Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. Happy New Year to everyone. May 2002 bring us all peace and friendship.
Sitting next to me.
Does she even realize that I have been secretly watching her the moment she walked into the Great Hall…the moment she re-entered my life? Perhaps not. Even if she were to catch my gaze, she would more than likely attribute it to a harsh criticism of her appointment in that role that has eluded me for so many years.
It is quite ironic how she got that particular post, really. It is not as if I do not think her capable…that is not it at all. I suppose I always assumed that she would follow in the footsteps of her mentor…Transfiguration seemed to be her destiny.
Irony and destiny are not words in my vocabulary normally. I do not believe in fate. Fate is an excuse used for poor decisions and I will not shy away from the fact that I have made poor decisions in my youth. An all-knowing destiny had no hand in it.
Just as this same all-knowing providence had no hand in bringing her back into my life.
There are more students staying here during the holidays. The threat is too great for any of the muggleborns to stray far from the protection these walls offer.
Looking over at her once again, I notice that she is looking out over the table of her own house and looks pensive. She is probably remembering her own years here…has it really been five years since she left? There is no one left that she would recognize other than those of us at the head table.
Funny thing is that I hardly recognize myself. The last five years have been horrible. The life of a spy is little better than the life of a prisoner. Looked on with suspicion on both sides. If it were not for Albus and his rather simplistic faith in me, I think I would have shuffled off this mortal coil long ago.
That is not exactly true…there were other reasons…
When I heard that she was to marry, I cannot say how I felt…it was as if a great void had opened in my heart…painful. I remember smiling forcibly to Minerva when she told me the news…all the while wanting to escape to the outside…perhaps drown my sorrows with a bit of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey.
I have never been much of a drinker…alcohol is a potion I am much better off without.
But then, the marriage plans were scuttled. No one really knew the reason although the rumours of an illegitimate child back in Bulgaria seem to have some credibility. She came here shortly afterwards. Hogwarts. Sanctuary for muggleborns, bad decision-makers and, it would appear, broken hearts.
I would never have broken that heart.
I would never have betrayed that trust.
Irrelevant, all this emotional sap. The chance will never be mine. I resigned myself to that long ago…when she left and I deliberately stayed away…did not give her the chance to say goodbye. Not that she tried all that hard to find me. Understandable.
The last night of the year. There is a celebration planned but I will not be part of it. I have already made a date with the Astronomy Tower…she and I are going to watch the stars together along with another old friend…Ogden's. I will pay the price tomorrow but what does that matter?
Excusing myself, I quietly make my way to my chambers. The air will be chilly and I had best bring my winter cloak. I check in on the Slytherin common room. There is no one here. They are not the ones in danger, now are they?
I slowly make my way over to the Astronomy Tower. The night is clear…not a single cloud in the sky. The moon is only a quarter full and its light causes the snow to reflect like countless diamonds.
Trudging slowly up the stairs, I finally reach my destination…the gargoyle. Yes, the old bat and myself have had many such nights like this. If she could talk, I would be dead…or worse.
I open up the flask I brought with me and, with a half-salute to the gargoyle, take a sip.
"Happy New Year, old girl," I say to the statue in a rather acerbic voice.
"I hardly think of myself as old, Severus," a voice answers back.
For a moment, I look at the gargoyle in astonishment but quickly realize that the voice came from behind me. Stepping out of the shadows, she walks over to me, surprise clearly written on her face. I suppose she did not expect anyone else to be here tonight of all nights.
"I was speaking to my friend," I answer, indicating the gargoyle.
"An interesting choice of friends," she comments. "What do you have in that flask?"
"Ogden's Old Firewhiskey."
"I always thought of you as more of a cognac drinker, Severus."
I admit that I am rather flattered that she thinks of me at all, even in that context.
"Might I have a sip? It is very chilly and I could use something a little stronger than this hot chocolate," she puts down a mug, shivering slightly.
I hold the flask out to her and she delicately takes a sip, sputtering a bit afterwards but downing it all the same.
"It is a lot stronger than hot chocolate," I make an attempt at some levity.
"I…quite agree," she wipes tears from her eyes as she hands the flask back to me. I look at it for a moment…it is almost too intimate an act…this sharing.
"Why did you come up here?" I ask her, finally taking another sip from the flask…trying not to remember whose lips it had just touched.
"This has always been my place to think…to reflect," she begins.
"It seems we share more than a liking for Ogden's."
She looks at me quickly and, I have to admit, there is something in her gaze that…intrigues me.
"May I?" She points to the flask and, taking it from my hand, sips a bit more carefully this time. She does not sputter although I notice that her cheeks are certainly rosier. I take another sip myself and can feel the warmth coursing through my veins. There is something to be said for getting completely inebriated.
"What happened?" I ask, not entirely certain I want to know.
"It is more a case of what did not happen. Love did not happen. Simple as that," she takes another sip of the whiskey. "Well, that isn't exactly true…there was love…somewhere else."
"So the rumours were true?" I take another sip and notice that the flask is half-empty…or is that half-full?
"The rumour has a name…Boris Krum…spitting image of his father," she says without expression as she takes the flask from my hand without even asking and taking another sip…somewhat longer than the others.
"I am sorry."
"Don't be. He was probably the only bad decision I ever made in my life."
"I never liked him. Certainly talented as far as Quidditch goes but, really, nothing more to him than that. As much as I hate to admit it, Potter had much more wizarding talent than that oaf," I snatch the flask from her and take a goodish sip. This stuff really does become better the more you drink it. Perhaps it is more of an acquired taste.
"Well, I suppose I was simply not woman enough for him," she says bitterly.
"That is not true. He was simply not man enough for you," I reply truthfully although my words are not as clear as I would like.
"You will have to drink Ogden's more often…it makes you a much different person."
"Really," I offer her the flask and she takes another sip, wiping her mouth delicately with her fingers.
"You become very…likable," she frowns…as if that wasn't the word she was looking for.
"That isn't a word normally associated with me."
"No," she says quietly, "I suppose not."
There is a comfortable silence between us, occasionally broken by sips out of the small flask. She takes a seat beside me but it is only because she is afraid she will fall down.
"Do you make resolutions at this time of year, Severus?"
"There is nothing special about New Year's Eve that makes resolutions so necessary. It is no different than any other day."
"I will take that as a no."
I have to chuckle at that…especially at the singsong quality of her voice. "No more Ogden's for you."
She giggles and hands me the flask. "That's all right…it's empty."
I chuckle again at the cheeky expression on her face. "Ogden's turns you into an imp."
She grins and pulls her cloak more tightly around herself. "I've made a resolution."
"And what is that…or should I go ask Sybil?"
She rolls her eyes at me. It would appear her opinion of our Divination professor has not changed since the incident in her third year. I never did tell her that I did not even last as long as she did…I quit the class after three weeks…old Merryweather was really even worse than Sybil. At least Sybil does make a real prediction once in a while.
"My resolution is to show people that I care about them. The last few years, I have lost several friends and I regret not telling them how much their friendship meant to me before they…went," she explains sadly.
"That is a worthwhile resolution."
"I might try it a little sooner," she whispers.
For a moment, my heart begins to thud and I wait a few moments before I answer…wanting to be absolutely certain that I can control my voice.
"How do you mean?"
She turns to me with a serious expression on her face. "You were probably the professor I respected the most at Hogwarts…well, besides Albus himself."
I can't contain the surprise I am feeling. Whatever it was I was expecting her to say, that was most certainly not it. "I never would have imagined that I…"
"Well, why should you?" She continues hurriedly. "You were the most strict…the most harsh…the most exacting and demanding professor at Hogwarts. You demanded perfection. You demanded our best…never satisfied with anything less. I know that many others simply thought of you as an old bat but I did not. To me, you forced me to find out just what my potential was. It was much easier to impress the other professors. With you, it was more of a challenge and, in pursuing that worthwhile goal of trying to meet your standards, I discovered that there was so much more I could do."
"I have no hesitation in saying that you were the best student I have ever taught. Even Percy Weasley was not quite as good."
"Why, Severus. If I didn't know you any better, I would think you just gave me a compliment."
There is suddenly a great shout from the main building. The countdown has begun, apparently.
"It will be New Year's Day very soon," I remark.
"You know," she suddenly blushes, "it is a tradition to kiss someone at the stroke of midnight."
My damn heart is going to burst out of my chest.
"You have certainly had too much to drink," I admonish.
"In vinum veritas," she murmurs sleepily as she rests her head on my shoulder.
We listen to the hoopla become progressively louder as the moment approaches.
And then, it is midnight. Funny how the skies do not change to signal the changing of the year.
"Happy New Year, Hermione," I whisper.
There is no response. She is asleep, snoring quietly as she rests against me. I shift her slightly and put an arm around her shoulders. Leaning down, I kiss her forehead gently. After all, some traditions should be maintained.
As for what happens next, I don't know. Tomorrow is already here and I am not certain of its eventual outcome. All I know is the here and now. But, tonight, I have made my first resolution and her name is Hermione Granger.
Sometimes you need to drown your sorrows in order to find your joys. The danger I daily face pales in comparison to the danger that I might never have this chance again to show her how important she is to me.
I am not an idealistic fool. I know it will take time but I have hope. After all, the year has already begun with her in my arms which is more than I deserve, more than I could have hoped for and everything I could ever want.
A/N: Dedicated with much love to my grade 11 Ancient History teacher…who always thought that my two greatest strengths were my ability to write and my ability to relate to people. TMJ, you will always be my big brother in all the ways that count.