A/N: This is it kiddies. Last chappie. Thanks one last time to the eminently humpable Aurette, and the multi-talented Camillo. (I mean, dude - Have you read Phoenix Feathers? Have you seen her artwork? C'MON!)
I own nothing. It's all JK Rowling's.
Harry joggled the baby on his chest a few times before setting him in his high chair. "Here, Al," he hummed, shaking out some Cheerios from the cereal box on the counter. The baby's eyes widened, and he looked ecstatic before trying to grab a handful. Hermione smiled as the baby slobbered and failed to actually eat anything but his fist.
"Watching this explains why babies are always so moist when you touch them." She stroked her fingers over the fine hair on his head.
"Well, among other things," her friend murmured. He moved to the refrigerator and pulled out some leftover ham. "You look peaked. I'm going to make you a sandwich just how you like it – cold ham with butter on Ginny's homemade sour dough bread. Then I am going to watch you eat every bite of it."
"I'm not hungry, Harry. Don't fuss over me."
"I'm going to make you a sandwich, and then I am going to watch you eat every bite of it," he repeated, his tone firm.
"Does that ever actually work?" Hermione inquired, curious.
"You'd be surprised." He grinned. "On children and criminals, it works like a charm. I only ever tried it once on Ginny, and I will never do it again." He cocked his head, "Works like a charm… I wonder how that made it into Muggle usage."
Hermione smiled fondly at Harry. "You're really good at this, you know," she said, gesturing to Albus and the tidy house around them. "Being a father, I mean."
"This is all I've ever wanted, Herms – to have a family. I'm glad you're part of it, too. Now," he said, switching his Auror voice back on. "What's wrong? You look awful."
"I'm… not sleeping that well, that's all." She looked at her hands. Her nails were bitten to the quick. She twisted them behind her back and out of sight. The weight of his eyes on her made her uncomfortable.
As if he could tell, Harry turned away and began wiping down his already immaculate, white enamel counters. He shook out his rag and laid it the edge of the sink, and then washed his hands and began slicing the ham to make her sandwich.
Hermione sighed and sank into the kitchen chair that received the most sunlight from the big bay window over the table. She looked out over the fields at Godric's Hollow and allowed the peace and quiet to sink into her bones, the only noises the cooing of the baby as he happily attempted to hoover up soggy, slobbery bits of cereal. "I'm in love with Severus."
Harry stilled for a moment, before turning to face her and setting a plate with her sandwich in front of her. "Does he know?" He sat down.
"It's far more complicated than I'm letting on, really." She leaned forward and took a bite so that her mouth would be full, and she would have a moment to compose her thoughts before speaking. The sandwich should have tasted delicious. Harry was right; it was her favourite. But the bread and meat just stuck to the roof of her mouth, tasting like ash.
Harry's hand covered hers, stroking softly.
After an endless moment, she forced herself to swallow. "I thought I was just dreaming," she began and unfolded the story before her friend. She told him everything, even when his ears began to burn red as she described Severus's mouth and hands and all the things he'd said to her to make her feel special. It was to his credit that he didn't interrupt her even once. She ended the tale by saying, "It was always Lily, Harry. I can't believe I didn't realise it right away. After all, the first thing he said to me in that very first dream was, 'Granger, what the fuck are you doing here?' and over on the dressing table was a pure white lily in a pitcher."
Harry squeezed her hand once before releasing her and curling his hand to rest his chin on it. "I'm not sure what to say, Hermione."
She tilted her head back and concentrated on the warmth of the sun on her face and neck. "There's not really anything to say, Harry."
"You, Ginny, and I are the only people in the world besides Snape who knew that he was in love with my mum. That he probably is still in love with her even now."
"I know," she said, hating the tears in her voice. "It was the dreams. I didn't think they were real, but they caused my feelings to creep up on me so slowly that I didn't realise the consequences until we were naked on the floor of the Apothecary." Hermione swiped at her cheek and ignored the twinge of discomfort on Harry's face. "I was happy at first. It seemed so romantic. I thought he wanted me, maybe even loved me, and that he'd used the potion because he's a Slytherin and didn't want to expose himself if he didn't have to. A… a stratagem to see if I felt the same way. When I realised that what we'd shared was just a by-product of his eternal, unchanging love for Lily, I just stood up, put my clothes on, and left. I haven't been back in three days."
"Did he try to explain?"
"He told me not to act that way, and then he admitted that he'd hoped to spend just one more moment with his Lily, but he'd awoken to me instead." She closed her eyes for a moment and attempted to gain control of the sobs that were shaking her chest and causing her nose to run. "I left right after that."
"So is that it? He just let you go? He slept with you and then acted the arse and let you run out on him?" Harry's lips were tight, and his shoulders hunched. "That complete and utter fuckwit. After everything he went through with my mum, I didn't think he'd have it in him to use someone so poorly."
Hermione bit her lip as fresh tears welled in her eyes. "So, you think he used me, then?"
Harry looked startled. "Isn't that what you just said?"
"Gods, I don't know. He really didn't want me to leave. He kept trying to hold me and kiss me, but I turned away." She straightened and cleared her throat. It was an irritated sound, and she shook her hair off her shoulders as if she was trying to shake off Snape's hold on her as well. "But he lied to me. I asked him point blank how he'd known I would be in his dreams, and he wasn't going to tell me. He tried to divert me with sex."
Harry reached across the table, picked up her sandwich, and took a bite. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment before opening it up and peeling off the tomatoes. "Can't stand tomatoes." He took another bite. His eyebrows were raised, and he hummed slightly as he chewed. He looked thoughtful, as if she'd shed new light on her problem, and Hermione's stomach dropped.
"What? I know that expression."
Swallowing, he said, "Well, he didn't want you to leave, did he? And he tried to make you feel better by holding you and kissing you. He probably knew it would hurt you to know he hadn't started out searching for you." He picked a bit of ham out of his teeth with the edge of his nail.
"It did! It hurt very much. He doesn't want me, Harry. He wants your mum."
The black-haired wizard grimaced and put the sandwich back on her plate. "I don't know why the thought of Snape and my mum bothers me more than the thought of Snape and my best mate, but it does." He steepled his fingers together and sighed. "It seems to me that you don't know that. All you know is that he wanted my mum first. Once he caught you in his net instead, it seems as if he tried to fight and keep you there."
"Don't." Hermione tucked her hands under her arms and hunched her back so that she could curl around the pain blooming in her belly. "Don't give me hope, Harry. It hurts too much. You saw his memories. You know. He loved her for nearly forty years. Love like that doesn't change."
He curled his fingers around hers once more and leaned forward with a small smile on his face. "Maybe not, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have room to love another, Herms."
"I don't think it's possible." She looked at the crumbs on the table and tried not to hope too dearly.
"Of course he could love you, Hermione."
"How?" she cried in pain. "He's wanted Lily since he was a child. Why now? Why me?"
Harry squeezed her hand tightly as she struggled to give voice to her deepest fears and resentments.
"I love him, Harry, but I can't do this if I'm just a replacement. I have too much respect for myself to ever let a man close his eyes and pretend I'm someone else." Hermione tugged on a hanging lock of her hair and tried not to think of how Ron had always closed his eyes. She tried not to think of Lavender's smooth skin, unblemished from the war.
"Don't be ridiculous, Herms. He held tightly to my mother's memory for so long because of guilt. After all, the prophecy he provided to Voldemort is what caused her death, right?"
She nodded, but then said, "Guilt is a powerful motivator. I think it has tied him up in knots for ages now." Hermione pulled a face. "This isn't making me feel any better, Harry."
"Hold on now. He did it, though. Didn't he? He played his part in the war, and he managed to protect me against all odds. Snape nearly died. He's expiated his guilt. I'd say that is a ghost he can begin to let go. That's the why now part."
"I didn't know you knew the word expiated." She sniffled unbecomingly and rubbed her nose on the sleeve of her jumper.
Rolling his eyes, Harry continued. "Next, he never really had my mum, did he? He loved her, but she never loved him back, not like he wanted. Snape's kept her up on this pedestal, ringed 'round by his guilt. No other woman could get close until it was gone, and it left with the fall of Voldemort." He picked up her hand. "And why you? Because you're lovely, Hermione."
She made a face and touched her frizzing hair. "Ron didn't think so."
"He's an idiot. You know that. You're kind and beautiful, and you're real. There's no way some shadowy memory of a woman who was never his could ever compare to your living, breathing loveliness." Harry's green eyes were so kind, Hermione felt hope begin to invade her heart, battered by the vagaries of her first love.
"Oh, Harry. I hope you're right."
Une Rêve d'Amour:
Created in the early half of the 17th century by Alphonse de Manet of Paris. The potioneer feared to be parted from his inamorata, Belle Touraine. The youngest daughter of a prosperous merchant family, her father had promised her hand in marriage to the local miller. In despair, Alphonse de Manet crafted a potion designed to bring him together with Belle Touraine through their dreams so that wherever they were, they would not be parted.
Hermione pulled the photograph from the binding. Severus looked happy. Lily did not look unhappy, although her features didn't speak of the great passion that the adolescent Severus clearly felt. The witch sighed and rolled her eyes before smiling and tilting her face up to his playfully. His fingers curled around her nape, peeking through Lily's flaming red hair as his other hand combed it back off her shoulder. The smile he gave her was warm and completely unabashed as he bared his sweet, crooked teeth and leaned forward to rub his nose over Lily's.
Hermione covered her mouth, unable to look away.
He tilted his dark head to hers slowly, as if waiting for her to pull away, but Lily's eyes fluttered shut and spots of colour bloomed to life on Severus's high cheek bones. With a fierce gentleness, his mouth covered hers, and he took small sips from her lips as if to keep her from becoming overwhelmed.
It was clear to Hermione both from the picture itself and from knowing that Lily ended up marrying James Potter that the witch was in little danger of being overwhelmed. But, Severus… When he pulled back from the red-haired girl, he wrapped her up in his arms, a triumphant expression on his face. The photograph looped back to Lily rolling her eyes and smiling.
She slipped the photograph back in the Potions book and stared at the vase of tulips she'd found on her doorstep when she'd come back from Harry's. They were from him, of course. The note had simply said, "Sleep," in his spiky black hand, and Hermione had carried them inside wishing that she could… that things were that easy.
Could she take the risk? Could she open herself to him and hope that he loved her or could grow to love her for her own merits? Hermione had trusted Ron once, and he had hurt her unbearably, first with his inability to accept her body, scars and all, and then by leaving her for Lavender Brown. If Snape couldn't look at her without pining for who she wasn't, it would break her.
Hermione had been so hurt when she realised he'd drunk the potion for Lily, she had lashed out at him. She remembered what she'd seen of his memories, how he'd lain outside of the entrance to the Gryffindor common room, begging Lily's forgiveness for his words spoken in anger. These tulips, his demand that she come to him in dreams, they were a plea for forgiveness.
Was she going to be like Lily and excise him from her life in one clean, surgical cut? Or would she be Hermione Granger, and open the door to the man who sat outside?
She allowed her fingertip to stroke a silky-smooth tulip petal. In the end, it wasn't a hard decision at all.
The bordello looked different, cheaper and more tawdry. The gold paint of the fleurs-de-lis was flaking off, and half of the glass prisms were missing from the lamps. Even the hated ermine trim looked worse, taking on a diseased, flea-bitten look. Their skin had dried and shrivelled, and their glass eyes were mostly missing. The earthenware pitcher that had held the lily was shattered, and the flower itself lay amongst the shards.
Snape sat on the end of the bed, facing away from her. His feet rested on the floor, and his elbows were on his knees. He was naked and uncovered, and despite everything, Hermione couldn't help but trace the muscles that banded over his back with her eyes. His posture showed the defeat he felt. He was slumped, curled, depressed, embittered, and she knew her words earlier were at fault.
"Severus," she whispered.
He jerked upright and turned to face her. "Hermione," he exclaimed. He had shadows beneath his eyes, but he smiled slightly when he saw her. It was barely a twitch of his lips. "You came. I'm glad."
Severus stretched out a hand towards her, before looking uncertain and pulling it back and tucking it beneath his arm. He looked old and frightened. He said, "I wasn't sure when you'd come next. I knew you couldn't take Dreamless Sleep forever, but I didn't know…"
Hermione sighed. "This isn't the end of us. I can't promise that this will go where you want it to," here she gestured between the two of them, "but I can promise that I will never turn my back on you again."
His eyes widened a fraction and spots of colour bloomed high on his cheeks. "Thank you."
They sat in silence for a moment, and she watched in interest as the flaking paint curled back onto the wall and the ermine trim on the coverlet grew sleek and shiny again, although no less macabre. She looked away when new glass eyes pushed through the skins to gleam once more in their sockets. With a small start, Hermione saw that the earthenware pitcher was now whole and cradling the battered lily.
She wondered and dreaded what that meant.
"You are hurting. Tell me why so I can correct it." Severus stood and moved closer, sliding beneath the blankets with her. The move was not sexual, and Hermione understood that he was covering himself so that they could talk. "Are you upset that I still have feelings for Lily?"
Gods, that hurt. "Yes." But… "No. No, it's not that exactly. I know you are older than I am, and as such, you come to me with a past."
His face was stern as he tried to puzzle her out. "I don't understand, then."
Those lines around his mouth were so familiar to her that Hermione smiled and told him the truth. "I'm afraid because I'm so in love with you." When he reached for her, she held her hand up and pointed over to the earthenware pitcher with the lily in it. "I'm in love with you, and I want you to love me the same way. But even in this dream where we're supposed to belong to each other, she's here."
His expression, which had glowed at her revelation, faltered as he looked over at the battered flower. "But, she is part of me." When he turned back to Hermione, his eyes begged her to understand. "I cannot leave her behind."
"I'm not asking you to love me more than her, Severus. I just want a part of you all for myself."
He growled, becoming frustrated. "Don't you understand? You have all of me already. Every ounce of me is yours and not hers. She never wanted me."
And although he didn't say it, Hermione understood that Severus had offered himself to the red-headed Witch over and over again. And despite each and every rejection, he'd drunk this potion so he could dream of her even now, and when he dreamt of Hermione instead, he'd allowed Lily to take root in this room he shared with her.
When he had pressed Hermione into the mattress and kissed her scars, his ghosts had hovered over the same shoulders she'd clung to.
"I'm just so afraid, Severus." She pressed a hand over her mouth as if she could catch the sobs that threatened to spill out of her before he heard them. "What if you never love me? What if that lily is the only flower that ever grows in your heart? Nothing will be left for me then."
His eyes widened, and then he growled and grabbed her face not at all gently. "Idiot." He licked the tears from her cheeks, and Hermione was reminded of when he'd told her he wanted her to be his future that first and only night he'd made love to her in their dreams. "You're listening, but you're not hearing me, Witch. You're looking, but you're not seeing. You think I don't love you? You think I want someone else here with me?" He bit her on her chin, before forcing her face towards the pitcher with the lily in it. "Look again."
A battered white lily in a white, earthenware pitcher. Hermione blinked. It was just a stupid lily.
"Look, damn you. Why can't you see them?" His voice was panicked. "They're the most beautiful thing in the room."
And then, like a veil had been lifted from her eyes, she could see. Crowding around the battered white flower were a dozen flaming red tulips, so bright and perfect they seemed fey and otherwordly. "Severus," she cried, jerking her face out of his hands and leaning towards him, her fingers curling around his hard shoulders. "I do. God, Severus. I see them."
His angry expression dissolved into relief and desire, and he wrapped an arm around her and tugged her tight to his chest. He pulled her down and rolled so that he lay on top of her. Severus took small sipping kisses at her bottom lip, and with every kiss he crooned, "My perfect love, my perfect love." Hermione thought she'd drown in the glory of it.
It was a week later when Harry caught them in flagrante delicto behind the counter of the Apothecary shop.
Hermione was embarrassed, but Severus looked completely unapologetic. He merely plucked the tulip from his hair, smoothed her shirt and skirt down, and buttoned his trousers. Hermione thought the order of his actions interesting and giggled to herself as he pulled her to her feet.
"Um," Harry said, his cheeks red.
"Potter," Snape snapped, his lips thin white lines. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"I'm so glad that Ginny said she'd watch James, because I don't know how I would have explained that to him." He ran his hand through his hair in agitation, looking shell-shocked.
Hermione thought very hard for a moment and then said, "You could have Obliviated him." She tried very hard to sound like she wasn't joking.
Snape's expression was approving as he looked at his lover.
Harry blinked. "Anyway, I'm here for the antidote to Lavender's breasts. Well, breast really. Both Ron and I figured it was Snape, although Lav-Lav wants to filet you personally, Herms."
She laughed, delighted, and tried to ignore the fact that Harry was talking about Lavender's breasts just moments after seeing her own. "How did you know it was Severus?"
Shrugging, Harry said, "Ron and I are both Aurors, and we know you better than anyone. It's not your style. You always go for the frontal assault, and you'd never stoop to using the same trick twice. Had to be Snape. We figure it happened at the Naming Day party."
"Very good, Potter. Alas there is no antidote; it will have to wear off naturally." He smoothed his frock coat and straightened his cravat with meticulous care. Hermione had mangled it nearly beyond repair. Not that he had seemed to mind. "And how is Mr. Weasley faring these days? His own bosom is still symmetrical, I hope."
Harry squinted and sighed. "Really? You didn't, did you?"
"I'm sure I have no idea what you mean." Severus slipped his arm around Hermione's waist. "Is that all? Don't you have somewhere else to be that's not here?"
"I guess that's it. Herms, don't forget about dinner on Sunday. Ginny's making lamb. Snape, you're invited too, of course."
"We'll both be there," she said, smiling.
Harry glanced at the Potions maker to see if he agreed with Hermione's happy assessment, but Severus just arched an inquiring brow. "Well? Leave now."
"Right, I'm going." He walked to the door and paused, smirking. "Don't forget to lock the door this time." And then he was gone, the bell ringing behind him.
"You didn't really do anything to Ron."
Severus smiled like a sphinx, and Hermione's knees nearly buckled from desire. At her negligent gesture, the lock clicked shut. Turning to Severus, she slipped her arms around his waist and lifted her face to his.
"Mine," she growled.
"Yes. All yours," he answered and touched his lips to hers.
A/N: Like it, love it, hate it, review it!