* A/N This story is AU and does not take into account the Triwizard Tournament. This is the final installment of Occulted Hearts.
Chapter Ten – Leaves of Grass
I CELEBRATE myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.
I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Hermione Granger lifted her purple umbrella up into the air. It was a rainy day in mid-April, and she was off to the Quidditch pitch to see a match between Slytherin and Gryffindor, the last before the Easter holiday. Harry had gone to the stadium early to practise. And so, Hermione crossed the moor alone, woolgathering as she walked. In the distance, she heard the blithe laughter of her classmates. No doubt they were excited to return home for the long weekend. As for Hermione, she would be staying at the school with Harry and a few other wizarding rejects. Her parents had not relented. Consequently, the past few days, she had experienced the return of that same old despair. Woe is me, she thought, as she took her seat in the bleachers.
"Is this seat taken?" a silky voice emerged from behind her.
Hermione turned around. It was Professor Snape, his black robes and hair dishevelled by the strong wind.
"Ah, Miss Granger. Long time, no see," the Potions Master sneered, not waiting for a response before he sat down next to the lonesome witch.
"Hello Professor Snape," Hermione nodded in greeting, "Don't you normally sit in the professors' box?"
"Why, yes. Usually I do," Severus admitted noncommittally, "But, incidentally, it's already full. There are scouts here today from the British Quidditch League, on the lookout for…young blood, so to speak. Such a violent game, Quidditch is. Every year, there are countless injuries as a result of it. If it were up to me, it would be banned."
"Then why do you attend so many games?" Hermione asked bluntly, "I always see you here."
"I come to support my House," Snape responded tersely, "I am Head of Slytherin, after all."
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"But you were at the match two weeks ago as well, between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. And the week before that, between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw."
"My underlying reason for attending Quidditch matches is really none of your concern, now is it, Miss Granger?" Snape snarled, "But if you must know, I come to make sure no one gets hurt. You do recall that I saved your friend Mr. Potter from a certain death only a few short years ago on this very pitch."
The fifteen-year old went red.
"Yes sir, I do remember. Very well."
"Of course you would. That's also the day you set me on fire, is it not?"
"I am truly sorry about that, sir," Hermione sounded contrite, "How did you know it was me?"
"I have my ways, as you now know, Miss Granger. You would have been what, then?" Snape inquired amusedly, "Eleven? Twelve?"
"Twelve. I was twelve. I wish I could say I was two."
Severus snorted, "My, my. Didn't that little incident incense me back then! I wanted to box your ears."
"Sorry," the witch said again, increasingly embarrassed, "I jumped to the wrong conclusion. I thought you were jinxing Harry's broom, and all the while it was Quirrell."
"No matter, Miss Granger. That's all water under the bridge now," Snape said softly, surveying Gryffindor's line-up. Potter was seeker, as always. Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet were chasers. The Slytherin team had undergone several substitutions after Draco Malfoy and a few other homophobic colluders had been expelled. After the incident in the dungeons, Snape had seen to it that anyone who had committed any hate crimes against Hermione or Harry in the past was sent packing.
"Harry didn't tell me there would be scouts here today," Hermione mentioned.
"Potter wouldn't have known. They made a surprise visit," Snape explained curtly, "In any case, I didn't know he was aspiring to be a professional Quidditch player. I rather thought the scouts came to see some of the more senior players, like Montague and Warrington. And for that matter, Miss Johnson and Miss Spinnet, over on your side. Very talented chasers, I must say, even if they are in Gryffindor."
"No, you're right. Harry wants to be an Auror, not an athlete," Hermione conceded, "And yes, Alicia and Angelina are right up there. They've very good. Maybe they'll get drafted."
"Perhaps," Severus said thoughtfully, eyeing Potter as he zipped past in pursuit of the Golden Snitch.
"And what are your plans for Easter, sir?" the young witch asked politely, trying to make small talk, "Will you be going on a mini-break?"
Snape grunted, "No. I'll be far too busy correcting papers. How about you, Miss Granger? I suppose you'll spend all weekend in the library."
"Most likely," Hermione said sadly, "My parents told me I wasn't to come home. They've gone on vacation in New Zealand without me."
"Well," Severus said quietly, "That's their loss. And I'm sure you'll use your time wisely. Most of your peers are likely going to show up to Potions Tuesday morning hung-over and useless."
"I could go for some firewhisky, myself," Hermione grumbled.
"You don't mean that."
"Oh, but I do, professor."
"I thought you were doing better these days, Miss Granger."
"I thought I was too," Hermione sniffled, "It's just lately…I feel lonely, you know? Now that Ginny is gone. It's like I haven't got anyone to dote on anymore. There's nothing to look forward to now."
Severus looked at her with reticent concern.
"Sorry for getting so sentimental all of a sudden," she blubbered, "I've already wasted so much of your time this year."
"Helping a student in need is never a waste of time, Miss Granger. But don't just sit there and feel sorry for yourself, girl. You've got too many things going for you."
"But Ginny –"
"Forget that redheaded twit!" Snape spat angrily, "To be frank, Miss Granger, you're too good for her. I'm sick of seeing the noxious effect that girl has on you. She's not worth it, I assure you."
Hermione glowered at her bad-tempered professor.
"You don't understand. Ginny is all I ever had."
"For the love of Merlin!" Snape moaned, "Think about it, Miss Granger. Think about it logically for one blasted second! You were someone before you met Miss Weasley and you'll be someone after. You have to let her go."
"No. No buts. Let her go. I speak from experience. If you don't move on now Granger, you'll end up a sour old git like me. You don't want that, do you?"
"No," Hermione smirked through her tears, "I certainly wouldn't want to end up like you, Professor Snape. Greasy hair and all."
Severus Snape cuffed her in jest.
"Ten points from Gryffindor for cheek, Miss Granger."
Hermione started, "You can't be serious?"
"No, really. Ten points from Gryffindor for your chutzpah."
"That's big of you."
"Quiet! Not another word or I'll make it twenty."
I have a reputation to protect, Severus thought gravely, and now that Granger was back on track he'd have to step things up.
Hermione shook her head in ostensible frustration, but then looked up at Snape and winked incisively.
"I'm sorry I slept with Hermione Granger, all right?" Katie Bell whispered in a shadowy corner of the Three Broomsticks, "I know that you like her."
Alicia Spinnet looked up solemnly from her mug of Butterbeer.
"You've got nothing to apologize for. It barely matters, anyway. Hermione hardly knows I exist."
"She's been through a lot you know, these past few months. Just give it some time."
"She had time," Alicia retorted bitterly.
"My God. Speak of the devil…" Katie trailed off. Hermione Granger had just entered the Three Broomsticks hand-in-hand with Harry Potter.
"Great, now she's screwing our seeker too?" Alicia seethed, ogling the slender witch with the golden brown hair.
For some reason, right then, Hermione stopped and stared at the burly Quidditch player slumped in the corner booth. Alicia's russet eyes were alight with fury. The girl was not too favourably impressed, that much was clear. The witch was livid. She was outraged. Hermione didn't think she had ever seen an emotion quite so ardent, nor quite so beautiful on a face. How dare you? That fiery glare seemed to say. How dare you!
Then Hermione remembered the name of the girl who had defended her against Draco Malfoy all those years ago.
"At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in," said Hermione sharply. "They got in on pure talent."
The smug look on Malfoy's face flickered.
"No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood," he spat.
Alicia shrieked, "How dare you!"
And then she realized.
But was it too late?
"Won't you come outside with me, Hermione?" Harry Potter asked his industrious friend, "It's Easter. And it's a beautiful, sunny day. Take a study break! Please."
"I can't. We have a Potions midterm next Wednesday, remember?"
"That's days from now! I'm not sure what Professor Snape told you, but I'm sure he didn't mean for you to be cooped up all weekend while everyone else is out having fun. I'm sure he scheduled the midterm on Wednesday on purpose anyway, because on Tuesday everybody'll be –"
"Hung-over and useless. I know. He told me," Hermione interrupted him.
"Hermione, I know this is none of my business, but…you don't cut yourself anymore do you? I never really got a chance to ask you about that. I couldn't help but notice, that night I … turned into you."
"No, of course not," the witch responded with poise, "I don't do that anymore. I'm over it."
"I'm glad," Harry smiled, "Would you stop acting so glum then and come out to play?"
"Fine," Hermione gave in, reluctantly, "But I'm bringing my books with me."
Indeed, it was the first balmy day of spring that year. To anyone else, Hermione and Harry looked like two happy-go-lucky children as they skipped down to the lakeshore.
"I can't believe Professor Snape told you to send him an owl when you're older!" Hermione giggled after her best friend confided in her about his crush on the Potions Master for the second time, "So that's why he goes to all your Quidditch games!"
"He still treats me like scum, though," Harry confessed, "I figure he's pretending not to like me as to not encourage any inappropriate feelings."
"I still wonder why it is he feels the need to act so mean all the time. Do you know that he took off points from Gryffindor the other day because of something I said to him at the Quidditch match? I thought it was a joke at first, because we had just been having a heart-to-heart but the man was serious!"
"Probably because he's a double agent on Dumbledore's side," Harry explained, "He couldn't have Voldemort thinking that he actually cares about us. You know, he spies on Death Eaters and such to keep me safe!"
"Oh! How romantic, Harry!"
"Well, I don't know if I'd call it that," the Boy-Who-Lived blushed, "But I'm appreciative, anyway. Maybe one day I'll get to thank him for real and all that."
Back in the dungeons, Severus Snape's ears were ringing something terrible.
Potter, you overemotional teenaged girl! Snape thought, annoyed, Not again…
There they were again, Alicia Spinnet noticed, revolted, as she flew over the rocky beach on her broomstick, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, so happy together!
She couldn't take it any longer. She decided to touch down and give the witch a piece of her mind.
"Harry," Hermione began nervously, seeing Alicia lumber towards them, "Might you give us some privacy?"
"Sure," Harry grinned knowingly, and then took off sprinting over the sea green heath towards the castle.
Hermione put down her schoolwork under an ancient oak tree bordering the lake, and went to meet Alicia halfway.
"Congratulations on being drafted, Alicia!" Hermione smiled warmly, "I knew you could do it."
Alicia ignored this, though it touched her deeply to hear the fourth-year say that.
"Where did your boyfriend go?" the athletic witch asked the bookworm indignantly.
"Harry's not my boyfriend," Hermione chortled, "I'm gay. Everyone knows that."
Alicia's frown softened, "Of course. You and Katie –"
"Made a mistake, Alicia," Hermione grimaced, "If I could take it back, I would. A couple months ago, I didn't know whether I wanted to live or die, let alone who I wanted to be with."
"I take it things are much clearer now."
"They are, yes."
"I'm begging you to give me a second chance," Hermione pleaded, "I didn't know it then, but I see it now. I saw it the first time the other day, at the Three Broomsticks, when I came in with Harry and you looked daggers at me. That rage – that was love. A love worth waiting for. All my suffering – suddenly it didn't matter anymore."
With that, Alicia kissed Hermione tenderly on the lips.
"The tea leaves were right. You are wise beyond your years. I was wrong to doubt you, my love."
The younger witch buried her tortured head in Alicia's yielding bosom and broke out into joyful tears.
"Hey, Hermione, you crying?"
"Yes," came the fourth-year's muffled sob.
"What's wrong, sweetheart?"
"Nothing's wrong. That's just it, Alicia. I don't think I could possibly deserve your forgiveness. It must be some happy mistake."
"You deserve far more, I reckon," the kind-hearted chaser whispered, "But I'll make sure you never want for love again."
"Aw, that's really sweet," Harry Potter remarked as he watched the girls' amorous embrace from the courtyard, "Isn't that sweet, Snape?"
"Positively saccharine," Severus remarked snidely, joining him, "Could you be any more maudlin, Potter?"
"Do you think that could be us, one day, sir?"
"POTTER! Fifty points from Gryffindor for hitting on a teacher."
"I'm sorry," Harry apologized wretchedly.
"You exasperate me, you foolish child," Snape sighed resignedly.
"A boy can dream can't he?" the mischievous teenager wondered aloud.
"It won't always be like this," Severus promised hastily, "but for as long as you're underage and the Dark Lord is at large, this is the way it's got to be, kiddo."
"Aw, but Professor Snape!"
"No! No buts! No interjections of any sort! Now, I really need to have a talk with you about controlling your emotions and disciplining your mind, boy. It appears there is a connection between the Dark Lord's mind and your own. Whether he is, as yet, aware of this connection is for the moment unclear. Pray he remains ignorant."
"You mean if he knows about it then, he'll be able to read my mind and find out you're secretly attracted to me?"
"Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves stand no chance against his powers! He will penetrate your mind with absurd ease, Potter!" Severus began testily, "Used properly, the power of Occlumency will help shield you from access or influence…"