"How long will it take you to find a replacement?" Severus asked Minerva.
She leaned back into her chair and looked from Severus to Hermione and back again as they sat in front of her desk.
"How did you do it, Hermione?" she asked. Looking back at Severus, she continued. "I thought for certain you'd be gone by now."
Severus looked to Hermione and grasped her hand in his. "Hermione has some very convincing arguments for me to stay."
Minerva glanced down at the couple's hands clasped together. "Is there something you're not telling me?" she asked.
Hermione blushed scarlet, but Severus only looked at the Headmistress levelly. "Suffice it to say that I have a vested interest in staying."
Severus was surprised by the warmth in Minerva's eyes. Giving a quick nod to both of them, she continued on with only the brighter tone of her voice to show that she was pleased for both of them. "I'm glad she convinced you to stay until I can find a replacement."
Severus gave Minerva a slight nod in return. "So... how long?" he asked.
Minerva pursed her lips as she grabbed her quill. She flipped to a blank page in the notebook that sat in front of her and began to scribble names onto it. In a few minutes, she had a list of several people.
"I need to contact each one of these candidates and offer them an interview. The interviews should take me about two weeks. I think I might be able to have a Defense teacher in a month. As for your position as Deputy Headmaster..." Her gaze fell to Hermione.
"Would you like that position, Hermione?"
Hermione gaped. "No, no I wouldn't!"
Minerva seemed surprised. "Why ever not?"
"Minerva," Hermione began. "It is a huge job, and to be honest with you, I want to spend my spare time with Severus, not doing all the intricate extras that are needed for the school to run smoothly."
Minerva sighed. "There's no convincing you, then?"
Hermione shook her head as she grasped Severus' hand tightly. "No. Thank you, though. I appreciate your confidence in me. What about Filius? He's energetic and is very organized. I believe he'd do a wonderful job."
Minerva nodded. "He was my second choice." She scribbled something down on the parchment in front of her before looking at Severus again. "All right, I'll see what I can do to get this position filled as soon as possible. I must say, dear boy, I will miss you."
Severus scowled. "You are channeling your inner Dumbledore, Minerva. Please cease and desist at once."
The Headmistress scoffed. "My sentiments are genuine. I am not sure I would say the same for Albus."
Severus stared at Minerva incredulously.
"I do not agree with the way Albus used both you and Mr. Potter. That's all I care to say on the matter."
Severus swallowed as he gazed at the Headmistress and then up to the sleeping portrait of Dumbledore. He wondered what the old man was thinking. "I appreciate your sentiments, Minerva. Thank you."
Minerva stared at him before nodding curtly. "Good luck to you. Let me know if you need anything... ever. And don't think that because you will not be teaching here that I don't want to hear from you. An owl now and then would be welcome."
Minerva scoffed and waved her hand at him. "Oh, get out of my office, you unbearable man." Turning to Hermione she shook her head at her. "Do not let him try to pull his indifferent act with you, Hermione. He obviously cares about you. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to stuff his foot in his mouth so no one will see he has emotions."
"Minerva..." Severus growled.
"Oh, enough from you!" Minerva said with a glare at Severus. Turning back to Hermione, she continued, "I know you won't let him get the best of you, dear."
Hermione gave Minerva a conspiratorial smile. "No, Minerva, I surely won't."
"I really do not take kindly to the fact that you both are speaking about me as if I weren't even present," Severus huffed.
Minerva shrugged. "Boss' prerogative. Now off with the two of you. I'll let you know tomorrow who I'm considering once I've spoken to these people." She motioned to her parchment as the two rose to leave.
"Thank you, Minerva," Hermione said, but Severus only grunted. They quickly left the office and headed down the stairwell. When they'd reached the bottom, Hermione turned to Severus.
"Really, why must you be such a grouse?" she asked.
Severus pulled her to him and kissed her soundly, leaving her breathless when he finally pulled away from her lips.
"I have more important things to do with my day then waste it with that old bird." he answered gruffly.
"You should have mentioned that sooner," Hermione retorted before pulling him down to her and returning his passionate kiss.
Hermione lifted her head from the essays she was grading to see Luna standing at her doorway knocking softly.
"Come in!" she offered.
Luna floated in and pulled a chair next to Hermione's. Her eyes were big as she looked to her.
"How are you feeling?" she asked in a wispy voice.
Hermione smiled. "I'm fine, finally. At my check-up last week Poppy said I was fully healed."
"So, Professor Snape can yell at you again?"
Hermione tilted her head. "Technically, yes, but I'm hoping that won't be an issue anymore."
Luna nodded. She gazed around Hermione quickly. "The Nargles around you are excited, Hermione. You have a different aura about you."
Hermione smiled at her friend. "I suppose you could say that, Luna. Something... happened yesterday."
"I thought it might have. That's why I stopped by. I was feeding the Thestrals this morning, and I got a very distinct feeling that I needed to come talk with you."
Hermione placed her quill on the desk and turned fully toward Luna. "I was able to get the Ministry to take off all the restrictions on Severus... I mean Professor Snape. He's free to leave the school."
Luna's eyes widened. "What will he do?"
"Once the Headmistress finds a replacement for him, he will move to Hogsmeade."
"So he can be near you," Luna concluded.
Hermione's mouth dropped open. "Luna, how did you know?"
Luna's hand came out and she grasped Hermione's. "He's finally told you, hasn't he? That he loves you."
"What? How could...? Has he spoken to you about his feelings?"
Luna shook her head. "No, Hermione, it was just obvious."
Hermione huffed. "Not to me, it wasn't."
"Sometimes the ones closest to the truth fail to see it clearly. I've been watching both of you for weeks now. He obviously loves you very much."
"I don't think he'll be happy to know his feelings have been clear to the entire school," Hermione said with a frown.
"Don't worry, I don't think anyone suspects. Most people don't know how to watch people. I inherited that gift from my mother. She could always look at someone and know much of how they felt or what they were thinking." Her eyes drifted over to Hermione's. "You're happy, right?"
Hermione gave Luna a large smile and nodded. "I've had feelings for him for a while now. I was thrilled to find that he feels the same way."
Luna hugged her tightly. Hermione returned the hug affectionately. "He's a good man, Hermione. I know some think he's evil, but just looking at him, you can see he has a good heart."
Hermione pulled back and gazed at her friend. "You truly are amazing, Luna. Most people wouldn't take the time to understand that."
Luna waved her comment off. "I'm just happy to see the two of you have finally figured everything out. I wanted to tell you both, but I knew you had to get there yourselves."
"I doubt I'd have believed you if you'd said anything." Hermione agreed.
"So, what will you do now, with Professor Snape not teaching here? You're not leaving too, are you?"
"No, no. I'm staying here. Severus will be close by, and we can see each other every day."
"Well, he seems to be the kind who needs reminders that he's cared for. You'll remember to remind him, right, Hermione?"
Hermione nodded vigorously. "Oh, I plan on it."
The women giggled to themselves before switching subjects. "How are things going with Hagrid?" Hermione asked.
"Very well," Luna said. "He's let me care for a lot of different creatures. In fact, he's given me free reign over the Horklumps. I feel bad raising them, actually, as they'll just be fed to Hagrid's gnomes." She shrugged. "I suppose that's part of learning to be an animal handler."
"I heard from Neville yesterday. He sent a very long owl. He's speaking with Professor Sprout about possibly doing an apprenticeship with her next year. He says his gram is driving him crazy and he needs to have a good reason to get out of the house."
"Hmm, maybe I could talk with Professor Sprout and see what her thoughts are. I know she enjoyed Neville in class."
Luna nodded. "Poor Neville. I hope it works out for him."
"I'll see what I can do."
"What do you mean I have to stay until the change of term?" Severus growled.
Minerva gave Severus a withering look. "Your replacement cannot begin until January."
"Then find someone who can begin next week."
"Severus, it's impossible. I've contacted every possible candidate over these last weeks, and they are all involved in their own lives and can't possibly start until the beginning of next term. Besides, it's only another month. Wouldn't it be nice to spend Christmas here at Hogwarts?"
"The only good thing about that will be spending time with Hermione," he groused.
"Well, that should be reason enough to want to stay. You are treating her well, aren't you?"
Severus threw his hands up in frustration. "Yes! Do you think I wouldn't?"
"Well, given your past track record."
Severus narrowed his eyes at Minerva.
"Tsk. I wasn't talking about Lily Potter. I was talking about your normal demeanor as a git. It can be very taxing to a young woman, even if she loves you."
Severus sat back and glared at Minerva. "I do not treat her poorly."
Minerva gave a quick nod. "See that you don't in the future. She is a rare treasure, and you are lucky to have her."
"Don't you think I know that?"
"I think you do now. Still, it is easy to slip into complacency. Don't let that happen. Your relationship is too important to ever ignore it."
Severus' glare softened. "You are right, of course. I will remember your words."
"I think both of you will be happy if you do."
Severus gave a curt nod of affirmation before rising and leaving Minerva to her job.
Severus smiled as Hermione opened the door. He held out a bouquet of dark purple tulips to her. Hermione gasped as she reached for them.
"Oh, Severus, these are beautiful!" Grasping his hand, she pulled him into her sitting room. She hugged him fiercely before turning to take care of the tulips.
Severus made his way to the sofa, watching Hermione as she transfigured a cat figurine into a vase and placed the tulips in it. Her face beamed as she did so. Severus felt his heart constrict as a shred of doubt entered into his mind.
Minerva had been right; he could never take Hermione for granted. She would lose interest in him in an instant if he did. He still didn't understand why she found him so intriguing. If the truth be known, he was expecting any day now that she would announce that she'd grown tired of him and walk out of his life. Time would tell, he assumed. His move out of Hogwarts would be a defining factor in their relationship. Would Hermione still want to take the time to be with him when he wasn't so readily available?
His musings were cut short by soft, sultry lips pressing against his. He became engrossed in the woman who was now sitting in his lap, showering him with affection. He would definitely take advantage of this as long as he could before she left him.
Hermione pulled back and looked into his eyes. "Thank you so much. I love tulips. How did you know?"
Severus shrugged. Despite trying to seem chipper, he looked at Hermione wistfully.
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked, her face filled with concern.
"It is nothing. I was just thinking about how beautiful you looked when you were arranging the flowers."
Hermione frowned. "So, that caused you to look depressed?"
Severus looked away and scowled. "No," he answered tersely.
Hermione moved his chin back in her direction. "Severus?"
"I find that, in my life, happiness is a fleeting thing," he remarked quietly while looking toward the ground.
"You think we will not last?"
"You make me happy, ergo, this cannot last."
Hermione stood and his heart sunk. He'd angered her, he just knew it. She would storm off and that would be that. His gaze moved up suddenly when the woman he loved sat back down into his lap, strategically straddling his legs so she could face him directly.
"Look at me," she said softly.
His eyes locked onto hers.
Her hands surrounded his face. "I love you."
He couldn't say a word.
"Do you believe me?" Hermione asked.
He gave a quick nod.
"We will make this work. Do you believe me?"
His hesitation made her frown.
"Do I leave behind those that I love?"
"No," he ground out finally.
"I love you, Severus."
"What happens when I move away? We will grow apart."
Hermione's face hardened with determination. "I won't let that happen. Neither will you. We will not lose what we have simply because we don't live in the same place anymore."
"You have given me hope in so many things, yet I find I cannot convince myself that this can last."
"Then you don't truly believe that I love you."
"No, that's what it comes down to. You say you believe me, but deep down you don't." She looked at him sadly. "I'm not sure what I can do to convince you of that."
"I can see it in your face, Red."
"Then believe what you see!" she said emphatically. "Why do you doubt what is staring you in the face? I love you with all that I am. The thought of being separated from you makes my heart ache."
Hermione looked taken aback.
"I mean, why me? Out of all the men in the world, why would you ever choose me?"
"Because despite you feeling unworthy and unlovable, the exact opposite is true. You deserve this, Severus. You deserve someone to love you and to want to be with you always. You're an honorable man who has lived a miserable life. It's time for you to have the happiness you've been denied for so long. I want to help you find that happiness. I want to be a part of it, always."
Her finger came up and pushed against his lips, silencing him. "I don't want to hear you say that you don't deserve me, or that I'm too good for you. It's not true."
Her eyes met his once again.
"I would be empty without you, Severus. I love you. I have for a long time."
"I feel the same, Hermione. It's just that when I've felt this way before..."
Her lips silenced his. "I'm not her," she said once she'd pulled back.
"I will never be her, nor will I treat our relationship as shoddily as she did. You are the most important person in my life. I don't think that she placed you in that key position in her own life or she'd not have tossed you aside so readily."
"I don't think I truly realized how deeply she scarred me," he said after a while. "Our friendship was solid for a long time, then it all fell to pieces."
"That won't happen this time."
He looked away. "You don't know that," he whispered.
Her voice was small when she answered, and when he looked to her, he saw the tears falling freely down her cheeks. "I am not her. I don't toss my friends away."
His hand came up and he wiped away her tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"E—Excuse me," she said as she moved away from his hand and off his lap. She moved quickly out of the room and into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
He waited a few minutes, but he knew she would not emerge again tonight. He'd hurt her, and she needed to recoup before she came face to face with him again. He was just standing to leave when her door opened again and she came hurrying out. She had a book in her hands.
"Take this," she ordered.
He reached out as she placed the book into his grasp.
"Read it, then come back and speak with me."
"I'm sorry, Hermione."
Her face was puffy from crying, and her eyes were sad as she looked up at him. "Please, just go and read that. I'll speak to you when you're done with it."
Severus slowly nodded and turned to go. He looked back at her, wishing to say something to make her stop crying. He hesitated, but no words would come. She turned from him and went back into her room, closing the door behind her and leaving him alone in the sitting room.
Turning toward the door, he glanced down at the book. He paged through it and realized it was a diary: Hermione's diary, at least part of it. He sunk back down into the chair where he'd been seated before and opened to the first page.
I copied these from my diary for you to keep. I don't know any other way to prove my feelings for you. I hope you will believe my writings and that you'll find the confidence to accept my love for what it is. I love you. I want this to work between us, but I fear you will never truly embrace my love because of the way Lily treated you. I'm not going to do what she did, Severus. I am yours and will not turn from you in the blink of an eye. I love you with all my heart, and I want this to work. I wouldn't lie about that, ever.
I love you,
Severus hesitantly turned the page. The entry was dated a week after she'd arrived.
Professor Snape is an enigma. He hides away almost always, and I can tell he has turned inward in his depression brought on by the war. There must be something I can do to help him.
Severus buried himself in her diary for the next half hour, reading page after page of her battle about telling him that she was Red and then her grief at his actions when he found out who she was.
I love him. I know he hates me, but I can't help myself. I hope one day he can at least look at me without showing the hatred that permeates his features when he looks at me now. I've blown everything...
He read over and over again of her deep love for him, of how she wanted to be with him constantly.
Merlin, he loves me too! He told me himself. I don't think I've ever felt so cherished. I didn't think we could ever get to this point, but we have.
With every page turn came the realization that she was right, he hadn't believed that she loved him. He hadn't been able to accept such a purity of feeling.
His head lifted from the last page of script as he placed the book on the sofa next to him. He eyed her bedroom door before rising and knocking softly. When she didn't answer, he tried the knob, which turned easily in his hand. Severus peeked through into her room and saw her shadowed form in the bed. Hearing her sniffle, he was at her side in an instant.
Kneeling beside her bed, his hand came out and smoothed her hair.
"I am a fool," he murmured.
"Yes, you are." Hermione sniffled. She was quiet for a moment. "I know you're arching your eyebrow at me, even though I can't see you," she said sarcastically.
Severus continued to rub his hand gently over her hair.
"You should go," she whispered.
"I don't want to."
"You were right, I didn't understand your love for me. I didn't see how you could feel so intensely for someone like me. No one has ever felt that way for me before. I didn't dare think it possible that you could."
A great sob escaped Hermione's throat. "Just go, please."
Severus watched her sadly for a moment before standing and moving over her, finally settling beside her on the bed. He turned her body to face his and pulled her to him, burying her head in his chest as he clung to her and embraced her fervently.
"Please forgive my lack of belief. It was not a reflection of you, but of my own insecurities."
More sobs came from the woman he loved. Her arms came around him and she cried more. He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back comfortingly. After a long while, her cries began to soften and fade. She clung to him even tighter then.
"I won't lose you because you cannot believe in yourself," she murmured finally.
"As I said, I am a fool," he whispered into her ear. She gasped at the closeness of his lips. "I know you love me," he continued. "I am truly the most fortunate man that ever lived because I have your love. I am sorry I was such a fool."
He felt her body tense slightly at his words. Growing bolder, he nibbled at her ear. She gasped pleasingly again. "Forgive me?"
Her moan was his only answer. He kissed his way to her mouth and pulled back to look into her eyes. "Thank you, Red, for never giving up on me," he declared before capturing her lips in his. He kissed her possessively, and she responded in kind. His hand followed her curves and came up to caress her face as he lovingly apologized with his kisses. He tasted the saltiness of her tears and pulled back, examining her face.
"You're still crying," he stated.
"I'm just relieved that you understand now."
"So, you're crying?"
"Women do that. You'll have to get used to it."
He tweaked her nose with his. "Sounds insane to me."
"They're happy tears."
He ran his fingers through her hair. "So, if I continue to do this..." He kissed her along her neck and felt her arch seductively. "I'll have you sobbing?"
Hermione giggled then. "Sobbing for more, maybe," she said breathlessly.
Severus sobered and pulled back. "You know I love you, too, right?"
"Just as much as you love me. That's why I was so upset before."
She nodded again before running her fingers through his hair. His mouth came down upon hers again as he claimed her with his kiss.
"I will not doubt you again," he whispered in between kisses. Pulling back, he gave her a possessive gaze. "You are mine!"
She smiled at him in reply. Pulling him down, she cut off anymore conversation with her own searing and possessive kiss.
Severus stared through the gates at the castle looming in the distance. He watched as his falcon winged her way toward him. She landed at his feet and morphed into Hermione. He felt her hand grasp his and squeeze.
"All right?" she asked him.
He sighed. "I've spent most of my lifetime living behind these gates. I thought I would be ecstatic to leave Hogwarts behind me when the time came, but now I find I'm melancholy and apprehensive."
Hermione wrapped her arm around his and placed her cheek on his arm. "What are you apprehensive about?"
"I have done nothing but teach for over twenty years. What am I to do with myself?"
Hermione stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. "Live, Severus. You are to live."
His arm went around her and he pulled her close, placing a kiss gently on her lips. "It's finally over, isn't it?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. "This is the final step in moving on, Severus. You can cut your ties with Hogwarts and be anything you want."
Severus smiled ruefully. "I just live down the road."
"Yes, but you won't be living here any longer, surrounded by memories of bad times. You're free."
"Free..." He turned to look at the castle once again. A weight seemed to lift off him as he mentally said a final good bye.
"You don't mind if I never come to visit you here, do you, Red?"
Hermione reached up and turned his head back toward her. "I never expected you to. My Floo is connected to yours, and I'm just a quick Apparition away."
"Let's go, then. I have a private lab to set up."
Hermione pulled his head down and kissed him. He pulled back eventually and smirked at her before taking her hand and leading her down the pathway towards Hogsmeade.
They chatted to themselves happily, and Severus never once looked back.
A/N: Many thanks to slytherinlaurel for her beta work. I appreciate all of her help and suggestions. Thanks to you for reading, even when the updates weren't as quick as any of us would like. :)