He received the letter that morning, and gaped at its contents, written using a Dicta-quill.
You cannot know just how long I have loved you, nor how much I do, and always will. I suppose that you cannot love me back; but if you think you can ever love again after Lily Evans, please meet me outside the Sphere Theatre in Flerd Alley at seven tomorrow night. Tosca is playing at half past. I have two tickets—one for me, one for you. They will be waiting at the box office to be picked up on the night.
I know that you are a punctual man. If you are not there by seven, I will assume that you are not interested, and leave. I can understand your feelings if turns out to be the case.
You may still use the tickets if there is someone you would prefer to take. They are in your name.
Your long-time admirer.
"Well…" He trailed off. He had patrols the next night, but he could always ask Minerva if he could swap with another teacher. She was the one who kept insisting that he go out, find 'some nice young woman'. All to take his mind off Lily. While he could never forget her, he was mature enough, and clear-minded enough, to identify his feelings as obsession. And even if he had really loved her, there was someone else now. Well, in his heart, and she would remain there, for no one else to know.
He certainly did love opera; in particular Puccini, and Tosca above all others. A secret admirer, eh? It couldn't be Professor Granger; he had never been that lucky. But such a brief and mysterious note left him wanting to find out more. What kind of masochistic person could fall in love with him? Masochistic or mad. She had to be.
Assuming it was a she, of course.
There was one way to find out who it was…
"Minerva, could I take tomorrow night off work? I have… a date." He grimaced, but she was smiling from ear to ear.
"Oh, that is wonderful, Severus! How did you meet her?"
"It could be anyone." He tossed the letter onto the headmistress's desk. She raised her eyebrows as she read it, and then studied him over the top of her glasses.
"You are aware of how dangerous this is?"
"Of course. But I am more than equal to it. If it turns out not to be a trap, I will be there for the duration of the show, and may even be out… longer than that." He cleared his throat, and Minerva blushed. "If it is a trap, then I will be busy giving a report to the Aurors, and will contact you in that event. Either that, or I will be attacked, and end up being abducted, injured, or dead. I will be out longer should any of those eventuate."
"Severus, please do not say things like that."
"Do I have your permission to take the night off?"
She sighed. "Yes. I hope that this letter is as sincere as it looks." He nodded, took back the note, and left the room, closing the door behind him as he went. As she listened to his fading footsteps, she whispered, "Please, let it be Hermione."
Green seemed the most obvious. At least it went with her brown hair and eyes. But what if it reminded him of Lily? Well, blue went with everything, so she would wear that instead. She couldn't wear red, for the same reason that she couldn't wear green. She wanted this to be about her and Severus; a present, and a possible future. Not about the past, and certainly not about their past. Yes, she was a fellow teacher now; but he hated her when she was his student, and probably still disliked her.
Hermione sighed. Well, her blue dress would look just fine. She had black high heels, and a dark blue shawl. It was lovely and thick, and would keep her warm.
The time reached six-thirty. She slung the strap of her handbag over her shoulder, made sure that her wand was tucked safely away, and flooed from her quarters to the Leaky Cauldron. She Apparated from there to Flerd Alley.
Crossing the street, she stood outside the Sphere Theatre, looking casually around at the other opera attendees. He wasn't there yet.
There were now twenty-eight minutes until seven o'clock.
He waited in the shadows, and watched her arrive. He'd been there since before six o'clock, figuring that if any trap was to be set, someone would want to be there early enough to set it. If he could catch them red-handed, all the better.
But nothing happened. Not until Hermione showed up, looking absolutely stunning in blue, her long brown hair rippling down her back, some of it covered by her shawl. Was she the one who had sent the letter? No, she couldn't be. But he would watch her just in case.
Time passed. She was tapping her feet by five minutes to. With one minute to seven, and no one else he recognised appearing, he began to walk forward. She was certainly waiting for someone; and if he didn't turn up, Severus would offer her his second ticket.
Because if it wasn't her, then he had been probably been stood up, too.
Only ten seconds remained as he walked up to her. Suddenly, people bustled past in between them, and he rolled his eyes as he let them through, resisting the temptation to trip them. That would just be added delay.
A clock struck the hour somewhere, and he picked up the pace, staying silent so that he wouldn't startle her. She had particularly bad war nerves, after all, and a mean Stinging Hex to boot.
But then he heard it.
She let out a sob, and his heart dropped to his stomach.
"I should have known," she whispered. "I should have known he wouldn't come."
She shook her head, and Apparated away before he could speak, let alone run forward. Oh yes. His spy hearing had picked up her words all right.
Ashamed, he stood where he was for far too long, half-hoping that she had been meeting someone else, that his real 'secret admirer' would show up, and that the whole thing had been one big coincidence. However, no one else came.
He paused, and then began to walk over to the ticket booth.
Might as well make use of the tickets, he thought.
At breakfast the next morning, Hermione was eating her food dully, eyes red from crying the previous evening, crying through the night, and crying this morning. It was a good thing that today was a Saturday. She wouldn't have been able to teach in her current state.
No. She just needed today—and maybe tomorrow—to get over the disappointment, and then she would be fine.
She would be.
"Okay, maybe not," she said, stirring her porridge with disinterest. She had come to breakfast early, to avoid the majority of the staff and students, meaning that it was quite cold. Not that she could ever feel warm again.
A nasty shock arrived in the form of Severus Snape sweeping into the Great Hall through the staff entrance. She kept her head down, and hoped that he hadn't been to the theatre, and therefore had no idea who had sent him the letter.
Well, she could hope, couldn't she?
Yes, of course she could.
"Good morning, Hermione."
"G-good…" She cleared her throat. "Good morning, Severus."
"Not losing your voice, are you?"
"Out on the town last night?"
"What?" She looked at him wildly, but he just looked… actually, she couldn't say just what his expression was. She shook her head. "No, not really."
"Uh… I'm a bit tired. Couldn't sleep." By now, she had returned her attention to her breakfast. "In fact, I should probably go back to bed. C-could you tell the headmistress for me? Please?" She was close to begging. He nodded, looking concerned, and she left in a hurry.
Back in her rooms, Hermione nearly stepped on something. It was an envelope, just lying on the floor. She picked it up, and nearly fainted when she saw her name on it in Severus' elegant script. Her hands shook as she opened it, and two tickets fell out. When she bent down to pick them up, though, she felt all energy leave her, and she collapsed to her knees.
So much for being cried out, she thought miserably, weeping where she knelt. He had been there, had seen her. He hadn't even gone to the show, and instead was returning the tickets, most likely disgusted by her behaviour. And the coward hadn't even had the nerve to give them back when he saw her!
…Either that, or he was kind enough to do it in private, where she wouldn't be humiliated in front of other people. Yes; that made more sense.
There was a letter. She was loathe to read it, but forced herself to anyway.
A lady should never pay for the tickets. Consider the upgrade my way of making up for it, and allow me to take you to dinner beforehand as well. Then perhaps you can forgive a lovesick fool for leaving it too late. Hermione, is it too late? I fervently hope that this is not the case.
I am, after all, not lovesick for Lily, but instead lovesick for a secret admirer who possessed the right amount of Gryffindor courage to make the first move. I can only claim that long-time mistrust is my reason for not having waited out in the open; and disbelief that you could care for such a person as I that forced me from approaching you a minute earlier. But then, if I had, I would not have been able to extend the invitation to dinner.
However, my dear, I think that it would be best if we meet in the Great Hall, and leave together. It would save further misunderstandings, don't you think?
Hermione smiled. Things were finally looking up for her heart, and they could only get better.
Aw! How flippin' touching.
Aw! How flippin' touching.
Well, it appears that I am having mood swings. I write a few dark stories, and then a few fluffy stories. Shall it always be this way?
(Merlin, I hope not.)
Review, review, review!
The Sphere Theatre comes from "G&S", and Flerd Alley comes from "Healer Granger", so they're already of my own invention.