It falls in torrents from the heavens. From my heart.
Too long suppressed, it comes—demanding its price be paid at last.
She hates that she cries when she's angry.
To be fair, it's more a cocktail of emotions best expressed one at a time. Primary now is a searing anger that she cannot—will not—contain anymore.
It's been a good long time since she's been this furious, she realises. And come to think of it, she doesn't think she's ever directed the force of her rage squarely at Severus.
She supposes there has to be a first time for everything.
He's still trying to comfort her, his fingers combing through her hair, soft sounds meant to calm wafting across the short strands. The fact that he can't discern the difference between relief and incandescent rage makes her want to scream, and so she does.
And pounds her fists on his chest and then pushes against him, propelling him away from her.
"You sent me away," she says in a voice he would never mistake for melancholy. "How dare you?"
His eyebrows shoot straight up.
"You arrogant, sanctimonious arsehole. Who the hell do you think you are?"
He opens his mouth and closes it again, shocked, but she pays no attention.
"I am," she hisses, "not a child—which you manage to notice perfectly well when it suits you—and I don't take kindly to being treated like one. I am your wife. I am an adult, and I am sick and bloody tired of being trundled about like a piece of glass that'll shatter if a cold wind blows nearby." She pauses for breath. "And you know something else? I'm done walking around as if you're an even more fragile bit of glass, yourself."
He might have spoken then but she's not done. Not nearly.
"I've tiptoed around you for years. My god, Severus. You have no idea. 'Snape, the martyr.' 'Snape, the war hero.' 'Snape, the tortured soul.' Bollocks. You're a flipping coward, too afraid to live and far too fearful to let me really be your partner. A competent partner, Severus."
She picks up an empty flask, twirling it in her fingers. She takes a few steps closer, backing him into the counter. "How nice for you that you're feeling better now. You found out what you've had all along? Well done."
She slams the flask down on the countertop and turns away, her whole body shaking.
She pauses but doesn't turn around.
"I deserved that."
Yes, she thinks. You did.
"Don't you want to know what I found? What the potion showed me?"
He's using the seductive voice that always brings her to her knees.
Not today. Not now. She knows what he must have found, and she's done being the proxy for his tragic past.
"No need, Severus. I understand now." She takes a deep breath. "You found what you lost. You can move forward now, and I suppose, so can I."
"What do you mean, 'move forward'?" He's no longer across the room. She can feel the heat of his body, he's so close. "I'm here now. I'm back, and I love you."
"No more empty words. I'm done with promises, Severus." She turns to meet his eye. "When the chips were down, I held on. I kept looking until I found you. But you? You sent me away. To protect me. To protect me? I fought Voldemort, you stupid man. Do you know how many kinds of insulting it is that you sent me away to protect me?
"So, no. I actually don't care what the potion showed you, Severus. Your actions tell me everything I need to know."
Silence fills the room like smoke, and her chest aches with the awareness of how many times they have walked away from one another, only to be pulled back because of a love that has burned inside her for years—an everlasting light to guide them both.
It's not enough, she thinks. It never has been. Not when he can't—won't—turn to her when the nightmares come.
"I don't blame you for wanting to leave," he says. "But will you hear me out, first?" His voice is tight and for once, she won't reassure him.
"The potion brought me back something I'd forgotten, Hermione. Something that must have been lost on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. It's something very old, but it's more important because of what I realised it means."
He's not trying to distract her this time, she realises, nor to seduce.
"What is it?" she whispers finally, back still firmly to him.
"I knew that Lily and James were going to a Secret Kept location. But I also knew that someone untrustworthy was lurking about. I found her about a month before she was killed, Hermione. I warned her not to trust anybody. I reminded her that she'd already evaded the Dark Lord three times, and that isolating herself—isolating her family—and resting her safety on the soul of one wizard was a bad idea."
Hermione turns around, heart pounding.
"At least her husband stayed with her," she whispers.
He closes his eyes for a moment.
"He did, you're right. But they were both in danger, and they both went into hiding. She was competent, Hermione. Just as you are. I know you are. She chose to hide, and she died. I couldn't protect her there. Not hidden away from me. I would have helped to protect them both. She was strong, but she'd have been stronger—they both would have been stronger—if they hadn't isolated herself from the others. But I'd forgotten—it was one of the memories I'd given to Potter, but he didn't catch every one of them." He huffs and shakes his head. "Who would have thought the loss of so small a memory could have such a profound impact?"
"Without that memory, you couldn't trust me."
He looks flummoxed.
"No, Hermione. Without that memory I couldn't explain how I knew you would be safer if you weren't isolated. I wouldn't go back and trigger an attack on you, and if you had stayed with me, they would have known and come after us both, and we would have been sitting ducks."
"You didn't trust me enough to choose, Severus. You didn't give me the option of defending myself—defending us." She wraps her arms around her body to try to quell the shivering. "It's just like what you did in the Shrieking Shack; choosing to die, just more slowly this time." Nothing she does soothes the shaking. Her teeth are starting to chatter from the adrenaline and its aftermath. "I wish you had chosen me instead."
Not chosen her? Doesn't she know that every cell of his body is filled with her? How being loved by her—and loving her—has transformed him?
"Oh, Merlin. Hermione, I chose you instead of me, don't you see?"
"Did it ever occur to you to ask whether I wanted to be without you?" Her eyes flash. "You had no right to decide that on your own—to decide I was safer or better off or whatever cracked idea you'd conjured up. You don't get to sacrifice yourself for me and call it love."
"And I'm not going to hide myself so that I don't scare you and call that love, either."
That moment they shared on the playground comes back to him. The instant he realised that he would do everything in his power to obliterate whatever had been stifling this vibrant, passionate woman.
He's caught in that passion, in her fiery eyes and the energy that pulled him from the pit of despair and to the threshold of living again. It is his responsibility, he sees, to step through.
"When I looked at the stone—really looked—I understood that being afraid wasn't a good enough reason—" His breath catches. "—Not a good enough reason to hide. Not for you. Not for us. Just—I can't promise I won't be afraid," he says, realising that he's never before admitted the fear that has haunted him, driving his decisions and shadowing his mood.
"Welcome to humanity, Severus," she says, her voice just the slightest bit softer than before. "I don't know anybody who is never afraid. I just can't live like this, paralysed with fear all the time. I'd rather walk away and be done with it than live with the threat of losing you constantly hanging over me."
Terror rises to choke him and he has to pause for a breath. He didn't know. He hadn't been paying attention and neglected to see how alone he had left the woman he loves.
"I can't imagine my life without you," he tells her now, willing her to see his remorse, pouring every drop of his hope for the future into his words. "I don't want a life without you, Hermione." He reaches out to her, stroking the arms she's wrapped stiffly around herself. "I want a future, a family, Hermione. Only with you."
The shock in her eyes, the hope, tells him how much of herself she'd been hiding from him. What she's been willing to sacrifice to protect him from his own fears.
"A family?" Her voice shakes.
"A real future. I hope that will include a family for us."
Her eyes are wet, and he knows what he must do. Words alone aren't enough.
"Look at me, Hermione. Please."
As she lifts her eyes to his, hesitant, he opens himself to her—no memories pouring from him this time, only the light inside of him that is there because of her.
Because she held on and didn't let go.
Because she's always been the one to find him when he's lost.
And now it's time for him to find her, too.
His lips on hers seal the promise.
Her tears—hope, relief, and flooding need wash away the last brittle barrier between them.
At last, when he's brushed her tears away and basked in the radiance of her trust and her smile, he takes a breath and tells her the last bit.
"There's one more thing the potion revealed to me, Hermione." He feels rage and a cold sort of confidence seep into his bones. "I knew those voices were familiar, and there was something about the shorter wizard I couldn't put my finger on. I just couldn't put all the pieces together until now." He takes a deep breath. "I know who's behind the attacks, Hermione. And they're not going to know what hit them."
Walk with me. Stay by my side.
I can do no less. You hold my heart in your hands.
Ron loves to tell the story of the expression on Runcorn's face when Hermione and Severus stormed through the entry to his office together, wands raised. How he'd stammered and postured; how he'd called for Black as backup, only to be told that he'd already been trussed and taken into custody; that in a final moment of desperation he'd attempted to magic his way right through Snape's anti-Disapparation jinx.
"Not bad for a Muggle, eh, Runcorn?" Snape had said.
Ron has come to appreciate Severus's sense of humour, though he tries to hide it most of the time. Otherwise it takes all the fun out of ribbing Hermione, and he can't have that.
He especially enjoys the light in Hermione's eyes when she describes taking down the two remaining wizards to evade war crimes prosecution, using the Imperius Curse as an alibi. He revels at the pride in her voice as she tells the tale of the two of them—husband and wife—together facing the wizard who had tried to destroy them as the jewel on the crown of his reign of terror, the entire Auror unit standing behind them like a silent guard.
Most of all, though, he tells Harry, he's always chuffed that Severus is sure to add,
"What was there to be afraid of? He'd already done his worst, and we'd come through stronger for it. And besides, Hermione was with me."
But it's the adoring way he looks at Hermione when he says it, and how she always beams with pleasure that gives Ron that warm fuzzy feeling not generally associated with anything Snape.
Harry agrees it's best for all of them to act as if they don't notice a thing.
A/N: Disclaimer: Many thanks to JKR for her permission to play in her playground.
There is no amount of thanks that could possibly express my appreciation to my alpha and beta team (it apparently takes a village to write an exchange fic). Errors that remain because of my incessant tinkering are mine alone. Thanks to Annie Talbot, Mia Madwyn, Juno Magic, Subversa, and Geminiscorp for encouragement and stellar alpha and beta reading.
This story was written for the Summer, 2010 SSHG Exchange.