Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.
I remember a time when I dreaded waking up in the morning. The warming rays of the approaching light heralded dawn, which meant that wakefulness would soon penetrate the potion-induced sleep that I had become accustomed to. Wakefulness brought remembrance and remembrance would inevitably lead me to guilt and self-loathing.
Much like a woman who is expecting a child, I experienced morning sickness. However, the blossoming of life, which renders any woman so much more beautiful and radiant, did not cause mine. No, mine had a much darker origin. Images of deeds I had witnessed, horrors that will never be erased from my mind until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil. Morning brought realization and this realization revolted me to the pit of my stomach.
I have heard the various theories as to why I was always so pale and sickly looking. Vampire. Wraith. Zombie. If only they had known the truth, they might have been more charitable. Not that I deserved their charity, mind you. I deserved their scorn, their disdain and mistrust. Yes, even their hatred.
My eyes are still closed but I can feel the first rays of sunlight warming my chamber. I used to hate it…looked for ways to avoid it. It seemed only natural to seek a refuge as far away from the sunlight as possible. The dungeons were a logical choice. Dark. Dank. Avoided by everyone else. Perfect for such a one as myself. A place of darkness…well suited for someone whose very soul was murky at best.
No one knew. No one ever cared to know. Albus had some insight, of course. There isn't much that occurs within these hallowed halls of living stone which he somehow doesn't know. But, even Albus did not completely understand.
I used to wear my loneliness as a necessary penance for all that I did and all that I did not do. I drew it around myself like my black robes and did not allow anyone to see beyond it. Let them think me petty, cold, heartless and cruel. Let them shrink away from me in terror. Let the others look at me with revulsion. It did not matter and was probably for the best.
When the Dark Lord was so unfortunately resurrected, I resumed my life as a spy, regarded with suspicion on both sides. Lucius Malfoy never completely trusted me, although I made sure that there was never any evidence to back up his suspicions. Wormtail was not nearly so discrete and did not keep his own counsel. The fool used to blab incessantly as if I were a mentor…confidante…older brothers of sorts. The very idea was laughable.
Well, Wormail does not laugh anymore…his soul, along with that of Lucius Malfoy, was sucked out a few years back. Not that their souls were worth much. Still it did serve some form of justice and made the Ministry look as if it had done something right. Well, it was Potter who did something right, if anyone did.
Potter seemed to be on a collision course…like a bludger and one of the Weasley twins. It had been building throughout his years at Hogwarts…starting with the Philosopher's Stone in his inaugural year and ending with the Phoenix Curse in his final year. He always came through victorious but Voldemort was never completely defeated and returned year after year to wreak havoc anew.
I vividly remember the Leaving Feast, which would see Potter and his friends move on to bigger and better things. I had been summoned to a Death Eater meeting only the night before and was still feeling the after-effects of witnessing the senseless torture of one of the fold. I was ill. Macnair was dead. The executioner had met a rather ironic end. Ironic perhaps, but not undeserved.
I returned to the dungeons as soon as I decently could, wanting to get away from the garish celebrations. The dungeons were dark, cool and quiet…and there would be no one to disturb me.
I sat down in one of my classrooms, which still harboured the scent of the burn salve the seventh years had created over a week earlier. Lavender and mint. Soothing.
Damn sloppy of me to let my guard down like that. I did not even notice when you walked in. I was so absorbed in my own misery that I failed to hear your approaching footsteps in the corridor.
You stood there in your dress robes, holding your hat nervously in your hands. It was evident that you had something to tell me but was afraid I would take points from Gryffindor for doing so. I quickly became angry that you, of all people, would dare impose yourself on me in such a manner. But you never gave me a chance to bark at you. You simply said that you wanted to say goodbye.
Goodbye? To me? Why on earth would you take the time to do that?
You smiled at my obvious confusion and you came forward to shake my hand, thanking me for teaching you over the past seven years. Personally, I would not have called it teaching…terrorizing would be far closer to the truth as Longbottom would eagerly attest.
Still smiling, you told me that you were to attend Beauxbatons for two years to study advanced Arithmancy, Transfiguration and Potions. I was hardly surprised. I knew you would never join Potter and Weasley as an Auror. Why it amazed Minerva is still beyond me but I always felt that you wanted to teach and to continue learning. Like me…before…well, before that.
And then you truly surprised me. You asked if you could write to me occasionally for insight and guidance on the problems that you were bound to encounter during the course of your studies.
I smile at it now. You knew exactly how to phrase the request…had an almost Slytherin ability to manipulate me into a situation where I could not possibly say no. Expertly played on my pride in my knowledge of my assigned profession…one of the few things I had left to be proud of. One day, I will have to ask Albus if the Sorting Hat had been somewhat blindsided by you…just as I was by your request. I said yes, of course, and I assumed that that would be the end of it. After all, I never received letters…only the occasional summons…
I was so wrong. It was not the end. It was only the beginning.
During the next two years your letters came regularly. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that you were quite genuine about your request. You talked about your studies and your new life at Beauxbatons. I chuckled when you spoke of the differences in teaching philosophies. Interspersed between the various problems, upon which you wanted my feedback, you began to talk about yourself and about your fears for the future…especially for your friends who were full fledged Aurors by then.
I knew you were lonely and I told myself that it was the reason for the letters. I was lonely too…and I told myself that it was the reason why I always wrote back.
I answered every letter you sent. I postulated various theories on the technical problems you presented and spoke a little bit about life at Hogwarts…which rarely changed. Over the course of the next several months, I began to talk about my fears and my hopes for the future. They were, not surprisingly, somewhat darker than yours but it felt so liberating to talk to someone and to feel that someone was taking the time to listen. Even though our correspondence was through quill and parchment, it felt as if you knew me…and you somehow understood.
And I was beginning to know you. Really know you as an individual rather than a member of the modern day Marauders. I had always known you were intelligent and hardworking…even an overgrown bat like myself could see that. But there was so much more to you. You cared about your friends and about the world and you worked diligently to discover any means possible to assist in the battle against Voldemort.
I felt that you cared about me. Cared. Not pitied and that would have been a first. I knew I cared about you. Initial curiosity became a professional correspondence. The correspondence became friendship. Friendship somehow changed into a strong fondness and this fondness became something I was scared to put a name to. Your letters became my lifeline as I was drawn deeper and deeper into the war. Your words gave me the strength I needed to continue.
And then, over the summer, you wrote to me saying that you were coming back to Hogwarts to teach Arithmancy. I could have kissed Professor Vector for how overjoyed I was. After two long years, you were coming back to Hogwarts…back to me. But this joy quickly turned into fear. My feelings had changed but I knew that yours could not possibly have developed into anything beyond friendship. I tried to console myself saying that your friendship was more than I could have hoped for. More than I deserved.
I shift slightly in my bed, still unwilling to open my eyes. Not yet.
And then you arrived at Hogwarts and I was shocked at the change in you. When you left, you were still an awkward teenager, unsure of her place in the world. When you returned, you were self-assured, confident and on your way to becoming a singularly beautiful woman.
I was lost the moment I saw you again and it reinforced my despair. Such a vision of loveliness could never have a place in her heart for someone like myself.
We worked together for two years and it was sheer agony. I finally admitted to myself that I loved you and I took hope with every glance that you sent in my direction and with each brush of your robes against mine. Others might have deemed this weakness but this love gave me strength…I was able to perform my duties as an informant with distinction because I had something to fight for. I did what I had to do so that you would have a chance to live in freedom. I did not feel that I would ever have it and I wanted it so much for you. This desire for your wellbeing kept me strong…kept me sane at night…when all I wanted was you.
The plans had been in place for the major offensive for some time and I was lying in bed, thinking over the instructions that Albus had given me. The next day would decide the fate of the world so it was little wonder that I could not sleep. The sound of knocking nearly made me jump out of my very skin. Hurriedly throwing a robe over my nightshirt, I ran to the door to open it. You stood there in disheveled beauty, tears streaming from your eyes. Without thinking, I pulled you into a fierce embrace and held you as you cried.
Do you remember what you said to me? Words whispered so softly, I almost believed them to be a product of my imagination.
I love you.
Three simple words, which I never believed would ever be spoken to me. Especially not by someone like you.
I could not answer you immediately…foreign emotions appeared to take away my ability to speak. So, I did the next best thing…
I kissed you and you understood what I was trying to say…
And we held onto one another that last night…both afraid of what the morrow might bring…
In the morning, I was afraid to let you go and I could see the same fear in your eyes. You had a role to play, as did I. We would seemingly be on opposing sides but that would change. We said our good-byes with heavy hearts. I prayed that, if one of our lives had to be sacrificed in order to ensure the defeat of Voldemort, that it might be mine.
The battle itself was horrible…casualties as far as the eye could see. It wasn't until Voldemort was blasted into oblivion (by Potter…not surprisingly) that I thought to myself I now had a chance to live and, when I finally found you, alive and relatively unhurt, I knew who I wanted to share my second chance with.
Five years have passed and my love for you grows every day. The day we wed was the day the dour and bitter Potions Master was banished forever. In his place, a kinder, more equitable professor who has finally discovered that there is joy in teaching just as there is joy in life.
I finally open my eyes and smile at how you have managed to wrap yourself around me. I don't think I could move if I wanted to…but I don't want to. I want to stay just like this, watching the slight smile tugging at your lips as you sleep.
By the stars, I love you so very much.
I gently kiss your forehead and your eyes flutter open. You smile…how I love that special smile you have for me alone.
"Is anything the matter, Severus?" You ask sweetly.
I caress your cheek softly and simply revel in the light of the morning sun and the warmth of your loving embrace.
"No, Hermione. Everything is perfect."