The Match and the Spark

All characters belong to J. K. Rowling.

23. The Match and the Spark: Part 2

There was only one person Severus could ever have had the courage to consider going to about a matter of personal import. And though Minerva had never been an agony aunt for him in the past (no one had), she was the only one he could reasonably turn to for advice. So he'd gathered his dignity about him like a cloak and presented himself for afternoon tea with the headmistress of Hogwarts.

Once the pleasantries had been gone through, Severus forced himself to address the issue foremost in his mind.

'I have hit a stumbling block with regard to selling my house, Minerva. Believe it or not, but someone actually wants to buy it and I would be foolish not to accept the offer I have received for it. But I have not yet secured anywhere suitable for myself.'

'Well, you're always welcome to come and stay here in the meantime, Severus,' Minerva had replied with a smile.

'Thank you… But you see, there is a house I have taken an interest in for its suitability for brewing potions, and its seclusion. Alas, it is not somewhere I can readily afford while unemployed. In remedying that problem, Miss Granger has proposed that I rent out the upper floor to her for the time being.'

A favour, Miss Granger called it.

"It's what people do to help others," she'd pointed out testily when she'd had her fill of his scorn of the idea.

Minerva had looked momentarily taken aback and appeared to think hard before speaking. 'Well, I think it a very generous proposition, Severus. I know you value your privacy, but I'm sure you would both work it out so that you are both undisturbed. It'll only be short-term, anyway, as I'm sure you won't be long in finding an occupation, Severus.'

A part of him had hoped she would dismiss such an idea as ridiculous. Him and Granger living together? It just didn't compute. He pointed out that her friends, amongst others, would likely think it rather questionable that Hermione Granger should choose to place herself in his company, and he didn't want people throwing suspicions and doubts over his character anymore.

Minerva only told him that he was being ridiculous. No one was going to think he'd cursed her.

The idea still hadn't seemed right to him. But Granger, or Hermione as she insisted he call her, kept going on and on about it. She showed him how they could block off the stairs and charm them to be hidden.

'Just think of it as if you will live in a bungalow,' she'd stated with a twinkle.

And it was at times like that, with her unending ability to inject lightness into a situation, that he wondered just how serious she was about her proposal. But he'd spent enough time around her to know she completed most things she did with seriousness at the root of them.

Secretly, he'd thought about what it might be like to have someone nearby—someone who evidently wanted to be there, and would it be a good thing? He would not have to see her every day—they would not be living in each others pockets. He didn't have to hear her walking about upstairs because he could charm the ceiling into silence. It would only be short-term, anyway, was what he liked to remind himself of most.

Against his better judgement, and with great trepidation, he'd agreed to it. They spent a good deal of time temporarily modifying the inside of the house so as to make two separate living spaces, and when he saw the result, he had felt much better for it.

It had not been easy for him to adjust to it, though. He could never quite forget that she was there, and for a while he thought it might prove too much for him to bear—that it was hindering his ability to relax and be himself. And yet, he could not be wholly blind to the benefits she had presented him with. The whole thing was an unexpected development, certainly, but it had not dampened the relief he had felt within himself that he had managed to make such a huge change in his life. He did not quite feel a different person, as the cliché went, but he had felt it was certainly a different direction for him.

Her help had allowed him the luxury of not having to rush into the first job that would take him. Instead, he had spent time setting up the outbuilding at the bottom of the garden into a place where he could work—where he could brew potions and write about them. It was what he was good at—it was what he wanted to do.

He had started off writing articles for journals on the work he was doing, but with the spread of the news that he had cured Ronald Weasley, he was sometimes Owled with commissions for certain potions. Hermione commented that a business had seemed to spring up around him without him noticing.

He rather thought he was not that unobservant, but he had let the remark slide. He realised now, in hindsight, that she might have been aiming that comment to remind him that he would no longer require the money he received from her.

And during that time he was forced to contemplate the legitimacy of their caveat that her staying there was 'short-term'. Did he want her to go? Did he need her to go? The plain truth was that he had become used to her presence. She did not unduly interfere or intrude in his life, but their paths might cross a couple of times a week, by accident or by design, and it did not bother him. If anything, they were more often welcome to him than not.

In the moments when his thoughts took a more pensive turn, he found himself wishing he had had a friend like her when he had been growing up. Immediately then, he would feel as though he were betraying Lily's memory, and he told himself that he would like as not have alienated whomever had chosen to be his friend during that part of his life. Regardless, he could admit to himself now that he found peace of mind knowing there was someone nearby who would actually have a care about what he did with himself. And it was all the better because she expected very little in return.

He could stand her cat wandering in and rubbing its squashed face against every piece of furniture he owned. He could put up with her borrowing his books. He could even put up with her often repeated suggestions that they sit and watch television of an evening. A more mind-numbing activity Severus had never imagined before, until he'd tried it, of course.

Reality was, he did not especially need her to go, and being honest with himself, he didn't especially want her to go. So they continued until 'short-term' could no longer be held applicable to their situation. And still they never mentioned it to each other.

But Severus did think about finally bringing it up after he had lost his temper with her over the Ministry celebration. He knew that when she had asked him to join her for certain occasions she was being entirely earnest, but that was the trouble. How could she be so deluded to think he could ever sit down with her and her friends? How could she think he would ever fit in? He was just far too different from them all for it to be borne.

And he had considered that night that she should not continue living there, because how could he knowingly allow himself to be at her mercy? She held all the cards. She could decide to move on at any time. He'd not failed to notice that she seemed not to get involved in any other relationship beyond those she had with her friends, her family, and… him. But that could change in an instant and where would he be left?

Despite the Silencing charm on the ceiling, he'd known she'd not come back that night and he wasn't sure who he was more angry with; her or himself. Any intention he had of suggesting she leave, however, died in his throat when she did come back. She stormed into the kitchen, his kitchen, and stood fiercely in front of him.

'I know you hate it when I tell you what to do,' she said firmly, 'but I am going to do it anyway. You've always seemed to have this opinion that I am a better person than you, but I want you to forget all this talk about clear consciences, all right? My conscience may not have the weight yours does, but it is certainly not clear! I have regrets of my own and they may not compare to yours, but they are mine. I will ask you not to place me on some sort of pedestal because I know that one day I shall only fall off!'

With that, she stalked out through the back door and he heard her Apparate up to her own rooms while he stood there somewhat stunned.

Of course he put her on a pedestal, but he wasn't misguided. He did not consider her perfect; he knew people made mistakes, whoever they were. But he couldn't help it if one of the things he liked about her was her character—what he perceived as having a strong sense of honour and nobility. He had reconciled those aspects of her which had so embittered him before as to appealing to him now. He just couldn't help it if he admired her for being a person he should have liked to have been, under better circumstances.

But that moment marked a time when he started to see how weak and influenced he was becoming with regard to her. It was brutally obvious one day when she came into his workroom while he was brewing and made a request of him. She did not normally intrude into his workspace, but her expression was rather serious so he drew no attention to it.

She stopped by where he was sitting on a stool and spoke hesitantly. 'I know I have annoyed you in the past by prevailing upon you to join me at certain events… but I am going to continue to risk your wrath in order to show you my sincerity. It is my birthday next week and your presence would only be most welcome.'

He only stared into his cauldron while she briefly touched his arm and then disappeared.

He was weak, because he couldn't find it within himself to say no, even as he imagined Potter and all the Weasleys being there. But when had anyone ever wanted him to be anywhere? In a moment of clarity, he saw that if she was to be his friend, and he hers, then he would have to swallow his pride somewhere. Lily had wanted him to ignore his Slytherin housemates and he had longed for her to shower scorn over her own. But look where it had eventually driven them both? Further and further apart.

So he told himself he could manage just one night. When he informed her he would come he could never have imagined that such a thing would have given her so much joy. He'd felt inordinately embarrassed by it, and he'd hoped with all his heart that on the night she would not draw her friends' attention to the incident of his presence.

He needn't have worried. She maintained all night the appearance that his being there was the most commonplace thing in the world. He, of course, had felt no such thing, but he had discovered he was able to endure listening to her friends without going insane. He had even been able to withstand Weasley's searching looks. He could not have missed the way the younger man looked between them, or the wistful tilt of his expression when he looked at Hermione. Severus didn't make any mention of his observations, but only because he felt Weasley had managed to grow up at some point since he had last been in his classroom.

The fact remained, however, that the best part of the evening for Severus was when they all left, not least because Hermione linked her arm in his as they ventured home and thanked him unreservedly for coming, even though, apparently, she had been able to tell he had hated it.

He had not felt any haste to deny her words, even if they were slightly exaggerated from the truth of the matter.

It pleased him to please her—he could not deny it to himself.

But it wasn't long before he began dreading the prospect of her departure, again. A year had come and gone since the capture of Selwyn. She could not continue living there forever.

He came home early one day from meeting with a potential client and he saw her sitting in the garden through the window; she was crying. His first instinct was to go out and demand to know what was wrong, but his brain sought to quash it. She had been acting strangely for several days—maybe longer, and it occurred to him that this was probably finally it. He'd not missed her disappointment when he'd refused to speak to her on Halloween. Perhaps she was finally fed up of his often short and brusque manner with her.

Oh, what a wonderful moment it was to stand there and have the sudden dawning comprehension that his whole life he had got through by merely exchanging one dependency for another! Lily had been his first and had got him through childhood. Then, when he'd had to give her up, he'd set about making the biggest mistakes of his life. His next dependency was justice—living only to see Lily's son survive the path he had been set upon. And when that was done, what had happened to him? He'd fallen to pieces—only to pick himself back up again through forming a new reliance on Hermione Granger.

He struggled to resist the implications of such a conclusion, telling himself firmly that he had begun to put himself back together of his own accord—not through any need to appease anyone else. He could be an independent being—he could function on his own. He was capable of living his life for no one but himself.

So Severus left her to whatever misery she was contemplating. She could go and he would be fine. He did not need the presence of another to make him feel adequate. He had finally learnt to manage it on his own.

He remained on edge, however. Several days passed at a time when he did not see her, and when he did she seemed distracted and distant. He could only wonder what had happened to him in recent months that he should notice such a thing about her, and that it should irk him. He felt sure she would eventually come out with what he dreaded to hear, despite his inner protests to the contrary. Several times he considered that he should just get in there first and demand to have his house back. But he didn't.

And nothing ever came from her, either. Time went on and her behaviour became slowly more like he had become used to. She was asking him to watch telly with her again, and laughing just as easily at the pained look he always affected at any such time. He did not like to think why he found it suddenly easy to ignore his misgivings again.

Christmas rolled around, and while he had never taken any particular joy from the occasion, she embraced it in all its festive glory. How many times he had removed the tree she had placed in the corner of his living room, he did not like to think.

The day before Christmas Eve, she stood in his kitchen buttoning up her coat while he tried to read the paper and drink his morning tea. She'd come in, ostensibly, to tell him she was going to Diagon Alley, but…

'Now, I will be dining with my parents on Christmas Day. You are still welcome to join us, you know.'

And there it was. 'Thank you, no,' he replied, admittedly for the umpteenth time.

'Very well,' she said with equanimity. 'I shall be going to Grimmauld Place on Boxing Day, so we shall have to have our Christmas on Christmas Eve, then. Now—'

'Our what, sorry?' Severus interrupted blankly.

She wrapped her scarf around her neck, speaking as if he were the village idiot. 'Well, we can't not do anything when we live in the same bloody house, can we? And seeing as you are so set on spending Christmas Day on your own…' She sighed, and he thought he detected melancholy in it. 'It is all right, isn't it, if I join you tomorrow?'

Severus found he could only nod.

She smiled brightly. 'Excellent! Now, anything you would like me to pick up for you in Diagon Alley?'

Severus couldn't hear her. All of a sudden, he felt like he was experiencing some sort of… attack… Well, the blood was rushing in his ears and his heart was beating out like a drum. It hurt so much he nearly had to bring his hand to press at his chest. She always made the effort for him… She always considered him…

But what did he do for her? In what way did he make an effort to show her that he appreciated her; had come to care about her? He was struck by the possibility that he might not do enough.

But you must do something, a voice whispered in his mind.

She was a young, attractive woman who kept coming back there to him, and… Could it be that… Had she, Merlin forbid, become dependent on him?

Immediately, he felt like flagellating himself for even conceiving such a ridiculous notion about her. But… was it so impossible? The facts were before him; hell, they were visible for anyone to read. To dismiss it out of hand would be to ignore nigh on the whole year that had passed behind them.

But the comprehension only made him feel desperately out of his depth. Things like this were not meant to happen to him.

'Severus?' she was saying, and he blinked away his thoughts to look at her.

'I asked if you needed anything?'

'Need?' He swallowed down the anxiety he felt and got to his feet, hoping his legs would not give way beneath him. He tipped his tea with a splash into the sink and watched it disappear down the plughole. 'No… I need nothing…' He closed his eyes for his next words. 'Nothing, but for one thing I'm sure I have no business in requesting.'

He found the strength to turn and make his way past her.

'But what is that?' she asked, her eyebrows drawn together in confusion.

He paused with a small sigh. Her; he needed her. He wasn't even sure as to the capacity in which he meant it, but the truth remained the same. He wanted to forget about living solely for himself—it was surely a privilege to have someone to rely on? No matter what he told himself, he could not ignore that she had had a great part in re-igniting his interest in life. Oh, he could fob her off with some trifling thing and save himself the trouble of acknowledging all this; he could try and forget this need he had developed for her continued presence… but he wanted her to understand, because he trusted that she would not throw it back in his face.

He looked at her, but no words would come. Perhaps he could embrace her and show her that way—that was the language he knew she spoke well. But even as the idea came to him, he dismissed it. He was too awkward for that action to come off as anything other than uncomfortable. And just when he thought himself unequal to the task, his hand, of its own volition, reached out to her fingers and his thumb passed gently over the back of her hand. It was all the woeful articulacy he could manage, but he felt she understood what he was trying to say.

Her eyes did not become wide with shock, but became the softest he had ever seen, and he forced himself to match them with his own before releasing her hand and heading for the door. With that one small action, he felt oddly liberated. No matter what she might do next, he would take comfort in the fact that after everything that happened in his life, he could still feel and he could still allow enough concession within himself to forget his pride and confess himself as human as the next person.

'Severus?' she called out tentatively and he braced himself, looking to see her holding her hand close to her.

The smile that appeared on her face was warm. 'I think you should know that I consider it no one's business but yours.'

Suddenly he didn't know what to do. And when she approached him his mind emptied further of anything constructive. But again, she seemed to understand what he could not express.

She touched his arm gently. 'But there's time enough, yes…?'

He let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding and gave a minute nod, all the while wishing he could find his voice.

'See you when I get back, then.'

'Yes,' Severus valiantly managed to get out before she Disapparated away. He resolved there and then to make it so she would always come back. He didn't know how, yet, but he could try.

He disappeared into his sitting room and leant back against the door, closing his eyes with a steadying breath. Reliance on another person did not seem nearly so daunting when it was reciprocated. Indeed, he thought he could learn to love it.

No one had ever needed him in the way it mattered most. He might even have become a lucky man, he realised.

And how often had he been able to say that before?

FIN


AN: Well, I do hope that everyone enjoyed this story as much as I did writing it. I'm very grateful to those who've supported the story by reading and reviewing. Thanks very much indeed!