Disclaimer:  Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.  Severus-Hermione...a few years after her graduation from Hogwarts. 

Looking At You

I think it was your hair that first forced me to pay attention.  Oh yes, you can laugh at this bit of absurd sentimentality that is so seemingly foreign to me.  It was rather alarming how you kept trying to tame it during your Sorting as it continued to defy you and resist your increasingly frantic attempts.

Beautiful in its unruly glory...the rich brown which reminded me of that hot chocolate Albus drinks to dizzying excess.  Hints of honey gold catching in the candlelight.  Simply lovely...

...and yet I scowled at you fiercely as you were happily sorted into Gryffindor.  It might have been a scowl of disappointment but I would prefer to think not.  Certainly, it was not as if you belonged anywhere else...even an old reprobate as myself recognized the many qualities that made you a member of that ragbag group of ruffians.  If only you had a streak of cunning in you...something dark...something Slytherin.

But now I am looking at you and, as always, I marvel that someone as beautiful and wondrous as you could ever hold a special place in her heart that was for me alone.

I have to smile as I watch you faithfully brush your hair.  Oh, you have given up trying to impose some order on your wayward locks and it is, truth be told, just as alarming as it was so many years ago.  However, every night you never fail to brush it.  That single motion, repeated with a rhythm and a grace that I have always found strangely soothing.  It has become one of the few constants in my life, a nighttime ritual of sorts, and I find myself waiting for the moment when you will turn to me, smile shyly and ask if I could continue.  I have never refused...never could refuse.  I pick up the brush and run it effortlessly through your hair, careful not to hurt you in the slightest.  You close your eyes and sigh softly as if to say...ah yes, that is heavenly.

And, as I look at your smiling face, it astonishes me that I can bring such happiness and contentment to another person.  I did not think it possible...felt that the ability to do so was lost so many years ago.

Your strength.  Your faith.  Your determination to continue on despite the personal cost...all of it endeared me to you.  I may have been initially attracted to your brilliance...but I fell in love with the complex entity that is you...your good qualities, your weaknesses, your loves, your hates...everything that was and is a part of you.

Even when the final battle temporarily deprived you of your magical abilities, it did not make you less desirable in my eyes.  Although, I admit I had great difficulty convincing you of the fact.  You were ashamed...felt diminished somehow...unworthy of me.

I find the irony almost painful.

No, I was already too deeply in love with you for that to make any difference.  Muggle or witch...it did not matter at all.

Odd thing for someone, so apparently convinced of the importance of the purity of wizarding blood, to say.

But now, I am looking at you and I realize, as I realized all those years ago, that all that talk about purity was absolute drivel.

How many times did I wake up in the middle of the night just to spend a few blissful moments looking at your sleeping face?  Far too many to count.  It was as if I was afraid that it was all a dream and I would wake up and find you gone...and that I could not bear.  To be alone again after having had you to light my life.  A worse horror cannot even be imagined.

It was the jealousy that prompted me to act, when you returned as the Charms Professor...prompted me to say something...state my intentions, so to speak.  I never thought Viktor was worth worrying about but...he...worried me.  I suppose I thought I had all the time in the world.  I suppose I thought you would never give any of those boys a second glance. I did not think you would turn to him for comfort when the killings began.  I saw you at the lake...heads close together...speaking in confidence.  I felt my heart turn to ice.

Of all the men in the world, I never expected Percy Weasley to be another suitor.  I charged to your door, banging on it...angry with you...no, furious with you for carrying on in behaviour that was not professional and did not set a good example for our students.

And you smiled at me...and I could not understand why.

Just a close friend.

Four words that set my heart free and, for the first time in my life, caused me to blush in embarrassment.

And you continued smiling and I wondered, for the briefest of instants before taking you in my arms, if you had not planned that all along.

And, as I am looking at you and at that impish smile that so captivates me I suddenly come to the realization that I don't care all that much.  Not when you gaze at me with so much love and hold me with such tenderness.  If I have been manipulated into marrying you, that is perfectly acceptable...in fact, it would be preferable...prove that there is a little Slytherin in you yet.

Your small hands, never entirely smooth because of your work.  Your expressive eyes which somehow saw the spark of goodness that still existed within me.  Your generous heart which washed away the layers of guilt and self-recrimination and allowed me to be finally free of my past.  Finally free...after so long...

Looking at you, I realize that I love you more than anything.

"Severus."

**********************

That voice brings me back to where I am and I scowl with frustration and embarrassment.

"Severus, I had hoped you would not have returned here."

Albus is standing at the doorway looking at me with such profound sadness.

"Headmaster, I..."

"You have to stop, Severus."

I sigh in frustrated agreement and turn back to the beautiful image in the Mirror of Erised.  I look at you smiling, brushing your hair, holding me, laughing...

"Lucius Malfoy was administered the Dementor's Kiss this evening for using the Killing Curse on your wife," Albus' voice interrupts my thoughts.

"Good."

Albus approaches me and places a hand on my shoulder.  His fingers feel almost skeletal.

"Come, Severus, you cannot stay here.  She would not have wanted you to waste your life in such a manner."

I hate it when he is right so I sigh in frustration and get up off the floor where I had been sitting...had been sitting each night since Lucius Malfoy apparated into my home and murdered my wife...my love...my Hermione.

I approach the mirror and hesitantly touch the cool, smooth surface.

"Goodbye," I whisper.  Turning quickly, I flee the room knowing that I will never see her image in the Mirror again...Albus will see to that.

As I stand, hunched over and taking deep, steadying breaths of air, Albus approaches me once again.

"I think you have forgotten something," he smiles and motions for me to follow him.  We wind our way through many hallways and up and down several moving staircases.  Several portraits look at me in sympathy.

We reach a door that Albus opens with a special spell and we walk inside.

Minerva is there, sitting on a rocking chair with a wiggling bundle in her arms.  She stands up and walks over to me.

"She misses her father," she states quietly as she deposits my little daughter in my arms.

She's only nine months old…is already smiling and laughing at a world that is safer and holds more promise than the one into which I was born.  It amazes me…utterly confounds me that I played a hand in the creation of such a tiny being so full of innocence.  Her hair is already showing signs of being just as alarming as yours but her eyes are mine and it is quite disconcerting to be gazed upon by one's own eyes.  Yet hers are not filled with bitterness or regret but are warm and soft like the velvety blackness of a summer night sky.

The type of sky we used to gaze upon together…

One little hand has managed to wiggle its way out of the wrappings and is reaching towards me.  She is burbling happily and I can't help but capture that tiny hand and kiss it a thousand times.  Her exquisite squeals of laughter are worth more to me than all the Galleons in the world.

I am looking at her but I am seeing you and I have finally come to the realization that, as long as she lives, I will never truly have lost you.

A/N:  Dedicated to my hubby…because I miss you when I am not with you…