The Sun is Often Out
All characters belong to J. K. Rowling.
Hermione flew down the steps and moved blindly around the perimeter of the castle, uncaring of where she was going, just as long as it was away from him. How dare he speak to her like that? Was this how her year at Hogwarts was going to end—epitomised by bad feeling and discord?
She cringed when she heard footsteps behind her, and she furiously wiped her eyes, but refused to turn around. Bugger off, she pleaded silently.
'You are determined not to tell me why you are leaving?' She heard his voice from some distance behind her.
'Just... Please leave me alone.' How could she ever tell him when he wouldn't even speak to her with civility?
'I... Look, I have been going mad wondering about it.'
'There's nothing to tell,' she croaked.
'Do you think I was born yesterday? After everything I've shared with you, you won't tell me this simple thing?'
Hermione was filled suddenly with indecision.
'Very well, then, there is nothing left to say.'
Hermione heard him step away, but then he stopped.
'Actually, no, I will not leave this. I demand to know why you feel you can just swan off without so much as a by-your-leave! You will tell me!'
Hermione turned slightly, in anger. 'You can't just demand to know. Or were you planning on forcing it out of me with Legillimency?'
'Oh, it's good to know how well you know me,' he spat back bitterly. 'Perhaps you just don't want to admit what I've known all along—that you think yourself above teaching; well, you've completed the initial challenge and now can you move on!'
Hermione was flabbergasted. 'Well, it's good to know how well you know me.' It made her unbelievably sad that he would think so little of her. 'It's all your fault, anyway!' She winced.
'No, I...' As Hermione desperately tried to pull herself together, she failed to hear him approach. It was only when he heaved a defeated sigh that she realised he was directly behind.
'I've made you cry—that is my fault.' His voice was soft and regretful, but Hermione, still feeling the sting of his earlier words, became stubborn.
'I'm not crying.' It wasn't particularly convincing.
'I don't like to see you cry, Hermione, especially when you are wasting your tears over me.'
This time, something in his words resonated with Hermione, and she stilled. Finding the courage to finally face him fully, she turned, uncaring that her face was probably marred with tear tracks. He stood watching her, but his expression was softer and his eyes less cold.
'You haven't called me Hermione in a long while.'
He shook his head briefly. 'No, indeed, I have not.'
More tears began to fall, and Hermione looked away as she inelegantly wiped at them with her sleeve. She felt ridiculous. 'I'm sorry, Severus.'
He handed her a handkerchief and she accepted it gratefully. 'Sorry—what for?' he asked calmly.
Hermione shrugged. 'For everything,' she said in a small voice. 'For blubbing like a fool right now; for spoiling things; for making you think I didn't appreciate your friendship; for acting like a stupid, immature girl—the very type you probably detest!'
Why the hell couldn't she stop crying? Hermione was getting furious with herself. What a red, blotchy state her face must be in!
'My behaviour has hardly been exemplary, has it?'
Hermione gave him a watery smile in response. The warmth that she had become accustomed to seeing in his features showed signs of returning, and it eased the pain inside her somewhat to see it. She reached out to touch his arm, but ended up shyly plucking at his sleeve.
'I've missed you, Severus, this past month or so.' Her voice still retained its edge of sadness, but Hermione was pleased it remained steady.
'You have?' he asked in quiet surprise.
'Of course,' she answered, unreservedly.
'Will you stop those tears?' he questioned roughly, but not unkindly, and Hermione could sense he was a little embarrassed at her admission. She didn't mind.
'I can't seem to,' shrugged Hermione helplessly.
'Maybe,' he began, a trifle awkward, 'maybe, I can help.'
He moved closer still, and completely surprised Hermione by reaching out an arm to encompass her shoulders. Hermione hardly dared to breathe as he guided her head to rest on his chest. Her arms automatically came up around his back and she felt her body relax perceptibly.
'This is the appropriate action in such situations, is it not?' he murmured into her hair.
Hermione felt on fire at the sensations she felt at being in his arms—hearing his heart beat, feeling his voice rumble from within his chest, the occasional tickle of the ends of his hair on her forehead—it was strangely intoxicating, and Hermione could have quite happily stood there all night.
'Why do you think you have spoiled things, Hermione? It is my fault; I should have just accepted your reason for leaving—you owe me nothing and I should respect your decision. I apologise for my words earlier; I can only say that I thought we, that is—well, it doesn't matter what I thought.'
Hermione opened her eyes and knew instinctively that this was it. Regardless of whether she was ready, she could not go back, after all this, and deny it was anything. Her heart began to pound painfully with anticipation, and she stepped back from his embrace. His arms fell away and he watched her keenly.
'We both know there is more to it, Severus, and I can see why you would feel disappointed that I have not shown you the same confidence as you have shown me, when it comes to our friendship. I think, though, you will understand my reticence, shortly.'
She opened her mouth a couple of times and nothing came out.
'Hermione, please, I understand–'
Just do it, Hermione, she told herself.
'It's because of you, Severus,' she blurted out suddenly
'I'm sorry?' he exclaimed in confusion. 'So it is my fault? What have I done?'
Hermione began to tremble at what she was about to reveal. 'Nothing, Severus, you did nothing… except make it virtually impossible for me to be around you, with the knowledge that I,' she faltered and breathed deeply, 'that I could never be… in there.' Hermione qualified her words by reaching out and placing her hand over his heart.
She kept her gaze trained on her hand, unwilling to see what his reaction was. Hermione felt herself flush when he did nothing; was he trying to work out his best escape route? How to let her down gently? Maybe even how to quell his laughter?
Hermione, now rather embarrassed, thought it best to make things easier and just go. However, when she moved her hand away, his own came up to clasp hers tightly, and she looked at him in surprise. He looked vaguely bewildered.
'Who says you aren't already?' His voice was gruff and sincere, but Hermione found her doubts didn't go away. She removed her hand and looked away over the grounds.
'Don't tease me, Severus, why would you care about me? I'm young, not especially pretty–'
'Ah, excuse me,' he interrupted briskly, 'I think it is I who should have the monopoly on self-doubt and low self-esteem. You are young, but I am old. You are beautiful; I certainly am not. You are pleasant and kind, whereas I am moody, unpleasant, and most importantly, I have a hideous past. Perhaps then, it is you that dares to tease me?'
Hermione smiled gently. 'Of course not—you don't give yourself enough credit. I care about you because of those things—not even in spite of them.'
His gaze dropped to the ground for a moment before he smirked at her. 'I'm not sure what that says about you.'
Hermione chuckled wanly. 'Me neither.' Unconsciously, her expression fell as she remembered the crux of the matter.
'What is it?'
Hermione plucked at her robe and cleared her throat. 'Harry said, well, I've wondered too, about Lily…' she trailed off at the shadow that passed over his face. Hermione looked at her hands fearfully, would he now admit, even after all the things he'd just said, that she could only hope to be second best?
'This is what you have been fretting about?' Hermione shivered as he stepped forward and lifted a hand to her hair. 'Don't compare yourself to her, Hermione, because I don't. Look at me—I'm not sure what has become of me, recently. You know, I'm sure you bewitched me that day, many months ago, when you first arrived in my office.'
Hermione blushed. 'Don't be silly.'
'It's true.' He let out a long breath and his face took on a rather bleak turn as he shook his head, 'I'm no good at this, Hermione; I have little enough experience of such situations. I'm afraid that I won't be able to be what you want me to be—you deserve someone less… damaged. For your own good, I should send you away, but I'm finding it exceedingly difficult not to be selfish. Why do you think I hated the fact that you wanted to leave? I suppose, what I am getting at, in my own, woefully inadequate way, is that, well, that you,' he closed his eyes briefly in frustration. 'My heart is entirely yours, if you will have it.'
His hand moved down her hair to the back of her head, and he leant forward to gently press his lips against hers. It lasted for only a few seconds, before he pulled back.
Hermione had to force herself to breathe. She opened her eyes to find him surveying her apprehensively.
'I wouldn't call that inadequate.' A whispered reply was all she could manage.
The corners of his eyes crinkled slightly, and suddenly Hermione felt like a fire had been lit underneath her—she stepped close to him and lifted a hand to play with the buttons on his waistcoat.
'Severus, don't make it any more complicated than it has to be. I only want you to be yourself, because the simple fact is, well, that I love you, so there.'
She sent him a defiant look as she raised her hands to his shoulders and pressed a patient kiss to his cheek.
'Poor, deluded girl,' he said softly, after a time, 'you actually mean it.'
He gently manoeuvred her body flush against his and immediately sought out her lips, teasing her with several enticingly short kisses. Hermione was embarrassed to hear herself let out a pitiful whimper of delight. Finally, he allowed his lips to linger and Hermione took the opportunity to deepen their embrace. The feel of his mouth responding to hers sent an exhilaration coursing through Hermione's body that she wasn't sure she'd ever felt before. She became utterly oblivious to anything else—t he whole school could have been watching them and she wouldn't care.
When it became increasingly imperative for Hermione to breathe, she regretfully parted from him. Lowering herself from her tiptoes, Hermione sagged against his body burying her head in his chest in a mixture of elation and infinite relief. He tightened his arms about her waist.
'Does this mean you will stay at Hogwarts, after all, with me?' Even now, he still had an edge of uncertainty.
Hermione nodded vigorously. 'I would like nothing more, especially if I can have my job back.'
Snape chuckled. 'I think we can come to some arrangement.'
Hermione gave him a grateful squeeze before stepping back from him with a dazed smile. 'You know, I think I could do with a sit down. I can't quite believe this is happening, can you?'
'No,' he snorted in disbelief, 'and if anyone has witnessed this nauseating display, my dear, there will be trouble.'
'Promise?' she replied cheekily.
'Ah! I can see I'll have my work cut out with you.'
Hermione smiled contemplatively. 'You know, not two hours ago I was pouring out my woes to Ginny Weasley, in the pub, and now…' She broke off. 'Well, I couldn't have hoped for anything better…'
He put a hand on her back. 'Come, I know of somewhere we can sit. I can tell you have more questions.'
He guided her a short distance around the castle, until they came to a low wall bordering one of the courtyards. Hermione sat down and linked her arm through that of the man's next to her. They said nothing for a minute or two, and Hermione was happy to sit in silence and simply absorb what was happening between them. It was Snape who broke the silence.
'You mentioned something just now about Potter. What did he have to do with anything?'
'Ah,' sighed Hermione, 'you're not going to like this, but it was Harry who told me you might be still in love with his mother. He found out I had feelings for you, you see, and he felt he ought to warn me.'
'That's why you bloody took off at Easter, wasn't it—because of Potter?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'What, pray tell, makes you think Potter would know how I feel? You should have just asked me.'
'It was hardly an unreasonable assumption for him to make, was it? I didn't have the courage to just ask you straight out—I didn't know how you would react. You've never mentioned her to me, Severus.'
Hermione noticed him frowning deeply.
'I suppose you are right.' He didn't say anything for a few moments and Hermione thought it was all he was going to say on the subject, but he surprised her with his next quiet words. 'I did love her, of course I did, but after that night in the Shrieking Shack, the thought of spending another twenty years pining after something I can now see was never really there in the first place, well, it wasn't attractive. It helped that I no longer felt obliged to protect Potter—it was all over, finished, and I had to let it go. Easier said than done, of course, well, until you came along, that is. Then I wondered if I was falling into the same trap, again.'
'Why?' Hermione immediately asked, suddenly afraid.
'I could hardly believe you would ever feel the same way, and so I thought, with infinite irony, that I'd be destined to another twenty years of misery over someone else.'
'I'm not a… replacement, then?' she questioned tentatively.
He glared at her suddenly. 'Just what the bloody hell was Potter telling you? And what do you take me for?' He made an effort to relax and patted her hand. 'Under the circumstances I will make an allowance for your appalling lack of judgement. The only similarities you share are intelligence and Muggle heritage—observations I could make about numerous other witches. Wait until I see Potter; I'll have a few choice words for him!'
Hermione, relieved, placed her free hand on the arm she had already trapped within hers. She let it travel down the material of his robe until it reached his hand, and began playing with his fingers—even that sent a thrill through her.
'You will thank Harry, when you next see him,' she stated, and at his disbelieving look, elaborated. 'Well, his intentions were honourable, though poorly executed. However, you said yourself you couldn't believe I would feel the same way about you, and surprise; I couldn't believe you would feel the same either. How long would we have dithered around each other before one of us plucked up enough courage to talk about it? At least Harry forced us into action.'
'I suppose I can't argue with that logic.'
'Though, I think I might have handled the situation a bit better,' Hermione mused.
'Isn't that the whole point of these kinds of developments—that they are not handled well, until the end?'
Hermione smiled gratefully and nodded; a thought struck her. 'It won't be an issue will it, us being together at Hogwarts?'
'No, as long as we don't do anything that can be construed as unprofessional. People will probably talk, and not only because we are colleagues. I can just imagine some of the tosh the Daily Prophet is going to come out with.'
Hermione nodded. 'Perhaps we should try and keep it under wraps until the end of term; otherwise we won't get any peace.'
'A wise idea,' he agreed. Hermione smiled to herself, she liked the idea of keeping a secret.
'People will be wondering why we are not at dinner,' she commented sometime later.
'Minerva, especially, will be beside herself with curiosity,' acknowledged Snape. 'Do you care?'
'No,' she laughed. 'No, I don't.'
'Good!' said Hermione brightly, as she jumped to her feet to face him.
'What are you doing now?'
'Move your legs,' she demanded imperiously; feeling bold. 'I want to kiss you.' Aiming to capitalise on the height advantage she was afforded by the fact he was sitting down, Hermione insinuated herself between his knees.
'I haven't given you permission.' He said sternly.
'Don't be insufferable—I don't need permission.' She curled one arm about his neck and mimicked his gesture from earlier by brushing the hair away from his face with her other hand. For a moment she simply studied his face, fondly. How long had she wanted to do this? How long had she been afraid that she never would? He looked directly at her for a time, and it heartened Hermione to see the warmth in his eyes. Soon, however, he blinked and lowered his gaze, as if discomforted by her appraisal.
'A man could go mad from the anticipation here,' he complained, drawing her from her contemplation.
'Sorry,' she offered with a wide smile, and obligingly fulfilled her original mission. The kiss began languidly and the feel of his thumb gently stroking her cheek resonated in an almost weakening of her knees. Snape seemed to realise the effect he was having on her and gave a throaty chuckle.
She suddenly wished he wasn't sitting down—she wanted to press herself to him and infuse how much he meant to her in one kiss. She wasn't sure quite how it happened, maybe she shouldn't have tried getting on his lap, but in her enthusiasm she almost toppled them both backwards off the wall. This kiss broke as he struggled to regain his balance, still supporting her weight.
He eyed her warily. 'Is all this going to turn out to be a very elaborate attempt to kill me? I had a suspicion you'd been coveting my job.'
Hermione laughed. 'Sorry—I got a bit carried away.'
'Indeed,' he replied dryly. 'I can just see you explaining to Poppy how I managed to fall off a two foot high wall and crack my head open.'
Hermione got up from where she was half-sitting, half-leaning against him. 'Well, it would have been your own fault, you know.'
He stood, and wrapping his arms around her waist in a strong grip, pulled her up with him. Hermione gave a startled noise as her feet left the ground a few inches. He kissed her swiftly on the mouth before dumping her unceremoniously back on her feet.
'That's enough of that for now; otherwise things really will get unprofessional.' Hermione swallowed involuntarily at the intensity of his expression. She was quite sure no one had ever looked at her like that before.
She managed a dumb nod.
'We'd better go inside before the hall starts to empty and whatever remains of my forbidding reputation is shot to pieces.'
They walked back in the direction of the main doors, and Hermione sought to get her breathing under control. As they rounded one of the castle walls, Hermione immediately saw Minerva McGonagall standing on the steps, scanning the grounds.
'There you are!' she cried, when she noticed them.
Hermione plastered a neutral expression on her face, but was sure it was very pathetic.
'What can we do for you, Minerva?' asked Snape calmly.
'Where the devil where you at dinner, Severus? You never said you weren't going to be there.'
Hermione's mind went blank and she looked to the man beside her, in the hopes that he had retained his wits.
'Minerva, Professor Granger and I simply lost track of time. You see, I have managed, by using my hitherto untapped powers of persuasion, to convince our Hermione here to revoke her notice and stay at Hogwarts.'
Minerva looked blankly at them.
'I can see you are surprised, Minerva,' continued Snape, and Hermione could tell he was enjoying himself. 'Well, we discussed the possibility of her receiving, shall we say, some ah, extra benefits in her job, and so between the two of us, I'd say we managed to bring the matter to a mutually satisfying conclusion, in fact, very satisfying indeed.'
Hermione felt the heat in her cheeks immediately flare up at his brazen insinuations. She prayed that Minerva would not notice her embarrassment.
'What are you on about, Severus—extra benefits? Do you mean a pay rise?'
'If you say so; after all, she will have a bigger workload next year.'
Minerva just gave him another odd glance, before turning to Hermione. 'I'm so happy to hear you are staying, my dear.'
Hermione smiled. 'Thank you, I'm glad to be staying.'
As soon as the older woman had returned back up the steps and into the Entrance Hall, Hermione turned to Snape.
'I can't believe you did that!'
'What?' he said innocently. 'She had no idea what I was talking about.'
Hermione looked at him slyly as they ascended the steps. 'Are these "extra benefits" going in my contract?'
He smirked. 'I'm sure I can put an addendum in there somewhere. The Ministry will understand the need for such measures.'
'Undoubtedly. So, when do I get to sample your "powers of persuasion" again?' She pointedly looked at his lips.
'All in good time, my dear. All in good time.'
Hermione gave him an affectionate smile as they entered the Entrance Hall. There were several students milling about, and he moved slightly to create an appropriate distance between them. Hermione didn't mind, she would hunt him down later and have him all to herself.
More pressingly, however, she had to work out how to refrain from running about the castle screaming in jubilation.
In the end, it was the prospect of a one-way ticket to St. Mungo's that held her in check.
Three Months Later
Hermione stepped out of her bathroom in her nightdress and dressing gown, towel-drying her hair after intensively washing it with copious amounts of Sleakeazy's. A snap of a newspaper drew her attention, and she turned to the other occupant in the room.
'Still here, Severus?'
'Yes,' he said flatly.
Hermione could tell he had a bee in his bonnet about something, and she stilled in her task to perch on the arm of his chair.
He lowered his newspaper. 'Remind me again why I agreed to this stupid wedding being held here? The thought of all those Weasleys', Lavender bloody Brown, Neville Longbottom—I could go on—all in the same room gives me a headache just thinking about it.'
Hermione wasn't fazed by his grumpiness. 'You agreed because I asked you.'
He looked at her appraisingly then. 'Because you asked me?'
'You deny it?'
'So, you're saying that, at the time, you didn't want to secretly oblige my every whim?' she teased.
He laughed. 'Fine! I can't deny I saw an opportunity and took it.'
'Well, I thank your opportunistic nature.'
He yanked her down into his lap, 'I can think of a better way you can thank me.'
'Certainly not!' Hermione slapped her towel at him and got up before he could react. 'Ginny will be here any moment, and unless you have a particular wish for Molly Weasley to see you starkers, I suggest you leave.'
He stood up in resignation. 'All right, I'll go, then.'
Hermione leaned up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. 'I'll see you after the service. Oh, and make sure you wear your dark purple robe—it'll complement my dress,' she added, tongue firmly in cheek, really, she just liked the way he looked in it. He left, grumbling all the while about the indignity of being ordered about.
Hermione smiled to herself and resumed the task of drying her hair. Their relationship was going well; he was still difficult and moody at times, but she detected a change in him, at least in their own interactions, that warmed her.
He'd taken to spending most nights in her rooms, and she was grateful not to have to contend with the prying, twinkling eyes of the portraits in his office that she was made to suffer when leaving his. Hermione was unsure what would happen once term began. The Headmaster of Hogwarts could hardly be seen to be shacking up with one of the teachers. Not that their relationship wasn't common knowledge, but still, certain propriety had to be maintained if they wanted to keep their jobs.
Minerva had been the first to find out about them. While they were not as careless to start snogging in the corridors, where anyone might see them, they were a bit more reckless where there were no students. It had been immediately noticeable in the staff room when they had started sitting and talking together once more, following that period of discord.
Minerva had seemed suspicious then, but in the end, it had been Hermione's poor dissembling skills that let the cat out of the bag. She had been in her rooms, conversing with Minerva, when the older woman had casually pointed to a piece of black material, peeking out from behind a cushion on the settee.
'Oh, dear me, look—it's Severus' cravat,' she'd said, with a deceptive flippancy to her tone.
Hermione had only been glad it was nothing more risqué. But the occurrence had still thrown her, and Minerva had seen the truth written all over her face before she could devise a tall tale about why she should have his cravat. She probably could have even denied it was his, but Hermione decided to tell her exactly what was going on. Minerva had been pleasantly surprised to have her suspicions actually confirmed, and was happy for the both of them.
It wasn't long after that they decided they might as well start telling people—school was nearly over after all. Dumbledore had twinkled in pleasure; her mother had been ecstatic for her, although her father had some reservations, well, more than some, in fact. Ginny had also been extremely pleased, and telling her had involved a lot of girly squealing; Harry was apologetic for being entirely wrong in his assumptions, and Ron, well, he thought her completely mental. He seemed rather put-out by the fact that she couldn't be happy with him, yet she could with "that git." She knew Severus took inordinate pleasure from it.
It hadn't ended there, though. As they'd predicted, they'd warranted several mentions in the gossip columns of the Daily Prophet, much to both their consternation. Generally, most of it had been favourable, except for the odd dubious insinuation from some. Hermione had easily ignored it, but she'd had to persuade Snape not to get riled up.
The N.E.W.T. and O.W.L. results had been published at the end of July, and Hermione had been overjoyed to see that the majority of her students had achieved an E or above. There had been a particular cluster of O's for her N.E.W.T. students, and it heartened her to see concrete proof that she was doing something right as a teacher.
Her own N.E.W.T. results had been excellent, although seeing the list of O's didn't fill her with over-whelming joy as it once would have done, but she felt a sense of finally having completed what she'd begun working for, nearly ten years ago. She did allow herself to feel a little pride at her Potions mark. In fact, she'd thrust it under Snape's nose as soon as she'd seen him.
'Do you know,' she'd said, 'this O is because of you.'
He'd looked at her with his usual deadpan expression. 'I'm honoured, but my exemplary teaching skills can't take all the credit.'
Hermione had laughed genially. 'They can take some, but no—do you remember those few weeks, when you were a complete bastard to me?'
He'd huffed at her as if he hadn't wanted to be reminded. 'I wasn't a bastard…' he muttered grimly.
'I had to brew an endurance potion—the Girding potion—for the practical, and you recall the spectacular mess I made of my first attempt? When the cauldron exploded and contaminated your jar of flobberworms, so that they began slithering around the room at ten times their normal speed? Well, I started to panic, but then I thought of you, and decided I bloody well wanted to prove to you I could do it—I was determined to succeed. I don't think I could have brewed it any better, so thank you!' She'd given him a kiss on the cheek for good measure.
'It's the first time I've ever been thanked for being a bastard.'
Hermione had laughed easily.
A knock on the door attracted her attention away from her thoughts, and in came Ginny, armed with bags and two covered dresses floating behind her.
'Just saw Severus in the corridor, he doesn't look very pleased,' observed Ginny.
'I just had to send him away.'
'Oh,' laughed Ginny. 'Hey, guess what, Hermione?'
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
'I'm getting married today!'
The service took place in the Great Hall—Harry had been attracted to the symmetry of marrying in the place where Voldemort had fallen. Hermione thought Ginny looked wonderful in her wedding dress, and in her own bridesmaid dress, Hermione felt a different confidence in her looks. Of course, there was only one person's opinion she cared about, and she hadn't had chance to speak with him yet.
When the service itself was over, they went outside for photographs while the hall was prepared for the reception. It wasn't until after the dancing had begun that Hermione was free of her duties and able to seek out her elusive other half. She found him downing a measure of Firewhisky at the makeshift bar, and looking decidedly furious, Hermione was dismayed to see.
'Severus, what on earth is the matter?' She touched his arm lightly.
'That bloody friend of yours, yes, the ginger one, thought I should know that in Muggle weddings it's tradition for the bridesmaid to get off with the best man!'
Hermione was, frankly, shocked that Ron had said such a thing.
'Severus, for one thing, this isn't a Muggle wedding, and another, Ron is talking through his arse. He's just feeling inadequate and jealous because he doesn't have anyone since he split up with his girlfriend. Anyway, don't you trust me?'
He put down his glass with a sigh, 'Of course I do; I suppose I've just never thought about your past with Weasley. You were worried about someone who died twenty years ago, yet, I never stopped to consider Weasley, someone you were still going out with only last year. You must have felt something for him, although, for the life of me, I can't imagine why.'
Hermione bit her lip to forestall her amusement. 'Forget about Ron, will you? He's my friend, nothing more. I don't like to inflate your ego too much, but sometimes it needs puffing up a bit. I've never felt about Ron the same way as I do you, so stop feeling sorry for yourself. Now, are you going to dance with me, or do I have to find someone else?'
She half wondered if he would tell her to find someone else, shying away from such a public spectacle seemed the type of thing for him to do. However, he grudgingly took hold of her hand and led her over to where innumerable couples were dancing together.
Perhaps she should be grateful for Ron's words; maybe they were what were spurring him on. He put a hand on her waist, she put one on his shoulder, and they clasped their free hands together. The music was slow, and they moved gently around their spot on the dance floor.
'You look radiant, my dear.'
'Thank you, so do you,' she added, with a quirk of her lips. Snape rolled his eyes long-sufferingly.
Secretly, Hermione was pleased that he'd noticed. Sometimes, he seemed so unflappable and indifferent that she had to wonder how she'd ever managed to impress him enough to fall in love with. Invariably he was reserved when they were in public together, including around people they knew well. Hermione wasn't bothered by it—it was just his way, and frankly, it was rather endearing to her. He was not unromantic; in his own quiet way he had his moments, and it suited Hermione just fine that they were for her and her alone.
'I see you wore the purple.'
'Who am I to deny a request from a lady?' he replied smoothly.
Hermione smiled and they lapsed into a pleasant silence. She was happy to just enjoy the moment. All of a sudden, though, he had wrapped his arm tighter around her middle, drawing her in closer so she could lay her head on his chest, if she so wished. Hermione leaned her neck back to look up at him in surprise.
'What's all this about?'
'You don't think I just want to hold you?'
'Severus, you dislike me holding your hand when we are out; you prefer I take your arm in a proper, dignified manner. I might develop a complex if I didn't know you better.' She smiled sincerely at him.
'All right; Weasley and Longbottom are staring at us with barely disguised horror, so I thought I'd give them something to be scared about.'
Hermione surreptitiously scanned the room and could, indeed, see Ron and Neville standing together, glancing in their direction every so often.
'So, you're using me to prove a point?'
'Do you mind?' he asked, with an annoyingly assured expression. 'I thought you'd want to make the most of it, before I return to my emotionally-challenged self.'
Hermione laughed. 'Do you have to be so self-deprecating all the time?'
She took their clasped hands and guided his to her hip, before reaching hers up to join with her other around his neck, so there was only a small distance between them.
'See how they like that,' she said impishly, her head resting neatly under his chin.
'Weasley's turned green!' he returned, a moment later, distinctly triumphant.
Hermione laughed and felt an accompanying rumble of laughter through his chest.
Soon, she closed her eyes to forget about their spectators. Ron would come round eventually; she had an inkling that, in the past, he might have harboured a cosy fancy that they would have all got married and had children as one, huge, extended family, all related—the Potters and the Weasleys. The wedding was now a reminder of what would never be.
Hermione regretted that he was disappointed, but she could not summon any regret over her own decisions—she loved Ron better as a friend. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip on the man who was dancing with her, and she rubbed her cheek gently against the material of his robe.
Her eyes flew open quite suddenly, and she pulled back to look up at him in concern. 'Merlin, Severus! Your heart is pounding something terrible. Are you all right?'
He glanced down at her uneasily. 'I wondered how long it would take you to notice. I'm fine, I just...' He rolled his eye heavenwards in annoyance.
Hermione was completely confused as he pulled her into a hug, and breathed deeply for several moments.
'Marry me?' he whispered into her hair, after a time.
Hermione froze in shock, her eyes wide. He stepped back to look at her in nervous bewilderment.
'I don't know what has come over me. I shouldn't be doing this here—I should have a ring and, maybe I should be down on bended knee, and if it is a grand gesture that you require, then I will gladly oblige. I know it has only been three months, but it's no good, I can't be without you—I must take this opportunity while you are not yet sick of me. Will you marry me, Hermione?'
Hermione felt the waterworks coming on as soon as he'd started speaking, but this time he wiped away her tears, an action which helped to dispel her daze. 'Of course I will,' she managed, in a quiet voice, 'and I won't ever become sick of you, you idiot.'
'I will hold you to those words.'
Hermione smiled at the relief in his expression. 'I have one condition.'
'Oh?' A tinge of concern coloured his features.
'You must kiss me to seal the deal.'
'Gladly,' he murmured as he gathered her to him. Hermione was peripherally aware that the music had stopped, and that the band was now striking up some cheesy, Muggle disco song. She couldn't help but laugh at his pained expression.
'This racket is hardly conducive to the tender kiss I wish to bestow.'
'Pity, and after you made such a romantic little speech too,' she commented, only half-teasing.
'Do you dare to mock me, my dear?'
'I wouldn't dream of it, Professor Snape; now look, I'm not marrying you unless you kiss me, so I say, bugger the ambience and just do it.'
Several feet away, Ron Weasley had to fight to keep his vol-au-vents from coming up for an encore.
What on earth had happened to his friend? Shamelessly snogging that git like they were the newlyweds! There were no two ways about it—Hermione was completely mental.