Wars of our Fathers

A fan fiction by labrt2004

Chapter Eleven

Written for debjunk in the Autumn 2011 SS/HG Exchange

Disclaimer: None of it is mine.

Author's Notes: Thank you to my betas, la_syren and snarkyroxy, for your tremendous help. And thank you,debjunk, for the great prompt. And thank you mods, for another wonderful exchange! This story is shamelessly AU. I've basically just taken whatever bits of canon are convenient and tossed out whatever bits aren't. :) Hope you enjoy it.

Dejunk's prompt: Severus Snape's heart has been sealed against women ever since the fiasco with Lily. He finds himself paired with Hermione Granger in some sort of working atmosphere and is not pleased. Things warm up to amiable at some point and during a discussion Severus comments icily that women are heartless users and are not to be trusted. Our resident know-it-all sets out to prove him wrong, and eventually succeeds.

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Severus paced in his office, bleary-eyed and exhausted, his hair standing up in odd directions from repeated pulling. He had never felt so pathetically wretched. He had known, from the moment Hermione had disappeared behind the door in a swirl of robes, that he had made a mistake of monumental proportions. For the past two days, he was acutely aware of her absence from his life. His sitting room felt empty, his office, cold. His meals were taken away uneaten, and owl post piled up on his desk.

"Severus," said a chiding voice from the wall.

He glared at Albus' portrait. "Just because I took down that bloody curtain does not mean I am soliciting your company," he growled.

"You are going to make yourself ill," the old man said pleasantly.

Severus swung his arm, sweeping his books to the floor. Laying his palms down on his desk, he stood in a hunched posture and whispered, voice tinged with despair, "I hurt her."

"Ah, have you discovered that you do love Miss Granger, then?" Albus said in matter-of-fact tones, as if it were quite normal for a portrait to be dispensing relationship advice.

"I can't love her," said Severus viciously. He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing from the effort. "But I—" he struggled to put to words the lost, hollow sensation that losing her had wrought in him. To describe how he missed her laughter, her conversation, her very essence.

"It seems obvious to me that you can love, my boy."

"Albus..." he said warningly. He was in no mood for one of the headmaster's maudlin lectures.

"I have known you for a long, long time. And I've watched you these last few years, especially. It would be remiss of me to claim that I never worried about you, especially right after you took over this office. But you have risen admirably, Severus, blossomed beyond even my wildest dreams."

Severus scowled, but found himself listening, in spite of himself.

"What I have seen is you befriending your enemy's son. You expending inordinate amounts of time and energy rebuilding the school. You watching protectively over the students. And most importantly, you recognizing the pain of another and reaching out to her, pulling her to safety. All while steadfastly refusing the recognition due to you at every turn. Are those the actions of a man incapable of love?"

"You know perfectly well that common decency does not amount to the same thing as... this bonding of hearts that you speak of!" said Severus, annoyed.

Albus leaned his forehead into his hand. "Severus, Severus," he said affectionately. "Look at you. Unkempt, sleepless, chased by your own inner demons. Even as you sit here declaring that you aren't capable of loving Miss Granger, you are the very semblance of yourself on that frantic Halloween night when you came to me twenty years ago. Only one kind of emotion inspires this kind of behavior, my dear boy."

"Do not bring that up!" Severus roared.

Albus sat up straighter. "Bring what up? Lily?" he said, as if they'd finally gotten to the most interesting part of the discussion.

"She is the reason that I cannot lay down my heart to be tread upon again," said Severus savagely.

A sad smile appeared on Albus' face. "Yes, those cuts always run deepest, don't they? But will you let fear of a pain inflicted upon you two decades ago prevent you from grasping at a chance at happiness now? You have always been so fearless..."

"What if Hermione..." Severus trailed off, seeing that questioning Hermione's commitment to him was ludicrous beyond measure.

"I quite agree," Albus said, looking infuriatingly pleased.

Severus couldn't work up the will to glare. He merely resumed his pacing, more confounded than before. None of his thoughts made sense. He simply knew that absent Hermione, his world was incomplete.

Albus' eyes followed him as he traced circles around the room. "Severus," he said quietly. "You deserve to be happy."

At the mention of his own happiness, new despair welled up in him. The magnitude of his error seemed insurmountable. "I drove her away," he admitted to Albus. "Or rather, she cast me away in the end," he added, recalling with self-disgust her scornful parting words.

"Ah, but I believe it was for the best that she completed this portion of her journey alone."

"I've been a fool," Severus muttered.

"We who love always are," Albus called after him as he suddenly charged out of his office.

When he reached the door of the Defense office, he rapped on it impatiently. After a few moments, he waved his wand, easily gaining entrance through wards that could not be keyed against the headmaster.

"Potter," he sniped, as Harry emerged from his bedroom, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

"What? Merlin's balls, Snape, it's eight o'clock in the morning during Christmas holidays." Potter blinked at him. "And you look like hell."

"Have you heard from her?" Severus bit out.

"Heard from..." Potter frowned. "Hermione? Yeah, I have? Owl just delivered something this morning, I think."

"Well?" said Severus imperiously. "How is she?"

"You know, you're not exactly getting on my good side, here, Severus," Potter grumbled.

When Severus only glowered at him, too agitated for words, Potter gave him a strange look, then shook his head. "Accio letter!"

Severus reached out to take the letter after Potter had summoned it, but the boy withheld it. "Does private correspondence mean anything to you?"

He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Apologies. Go on."

Potter scanned the missive. "She's good. Went to see her parents. About time she did that.."

Severus felt a stab of remorse laced with pride. Brave Hermione. She'd gone and done it on her own.

Potter put down the letter and evaluated Severus with a critical eye. "I see why you're here," he said.

At Severus' questioning gesture toward the letter, Potter nodded. "Er... is it safe to say you've changed your mind?" the boy asked, a note of teasing in his voice.

"Don't play your coy little games with me, Potter," he thundered.

"Wow," Potter breathed, taking a half step backward. "This is serious."

The younger wizard pulled out a chair at his dining table, gesturing for Severus to sit. He did so, suddenly feeling completely drained. He put his elbows on the table and buried his head in his fingers. "I love her," he confessed, as if it were a crime.

Harry hid a smile. "Obviously."

"I believe she hates me now. I certainly tried my best to arrange for it."

Harry glanced meaningfully at the letter. "You might have a shot," he said lightly, "if you grovel."

Severus groaned.

"Severus," Harry said after a pause. "She'll be back after the holidays are over. She's loyal, steadfast, and kind. You'll be fine."

A glass was placed at Severus' elbow. "Have some firewhisky."

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Hermione pulled her traveling cloak tighter about her, lifting the hood up in an attempt to ward off the sting of swirling snow. She struggled up the foot path leading to the castle, slipping and sliding across the frozen ground.

"Merlin, it's cold," she muttered. With one final grunt, she scaled the top step and stomped her feet at the castle entrance. She brushed the snow off from the hem of her cloak, took a deep breath, and walked briskly across the courtyard.

She stopped suddenly in her tracks and threw her head back to look at the sky, at the kaleidoscope of shimmering grey and white. Snowflakes clung to her eyelashes and melted on her skin. The sun, concealed behind many layers of blizzard-laden clouds, still managed to shine faintly through.

Her mother's smile flashed across her mind, even as the storm intensified around her, pelting ice cold grit against her cheeks.

The wildly shifting wind, the silent stillness of the winter landscape, and the shimmering lights of the castle beyond... it all felt right and good. Hermione sighed, throwing her arms out, turning around in circles. Borne away by an inexplicable euphoria, she laughed, a deep, joyful laugh full of release.

When she finally quieted, she noticed with surprise that she wasn't alone. The tall, black form of Severus stood in the yawning archway of the front gates, silhouetted by the flickering torches on the walls behind him. Unable to see his shadowed face, she stayed rooted in the rapidly accumulating snow and simply watched him. She had purposefully not given Severus much thought on the journey back. The sheer relief she had experienced at St. Michael's had crowded out any predisposition toward gloom. As he continued standing beneath the arch, she could sense a change in him. Hope ignited in her, causing her to hold her breath.

Severus had never seen a sight more beautiful than Hermione spinning in the midst of a gusty Highland snowstorm. His heart filled at once to the brink, overflowing with a tenderness he'd believed himself incapable of and a love he had thought impossible. Recalling his own foolish words, he hoped with a slight trembling in his soul that she could forgive him.

He quickly flew down the steps toward her, robes billowing behind him.

"Hermione," he breathed when he reached her in the middle of the courtyard. "My love." He took her mittened hand in his bare one, paying no heed to the numbing cold. He pressed his lips against her fingers, wordlessly communicating his regret. "I—I am a hard man to love. Forgive me," he said, voice rough. He brought her hand against his own cheek, needing to feel her solidity against himself.

The moment she saw him come to her, she knew that she... they had won. She took his face between her hands, drinking in the piercing dark eyes, the aquiline nose, and the windswept black hair. "There is no one else I'd rather love," she whispered.

He wrapped his own cloak around the both of them, drawing her into the warmth of his embrace. Their breaths misting in the winter air, he gently kissed her. "Nor I. I am glad you are back."

-Fin-

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