughed and lived … and he had made his decision. She would have to live with the ramifications. There was nothing else she could do.
Silently, she handed the parchment to Luna, and then she returned to the flowerbed and seedlings.
In the summer, new life would bloom.
Hermione couldn't have said when the last of her memories of the life she had shared with Severus finally faded. She had simply awakened one morning to the sensation that it had all been a dream—and if she hadn't still loved him so much, she might have allowed herself to believe that it had been.
Hermione quickly ducked inside the Three Broomsticks, pushing back the hood of her cloak as soon as she was inside. She was a quarter of an hour early, but that was all right; now she could warm up for a few minutes before Minerva arrived.
After ordering a warm Butterbeer from Rosmerta, Hermione settled in at a table near the window. Droplets of rain distorted her view, but she passed the time watching the passers-by. She sipped at her drink, allowing the sweet warmth to melt away the chill. Minerva had told her about a little cottage in Hogsmeade that was for sale—actually, as it turned out, it was her little cottage in Hogsmeade. For years, Minerva had spent her summer holidays there rather than staying at the castle, citing a need for privacy. However, once she had been made Headmistress, she had rented out the cottage, as she had needed to stay at the castle year-round. The previous tenants, however, had recently had another child and had moved to a larger home. Minerva had decided to sell the property rather than rent it out again. When she had heard through the grapevine that Hermione was looking to buy a house, she had immediately sent an owl, saying that her cottage might be the perfect home for Hermione and the children.
Hermione certainly hoped so; she had been looking for weeks, but nothing she had seen had been right. She felt terribly guilty for having stayed so long at the Lovegoods', even if Luna continued to insist that she was happy to have them. Hermione knew, however, that it was time to begin the process of rebuilding her life, and a new home was an excellent beginning … if she could only find one.
The door to the Three Broomsticks opened, and Minerva entered, closing a large umbrella. Hermione waved, and Minerva immediately made her way through the crowd. "I see you've had a chance to dry out," the older witch said in her usual clipped tones, though her eyes were warm. "How lovely to see you, dear. Are you ready to look at the cottage, or would you like to finish your drink first?"
Hermione smiled and rose to her feet. "I'm ready. I'm quite excited to see the house."
"Well, then, let's not dally. Come along." Minerva turned on her heel and returned to the door, Hermione following behind. As they opened the door, Minerva prepared to open her large umbrella when the rain suddenly stopped, and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. "Ah, very good. That's a bit of luck. Let's be on our way."
The two witches chatted amiably as they walked along the streets of Hogsmeade. Hermione liked the idea of living in the magical community, and there were several Muggle villages that were close enough that the children could attend primary school if she so chose. She was honest enough with herself, as well, to admit that she also rather liked the idea of being close to Hogwarts once the children left. While she wouldn't interfere with their lives at school, she would feel better knowing that she could reach them easily should the need arise.
Finally, they stopped in front of a worn, stone cottage. "This is the cottage," Minerva said tersely but not unkindly. "It needs a bit of work, but it's nothing a little magic can't fix."
Hermione nodded and turned to examine the exterior of the cottage. The slate roof appeared to be in excellent condition, but she would check for evidence of leaks once they were inside. It was in desperate need of a coat of paint, but that was certainly doable. The stone wall that surrounded the perimeter of the property had fallen in a few places, but again, that would not be difficult to fix. Next, she noted the attributes she liked: lots of windows meant natural light; the garden would be lovely for the children to play in; and there was even a large tree which sat along the side of the property—it had the perfect branch from which to hang a swing.
Smiling, Hermione turned to Minerva and said, "It's lovely. May we go inside?"
Hermione was delighted that the cottage was larger than it appeared from outside, and there was plenty of room to expand if necessary. There were three bedrooms and two baths upstairs, and one of the rooms had a fireplace large enough that it could be connected to the Floo network. Downstairs, there was a small powder room, a study, a dining room, a large kitchen, and a sitting room. The kitchen needed to be remodelled, but the rest of the cottage was almost perfect. A few coats of paint would work wonders on both the walls and woodwork, as would re-varnishing the oak floors.
Hermione stepped into the sitting room. It was a lovely space, with yet another large fireplace. She frowned. "Where is the door to the back garden?" she asked.
"There isn't one, I'm afraid," Minerva replied. "It would be simple enough to put a door right off the kitchen, however."
"No," Hermione said, shaking her head as she stared at the back wall of the sitting room. "I think …" She tilted her head to one side as she studied the wall. "I think French doors leading to the garden would look lovely right there." She nodded; she could see it quite clearly in her mind. "Yes, I think that would work wonderfully."
Minerva waited patiently while Hermione took her time looking throughout the house a second time. She could imagine raising the children in the cottage, birthday celebrations and family gatherings held in the dining room, the smell of biscuits in the kitchen, Severus at the stove as he made a pot of tea ….
Hermione's train of thought came to a crashing halt, and she deliberately pushed aside the brief twinge of melancholy that she now associated with Severus; this was her future she was considering, and he had chosen to have no part in it.
Forcing herself to focus on the task at hand, she paused in the middle of the entry hall and imagined how it would look with a bit of paint and effort. The cottage was warm and inviting; it felt right … as if it were meant to be her home. She relished the feelings of comfort and familiarity; it felt like a sign that she and the children would be happy living there. Her decision made, she returned to the sitting room where Minerva was waiting.
"What do you think, Hermione?"
She grinned widely and said, "It's perfect."
Luna, Hermione, and the children stood in the front garden of the Lovegoods' home, awaiting Xenophilius' arrival. He had sent an owl the previous day informing them that he would be arriving by Portkey precisely at noon—it was now a quarter past. Luna and Hermione sat in two of the garden chairs while Rose and Hugo chased each other.
Finally, they heard a soft thump, followed several more thumps, and after a few minutes, they saw a bush of familiar white hair come into view.
Xenophilius walked up the well-worn path, looking rather tanned for someone who had supposedly been on an expedition in Sweden. Of course, Hermione knew he hadn't been there at all—at least not on this occasion. Still, she found it rather humorous when he arrived looking as if he'd spent a fair amount of time on a sun-kissed beach. He came bearing numerous packages … and wearing lederhosen.
"They don't wear lederhosen in Sweden," Hermione murmured to herself as she watched him hasten his steps toward the house. She shivered, overwhelmed by a strong feeling of déjà vu.
"Hello, hello! This is quite a welcome home, I must say!" Xenophilius exclaimed as he finally passed through the gate and entered the garden. Luna ran to her father and hugged his neck before taking a few of his cumbersome packages.
"You should have shrunk some of these, Daddy," Luna admonished lightly as she took his arm.
"Nonsense! Oh, my! How the two of you have grown," Xenophilius cried, fussing over Rose and Hugo as if they were his own grandchildren. "I do believe I have some gifts for both of you. I say we go inside and see what they are—unless you'd rather wait for Christmas."
The children were quick to dissuade that notion, Rose insisting that she was more than happy to have her gifts now.
"Be polite, Rose," Hermione reminded the small girl. Then she turned, and tears sprung to her eyes as she was overcome with unexpected gratitude for the eccentric wizard who stood before her. He had been Severus' friend through thick and thin, good times and bad, with never a second thought. He had protected him and cared for him when no one else had given a damn. Unable to stop herself, she stepped forward and hugged him tightly. "Thank you."
Xenophilius gave her a quick squeeze and a few fatherly pats. "You're quite welcome, my dear, although I'm not exactly sure what it is I am to have done."
Hermione didn't reply. She merely smiled and followed him into the house.
Rose squealed in unrestrained glee as soon as she saw the swing. She dropped her small bag, dragging Mr Wiggles as she ran across the grass to the large tree. Rose clambered on and kicked off, her delighted laughter echoing throughout the garden.
Hermione grinned and tightened her grip on Hugo as he squirmed in her arms.
"Down. Me 'wing, too, pwease," the toddler said, kicking his feet as he struggled to get down.
"Here, I'll take him to play," Luna said, setting down the box she was carrying. "Why don't you go see if everything made it inside?"
"Thanks," Hermione said as she passed her wiggling son to Luna. Soon, the two were laughing as Luna tickled Hugo on their way to the swing.
Standing in the middle of the path, Hermione smiled as she took in the changes to the outside of the cottage. The fresh coat of white paint gleamed in the sunlight. Flowerboxes had been installed under the windows; though for now they stood empty, they would be overflowing with flowers the following spring. The door had been painted several different colours before she had finally settled on a bright, cheery red, and she was pleased with the way it enhanced the appearance of the cottage's exterior.
She picked up the box that Luna had left behind and headed up the path to the house; then she opened the door and stepped inside. The entry hall looked vastly different than when she had seen it last. All of the woodwork had been refurbished and painted a pale cream that complemented the warm yellow of the walls. It was cheerful and cosy— just as Hermione had hoped. It felt comfortable, inviting … familiar. But more importantly, it felt like home.
She walked through the dining room, pleased with the oak farm table she had chosen for the room, and peeked inside the kitchen. Everything was new, from the Muggle stove to the butcher block counters and beech cabinets. It was exactly as Hermione had wished.
Happy with the changes to the cottage thus far, she moved into the sitting room. The only alterations to the room had been the golden tan paint for the walls and the installation of the new French doors that led to the back garden. The new olive green sofa and chairs were to be delivered the following day, but Hermione knew they would be perfect in the room.
Smiling, she walked to the fireplace, and then set the box on the floor to open it. One by one, she pulled out the framed photographs and placed them on the mantle, each in its own place of honour. When the box was empty, she stepped back and studied the arrangement. She frowned and rearranged the photos, but it made no difference. No matter how she shifted things around, there were odd spaces here and there, as if some items that belonged on the mantle were missing.
She closed her eyes and attempted to tamp down the swell of emotion. Then she inhaled deeply, straightened her spine, and turned on her heel, determination in her every step as she went to fetch the children to show them their new home.
One day, she would fill in the spaces on the mantle with new photos … and she hoped that the holes in her life would then be filled, as well.
"Thank you for coming, Hermione," Luna said. "I'll wait over here while you take a look about."
Hermione thought she must have been crazy to have agreed to this, but Luna's anxious face had caused her to disregard her misgivings. Luna and her father had worked tirelessly for weeks, wanting to honour their friend as they felt he deserved. The exhibit was almost complete and was set to open in a few weeks' time. Luna had asked Hermione to come to the exhibition hall to give her opinion as to what they had chosen to display. Hermione had balked, saying that her opinion was not the one that mattered.
"But you love him," Luna had said breezily, mindless of Hermione's wince at the casually spoken words, "so you wouldn't allow anything to be made public that might hurt him."
"I don't remember specifics, Luna," Hermione had warned, not at all happy with her friend's request.
Luna had merely waved away her words as if they were a bothersome fly. "You'll know."
And so, after much begging and pleading on Luna's part—and Hermione's admission to herself that she was terribly curious—she had finally agreed.
With a deep breath, she stepped into the cavernous, circular space, her hands trembling as she took in the exhibition hall. If Luna hadn't implored her to come, she might not have ever visited the exhibit. The war was not something she often thought of; it had been a dark, painful time, and while she had never forgotten, she had worked very hard not dwell to on that horrible period of her life. When it had been over, she had grieved for those they had lost and then thrown herself headfirst into life, determined that their sacrifices would not be in vain. As far as Hermione was concerned, they were the true heroes.
Standing there now, surrounded by the memories, her emotions, which already seemed to be hovering at the surface as of late, overflowed once more. Hermione had feared that the exhibition might have romanticised the war or been melodramatic in its delivery, but the coal black walls and stark displays generated an atmosphere of respect, reverence, and solemnity. All along the perimeter of the room, written in golden script, were the names of those who had fought and died for the Light, for the preservation of their world. The scope of loss, so visibly yet elegantly displayed, was overwhelming.
Hermione slowly began to move about the room, lingering at some sections longer than others: the history of the Order of the Phoenix; Dumbledore's Army; a display that asked her to "Remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave … remember Cedric Diggory." She shuddered as she passed the area designated for Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Memories, good and bad, flooded her mind, and Hermione was caught by surprise at the vast array of emotions the exhibit was evoking. Pride, grief, anger, relief—all surged through her blood.
She snorted as she passed a display titled "The Golden Trio." She'd always hated that ridiculous name for the friendship between herself and her boys. Even so, she couldn't help but smile as she saw the various photos of the three of them during their years at Hogwarts and wondered where some of them had been found. A small placard in the corner read, "Photographs by Colin Creevey, on loan from his brother, Dennis Creevey."
"Oh, Colin," Hermione murmured as she thought of the excitable young boy who had proven to be a true Gryffindor in every sense—and had died fighting just outside the doors of Hogwarts.
As she entered the centre of the room, there were three final displays. One focussed on Harry, one on Albus Dumbledore, and one on Severus Snape. There she saw excerpts from Severus' personal journals depicting his thoughts regarding both Voldemort and the Headmaster—though nothing that hadn't already been revealed by other sources. Also included were his sixth-year potions book and a set of his teaching robes draped over a tailor's form; Hermione had to force herself to refrain from burying her face in the fabric. A lone tear finally broke free as her gaze fell upon his hickory wand and posthumously granted Order of Merlin, First Class.
Wiping away the dampness from her cheek, Hermione forced herself to look at the rest of the display. Luna and her father had selected several photographs for the exhibit. Some were quite personal—including the one of Severus with Xenophilius and Eglantine. She wondered what he would think of it, but then she imagined that Xenophilius would have asked for his approval before including anything of a personal nature.
Something was niggling at her, but Hermione reminded herself that it wasn't her business—she did not speak for Severus Snape. The honour of acting in his stead belonged to Luna and her father, not her.
"They did a very good job, don't you think?" Luna asked a bit nervously.
"They did," Hermione replied, turning to glance at her friend before returning to her gaze to the photos of Severus. "It will be a huge success."
Luna breathed a sigh of relief and then tilted her head to one side. "Something's bothering you, though." Hermione shook her head, but before she could speak, Luna said, "You can tell me, you know. I won't be upset."
Hermione rubbed at her eyes with the palms of her hands and then sighed before admitting, "I don't think he would appreciate his part of the exhibit being here in the centre of the room."
"Where would you suggest, then?" Luna asked curiously.
Hermione glanced off to the side, to a part of the room that was cast in the shadows by the bright lights illuminating the centre displays.
Luna followed the direction of Hermione's gaze, her eyes widening at the implication. "Oh. Yes, you're quite right. I'll make the arrangements with the curator. Thank you."
War Hero Returns From the Dead!
Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt announced this morning that Severus Snape, the spy for the Light who was believed to have perished during Battle of Hogwarts, is in actuality alive. Minister Shacklebolt indicated that Mr Snape has been living in self-imposed exile as he recovered from wounds received during the battle and has now expressed a desire to return to Britain. It is not known where Mr Snape has been for the past fourteen years, nor why he chose to keep his survival a secret. Minister Shacklebolt denied knowledge of the date of Mr Snape's expected return. The Prophet will bring you more on this story as it develops.
The exhibition hall was packed with people. It was the night before the official opening, and the museum had invited the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's Army, as well as those who had fought for the Light at the Battle of Hogwarts, for an exclusive preview of the war exhibit. It was a reunion that had been a long time coming.
Hermione stood off to the side, watching as people mingled about, taking in the various displays. Everyone seemed pleased with the museum's efforts, and she now knew for certain that the exhibit would be a success; if this select group of people found it acceptable, then the public would flock to view it.
She smiled as Ginny and Harry arrived and waved them over. They made their way across the room, greeting her with a warm embrace. The three friends chatted about the exhibit—Harry wasn't happy about being in the centre of the room, and it was all Hermione could do not to laugh, thinking that he wouldn't appreciate her comparing him to Severus. The topic soon switched to the children, and Ginny and Hermione were making arrangements to take the cousins on an outing when Ron and Eleanor entered the room. Hermione smiled sadly and moved so that her back was to the new couple; she didn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable.
"He is an absolute arse," Ginny fumed, staring at her brother with narrowed eyes.
Hermione laughed. "He's never been one to hide his feelings, Gin. He loves her, and he wants his friends to love her, too."
"But to parade her about all the time, as if he hadn't thrown you over—" Ginny paused as she realised what she had just said. "That was stupid of me. I'm sorry."
Hermione shook her head. "Nonsense. I'm fine. Truly, I am. If he can find what he needs with Eleanor, then I'm happy for him."
Ginny and Harry both gaped at her for several moments before Harry seemed to snap out of his daze. "You're a saint, Hermione. If I'd done what he did, Ginny would have strung me up by my ba—"
Ginny elbowed him in the ribs and then gave him a saccharine smile. "And don't you forget it, Mr Potter."
Harry rubbed his aching side. "Yes, dear."
Hermione couldn't help but laugh at Ginny's smug expression. "I'm no saint, believe me. I wanted to strangle him when he first told me." She shrugged one shoulder. "But life goes on, and so must I."
Harry was about to say something when his eyes widened and his jaw dropped in shock. "Merlin's beard. I can't believe it."
"What is it?" Hermione asked as she turned to see whose arrival had so surprised Harry, only to see the one man she'd never thought to see again. "Severus," she whispered.
Luna had told her that he would be returning to Britain, and she'd read about it in the Prophet, of course, but Hermione hadn't thought she'd ever see him. Yet there he was, standing stiffly in the entry to the exhibition hall, his dark eyes scanning the room.
Time seemed to grind to a halt as Hermione drank in the sight of him—the ebony black hair, the hawkish nose, the thin lips set into a perpetual sneer. Gods, how she'd missed him. She fought the urge to close the distance between them, throw herself into his arms, and bury her face against his neck—somehow she didn't think he would appreciate such a gesture. Hysterical laughter bubbled in her throat. The man she loved was alive and well and only a room's width away, and all she could do was stand and stare. The rest of the room could have gone up in smoke, as far as Hermione was concerned. Greedily, she let her eyes continue to rake over him, memorising every detail, painfully aware that she might never have such an opportunity again.
She might have expected his gaze to pass over her as quickly as possible—after all, he was angry with her for activating the charm—but instead, his eyes met hers and lingered, his gaze seeming to penetrate her very soul, seeking, searching … and she willingly laid herself bare before him. Whatever he was looking for, it was there for the finding. She would withhold nothing … not from him. See the truth, Severus she thought. It's right here—I'm right here. It was only when her lungs began to burn that she realised she had stopped breathing, and she sucked in a desperate breath. Before she could take another, the moment was gone.
He looked away, his withdrawal an abrupt reminder of what she had lost, even if it had only been in an enchanted dream.
The room had gone eerily silent, but Hermione was deafened by the sound of her heartbeat pounding in her ears. She inhaled another shaky breath, then slowly exhaled.
Standing next to her, Harry began to clap his hands, then Ginny joined him. And then Minerva, then Molly and Arthur, then Dean and Seamus and the other Gryffindors, until finally the entire room swelled with thunderous applause, welcoming the final hero home.
Hermione wished her parents good night and then helped them through the Floo so that they could return home. Then she wearily walked up the stairs to check on the children. Both of them were sleeping soundly, an evening with their grandparents having worn them out. Hermione smiled; her parents had looked rather exhausted themselves.
She walked to her bedroom and removed the high-heeled shoes from her aching feet. The soft rug felt lovely on her poor, abused toes. She performed her nightly ablutions and then dressed for bed. Her body was exhausted; her mind, however, was still wide awake. With a sigh, she threw on her dressing gown and headed downstairs, hoping a glass of wine might help her to sleep.
She had left the museum almost immediately after Severus' arrival. It was cowardly, she knew, but she couldn't have borne spending hours in his presence with nary a word or glance from him. If she'd thought that not seeing him had been painful, then seeing him again, knowing that he would never love her, would never know her—and did not want to—was nothing less than torturous.
"Doesn't matter," she muttered to herself as she opened the bottle of wine. Her heart would eventually heal, and perhaps, one day, she'd love again. It was unimaginable at that moment, but she had to believe that there was someone somewhere with whom she could live and love and—
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Hermione sighed; it was probably Luna, come to check on her after Severus' unexpected appearance at the exhibit. She set the bottle of wine on the countertop and went to answer the door. At the last second, she remembered it was quite late, and that it might not be Luna at the door after all. She pulled her wand from the pocket of her dressing gown, gripped the doorknob, and said, "Who is it?"
A knot formed in her stomach, tightening as the silence stretched between her and the unexpected visitor at her door. It twisted into an excruciating ache as a voice made its way through the barrier between them. Wanted and feared, hoped for and yet terrifying—it was a voice she'd thought she would never hear again.
They sat uncomfortably on the sofa in the sitting room, each as far away from the other as they could possibly get while sharing the same piece of furniture. They had been in the same position for at least five full minutes, neither uttering a single word.
Hermione glanced at him from the corner of her eye. His posture was so unusual—at least it seemed so to her. He was perched on the very edge of the sofa, his back stiff and rigid, his eyes firmly focussed on her fireplace. His clenched fists rested on his thighs. It was incongruous with the vague mental image that his presence had brought to mind, of him lounging on the sofa with his legs crossed at the ankles as he flashed a lopsided smile. The misty memory of him being so relaxed with her, imagined though it was, tugged at her heart.
Unable to bear the silence any longer, she cleared her throat. "Would you care for some wine? I just opened a bottle."
"No," Severus answered shortly, then added an equally terse, "thank you."
Hermione fidgeted with her dressing gown for a moment, lamenting the fact that she had already dressed for bed. She would have been inordinately more at ease if she had still been wearing her robes.
She waited a few more minutes, until her initial, dazed reaction began to fade, replaced with irritation that he had come to her house at such a late hour, only to sit and stare at her fireplace. "Did you stop by for a particular reason, Severus, or did you just want to test the comfort of my furniture?"
He turned his head to look at her, his expression inscrutable. Then he arched an elegant eyebrow, and Hermione felt a familiar heat settle low in her stomach. Before she could dwell on her rather extreme reaction, he stood with a flourish, his robes swirling about his legs as he strode to the fireplace. Hesitating only a moment, he reached inside a pocket, his whispered incantation too low for her to hear. His hand emerged from his pocket, cradling the item as if it were a precious gem.
Hermione forced herself to remain on the sofa, resisting the urge to leap forward and examine whatever it was that Severus was holding. He stood before the mantle for a long moment, until finally, he placed the item amongst her framed photographs and stepped away, allowing Hermione a clear view.
She immediately recognised the piece of wood, not only from when she had last seen its twin in Luna's room but, as a veil lifted from her memory, from her own hazy remembrances of the charmed vision. It was the work of his own hands—the carving he'd made so long ago of the four Houses.
Hermione stared, her mouth dry, speechless. The carving fit perfectly in a space that had not welcomed any other object, as if it had always been meant for that spot. As if it were home.
Her heart raced as she considered what his actions might mean, but she refused to jump to conclusions where Severus Snape was concerned. "What do you want?" she asked, breathless despite her determination to keep her tone neutral. "Why are you here?"
He met her eyes reluctantly. "I am uncertain. I had no intention of seeking you out once I returned to Britain." He stopped short, and Hermione had the oddest sense that he expected her to explain his presence in her sitting room.
"Yet here you are."
"Yes." He walked to the French doors and peered out into the darkness. "You've created an almost perfect replica of the cottage from the vision."
"I didn't realise …." Her brow furrowed as she considered his statement. "It was unintentional. My memories are all very hazy now."
He nodded but kept his back to her; all she could see of his face was what was reflected in the panes of glass. A muscle in his jaw twitched, and he clasped his hands behind his back. "I see."
Hermione sighed and rubbed her face with her palm before saying, "I'm sorry I activated the charm. It was—"
"Unintentional," Severus interrupted impatiently. "Yes, I am aware of that, Ms Granger. According to my goddaughter, she gave you the ignominious task of cataloguing my belongings—Merlin knows why—and you found the sphere in the box of things her mother left to me upon her death."
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, pushing aside the twinge of hurt she felt at his curt tone. "So that's why you received the sphere before its charm work was finished. I had wondered about that."
His hands clenched into fists and then released. "I was not aware it was unfinished. Luna did not explain precisely how the sphere was activated, nor has she shared how it worked."
Hermione was shocked. "Why wouldn't she tell you?"
She saw his eyes close, then reopen before he all but growled, "She said if I wanted to know that I should ask you."
She smothered a laugh at his aggravated expression and then wondered if she were completely losing all sense of reality; her emotions were all over the place. "Ah. Well, when I found the sphere, I didn't know what it was. I thought perhaps it was a puzzle or something. I examined it tactilely—" She stopped abruptly at the impatient pursing of his lips; somehow it was as familiar to her as the expressions of her own children. "It activated when I cast a revealing spell."
Severus turned to face her. "I read the letter from Eglantine, Ms Granger. It was my understanding I was to have been an active participant, rather than a mere spectator."
Hermione nodded. "Yes. Luna and I have studied her mother's notes on the charm, and we believe that the revealing spell altered the charm's focus, and thus the sequencing was affected. Since I activated the charm, rather than you, as was intended, I was the active participant. We believe the alterations are what also led to my memories fading, while yours …." She paused for a moment, then asked, "How much do you remember?"
"And you experienced it as a dream?"
Hermione rolled her eyes, exasperated by his terse replies. "Honestly, Severus, it's like pulling teeth to get any information out of you!"
His mouth twitched. "I was a spy."
The sudden display of humour caught Hermione by surprise, and she stared at him for a moment before she burst into a short bout of laughter. His expression softened slightly, she saw, but by the time she had composed herself again, he had slipped that damnable mask firmly in place.
Or perhaps not so firmly.
"I would compare it to a Muggle cinematic experience," he said, glancing at her as if to punctuate the reference.
"As if you were watching a movie?"
"Oh." She worried her lower lip for a moment, wondering briefly if she should ask her next question, and then forged onward. "Did you develop any … emotional attachments?"
"It wasn't real!" he said forcefully, glowering at her. "It was a fantasy—a very realistic dream. But it was not based in reality. The man you knew—"
This time it was Hermione who interrupted. "The man I love."
He winced, but then his expression hardened, as did his voice. "That man was not me. This," he said, gesturing to himself with one hand, "this is who I truly am: the bitter, angry, greasy git whom everyone so loves to hate. I do not relate well to people—I prefer my solitude. I'm not a hero, I'm not a father-figure, and I'm certainly not a loving husband!"
She was shaking her head as he ranted, the unexpected revelation of the reasons for his reticence leaving her speechless … but only briefly.
"No, that's not true. That bitter, angry man you just described … that's the mask. The charm revealed your true self—that's how it was designed."
"Designed?" Severus frowned, then cleared his face of all expression. "What do you mean?"
"I can show you Eglantine's notes sometime, if you're interested, but the magic the charm used as its base is consistent with several other spells, including Legilimency, as well as the magic used to make Pensieves and wizarding portraits. Don't you see? The charm used our own memories and personalities, our own subconscious dreams and desires, and integrated them into the vision. That's how it was designed, Severus. Eglantine wanted to give you the life that she believed you were capable of having but would never allow yourself to live—and she was right."
"That was my business, not hers and certainly not yours!" Severus spat angrily, stalking towards her, stopping once he was within arm's reach. "You had no right to meddle in my affairs. You and your recklessness have cost me my peace of mind—I never intended to activate the charm, and now my dreams are filled with a life that was never real and that I can never have!" His hands fisted at his sides, and he was all but shaking, his posture so stiff that she worried that he might pitch forward nose-first into the floor.
Hermione studied him for a moment, then her jaw dropped momentarily before she shut it with a snap. "You're frightened."
"I beg your pardon!"
"No, no. You are," Hermione insisted, her mouth curving into a smile as she became more certain of her assessment. "I know because … well, because I think I experienced something similar in the vision. It's … it's a vague impression but … yes. Yes. You're frightened, because you're not certain that you can be that man, and since that's who I fell in love with …." She trailed off, her eyes widening with realisation. "Oh, dear Merlin. You love me."
She waved him off. "Not now, Severus. I'm having an epiphany." Her mind reeled at the possibilities, giddy with newfound hope. "You tried to push me away in the letter you sent to Luna, but you were curious about me, weren't you? That's why you came back!"
"I hardly think that—"
"And then tonight, you saw me at the exhibit, and that clinched it, didn't it? You saw me, and you couldn't resist the temptation to speak to me, to see if I still feel the same way that I did in the vision. I'm right, aren't I? You love me, and you're frightened that my feelings for you aren't real."
"Stop saying that," he ground out from between clenched teeth. "I am no longer capable of that sort of emotion."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. You loved your friends. You love Xenophilius and Luna."
"That's entirely different, and I have no fears regarding your feelings or lack thereof." His mouth twisted into an ugly sneer.
On familiar ground at last, years of enchanted experience melded with the forceful determination of the woman standing in a no-longer-imagined cottage with the man she was sure she loved. "Why did you come, then? Luna would have eventually answered all your questions—you had no real reason to come here. So why did you? Why are you here?"
Severus dropped his chin to his chest, and Hermione watched in dismay as he seemed to crumple before her eyes. "Luna was sending me owls daily," he began, "and she made sure to mention you and the children multiple times per letter. She told me how you requested that the museum relocate my portion of the exhibit, because you knew I'd be more comfortable outside of the spotlight."
He raked a hand through his hair, and Hermione's breath caught at the vaguely familiar gesture. He continued, "Xenophilius thought he'd have a go, as well, informing me that if he could have another lifetime with Eglantine, he would snatch it up in a heartbeat. He said I was a fool and … a coward for choosing not to at least speak to you."
Hermione cringed; she could only imagine how well that conversation had gone over with Severus. She was about to compliment him for choosing wise friends when the mask came slamming down once more.
"This was a mistake. I apologise, Ms Granger, for arriving at such a late hour. Rest assured, I will not bother you again. Good night." Without even pausing long enough to glance at her, he strode from the room.
"Oh, no you don't, Severus Snape," Hermione muttered as she ran after him.
She caught up with him in the entry hall, rushing to block his exit despite the knowledge that he could Disapparate if he were truly determined to leave. She grabbed a fistful of his robes, stood up on her toes, and shoved her face in his. "We are not finished talking yet."
"Yes, we are. Now if you'll excuse me—"
"I will not!" Hermione cried, stomping her foot like a petulant child. She took a deep breath in an effort to calm her rising panic. A flash of memory penetrated her growing despair, and she clung to it with everything within her. "You can't leave. You can't. You … you promised, damn you. You promised me that you wouldn't leave."
Severus flinched, and his face twisted as if he were in pain. "No, Ms Granger. I didn't."
She gasped, her sob stuck in her throat. He was right, Hermione realised. He hadn't promised her anything. He'd never promised her anything at all.
Slowly, she released his robes and looked up at him, the tears in her eyes shining in the dim light of the entry hall. "Severus, please," she pleaded softly, not caring that she had resorted to begging. "I know this sounds crazy—it's insane—but I miss you," she whispered. "I can … I can understand if you can't stand the thought of loving …." She paused, forcing down the lump in her throat, and beseeched him, her hands opening in supplication. "Can't we just give this a chance? Maybe … maybe we could just talk sometimes or go to dinner … be friends. Maybe it will turn into more or maybe it won't, but I'm willing to take whatever—" She stopped herself from voicing the thought. "Severus, we'll never know what could grow between us if we don't try. Couldn't we try?"
They stood together in the dark entry hall, the silence thrumming with fear and possibility. He hadn't rejected her offer immediately, Hermione thought. Perhaps he would consider—
"I'm not a very nice man," he said, breaking into her reverie.
She smiled. She knew this man. Stepping neatly into the small crack in his icy veneer, she brushed a strand of hair away from his eyes.
"No, no you're not. But you're a good man. A bastard, to be certain, but a good man nonetheless." She took heart in his small but brief smile and reached out to grasp his hand in hers. "Please, Severus. I won't make any promises—not yet. You say I don't know you, so help me. Let me know the real you."
He looked down at their joined hands, his expression inscrutable, as always. Hermione held her breath, the gossamer thread of hope gaining substance as she watched his chest rise and fall and felt his thumb trace mindless circles on the soft skin of her wrist.
Finally, from behind the long curve of his lashes, the swing of his hair around his face betraying his nervousness, he spoke at last.
"I don't suppose you'd care for a cup of tea …?"
Hermione was certain her answering smile was as blinding as the sun.
Five years later
"In the kitchen!"
Hermione slathered the bit of cold toast with strawberry jam and then set the knife on the counter. She was about to take that first blissful bite when she felt his arms surround her. Leaning back against his chest, she sighed happily. "I wasn't expecting you home so early," she said. Although Minerva had allowed the Potions professor to live in Hogsmeade with his wife and family, she still insisted that he perform his share of rounds. Since that evening had been the Welcoming Feast and Sorting, he had been required to stay even longer than usual.
Severus laughed, his breath hot against her neck, causing her to shiver in delight. "It's almost midnight, Hermione. I'm rather late."
"Is it really?" She frowned; it seemed her internal clock was completely off these days. "I was hungry."
"So I see. Let's take your midnight snack to the sitting room, shall we?"
Hermione agreed and allowed him to guide her to the other room. She rolled her eyes as he chivalrously helped her seat herself on the sofa before sitting down beside her. "How did the Sorting go?" she asked. "Gryffindor?"
"No," Severus replied with a smirk.
Hermione lightly smacked his arm; she knew he was imagining Ron's reaction to that bit of news. "Well? Which House?"
She grinned. "That's my girl."
Wrapping an arm about her shoulders, Severus drew her closer to his side. "She was quite excited. I'm sure you'll be receiving an owl in the morning. How did it go at the station? I see you're still alive after your little adventure."
Hermione groaned. "I don't know what they were thinking, allowing Ron to drive an automobile. I swear, Severus, he had to have Confunded the examiner. He was awful!"
Severus stiffened. "You are not to ride in a car where Ron Weasley is the driver again … ever."
"Don't be ridiculous, Severus," Hermione grumbled as she struggled to find a comfortable position. "I may have lost my feet … and my waist," she sniffed as he sniggered under his breath, "but my intellect is still intact. I'll never, ever get into a car with Ron again." She shuddered. "I insisted on Apparating Hugo to his house, as well. I wasn't about to let Ron drive him home."
Severus relaxed, laughing at his wife's outburst. He rested a hand on her swollen tummy, laughing again as a hearty kick met his palm. "Active little bugger."
"Don't get him all riled up. I'd like to sleep tonight, if you don't mind," she groused even as she moved his hand to where the baby was now kicking.
"Yes, dear," he replied dutifully, only the crinkling at the corners of his eyes betrayed his amusement. "Was Eleanor at the station?"
"No, which is odd, don't you think? She loves Rose."
"Perhaps she thought it would be too difficult, with all the children about," Severus murmured, his fingers stroking her distended belly.
Hermione leant further into him and sighed. "Yes, that could be."
She felt badly for Ron and Eleanor; the previous year, the Healers had informed them that Eleanor was unable to have children. Ron loved her unconditionally, but Eleanor had been devastated. While she had since accepted the situation, Hermione knew that some days were more difficult than others for the witch who, thanks to the children, had become her friend.
She picked up a slice of jam-laden bread and was about to take a bite when she remembered Luna's letter. "I forgot to tell you! An owl brought a letter from Luna today. She met someone while she was on holiday in Sweden—his name is Rolf. We've been invited to dinner on Saturday to meet him. And I am to inform you to, and I quote, 'be nice.' She really likes him."
Severus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Will I never be forgiven for that little skirmish with Martin?"
"Michael," Hermione corrected primly, "and that 'little skirmish' was a full-blown hex."
He waved a dismissive hand. "He was a pillock."
Her lips twitched in amusement; Michael had been a bit of a prat. She smiled at his tense jaw and narrowed eyes. So stubborn, she mused. "Perhaps he was. In any event, Luna would like your promise to be civil to Rolf. This is quite serious, Severus—she likes him, and she's worried that you will run him off with your glowering and hexing."
Severus snorted a laugh and then smiled crookedly, causing her heart to skip a beat. "All right. I will play nice. I promise."
"Thank you," she replied, satisfied, and burrowed into his side as she popped the last bit of toast and jam into her mouth.
She felt her body relax as Severus began to tell of his day, of Rose's Sorting, and the Welcoming Feast, one hand toying with a strand of her hair, the other resting where their baby lay. As she listened, Hermione snuggled closer, her eyes falling on the small, wooden sphere which sat in the very middle of the mantle above the fireplace, her most treasured reminder that a life unlived was no life at all.
She sighed in contentment, so very grateful that they had both chosen to live.
A/N: And that's the end of our tale! Thank you so much for the wonderful response this story has received. I was blown away by your lovely comments and reviews. Thank you!!
I do have two more SS/HG stories in the works, both of which will be novel length (if not longer). Those of you who read Heart and Soul know that I don't do well with WIPs (I take forever to update), and so I will not be posting the new stories until they are complete. I have no idea how long that will take, as some real life issues have emerged, but I promise that I will finish them and begin posting as soon as they're done.
The Life Unlived was written for the SS/HG Exchange on LiveJournal. The recipient was Atlantel, and her prompt for this story is as follows:
Hermione tries a mysterious object at Luna's, her dearest friend, (what is, it's your choice) and suddenly, she gets a vision. Her children are still her children, but older, nearly ready for Hogwarts, but her life isn't the same one. Ron is out of the picture and she's married to a dark-haired husband. Could it be Snape? Hermione cannot believe it. He died so many years ago… research (and love) are in order!
My never-ending gratitude to my beta readers, DeeMichelle and Subversa, and to my Brit picker, LettyBird. Aren't they the best? And I owe a huge thanks to machshefa, not only for all her advice in regards to Hermione's amnesia, but for the huge help she was on this particular chapter. Thank you! I'd also like to thank my dear friend GinnyW for being such a great sounding board and listening to me whine throughout the writing of this story. Love you all!