Disclaimer: Severus Snape and Hermione Granger are the creation and property of J.K. Rowling. I own nothing of them and earn nothing from them.

~oo0O0oo~

As Wyeth Had Helga, So I Have You

~A SS*HG story by RedValkyrie~

He heard the sound of an apparition to his left but refused to look, focusing instead on the task at hand. In his heart, he felt a rush of desire, but quickly snuffed the notion, at the sound of soft footfalls padding over a stretch of grass. When she spoke, it was as if a gunshot had sounded by his ear, it did ring so through his head. Twenty years of life had passed since he'd last heard that voice in such intimate proximity.

"So, this is how you spend your days now?" she said, taking note of the painting paraphernalia, as she leaned over his left shoulder, speaking so closely to his ear that he could feel the warmth of her breath.

"I find it soothing," he said, not allowing the tremble he felt in his flesh to be betrayed in his voice.

"Yes, I've heard it can be that. Landscapes?" she said with a quizzical tone, obviously amused by his choice of subject. "So bucolic. Who would have thought that Severus Snape would be a patron of the pastoral?"

He allowed her question to die on the wind as he dipped his brush into a murky jar of turpentine, already awash with sediment from other cleanings. He toweled the brush off on a small rag hanging from his easel. He folded his arms and stepped back to assess his painting, the white cliffs balancing their tones against the grey of the sea, the soft wheat-coloured slopes undulating gently against a pale windswept sky. She made a small movement to touch his arm and he turned to her, causing her beckoning hand to retreat.

"Why are you here?"

"I came to find you Severus."

He ran a paint-stained hand along his brow, closed his eyes, and let out an exasperated breath.

"You couldn't just leave me be; after all these years, you wish to stir this trouble again?"

She clasped her fingers and opened her hands to stare at her palms, as if the answers she sought to give him were written in their lines.

"It…it was never trouble to me," she said, her voice diminutive.

"You were a child," he said, a hint of condescension evident.

"I was of age. I was certainly no innocent," she said firmly, allowing the steel of her emotions to escape.

"You were still too young," he said softly, almost apologetically.

His tone surprised her and she looked away from him, feeling a sudden flush.

"Why now Hermione?"

She continued to examine her hands, running her left thumb along her right palm, tracing the patterns etched upon it.

"Hermione?"

She sighed heavily, her shoulders heaving, her hands dropping to her sides.

"Because I'm tired of simply seeing you. I'm tired of watching you as a shade, passing through the corners of my life on the edge of tangibility, but never quite really there." she said, quietly. "I saw you Saturday last, at the Cambridge street market. I was there picking up a bit of produce and just browsing around to see if there was anything I might fancy in one of the vendors' stalls. Of course, there was, just not a scarf or bag as I was expecting. I couldn't tear my eyes from you. You were haggling with some old woman over the price of your paints…you told her 'Dover will not be Dover without the Titian White you're currently holding for ransom, you insufferable woman!' You were dressed plainly, Muggle attire of course, a charcoal jumper, dark trousers, transfigured pea coat, and seeing you there, like that, being so…you. I just…I had to come to you. I'd hoped I would find you here. It's become too much to bear, you see."

She stepped towards him and placed her hands on his chest. He took them in his own, holding them for a moment, then releasing them.

"I'm too old for this, Hermione."

In a moment of frustration, he threw his brush to the ground and bent to collect his paint box and supplies. He could feel her presence at his back as he gathered his things, knowing that such an answer would not sit well.

"Why Severus?" she said, her aggravation palpable. "Why are you 'too old,' now? You didn't seem to think you were too old then…at least, not at first. Why must you find some reason to turn me away again? Look at me Severus; look at me! I am far from the silly girl in your class with the raised hand and eager answer. I'm certainly not a child. I'm not even who I was when we… I'm ever so much more than twenty now. Look at me Severus and tell me what you see."

He stood and quickly spun to face her, grasping her by the arms, leaving his kit where it lay.

"What do you want me to say Hermione? I see you! I see you quite clearly! I know every inch of your skin, having measured it with my own hands time and again. I see your eyes, your mouth, all of you, all the same, all as beautiful as then, if not more so now. What do you want to hear? That your mere presence undoes me, that the still familiar scent of your hair," he nuzzled his nose into her curls, "the touch of your skin," he ran a hand along her jaw, and brought his thumb to rest against her lip, " that the curve of your mouth," is enough to flood my heart with the want to have you? Fine then, know it. Take your solace in that fact and leave me."

"Why Severus? I don't understand… Why won't you have me?" she asked as she buried her face into the stiff fabric of his smock.

"Mistakes, Hermione, are not to be made twice," he said as he dropped his arms from where they had embraced her form.

"Oh, so I was a mistake?" she said, her hurt unhidden.

He placed a finger tenderly under her jaw and raised her head to meet his gaze.

"We were a mistake. There is a difference."

She smiled weakly at him.

"I see no difference."

He snorted and pulled her back into his arms.

"I loved you," she said as she clung to him, the strong smell of turpentine permeating his clothing.

"Love," he said, scoffing lightly. "What did you, so young, know of love?"

"I knew enough to feel it for you then, to feel it for you now. Why else would I resign myself to being an old maid if not for the hope of holding your heart again?"

He broke their embrace and turned from her, throwing his arms into the air.

"You've wasted your life hoping for such a thing? You should have married, Hermione, had children. I'm sure there was at least one Weasley willing to accommodate you. You should have assigned our folly a place in the recesses of your mind reserved for the misspent days of youth."

"It was not folly, Severus…and I had no wish to marry any man I did not love."

"This is insanity! Be rational Hermione! It was…what we were…we took solace in each other. We found a way to escape the sudden uncertainty of our lives through each other's flesh. You sought relief in me rather than yield to the pain of losing so many you loved, of a childhood that was forfeit, of nightmares filled with painful curses and the laughter of madmen! I…I clung to the first affection I'd been shown in more years than any man should bear without a tender mercy. It was a costly victory and we…we both needed…comfort. When you charged yourself as my nursemaid…what hope did I have of keeping you from my heart? None! No, your insufferable speeches soon became endearing. Your constant presence, which once annoyed, suddenly calmed me, soothed me. Even your terrible hair became wonderful," he turned to her, "…so wonderful," he said, as he wrapped a spiraling tendril around his finger.

"Can you not see that it had to end? It should never have happened at all. You may have been of age, but you were still far too young, not to mention that I had so recently been your teacher…and your enemy. What would your life have been if people had known? The scorn, ridicule, the fodder that would have been feasted upon by Rita Skeeter and every other carrion kind of her ilk! Hermione, can't you understand? We, us, I, would have ruined you…and I would have rather been damned than to have let it happen to you!" he said, suddenly gripping her shoulders, shaking her slightly by his intensity. "A normal life, something you'd never been granted is what you deserved. What we were should remain buried with the rest of the casualties of war."

She stood there, rooted to the ground and to him by the clutch of his fingers; a lock of her hair caught on the wind to blow in front of her eyes. She quickly smoothed it back into her mass of curls, bowed her head, and began to speak, her voice a whisper.

"Fine then, lay it to rest, Severus...whatever you believe it was. Tell yourself it was only that, nothing more than a passing comfort. The heat of your argument betrays that lie. However, you are right; it is over. That time is over. Perhaps …perhaps I was too young, perhaps too many eyes were upon us, and too many eager quills were poised to spill their poison ink."

She stepped towards him and touched him gently on the wrist. He withdrew his hand as if he had been burned, and again turned from her.

"But, can…can we not begin afresh? These twenty years have left an aching in my soul, and nothing I've used as balm has caused the pain to cease. Twenty years Severus, twenty years! It has been far too long already. What fools we are to have let this chasm of time form! Can these twenty years we've lost not count as the price of your absolution, as the ones between our births? Because surely my heart has been prematurely aged by them. I'm tired of seeing you in passing on the streets, at some official function, or mutual gathering. I'm tired of a falsely pleasant 'good afternoon Miss Granger, lovely day,' or whatever banal offerings we've reduced ourselves to. No one cares now what we do now, who we are with, and if they do, if it leads to ruin, then so be it! Those days we shared are so long ago passed, and yet, the echo of you sounds with each beat of my heart."

She laid her head upon his back and brought her hands to trace along the blades of his shoulders. She could feel the tension in him slacken at her touch.

"You are just a man, and I am just a woman. You're just Severus and I'm just-"

"Hermione…"

He turned and cupped her face in his hands, letting the intensity of his gaze settle into her.

"Severus, you want this. I can see it in your eyes," she said as they as she stared into their penetrating blackness. "Oh, oh…I've missed them. I haven't looked into them in so long, or studied the shape of that furrowed brow," she said as she ran the pad of her thumb along the crease between his eyebrows. She gracefully rose to her tiptoes, pulled him slightly to her and kissed him lightly between the brows she had just caressed. "You know that I…I never stopped, not for one moment, not once."

"Nor I."

"I still love you."

"…And I you."

"…And I still want you, always wanted you."

He made to respond, but found her lips pressed to his before he could find the words to tell her how he'd missed her, how all the words he'd spewed of finding comfort were nothing but rot. That he loved her, he loved her since that time all those years ago, and that he always would. It was not within his formidable powers to do anything less. Yet, every speech, every declaration of love, every reason for and against their coupling flew from his mind. All thought of anything but this very moment faded as twenty years worth of longing, moved across his mouth. He caught her up in his arms, pressing her into himself and tasting the sweet warmth of her lips, her mouth, her tongue as it swept against his own. It amazed him how so many years could evaporate in the space of one kiss.

He would never give himself reason to leave her again.

At the break of the kiss, she leaned into him, resting her head against his chest and settling into the crook of his neck. She felt the weight of his chin as he placed it atop her tumble of curls, embracing her in his arms, protectively, possessively.

"Have I convinced you then?"

"I haven't the strength to fight you…nor the desire," he said, dropping a kiss to her crown. "Hermione, there's something I'd like to show you."

She looked up at him and cocked an eyebrow, in an expression he found mirrored his usual countenance. It caused the corner of his mouth to curve up into a smile. He'd missed her cheeky manner for far too long.

~oo0O0oo~

"Well, this certainly isn't what I expected!" she said as soon as the dizzying spin of apparating left her head.

"I like the dichotomy."

She laughed and settled her hand into the crook of his arm, his painting supplies carried by the two of them. They walked up the stone path to the whitewashed, thatched roof cottage, absolutely overrun by a riot of climbing vines, which she reasoned, in the spring, must issue a plethora of roses. The grass was high and rustled almost melodically as the wind pushed through its sheaves. It was lovely, and even in the burgeoning chill of winter, bright and airy, honestly, in direct juxtaposition to the dark clad, serious man most knew him to be. She felt a prick of warmth spread through her heart.

Upon entering the cottage, and unburdening herself of his supplies, she found it had a welcoming feel, well worn leather armchairs were settled by a large fireplace with an inviting hearth, shelves of books lined the walls, and large windows allowed light to seep into the space, giving it a warm and familial glow. He was placing his easel and finished canvas against a wall where a few other paintings were stacked. For a moment, she watched him, taking in the lines of his body as he bent, the movements of his hands as he steadied the easel, the soft falling of his hair as it slipped from his shoulder to curtain his face.

"It certainly isn't Spinner's End," she said, feeling herself moving towards him.

"Indeed not, I felt the need to distance myself from that dark hole, both physically and atmospherically. Though, sometimes, I find I do miss the dungeons of Hogwarts."

"Do you regret retiring?" she asked, reaching to run her small hand along his forearm.

"No, but I find I miss the once familiar things…" he said, allowing his voice to trail as his fingers found their way her hair, lightly brushing along the sweep of her cheekbones as he brought them to her unruly curls.

Her eyes fluttered and her breath hitched as she felt the feather light touch. Her hands found their way to his chest as his mouth found its way to her lips.

"I believe you had something to show me," she said, murmuring against his mouth, feeling the brush of his skin as she spoke.

"Hmm," was all he could manage.

He took her by the hand and led her to an adjoining room. The windows were opaque; filtering the bright sun into a soft, blue haze, through which a colony of dust motes floated, shifting their courses in tandem with the slight breeze the couple's entrance created. The room itself was not furnished but for a bench seat in front of one of the windows, a smattering of easels, painting tarps, and what had to be hundreds of canvases. She took in the whole of the scene before allowing her eyes to settle upon the details of what she was seeing.

"Severus…" she said, her voice filled with a stunned wonderment.

He said nothing, but watched her as she moved through the room, picking up a canvas and examining it, putting it down and picking up another until she had circled the room. There were painted in a variety of mediums, oils, acrylics, tempera, watercolour, and sundry other techniques.

"Are all of them-"

"Yes."

"I…I, this is of me from the Ministry Ball last year; that's my blue dress. Oh, that one, Guy Fawkes Night, three years ago? The way you've painted the light, it's…amazing. This one, a study of my face, I can't be more than twenty-two here. Severus, I…I don't know what to say. How long have you-"

"For as long as I could not call you my own."

Her fingers traced along the painted lines of her face, lightly coursing over the patterns created by the strokes of his brush. She stared at the portrait in silence, almost stunned when she saw tears, real tears, running from her painted eyes, until she realized they had dripped from her own to the canvas.

"Oh Severus…" she said, putting down the painting and running to him, crashing into his arms and weeping into the stained fabric of his shirt.

"They're beautiful. I can't believe…I can't believe you painted them all!" she said, stuttering out the words through her sobs.

"The subject is beautiful. They're merely pale imitations. I've never shown them to anyone before now," he said quietly, engulfing her in his embrace.

"…And they're all of me? Twenty years worth…" she asked, wiping the streams of tears from her cheeks with the back of her hands.

"Yes. Each one is just a captured moment of twenty years worth of missing you."

"We're both such fools, Severus."

"I know Hermione. I know," he said, tightening his arms around her.

She chuckled and snuggled into his smock. I feel like Wyeth's Helga, but one caught unaware.

"Except, they were not lovers, Hermione."

"…And we were, in that span of forgotten years?"

"I suppose not, not as we should have been."

"…And now, Severus…and now?" she asked, sliding her hand to cup his stubble-roughened cheek.

He leaned into her palm and brought his hand to cover her own, his eyes closing at her touch.

"And now, I have no need for paint."


AN: This is somewhat different in tone that what I usually write, but I thought I'd give it a go. I hope you've enjoyed it. I'd love to have a review from you if you've taken the time to read it. I will always do my best to respond to you too, because I certainly appreciate your time! If you are unfamiliar with the Artist Andrew Wyeth, I would advise you to Google him. The Helga collection is what inspired this piece, simply by the fact that he kept the series completely secret for many, many years. In my story, I chose to have the muse herself caught unaware.