A/N: Written for refya for her birthday. Unbetad, as I could hardly ask her to beta her own gift – any mistakes are mine. I've incorporated a little film!canon from Deathly Hallows, Part I, as it didn't directly contradict anything in the book.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or the Harry Potter universe and make no money from this.
Severus stood in front of the full length mirror in his bedroom and looked at his reflection. He had never considered himself a particularly vain man, but the sight that met his eyes, day after day after day, was enough to whip his already too familiar feeling of self-loathing to an all new high.
He swallowed, and then cursed his stupidity as the slight movement made the ugly scars on his neck even more obvious.
His eyes travelled southwards, finding nothing there to lift his spirits. Another scar, this time a puckered line, a reminder of a particularly unfortunate duel with a fellow Death Eater a few years ago (at least his opponent had fared worse, he thought with a curl of his lip), crossed his torso diagonally. It was met by another line, jagged and white – this one was almost level with his skin, but no less unsightly for that.
He didn't even bother to catalogue the assortment of minor healing-resistant nicks, lines and bite marks criss-crossing his upper arms, thighs and legs.
As always, it was his left arm that he avoided looking at as long as he could, and as always, it was where his eyes eventually came to rest.
He'd hoped – oh how he'd hoped! – that with the Dark Lord gone, the Dark Mark would fade away, too. After all, it had been all but invisible, dormant under his skin, while his erstwhile master had been nothing but bits of soul floating around in the ether. The awareness of it had never left him, but it had been almost possible to pretend it wasn't there, if not to himself, then certainly to others.
No such luck. He didn't remember it – he'd been far too busy almost dying at the time – but from what Lucius had spat out, during their one and only heart-to-heart talk after the Final Battle, it had seared itself into the skin permanently mere hours after the Dark Lord was gone for good. Some final time-delayed curse attached to the mark, Severus assumed.
He'd still hoped. And waited. And waited. And waited. And scoured his extensive library for anything, be it a potion, spell or counter-curse, that would get rid of it. He'd swallowed his pride and asked Bill Weasley, the only curse-breaker among his circle of acquaintances whose skill he trusted as much as his keeping Severus's request to himself, but even Weasley had been unable to help.
And thus Severus Snape, former Death Eater, spy and once one of the most feared men in the British magical community, was reduced to a creature of self-pity every time he looked into the mirror.
He wouldn't have minded that much, he thought with a half-sneer as he reached for his shirt, if life hadn't thrown yet another unexpected twist his way: a twist of the feminine persuasion, one that went by the name of Hermione Granger. One whose brown eyes he could happily have drowned in; one whose lips were firm, yet pliant, and whose tongue was skilled in duelling his in more ways than one, as he'd recently discovered to his unabashed pleasure.
Severus couldn't really even pin-point where it had started. One moment they'd been arguing about some idiotic decree of the Ministry, the next they'd been glued to each other like horny teenagers, noses bashing into one another and fingers hooked into the other's hair, until they'd both jumped back, muttered some clumsy excuses and fled. Until the same thing happened at their next meeting, and then the next one, and… well, Severus had to admit that their meetings had suddenly become considerably more frequent than ever before.
He was quite certain that she wanted him – that she wanted to go beyond the heated kisses and wandering hands, hands that he'd had to bat away from his person more than once in recent weeks. Not because he didn't want them where they had wanted to go, but because he was completely convinced that the moment she'd lay eyes on his body, she'd flee, but this time never to return.
He closed his eyes, his hands stilling, and swallowed again. There was something stuck in his throat, it seemed.
He took a deep breath and buttoned up his shirt, making sure that the collar, stiff and starched, stayed where it was supposed to, covering up the worst of the damage on his neck.
He wanted Hermione Granger. He wanted her in his life and in his bed. He wanted to be on her, in her, all over her; to feel her heart beat against his chest, to feel her heat wrapped around his.
But he couldn't. He couldn't bare himself to her. He couldn't risk her seeing him. Not like this.
Severus's head snapped up at a low growl. It took him a moment to realise it was his own throat that had emitted it.
He supposed he could ask her to become his, and insist on complete darkness. It might seem odd to her, but to a woman who was that keen on getting her hands on him, it might not matter… Or he could just turn off the lights without saying anything. Who needed explanations? Of course, she might turn them on again, but he was quite confident that his Nox would prevail over her Lumos eventually. He had more to lose, after all. More motivation to win.
There was just one flaw in his plan, he thought while he busied his hands with his robes.
He wanted to see her. He'd dreamed of her, of that creamy, smooth, flawless body. As much as his hands were itching to touch her, his eyes were almost as hungry. She'd blossomed into perfection, from what he could tell – even through her buttoned-up clothes which revealed nothing and offered nothing beyond hints and promises. But even her robes couldn't hide the swell of her breasts and the curves of her hips, and he'd seen enough of her face and neck to have a good idea in his mind of what the rest of her skin would look like.
Perfection. That was what she was.
The mere idea was enough to drive a man insane with desire.
He drew in a sharp breath, his nostrils flaring. Perhaps there was some way… could he blindfold her? Would Hermione Granger be into that sort of thing? He wasn't, not really, but if needs be… No, that would be even more difficult to explain away than turning off the light. And what if she didn't like the idea? She would just refuse, or worse, tear it off mid-act and see him in all his horrifying glory.
He kept turning the various ideas around in his mind, his hands mechanically pulling on his boots and checking them for dirt or mud, and discarded one after another. There was the option of ordering her down on her hands and knees, looking straight ahead, forbidding her to look at him, while he took her from behind, but… This carried the same questions and potential problems as the blindfold idea.
Severus sighed. It might have surprised some people, but he really didn't fancy the idea of playing the dominant, the Master, in his bedroom (or hers, where it was more likely for them to end up). Certainly not with Hermione. He wouldn't have admitted it to her (well, maybe in post-coital glow, were that ever to happen), but he had found his equal in her, and this, in addition to everything else, was what was making him lust for her so much.
Perhaps he should just be honest with her.
The very idea scared him.
But, the sensible part of his mind argued, if you are honest with her, she might agree to not look at you.
On the other hand, she might just do it anyway and realise how disgusting you really are, the paranoid part of his mind responded.
At least you'd know then, the sensible part shrugged its mental shoulders.
"But I don't want to know if knowing means that!" he shouted, wincing as the words left his mouth. Was this what he had been relegated to – arguing with himself, out loud? All over a woman?
Severus squared his shoulders and picked up his wand. He'd talk to her, and let her decide.
x X x
Hermione looked up from her glass of wine and smiled at him. They'd agreed to meet in a restaurant this time. As much as Severus wanted to insist that this was just another meeting to discuss Ministry matters, this was a date, and they both knew it.
"You look lovely," he said somewhat stiffly. It was what was expected of him, he knew – and besides, she did. Buttoned up as usual, wearing long sleeves that covered her arms and even her wrists, and Muggle trousers (he did like it when she did that – the cut was flattering), but she had her hair pulled up, with only a few tendrils framing her face, which was flushing most becomingly.
"And you look— distracted. Is something the matter?"
"As a matter of fact, there is something I feel I need to discuss with you. But it can wait until after we've eaten."
Hermione smiled again. "Nothing too dreadful, I hope."
Severus grimaced in response, hoping that it would look like an awkward smile.
As they waited for their food to arrive, Severus marvelled at how much Hermione seemed to enjoy his company. The frequent smiles, the full attention she gave him whenever he was saying something, the light touches on his arm every now and then when she was making a point… He didn't even know what it was that they were discussing, so occupied was his mind by how wonderful she looked – and how deeply it would hurt him once she decided she wanted nothing to do with him.
The more paranoid side of his mind whispered into his ear that he should just get up and leave, perhaps with a sharp word or two – it would be better to make her wonder what she had done wrong; at least this way, he'd have the upper hand and the satisfaction of knowing she didn't dump him. Yet he felt reluctant to do so, and not just because this would mean giving up any chance of ever fulfilling his fantasies of having her.
He had hoped they could leave after the main course, but Hermione insisted on dessert and coffee, so he grinned – careful not to bare his teeth too much; he knew only too well they were not his best feature – and shared a piece of chocolate cake with her. It tasted like sawdust.
"So, about this thing you wanted to talk to me about," Hermione said at last. "Would you prefer to talk here or should we go somewhere more comfortable?"
"Somewhere more private might be better," Severus said.
Severus inclined his head. He'd expected that. It wouldn't be the first time they'd ended up there after a meeting, although he'd made sure they'd never got any further than her living room.
x X x
"Is it about us?" Hermione asked as soon as they'd got inside. She wasn't looking at him, instead busying herself with putting her coat away. "I know we've never actually talked about this, this thing that has developed between us, and I understand if you think that we've been rushing into it or if you're not ready yet or—"
"Sorry. Babbling. Bad habit, when I'm nervous."
Severus quirked his lips, in spite of the knots in his stomach. "You have nothing to be nervous about."
"Then what is it?"
She'd turned around now and was looking straight into his eyes. For this particular discussion, Severus decided he'd have preferred it if she'd kept her back turned to him.
"I… Well…" The speech he'd mentally prepared was all but gone. He swallowed, his fingers going reflexively to his collar to make sure it was still covering the scars. "I want you."
Hermione stared at him. "And that is a problem exactly how? Honestly, the way you've been acting all evening, I thought this was going to be—"
"Sorry. Go on."
He sighed. "I want you, but… I fear what will happen if you see me."
"What do you mean, when I see you? I've seen you a lot since we started to, um, see each other more often." She looked at him, confusion evident in her features. "Or are you implying that you're, um, that you've got some sort of a problem…"
She trailed off, giving a slight nod towards his nether regions.
"No!" This was going all wrong. Severus drew his hand through his hair, too nervous to stay still. That was one part of him that he was reasonably confident about – nothing to show off on the cover of Playwitch Monthly, perhaps, but nothing to be ashamed of, as far as he could tell. "No, this is not at all what I meant."
Hermione flushed. "Good. Because I've, um, felt it sometimes when we've kissed, and I didn't think that should be anything to worry about, and oh Merlin I can't believe I'm actually discussing this with you right now."
"Quite." Severus cleared his throat, wondering how to continue. "No, it's not that. It's just… I've got scars. Not just a few scars, but—"
"Scars," Hermione repeated, as if she didn't believe her own ears.
"Yes, scars!" He was starting to lose patience; this was difficult enough as it was, without her constant interruptions. "Scars. Nagini's bite, duelling scars, bites from all sorts of creatures, the Dark—"
"The Dark Mark. I know." She looked at him, her eyes full of something that looked suspiciously like compassion. "It's okay. I know you have scars. I was there when Nagini bit you, remember? And I was there when you first showed your Dark Mark to Fudge, when Voldemort had just returned. And I know it never went away – all his former followers still have it."
"But— They're— I look disgusting." His shoulders slumped.
"Is this why you've never let me get any further, no matter how hard I've tried?"
He nodded, feeling stupid and silly and ashamed for even telling her this.
"And you're worried that… that I'd push you away if I saw them?"
He nodded again. "I was thinking… Maybe, if you still wanted to, we could only have a few candles around, not quite dark but almost. You won't want to see me clearly, I can assure you."
Hermione sighed. "Of course I want to see you. All of you. Scars and all. Do you really think a few scars, or even more than a few," she amended after seeing him start to protest, "would put me off? Do you think I don't know what scars are? I have more than my fair share of those too, you know."
Severus blinked. Hermione, have scars? It had never occurred to him, but… She had been in battles, so perhaps she might even have a few. A couple of dainty white lines, probably. Nothing comparable to his.
Still, at least she didn't seem put off by the idea of his marred body. And it was true that she would have been aware of some of the worst ones already. This was enough to lift Severus's spirits (and not just his spirits).
Hermione had stepped closer to him, her fingers running along the fine creases of his outer robe. "I think we've been spending enough time out here in the hallway," she whispered. "And you must be getting hot in these robes… Would you mind if I took them off you?"
"Go ahead," he murmured, keeping his tone equally low but adding a pinch of silk into his voice. "I do agree… we should retire somewhere more comfortable."
Hermione had his robes off and hanging on a hook in a flash. "Sofa?" she suggested, sounding a little breathless. "Or my bedroom?"
"We've waited enough, haven't we?" Her slender fingers were playing with the top button of his collar, which felt all too tight all of a sudden. "And now that we've discussed the issue that delayed us, is there any more reason to wait?"
Severus opened his mouth to say something, but his blood seemed to have left his brain in favour of warmer regions. So instead, he grasped her shoulders and manoeuvred her into the living room, covering her mouth with burning kisses. From there, Hermione took over, kicking open the door that led to her bedroom, and half pulled, half pushed him inside.
Severus's foggy brain was trying to make him remember something. "Candles," he gasped. "Candles. Do you have candles?"
"Still not keen on the idea of me seeing you properly, then?" Hermione's voice was tinged with slight amusement, but there was also a note of something else, something that Severus's trained ears strained to identify… trepidation, perhaps? Anxiety?
"Not tonight," he confessed, surprised at how easy it was to add, "but perhaps another time, if you don't find me too revolting."
Hermione gave him a small smile. "I could never find you revolting. Certainly not for something as trivial as scars."
Severus sighed. He didn't want to argue about this. "They're not trivial, believe me," he muttered.
Hermione looked straight at him, worrying her lower lip. "It never occurred to me before to feel anxious about this, you know, but now I cannot help but wonder – if you are making such a fuss over your own, should I be the one to fear your reaction to mine, instead?"
Severus blanched. "No. No!" So perhaps he'd been wrong in his fantasies – it could be that Hermione was not as perfect as he'd liked to imagine. But it couldn't be that bad, and besides, who was he to complain? This woman, this perfect, wonderful, desirable woman, was offering herself to him, and he wasn't going to look the gift horse in the mouth, even if the horse proved to be a few teeth short (or came with a few unexpected scars).
"Good." Hermione looked around, as if searching for something. "Accio candles!"
She caught the candles nimbly and with a few flicks of her wand placed them on surfaces around the bedroom. Severus couldn't help but add his own touch, making a few of them float around the bed. Once the candles were lit, Hermione switched off the lamps, and to Severus's joy, the harsh glare of electricity was replaced by soft candle light.
"Is this okay?" Hermione asked.
At his nod, she pulled him close and resumed the heated kisses, to which Severus responded with equal enthusiasm. This time, he didn't try to stop her hands when they wandered to his chest, nor when they divested him of his shirt. He closed his eyes, waiting for her reaction, but apart from her fingers making their way towards his belt, none came.
Trying his best to stop his hands from shaking, he unbuttoned Hermione's shirt, taking in the view. Her hands stilled, as she looked at him.
She hadn't been exaggerating her own scars. Severus's eyes followed each of them in amazement. There were a multitude of them covering her torso and upper arms – none as immediately disgusting as the bite Nagini had left him with, but several of them still looked fresh and angry. Scars left by curses that he could recognise, various cuts that looked like they might have come from a knife…
Hermione shrugged off her shirt and showed him her arm. Severus's breath hitched at the red lines etched into her skin, easily readable even in the dim light.
"Bellatrix Lestrange did that," Hermione said quietly. "I tried everything to get rid of it at first, but…"
"Cursed knife," Severus said. He remembered that Bellatrix had loved to play with it.
"Yes." There was resignation in her voice. "Now… It's a scar that reminds me what we fought for. I'm not ashamed of it, even if I don't go around displaying it to all and sundry."
She took hold of his left arm, tracing the contour of his Dark Mark with her fingertips. "Scars serve as reminders. Yours as well as mine, even if they're there for different reasons. To me, this doesn't only tell me what you once were, but also what you became later. We wouldn't have won without you. Not just because in the end, Harry wouldn't have known what to do if it hadn't been for you, but also before… we needed you, even if we didn't know or care about it at the time."
She let his arm go and pulled him closer to her. "Now, I think we have other things to think about."
Severus's mind was spinning. So much of what he'd expected she'd proven wrong in just a few moments. Acceptance. He wasn't used to that, but perhaps it was time for that to change.
"I think you're right," he murmured, and joined her on the bed.