Author's Note: Thank you to my betas justine34 and LilyShadowWriter for all of their encouragement and grammar help! The characters belong to J.K. Rowling and the lyrics are from Tegan and Sara's "It Was Midnight." I highly recommend checking out both this song and other tracks from this band.
It was midnight
Your hand was in mine
All eyes were on our table
Hermione knew she was grinning like a fool, but she couldn't care less. It was difficult to quell the happy fluttering in her stomach, even as she felt a dozen pairs of eyes latch on to her area of the restaurant. The lantern hanging above casted a soft glow across the table she shared with the inspiration for her current state of giddiness. It had taken her more than a year, but she had finally dragged Severus Snape out on a true date. Even as the waiter set glossy menus before them, and a sharply dressed Severus gave his menu a critical glance, Hermione still couldn't believe she had managed it.
One Year Earlier…
This time last year, Hermione had not seen or spoken to Severus Snape in more than a decade, not since the end of the war. To be completely honest, no one had. Following his miraculous recovery from a near-fatal snake bite in the Shrieking Shack (truly no one knew how he managed to survive), he had disappeared. It was all quite shocking really. The story of his role as a double agent for the Order and his love and devotion for Harry Potter's mother, even to his near death, had set the wizarding world in an uproar. It was almost bigger news than the defeat of Voldemort. But instead of throwing himself into the spotlight, or even accepting the awards and accolades he might have gladly taken years ago, he had slipped quietly into seclusion.
Hermione had grown tired of the attention, too. Being Harry Potter's friend had never been so taxing, and considering her past experiences, that said quite a lot. The pain of the war was still fresh, especially in the absence of her parents, and the public was eager to see what she did next. Thus, instead of becoming an Auror as Harry and Ron had, she decided to finish her education in the protection of Hogwarts' stone towers. After a frustrating turn with the bureaucracy of the Ministry, she had settled into something that would make her infinitely happier. So, as Ron might say, in typical Hermione-fashion she had opened a bookstore.
It was in this bookstore that she had first laid eyes on Severus Snape again, dressed in his perfunctory black overcoat and walking quite steadily towards her, as if his walking into her bookstore was not an extraordinary occurrence, but a mundane act.
Thinking back, Hermione realized that she shouldn't have been so surprised to see him there. Her bookstore, carved out of a small nook on the edge of Diagon Alley, was quite anonymous amongst the dazzle of surrounding stores. Only a couple doors down from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, it appeared to be in the shadows of its neighbors, with barely a sign in the window. But that's how Hermione preferred it, and she knew that the clientele she attracted also approved. Not to say they were shady characters. Well, she wasn't sure, actually, but that was how she preferred it. Her business, while not overwhelming, was steady enough to pay the bills. And in the meantime, she spent her days reading the books she cared for and completing personal research.
As Snape approached that day, Hermione noticed a change in the countenance she remembered. Instead of the severe glare (or often malicious sneer) she had often received in response to her waving hand in class, she was faced with a man who looked rather relaxed. At the height of the wars, he had begun to look a bit haggard, with dark shadows under his eyes, but those were now considerably faded. In fact, his skin overall seemed to have brightened to at least a healthy pale. This was not to say he was not still the Severus Snape, all dark eyes and beaky nose. But, perhaps the look in those eyes was more lukewarm than cold, and his hair possibly greasy, but cut short enough that no one could really tell.
"Miss Granger, are you the proprietor of this store?" he asked evenly when he reached the counter. He was so relaxed he even leaned slightly towards her, his long fingers gripping the counter softly.
Hermione didn't speak for several moments as all feeling left her face. Unfortunately, it returned soon afterward only to alert her that she was in fact standing there, eyes wide and gaping.
"Yes, Prof…mist…sir," she stuttered, still recovering from her near heart attack. It wasn't as if the man was a ghost, but for all he'd been seen in the last decade, he might as well have been.
Seemingly unfazed by the spectacle she was making of herself, though she could have sworn there was a glint of amusement in his eyes, he placed an order for a rare potions tome, which had been out of print.
"If you don't think you can obtain it…" he began carefully, that familiar condescension creeping into his tone.
"I can have it in a week," she replied quickly, cutting him off. It wasn't just the challenge that had her eager, but its issuer. Perhaps, we never grow out of some of our childish traits.
True to her word, she had the book a week later. She could hardly contain her excitement as he entered her shop again, in an almost identical fashion to his approach the previous week. As he reached the counter, he nodded and said, "Miss Granger," by way of greeting.
"Sir," Hermione replied simply, before reaching down to pick up a brown paper package from beneath the counter. Carefully placing it on the counter, she watched proudly as Snape nimbly unwrapped it to reveal a heavy blue tome. Light glinted off the gold embossing and the wonderful smell of old book filled the air. As if high on this scent, Hermione ventured to ask a question that would lead to more than she imagined.
"Would you like some tea?"
One Year Later…
They had moved on from tea faster than Hermione expected. In fact, within six months, he practically had his own drawer in her bedroom, a feat accomplished by no man up to this point. It seemed that with the war and other details of her education at Hogwarts far behind them, they could get on quite companionably, sharing a great interest in learning and living a quiet, secluded life style. And maybe, just maybe, they were both a bit lonely. But while she had come to treasure their book discussions over dinner and the time she spent silently curled up against his lithe form on the couch as she read, wrote or simply closed her eyes for just a moment, she began to dream of re-entering the hustle and bustle of the wizarding world. She wanted to share her happiness with the people she loved, like Harry and Ron, whom she had become disconnected from during her years of solitude.
It was no easy task to convince a man, who had understandably shunned the outside world, to re-enter it. This task was made no less daunting when considering that even after a decade Hermione was still prone to attracting attention herself. But she planted the idea, mentioning one night over leftover pasta how nice it would be to have a gourmet dinner out. Severus, however, made a face that indicated he was not in the least interested in this possibility. Then, one evening as Hermione rolled over in bed to kiss him good night, he said quietly, "I've made reservations for tomorrow night."
The reservations were for midnight the next evening, but Hermione didn't mind, it gave her time to properly fix her frizzy hair into an elegant knot and pick out an outfit for the evening. Now, as she sat across from him in a black strapless cocktail dress, she couldn't stop uncontrollably smiling. It all felt exciting, new, and most of all real. She had become a recluse because the false flattery of fame had become too much to stomach, but this bond she had developed with Severus, it felt real.
She barely spared the waiter a glance when he returned to fill their glasses with wine. Picking up her glass, she cleared her throat softly, hoping to wrench his concentration from the menu he seemed to be staring a hole into it. Noting her gesture, he lifted his own, meeting her eyes with his own warm regard.
"Shall we toast?" she asked playfully.
"If we must," he replied with a faux sigh, as if put upon by the entire endeavor.
"To new beginnings, then," Hermione announced, moving her glass towards his. Hermione couldn't help noticing the strange look that passed over his face as their glasses met with a soft clink.
It was after noon before you were out of bed and I was able to concentrate
To figure out a plan to keep you here,
To make a list, a list to convince you.
Don't run away;
It only fuels the flames..
Don't pull away;
It only makes me wanna stay...
Hermione awoke in a soft cocoon of blankets the next day. Judging by the angle of the sun streaming through the adjacent window, it was well into the afternoon. Rubbing her eyes and pulling back the covers, she recalled the events of the past evening.
The evening had included a delicious dinner and several glasses of wine, and then if she remembered correctly, a stumbling return through Diagon Alley back to her apartment above the shop. The wine had made her a bit tipsy, and she found herself unable to coordinate her movements in her unwisely high heels on the uneven cobblestone. Severus didn't seem to mind though. He was positively smirking as he held her up by her waist while they made their way under the glimmer of looming streetlamps and distant stars. Upon reaching her building, the challenge of climbing the stairs to her second story flat presented itself, a challenge Severus took in stride when he swept her up in his arms and carried her up the two flights to her front door.
"Has the wine given you herculean strength?" Hermione asked with a laugh as she tried to unlock the door while he continued to hold her in his arms.
"Something like that," Severus responded with a heated glance. Hermione felt herself blush as the door popped open, and less than a minute later, she found herself in the middle of her queen-size bed, quite enjoying his attention.
Now, several hours later, she rolled over to her right to find Severus' spot on the bed vacated. Sitting up, she pulled the blanket with her, covering her naked form. Severus stood at the other end of the bed buttoning the front of his standard black shirt.
"Are you off, then?" Hermione asked, trying to hide the concern in her voice. He usually told her ahead of time if he had plans for the day and certainly didn't leave without waking her up first.
"Yes, I have a bit of business to attend to; I'll be back in a bit," he answered nonchalantly. Finishing the last button, he gave her a quick nod, and swept out of the room. Moments later, she heard the soft thud of the front door shutting. Suddenly feeling a bit strange, Hermione sank back down into bed, pulling the heavy blanket to her chin.
Something about his behavior that morning worried her. It wasn't just that he had left so suddenly and with so little explanation. It was that look he had when they had toasted the night before. It was probably nothing, but she couldn't help combining the events in her head.
Was it the dinner? Was it too much? It had been his idea, after all; she hadn't tried to force him. But that look. Now it was all she could see as she closed her eyes. A look of worry? Or dread? Had it been the toast itself? "To new beginnings." Perhaps now he wanted out of the relationship. They hadn't really discussed their level of commitment…
Hermione shook her head lightly, as if to banish the thoughts. It wasn't like her to worry over nothing. No, it was all in her head. He would be back tonight and things would be as they were. Resolved to think positively for the rest of the day, she pulled back the covers and eased out of bed. As she dressed in a pair of jeans and a simple t-shirt, she also decided she would attempt to prepare his favorite dinner for his return. After all, it couldn't hurt.
It was Monday
You were packing on my floor
My eyes were charting every move you made
It was early evening before you were home and I was sure you were safe
I can't concentrate
I try so hard to plan to keep you here
I can't evaluate
I threw away the list to convince you
As Hermione had predicted, Severus returned around six that evening. Hearing his customary three quick knocks, Hermione quickly placed the rotisserie chicken she had prepared on the kitchen table, removed her checkered apron, and walked into the hallway to answer the door. Pulling open the door with her brightest smile, she found a rather sour-looking Severus. Without any greeting, Severus walked straight to the sitting room and sunk into one of her plush armchairs. Following him in, Hermione stood in the entryway to the kitchen, leaning on the edge of the entry's frame.
"Long day?" she asked as she watched him throw his head back onto the top of the chair and slowly close his eyes.
"It was fine," he replied tiredly, but said nothing else. Generally, this would not be considered unusual behavior for Severus Snape. Along with his usual glaring, sneering, and snarky retorts, he was also known to be quite secretive with his responses. This, however, was her Severus; the one who she had thought had come to relax around her. He certainly wasn't very private last night…
"Right," she said, afraid to broach the subject further. "Well, I have dinner waiting in the kitchen," she continued, gesturing to the glistening rotisserie chicken on the table.
"Yes," he responded. Opening his eyes, he placed his hand on his knees and stood up quite slowly before making his way to the kitchen. Hermione watched his journey into the kitchen with a raised brow. Yes, he was older than her, much older than she was sure he would care to mention. He wasn't, however, in such bad shape that he moved with difficulty. He just seemed defeated.
Taking her seat at the kitchen table, Hermione moved to serve the chicken as Severus served the accompanying salad. He barely looked up at her as he distributed her portion. Once the meal was served, Hermione picked up her silverware and began to pick at her dinner. Finding herself without appetite, however, she placed her fork and knife back down and looked up from her plate, trying to catch Severus' eye. He seemed as interested in the meal as she was, pushing the food around but not taking a single bite.
"All right, love?" Hermione inquired softly.
"Fine," he replied once more, this time his words coming out more as a grumble. Sighing, he too placed his silverware down and looked up. She was quick to catch his glance, brown meeting black. What she saw was worry, and possibly fear.
"I'll be leaving for a bit," Severus said quietly.
"Will you?" Hermione responded. She really didn't know what to say. A voice in her head was screaming, "STOP HIM!" but, she could think of no response other than "please, no," a polite but probably unconvincing argument.
"I'll just be a few days," he said as he rubbed the back of his head and neck nervously with his left hand. Noting his unusual anxiety, Hermione reached across the table to grasp his right hand, only to have him stand abruptly. Pulling her hand back, she stared up at him, hurt evident in her chestnut eyes.
"I'll just pack now, then," he said a bit stiffly, avoiding eye-contact. With that, he brusquely left the room. Following him into her bedroom, Hermione found him seconds later unpacking his drawer.
"I thought you said you'd only be a few days," Hermione said quietly as she came to sit on her bed, watching as he pulled a small leather bag out of his pocket and proceeded to transfigure it into a proper suitcase.
"Yes, well, these are my overnight things," he replied as he carefully packed clothes into the newly enlarged leather suitcase. Once the last scrap of fabric has been packed, he stood up, grasped the handle with his right hand, and gave a brief wave good-bye with his left. And just like earlier that morning, Hermione sat on her bed alone as she heard the front door creak open and shut softly once more. Staring at the empty drawer left ajar, she felt as if she had just been kicked in the stomach. Tears trailed down her face as she crawled to the head of the bed and slipped under the covers. Pulling her knees to her chest, she knew she wouldn't be able to sleep tonight.
Don't run away;
It only fuels the flames..
Don't pull away;
It only makes me wanna stay...
It had been difficult to get through the next couple days. Hermione didn't think of herself as a girl who fell apart. In fact, she felt quite ashamed that even a week after he had left, she still neglected to properly dress herself or even run a comb through her hair, electing to leave it sticking out at will. She had managed to keep the store open, though, and took comfort that although she felt like she was falling to pieces, her customers had not noticed one bit.
It was closing time Wednesday when she saw Severus again. It had been eight days since his dramatic exit, and she had all but given up hope that he would return. His entrance felt eerily similar to his very first visit. In the same black overcoat, he strode through the shop door and walked purposefully up to the counter. Though she did not gape this time, Hermione felt her heart stop for at least two beats as she came face to face with Severus Snape, the man she loved.
"I..." he began tentatively. "I apologize for my earlier exit."
"Your earlier exit?" Hermione asked as she regained control over her voice again. Suddenly, she couldn't help feeling quite angry over the whole thing. He leaves without a proper explanation, and all he can say is that he's sorry?
"You practically ran out of here!" she spat out angrily. "I think I deserve a better explanation than how sorry you are!" At that she stepped back from the counter, crossing her arms in front of her chest and raising a challenging eyebrow.
Severus stepped back and crossed his arms as well, as if returning the challenge. Then, without warning, he let out a frustrated sigh and threw his arms up before beginning to pace the room. Hermione watched him walk back and forth across the room, the groaning of the aged floors and his soft muttering the only noises to break the silence. Finally, he stopped his pacing to step back towards the counter once more.
"Hermione, when we started this I warned you that -"
"You're not a nice man," Hermione finished, still crossing her arms and glaring. "Yes, I heard you then, but the man I got was more than nice. He was caring and I thought at least had enough courtesy to let me know if something was wrong."
"And what was I supposed to say?" Severus asked through gritted teeth, leaning over the counter towards her. "That everything was moving fast, that I needed time to think? What would you have thought then?"
"Well," she retorted in a fierce whisper as she leaned towards him as well. "I certainly wouldn't have thought that the man I've fallen in love with had just abruptly abandoned me with an entire, uneaten rotisserie chicken!"
Their faces were inches apart at this point and Hermione had every intention of glaring him into submission, but then the absurdity of her last statement hit her and she couldn't help releasing a giggle. Pulling back, she began laughing in earnest, her hair shadowing her face as she nearly doubled over laughing.
Sitting down on the chair behind the counter, her giggles finally subsided enough to push her hair back and look up at Severus. It took all of her self-control not to descend in to laughter once more as she witnessed the utterly shocked and confused look painted across his face. This was definitely new. Releasing a calming sigh, she gave him an earnest look.
"Just tell me, Severus, are you back for good?"
"If you'll have me," he replied with a wry smile, the tension in the room dissolving. "In fact," he continued as he rummaged through his pocket, "I took the liberty of retrieving this from my personal belongings."
This man certainly had a skill for shocking her into complete silence. He stood before her, holding out a small velvet ring box. Sliding off her chair and stepping lightly to the counter, she took the box from his extended hand and opened it. Seated between two small velvet cushions was ring with a thin silver band and a small green stone. Looking up for confirmation, Hermione saw Severus give his characteristic nod.
"Are you sure about this, Severus?" she questioned as she delicately took the ring out of its box. This, his sudden departure, his brash return, all of it was completely unexpected.
"I know this is strange," Severus conceded, rubbing the back of his neck in a familiar gesture. "When I left that morning, I was intent on simply clearing my head. The more I thought, however, the more I couldn't figure out what you wanted with me."
"Oh, Severus," Hermione began, but paused when he held up his hand.
"I came back that evening," Severus continued, starting to pace once again and avoiding her eyes, "with every intention of ending it. I would be doing you a favor, I thought." He stopped pacing to stare across the room at Hermione, who stood at rapt attention, the ring held between her fingers.
"Then I saw you, and dinner, and I just couldn't, so I left. I know, not my best excuse."
Hermione looked back at the ring twirling between her fingers. She loved him, she really did, but a ring?
"Severus, this…" Hermione said hesitantly. "I love you, but this is a huge step." With that she slipped the ring back into the box and stepped around the counter. Approaching him, she held out the ring, looking down slightly to avoid looking into his eyes.
Instead of taking the box, however, Severus placed his hand over hers and closed her small fingers around the box.
"It's not an engagement ring," he said more steadily than his previous speech. "It's a promise. I had bought it decades ago for, well, for someone else. I realized this week that it was meant for you."
Hermione managed to finally look up and saw the familiar warmth in his dark eyes. Feeling at last at ease, she walked a step forward to throw her hands around his neck. Nuzzling her head against his shoulder, tears of happiness slipped from her eyes as she smiled broadly. Severus leaned down and kissed her forehead and then set his chin on her shoulder, whispering in her ear.
"To new beginnings."