DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter


Chapter 56


"I think I prefer these ones," said Ginny, pointing to one of the bouquets laying on the coffee table in Hermione's living room. Three months had passed since the trial and, more importantly, since Hermione and Severus had spent an evening down by the lake together. It was now the middle of April and the air was warm for the time of year. The windows and portrait door were thrown wide open to allow a cool breeze to circulate.

It was the weekend and most of the students were out in the grounds, enjoying the sun while it lasted. Every now and then footsteps would pass the door as they charged their way out of the castle. Hermione wasn't worried about eavesdroppers anymore. Who were they going to tell? The only article to have appeared in the Daily Prophet since the trial was about Skeeter and Todd being imprisoned and the reasons for it. After that, Hermione's life had quietened down a lot and she relished the privacy.

"Are you sure? You're not going to change your mind again are you?"

"No, I'm sticking with these ones. We only have two weeks until the wedding. I can't afford to change my mind again."

Hermione sighed with relief. Ginny had been changing her mind up to three times a week and it was starting to drive her insane. They'd just come back from their final dress fitting and the excitement was starting to build. Ginny, normally so cool and calm, sat bouncing up and down in her seat as she decided on the final flower arrangements. Everything was done and now they could relax.

"I'm going to miss all this planning once you're married," said Hermione, turning her wand over and over in her hand.

"Don't worry, you'll be next. I'll give it a year and if you're not engaged by then I'll eat an entire bowl of horklumps."

"Ginny! There's no way that's going to happen. You may as well save yourself the wait and eat them now. I seriously doubt he'll ever suggest marriage. He really doesn't seem the sort."

"And how would you know that? Love changes people, as you should already know. When you both finally realise the others feelings for yourselves, it will most definitely be on the agenda. I can guarantee it."

"I'll buy the horklumps for you then."

Ginny rolled her eyes as another set of footsteps approached the door. "Honestly, Hermione, do I have to drag you down to see him and make him tell you the truth? It wouldn't hurt you to be a bit more open with him either. I understand the reasons for the baby steps, I really do, but you need to just jump right in there and go for it. I've told you before that you're never going to get anywhere if you keep skirting round each other. One of you has to go for it!"

Hermione didn't answer. If she did what Ginny was suggesting and jumped into the deep end, would he reject her? She could see it now. He'd be angry at her and he'd say it would be better if they didn't see each other again. He would speed up her potions lessons and get them over and done with. Worse still, he would cancel altogether and find someone else to take his place. But that was the worst that could happen. What was the best that could come of it?

"You just need to talk to Snape-"

"Professor Snape," mumbled Hermione.

"Fine, Professor Snape! Just talk to him and you will finally see what everyone else can see. He tries to hide it, and he succeeded to begin with, but the more time you spend together, the less he can actually hide it. I told you this at Christmas and I can't believe you still haven't seen it yourself."

Hermione didn't say anything. Was it really possible that Ginny was right about this? She and Severus had spent a lot of time together, mainly in his dungeon class room as they worked side by side. After that night by the lake, Severus had become a bit more open about himself. Not that he wasn't before, but he began to tell her more about himself, such as why he loved Potions so much, more about his childhood in Spinners End and his time at Hogwarts as a student.

"I don't know," Hermione said eventually. There was so much to think about, so much she would lose if she lay her heart on the line. "I'm happy with our friendship as it is. I don't want to lose that over something silly."

Ginny threw her arms up in the air in frustration. "It is not silly, Hermione! This is love!"

"Sshhh! Keep your voice down," she hissed as another pair of footsteps disappeared down the hall. There were still some things she didn't want other people to know, especially students. They always managed to blow things up out of proportion and the news would spread like wild fire.

"Relax, it's no one. I'm sure they have more important things to worry about than your love life," said Ginny. She decided to finally change the subject. "So, I didn't really want to say anything, but Ron's been seeing someone. They've only gone out a couple of times, but she seems really nice. She walked into the shop one day and they got talking. Who knows if it will last, but it's got to be good news for you? You can stop beating yourself up over it now."

Ginny looked at Hermione, trying to guess her mood as she processed this information. Ron must definitely be over the worst after what happened between them if he was seeing someone else. But then why was he still treating her like this? Was it really just the hurt of thinking she'd chosen Severus over him? Betrayal because he thought she would hate him just as much as Harry and Ron and now Ron was the only person who actually hated Severus? But then why wasn't Harry getting the same treatment as Hermione?

"Well? Don't you have anything to say? I thought you would be relieved, at least."

"I am," she said. "I just don't understand why he still won't speak to me.

"Don't worry about it," Ginny reassured her. "I'll talk to him, see if I can get him to come round. Ok, now the dresses are sorted, flowers done, caterers have everyone's orders, seating plans are finished. Oh, Hermione I'm so excited! I can't wait!"

Ginny's excitement created the perfect distraction. It was infectious and before long Hermione forgot all about her worries for the present.

Severus was sat in an armchair in front of his empty fireplace, musing about what he'd just over heard. He had only gone to see Hermione to ask her if she would join him for in cup of tea, but as he reached her rooms he could hear Hermione and Miss Weasley's voices floating down the hall. Apparently he hadn't hidden his feelings for Hermione very well? Maybe this had all been a bad idea. But when love was mentioned, he knew that he'd been right to let Hermione in. His feelings were growing more and more everyday. In the two months since the trial, they had both become more open about themselves. He'd learnt all about Hermione's childhood, how she'd been bullied for being different. Then when she found out the truth she'd thought that maybe she would finally fit in, but still no one wanted to befriend her because she was still a threat to them, intellectually at least.

But what was the best way to go about it? Yes, it was possible that Hermione might feel something other than friendship toward him, but how deep did those feelings run? Did he really want to lose everything they had, have his heart crushed into a pulp again? But perhaps Miss Weasley was right. They just had to go for it. But then who should make that first terrifying move that could diminish all?

Severus spent all afternoon going over different scenarios in his mind. Maybe they should go out for a meal and he would tell her as they were eating? Or should he ask her to go for a walk around the lake? He imagined what he would say, the embarrassment he would feel, the hurt he would go through if she turned him away and in the end he decided that he would do it when he felt ready. If Miss Weasley was correct in saying that Hermione felt the same way then there was no rush.

It was dinnertime at Hogwarts, just days away from the wedding, and both Severus and Hermione were frustrated at their lack of courage to tell the other how they felt. They sat side by side at the staff table, enjoying the casual conversation about the effects of sunlight on potions, though neither really concentrating particularly hard. For all the war and destruction they had seen, you would have thought that a few words would be the easiest thing in the world. But at least in war, if you put yourself in the line of fire it's a clean shot, with no suffering afterwards. It would be the end. With words, however, the ground wouldn't open to swallow you up, lightning wouldn't strike you down, but you would have to go on living, nothing would be the same between two people again.

That was what they both feared more than anything. Both valued their friendship too much to risk losing it. Other people could give their opinions, tell them what they saw, but the only two people who could really know the truth was Hermione and Severus. So why was it so difficult for them to do it?

Thank you all for reading. For anyone wondering about the 'effects of sunlight on potions': why does potions always take place in the dungeons where no sunlight has ever touched the flagstones on the floor? Food for thought!

We are almost at our journeys end!

F.W.P :)