Hermione Jean Granger was determined.
She'd had enough of this dancing around and had resolved to take matters into her own hands to get a straight answer from Hogwarts' most
Hermione Granger had arrived at Hogwarts three years earlier to replace Septima Vector as Arithmancy professor after the former had decided to retire. Coming back to Hogwarts to teach had been like coming home, and she could not imagine doing anything else with her life that would be as fulfilling. The transition had gone remarkably well, and she instantly fit in with the staff having known them for the better part of her life.
The most surprising occurrence had been Severus' acceptance of her; something she clearly expected would have to be fought for. She would not go so far as to say it had been easy, but it was not the struggle she had anticipated it would be.
At first they had only acknowledged each other with stiff greetings at staff meetings or a mere nod of the head when they passed in the halls. Eventually that had progressed to a few exchanged sentences at meals, and being of like mind, those few sentences over time, had turned into actual discussions. Such discussions led to tea and grading sessions, and by the time a year had passed, she could honestly call Severus an actual friend. Within the next year, the two youngest professors at Hogwarts were usually an inseparable team often grading and taking patrols together.
By her third year of teaching, Hermione had found a comfortable niche in her daily routine and had become a fully integrated member of the staff both respected by her colleagues and revered by the students as a strict but fair teacher and disciplinarian. Everything in her life had led to this point and she should have been happy and fulfilled.
And yet, something in her life was missing, and she knew what it was.
What she did not know was exactly when things had changed between them.
There was no specific period in time she could pinpoint, but there were instances, almost like snatches of stolen moments, that had passed between them on occasion. It could have been a lingering glance or a slight brushing of hands when reaching for the morning teapot. Perhaps it were the grading sessions that often ended with intriguing discussions hours after the actual marking was completed or maybe it was the accomplishment she felt when she could get the often dour potions professor to grace her with one of his rare and deep baritone laughs that always seemed to reverberate all the way down her spine.
Whatever it was, by the summer of her third year, she knew things had changed enough between them, that it had to be confronted. Being a Gryffindor, and not one to back down, she had decided to meet it head on as soon as the last student had boarded the Hogwarts express for the summer.
With a determined air, she approached Severus' chamber door basket in hand, and knocked. She knew exactly what he would be doing, for it was the same thing he did every summer on his self proclaimed day of liberation from teaching dunderheads.
A least for the next three months, she thought wryly.
She knocked again, this time a little harder.
"Come," he intoned with the usual drawl. "I hope you brought the merlot," he added gruffly.
Hermione entered his chambers with a smile on her face.
Indeed, it was the same thing every year.
"Severus, this will be our third summer doing this. Have you ever known me to forget the merlot?"
"There is a first time for everything Miss Granger," he smirked as she entered his sitting room. He was sitting in his favorite wingback chair by the fire sharpening a stubby piece of drawing charcoal. He looked at the fine point critically before blowing on it lightly to remove any residue. Satisfied, he placed it beside the others already lined up on a swatch of fine linen that was resting on his lap. All around him were strewn sketching journals of various sizes and paper types.
"That is Professor Granger to you. I think I have more than earned the title by now Severus," Hermione huffed as she put down the basket in order to pick up one of the nearby journals. She opened it and paged through various sketches of the La Jument Lighthouse in France. They'd had their annual picnic at the coastline of Brittany last year. Severus had wanted to sketch the famous light house off the coat and had done a remarkable job of it. His private passion for sketching still amazed her as well as his raw talent. Most of his drawings felt so real, it seemed as if they could literally jump off the page without the need of magic.
Severus was deeply shy about his art, and it had taken him well over a year to even mention it to her, but eventually, he had trusted her enough to show some of his work. Her praise had given him the confidence to show her other pieces and by that first summer, he had invited her to tag along on his annual day long outing to indulge his creativity once the students had left. She had accepted and returned with a hearty picnic basket paired with a vintage merlot, and a new tradition had begun between them.
"Very well Professor Granger," he said teasingly knowing he could always illicit a blush from the girl with his tone alone. "If you would be so kind as to help me gather these journals, we can be off. I do not want to miss the sunset off the Tuscan coast. They are supposed to be quite spectacular," he said as he stood to gather his art supplies. He picked up a battered looking canvas messenger bag by the hearth and proceeded to fill it with his charcoals and pastels as well as the journals Hermione had collected.
Gathering their picnic hamper, Hermione watched as Severus picked up a black velvet ribbon on his desk and tied back his shoulder length hair. Her breath caught in her throat as it hit her for the first time just how attractive she actually found him.
Severus was not handsome by Witch Weekly standards, but as he stood there in his usual attire of black frock coat with its myriad of buttons, and a hint of white linen shirt peeking out, what she saw was very pleasing to the eye. His features were sharp with intelligent eyes, and even though she knew he could wield words like a bloody whip, behind everything beat a heart of gold. That, along with his silky voice overshadowed any harsh traits that were not so appealing.
Why had she not noticed this before? Perhaps she had, but the part of her that was unwilling to risk their hard earned friendship for something more, had refused to see it until now.
Again, what had caused this change?
As he finished tying back his ebony locks, he spied the younger witch watching him and frowned. If it was anything Severus hated, it was being scrutinized.
"What may I ask is so interesting?
Hermione blinked and came back from her thoughts. Realising that the Potions Master was glowering at her, she blushed for the second time that day, and lowered her eyes guiltily.
"I was just thinking about my last three years of teaching and how much my life has changed. I am simply grateful that I followed my instincts and decided to go into teaching rather than take a job at the Ministry like I had originally planned. I suspect I would have been miserable if I did," she replied truthfully.
Severus eyed her for a moment then nodded as he pulled on his traveling cloak and placed the messenger bag over his head to rest on his hip.
"Everything happens for a reason Hermione. Shall we?"
She nodded, and together, the pair made their way through the mostly deserted castle and exited through the front gates. Extending his hand, Hermione took it and
Severus Apparated them to their destination.
Several hours later, a well sated Hermione was lying on her stomach reading a Muggle novel Ginny had sent her over Christmas, but never had time to read. Her umber locks were loose, and flowed around her in the warm Tuscan breeze.
It had been a perfect afternoon. Severus had Apparated them to a grassy cliff off the Tuscany coast that held an ample amount of olive trees which sheltered them from the sun. There was a picturesque village on one side and the breathtaking sea spread out in front of them.
As they sat on the soft quilt Hermione's grandmother had made, they lunched on watercress and deviled ham sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and blue cheese potato salad along with a tray of selected hard cheddars and sweet black grapes. Since neither cared for sweets Hermione chose not to pack any, and they concluded the meal with the traditional sweet merlot they savored.
The conversation had never stilted and flowed easily between them. Severus had even smiled and laughed a few times making Hermione's heart flutter against her chest in a delicious new way. She knew she would have to confront the Potions Master about this change before they left, but she wanted to give him a chance to sketch before she bothered him with her thoughts.
As the first rays of the warm Tuscany dusk fell on her book, her eyes wandered off its pages to gaze at the figure leaning comfortably against the trunk of the nearest tree.
Severus had removed his frock coat and rolled up his white linen shirt to his elbows. He was sitting against the ancient olive tree with his knees bent up to support the large sketch journal in front of him. Spread on the ground by his side, were his array of charcoals and pastels. Hermione felt a stirring deep in her chest as she watched the man at work.
It was a beautiful sight, almost as beautiful as the artwork he created.
Severus was leaning over his journal deep in concentration, his obsidian eyes flicking up only occasionally to survey the scene in front of him. As his deft hands moved over the parchment with sure and swift strokes, a few strands of his dark locks had come undone from the ribbon, and fallen across his face framing it in a most attractive way.
Realising she was staring; she immediately lowered her eyes to her book and attempted to regain her interest in the plight of Fantine and her daughter Cosette. After ten minutes without being able to read past three pages, she gave up and pushed the book aside.
It was now or never.
Gathering her courage, she stood up and went to sit near Severus, but in a way that did not show his work. She respected him enough to know he did not appreciate anyone seeing his drawings until he had given permission to do so.
"How's it going?" she asked inclining her head toward his journal.
"Adequate," he intoned coolly never lifting his eyes from the page.
She shifted her head to look at the sun that was now dipping slowly into the horizon. The sky was smeared with bursts of deep pinks and violets that spread itself over the darkening sky and was mirrored in the calm sea.
"It is beautiful isn't it?" she said more to herself than anyone else. Perhaps now would not be the time to discuss her feelings. She felt her courage fading like the dying sun in the sky.
"More beautiful than anything I could imagine," he said softly in a way Hermione had never heard him speak before. She turned her head slowly to look at the man she considered her friend and was startled to see he was not looking at the sunset playing out in front of him, nor the journal on his lap.
His dark eyes were staring straight into hers with an intensity that made her heart constrict.
Time froze and all she could see was the man in front of her whose gaze was locked onto her own, refusing to let go.
She felt her breath hitch in her chest as she sought to understand what was happening. She licked her dry lips and tried to speak.
"Would you like to see?" he nodded toward the journal on his lap, never breaking his gaze from hers. "I believe I have finally managed to capture the beauty I have sought for so long," he breathed, his deep voice barely above a whisper.
Hermione could only nod her head in response. Severus lowered his legs and slowly turned the journal around for her to see.
Her heart stopped.
There sketched out in deep charcoals and pastels, was her image lying under the olive trees in the Tuscany sun reading. Her long hair played around her in the breeze as the calm sea drifted in the background.
Lifting her eyes from the drawing, she met Severus' own and saw in them the same burning desire that had been building between them for so long. Slowly, she stood up and walked to the man in front of her, no longer afraid. She knelt by his side, and gently removed the journal from his charcoal stained hands before placing it on the ground next to her.
Tentatively, she cupped his face and traced the outline of his cheeks before moving her fingers up the dips and curves of his angular jaw line, wanting to drink everything in.
His eyes flitted closed, his dark lashes like smudges of charcoal against his pale skin. He inhaled deeply as he felt her fingers sketch his face before finally coming to rest in his hair. She undid the ribbon, and his bound locks cascaded around his shoulders in a dark curtain.
Reaching up, he twined his hands into the long tresses of the umber hair he had longed to touch for almost three years, and pulled her close, resting his forehead on hers.
"Hermione," he said softly. "Are you sure you want this? I know I am not the most demonstrative individual, as well as being old enough to be your father, but I…"
She lowered one hand to place a finger over his lips to silence him.
"I have a father Severus. One I love very much. I do not need two. When I see you, I see only the man I have grown to love and respect over the last three years. I have long wanted to tell you about how I felt, but I was afraid."
He leaned over and brushed his lips against her lobe sending wisps of pleasure down her back.
"And are you afraid now?" he whispered silkily into her ear.
She sighed as his mouth grazed over the shell of her ear and moved across her cheek to hover centimeters from her own. She could smell the sweetness of the merlot on his warm breath.
"The only fear I have is that you won't kiss me before my heart gives out."
She felt the smile on his lips as they finally brushed over her hers, sending sparks of desire shooting throughout her whole body.
Hermione had been kissed a few times before. At age twenty two, she was not an innocent child and had gone on her fair share of dates, but nothing compared to kissing someone she truly loved. This was a whole other realm and one she would rather die than give up.
Severus pulled her against him until she was sitting on his lap, their hands tangled in each other's hair. Tentatively, he ran his tongue along the seam of her lips and she opened to him, gently touching his tongue with her own, before finally stroking his hungrily, drinking in his essence. She heard him moan loudly as his mouth claimed hers and their kiss deepened igniting a heat that stirred in the very pit of her stomach and burned in its intensity. She felt herself drowning in his scent and taste, never wanting to come up for air. She dug her hands into his lank locks pulling him deeper still. His hair fell in a curtain around them, cocooning them both in their own dark world. They stayed that way twined together and savoring each other until the sun was completely gone from the sky and they were shrouded in the luminescent stars overhead.
Severus pulled away slightly, still not willing to completely let go, but his dark eyes met hers and he sighed.
"It is time to go home. Our time together has given me the most joy I have ever experienced Hermione. I will remember it always, as I hope you will. Please do not forget."
Hermione thought his words were rather odd. How could she forget something that had just changed her whole life?
Reluctantly, they withdrew from each other and began collecting their things. By the time she was done folding the quilt and tucking it into the hamper, Severus had finished packing his art supplies and was standing by the edge of the cliff staring down at his finished sketch.
She silently came up behind him and entwined her arms around his slender waist resting her head on his back. He sighed into her embrace closing his eyes.
"I love you Hermione," it was barely audible, but she heard it.
Something did not feel right. Severus would never give up his feelings this easily.
Feeling suddenly afraid, she forced him to turn around but he refused to meet her eyes.
"I love you too Severus, but I feel something is wrong. Please what is it?"Anxiety and dread were now filling her. Why would he not look at her?
He quietly tucked the beloved drawing into his messenger bag before wrapping his arms around her, and pulling her close. Finally lifting his eyes to meet hers, she saw tears threatening to fall from the corners of his dark eyes.
Severus never cried. Never. Wild panic was now racing through her heart and mind. She clutched his frock coat, pulling him even closer and feeling as if he was slipping through her fingers no matter how close she tried to get to him.
"Severus, please, what is happening?"
"Never forget how beautiful you are to me," his husky voice whispered into her ear before claiming her lips in a searing kiss.
Then she was falling…falling with everything swirling around her. The gentle dark sea, the olive trees, the Italian night air, Severus' warm lips against hers, his scent, the merlot…
She tried grabbing him, but she couldn't move. Suddenly she felt paralysed.
"Severus!" She heard herself screaming frantically in her mind before the blackness overcame her.
"Mione! Can you hear us? Mione?"
"Ron get away from her, she needs time," said a familiar voice.
"I know Harry, I just….it's been so bloody long….I thought she would never…"
Hermione felt as if her whole body had been hit by a brick wall. She could not move it. Her eyes felt as if they were glued shut and she struggled to open them.
"Alright, everyone out while I examine her. NOW!"
That was Poppy's voice, but where was Severus? Why was she in the infirmary? Had something happened on their way back from Italy?
She tried to speak, but no words would come out. She could barely move her lips
Poppy saw her trying to talk and placed a gentle hand over her mouth.
"Do not try to speak yet Miss Granger. You have been out for a very long time. It is a miracle that you woke up at all. Let me run some diagnostics and then we can talk."
"Sev…se…sev..erus," she managed to croak out. Her voice did not even sound like her own.
Poppy froze at the name and stared hard at Hermione before speaking.
"Hermione , let us talk about this later. Please, I need you to," but she was cut off by Hermione's rasping voice.
"NO, P-Poppy! P-please, where i-is he?" Her heart was hammering so hard against her chest; she felt it was ready to explode at any moment.
Poppy was silent for a long time as if running a mental debate in her mind. Finally, she seemed to reach a decision. Sighing, she placed a gentle hand on the terrified woman's shoulder before speaking.
"Hermione, Severus died three years ago in the Shrieking Shack. We found you collapsed on top of him apparently trying to save him. You probably would have succeeded had a Death Eater, Mulciber I believe, not come up and cursed you with an unknown spell we have been trying to break for the last three years. Many times, you came close to death, but somehow, you have managed to survive all this time. Your friends never gave up hope Hermoine, and have been by your side since the end of the war."
Poppy continued talking while she examined her, but Hermione was no longer listening.
Severus had died three years ago in the Shrieking Shack, and for all purposes, so had she.
Three weeks later, Poppy released her from the infirmary, inciting there was nothing more she could do. The rest of the healing required time. Hermione had instructed Minerva that she did not want to see anyone and to keep them away. All she wanted to do was go to Severus' quarters, but Minerva had told her that Blaise Zabini had taken over for Severus as potions professor and Head of Slytherin house.
The dungeons were no longer Severus'
Everything it seemed, had been a dream manufactured in her mind. Nothing had really happened between her and her former professor. She had never taught Arithmancy, in fact she had never even finished her seventh year at Hogwarts having been cursed during the final battle. The Ministry was offering her several positions without having to finish her education as Harry and Ron had done, and in the end, she had bowed and accepted their offer. What choice did she have? She was twenty two and too old to continue at Hogwarts. She also knew she could no longer stay in the castle without thinking of Severus. His memory, real or not, was everywhere and it was killing her knowing everything she felt and experienced only happened in her mind, and yet, it had felt so real.
It made no difference. She loved him and always had. She knew that now, and it was one of the reasons she had been trying desperately to save him in the Shrieking Shack. She had wanted to tell him what she had felt for so long, but never had the chance to.
Yet somewhere in her heart, she knew he understood. They had told each other on a hillside in Tuscany.
She had to believe that.
Three years later, Hermione came home to her tiny flat in London holding a rather large parcel. She now worked at the Ministry in their Magical Law Enforcement branch. She did a very good job in securing rights for those less fortunate, but it was an empty task that meant nothing to her. She did it because she had no other choice. The only thing she looked forward to was coming home at the end of the day and spending her nights with Severus whom she had never forgotten.
She had bought a pensive and almost nightly pulled out various memories that she dreamed during her three year coma. She understood from the healers that the memories were not real, but to her, it was all she had. It was all she wanted. During the day, she would help people with their bloody problems, but the nights were hers to spend grading papers with the man she loved in the chambers of her mind, real or not.
This night was different however, for she had received a package from Minerva who was still Headmistress at Hogwarts. It was strange, for nobody usually contacted her anymore, not even Harry or Ron, and she preferred it that way. She had deliberately closed off most contact with everyone lest they try to take her away from the last remnants of happiness she had. Her nightly visits with Severus.
She opened the letter first.
I hope you are well my dear. I am pleased to hear about your advancements for Elf and Goblin rights in the Ministry. You are a blessing to this world Hermione and have a great many things to offer. It is good to see you living again.
I am enclosing something that Professor Zabini came across when cleaning out the back of Severus' store rooms. It was hidden behind a charmed hole in the wall. I know how much Severus meant to you, and I thought you might find them interesting.
Take care, and come by soon for tea.
Hermione's heart started racing as she ripped open the package. She gasped as she saw the familiar looking sketch journal. Tears flooded her eyes as she opened it and leafed through the drawings she had seen countless times in her head. She knew each drawing by heart and could trace them, even if struck blind.
She now understood that it had been Severus' very spirit that had stayed by her side in her coma until she was ready to go back. It had been him keeping her alive by making sure her mind did not drift too far into the dark abyss of the coma itself, until a way was found to break the curse. In that time, he had allowed her to truly get to know him, and his sketching had been a part of his real life as was now obvious by the treasured journal in her hands.
When she got to the last page, she sobbed out loud and clutched the journal to her breast. Standing up, she silently made her way to the bedroom and shut the door.
Harry had come to her flat three days later when she failed to show up for work without a Floo call for the third day straight.
When he found her, she was lying on the bed, her face completely at peace. There was a smile on her lips, and in her arms was pressed a journal that he did not recognise. Sobbing, he pulled the journal from her and gazed down at the last picture his best friend had been holding.
It was a picture of her lying in the sun reading, her hair blowing in the breeze. She was surrounded by a grove of trees and in the distance was a calm sea.
It was signed, SS.
Harry stared from the picture to the peaceful body lying on the bed, tears streaming down his face. It seemed like hours before he was finally able to pull himself away.
He gently placed the journal back into her hands and folded them over it. It would stay with her.
He would make sure.
He ran a hand silently through her hair, before whispering,"Be happy Hermione, wherever you are, and make sure you tell that git to take care of you."
He stroked her ice cold cheek and went outside to Floo call the Ministry.
Somewhere far away, a warm Tuscan sun shone down on a couple neatly situated under a grove of gently swaying olive trees. The woman was watching the man sketching something far out in the distance, a shared glass of merlot between them.
The man smiled down at the woman who returned it, as she fondly reached out to caress his angular cheek.
There was no rush this time.
They had forever.