I adore Cardinals (the bird, not the baseball team). For personal reasons, they remind me of my late mother. I saw one fly by me as I was driving the other day and a little feather of an idea formed in my head. I promise this is the last diversion I take until at least one of the last two companion pieces to A Raven's Story are written!
J. K Rowling was very nice to let me fiddle with her characters.
The Black Lake was placid this evening as Hermione made her way to one of the benches that sprinkled its shore. The air was soft and warm and a gentle breeze blew sporadically. Twilight was just settling in as night birds sang their evening lullabies for anyone who would listen. As Hermione sat on a bench facing the Forbidden Forest, she appreciated once again Minerva's idea of benches, rather than some statuary or an obelisk, as a memorial to those who had died. Plaques attached to the back of each bench remembered every student, teacher, and Order member who died. She rubbed her fingers briefly over the letters of the names on the plaque and then turned to face the forest.
The war had taken a toll on everyone, Hermione included. Dear friends had been lost in the fighting. Her fledgling relationship with Ron could not overcome his grief for Fred and quickly fell apart. Not knowing what else to do, he left for Romania to live with Charlie. She stayed at The Burrow for only a few days before fleeing to Australia to find her parents.
For several months, she tried to return their memories, but when she realized she could not, she returned to England and languished in despair until Minerva found out and owled her. The offer to take over as librarian was well-timed and exactly what Hermione needed to bring her back to a sense of purpose.
Harry and Ginny, as expected, got engaged shortly after Ginny graduated, but they had yet to marry. Ginny had been recruited to play Quidditch for the Kenmere Kestrals and Harry, to the surprise of all, followed her on the circuit. Everyone expected him to have a stellar career as an Auror, but he turned his back on all of that for a bit of anonymity instead.
If Hermione had to pick one happy outcome of the war, it would be the one that was the most surprising; the survival of Severus Snape. His body had not been among those recovered after the battle. Although Hermione had reported his body was in the Shrieking Shack, Aurors did not find it when they went to retrieve it. A thorough search of the battle scene and castle found him in his quarters in the dungeon, in his bed, barely alive and in a coma. Hermione had taken it upon herself to figure just how he got from the shack to his bed. It was fairly easy to do, actually; the trail of blood from his bed, through his sitting room, into the hall, to a hidden corridor, and out onto the grounds told the story.
When Severus recovered from his coma, he reported that he had indeed passed out after giving Harry the memories, but came to about twenty minutes later. He had scrabbled in his robe pockets for a blood replenisher and some Pepper-up he kept on him, and when he was able, he dragged his body to the castle using the uproar from the battle's aftermath to keep him from being noticed. Five years later, Severus was still at Hogwarts, teaching Potions again, and definitely not Headmaster. He had however, accepted Minerva's offer of Deputy Headmaster.
These thoughts swirled through Hermione's head, as they often did over the years, especially around the anniversary of the war. She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the soft breeze that stirred the leaves of the trees. She caught the scent of the wild honeysuckle that grew along the path to the lake. Opening her eyes, she looked into the sky to see the night birds swooping as they played. She could hear the soft sounds of the nightingales in the Forbidden Forest. The birds gave peace to her inner turmoil. They couldn't solve it, but they could provide the balm she needed to soothe her mind about it.
Her ears picked up another harsher sound behind her, and she turned to see a black-cloaked figure coming down the path from the castle. His steps were a bit heavier than in his spy days. Although he was cured of Nagini's venom, he had some after effects, one of which was a shuffling gait. Madame Pomfrey felt that it was more because he attempted to drag himself to the castle on a damaged leg rather than anything neurological.
"Hermione, you're out late tonight," Severus' deep baritone quietly broke the night air.
"Hello, Severus. Are you here to dock points?"
Severus chuckled. "Should I?" It was not uncommon for the two to exchange such banter. They had become friends in the last year or so, setting aside years of mistrust to cultivate a friendship that fueled their need for intelligent conversation, arguments, the occasional trip to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, and the safety net of a dance partner at school or ministry functions.
"Sit," she said, smiling and patting the bench.
Severus took a seat beside her, and together they sat quietly for a moment. He noticed her looking skyward and asked, "What are you searching for, Hermione?"
With a sigh, she replied, "I don't know. Peace, maybe? I feel like there's something missing in my life. I have friends." She reached over and patted Severus' hand. "I have a job, a place to live, but I just feel…..I don't know." A minute of silence passed. "Do you ever wish you could fly?" Hermione asked.
Severus snorted. "You do remember to whom you're speaking?"
A startled gasp escaped her lips, and then she laughed. "Oh gods, I am sorry Severus. I just never think about you as a Death Eater anymore."
"You're one of the few who do then."
"That's not true," she admonished.
"You know it is," Severus said, exasperatedly. Then, more curiously, "Why the sudden wish to fly? You hate heights, and I've never seen you on a broom."
"What does it feel like when you fly?" She turned to face him more directly, her eyes shining in the moonlight that had begun to glimmer off the lake as it rose.
"I haven't 'flown' since the war, Hermione."
"But when you did?"
"I usually flew on errands for the Dark Lord," Severus spoke with bitterness. "He preferred I fly over apparition; more subtle, he said." Severus sat for a moment, remembering. "The times I did fly for pleasure though, it was remarkable. I would put up a silencing charm so I couldn't hear the wind in my ears, but it was so peaceful. Obviously, I couldn't fly extremely high, but I could see above the rooftops and trees. Sometimes, I would land on a rooftop and disillusion myself so I could watch people without being seen. It was as though I were God, looking down on his creation."
"You must have felt powerful."
"I did. Often it was the only time I ever felt in any control at all." Quiet settled over them again. "Hermione, why do you feel so lost?"
"I wish I knew. I just wish…"
"What do you wish?"
"I wish I could see the world from a bird's point of view. I wish I could be a bird. Everything they do is on instinct. They are born, fed, learn to fly, make a nest, mate, feed young, and die. They have no emotions to get in the way of their natural instinct."
"Whereas you, being a human and most decidedly a female human, feel every emotion acutely."
"Are you bashing females?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"Never. But you are more aware of your emotions that most females I know."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Overall, I am of the opinion it's a good thing. If not for your emotions, I would have been convicted after the war. I would still be squirreled away in the dungeons if you had not badgered me into returning to the land of the living. Thank you for that, by the way."
"You're welcome," Hermione said sincerely. The couple sat comfortably next to each other. Silence was never an issue between them. They watched owls and a few bats swoop out of their hidden nests to begin their nightly hunts. "Severus, will you take me flying?"
Severus spluttered, "What?"
"Will you take me flying?"
"On a broomstick?"
"You know what I mean."
"Hermione," he said hesitantly. "I am not sure. I haven't flown that way in years, and I never carried anyone."
"Oh. Well, it was just a bit of fancy. You don't have to." Silence fell again. The nightingales sang more loudly now.
Severus stood. "Come." He held his hand out for Hermione to take. "You'll need to wrap yourself around me and hold on tightly."
Hermione was confused. "But you said-"
"I know what I said. But, if it will help you return to your usual self, I am willing to do it."
"Hermione, please," Severus pleaded. "You've been so kind to me when others have not. It is a simple thing to do for you. Please, let me."
"Alright. Thank you." She smiled brightly and stepped into Severus' embrace.
"You'll need to hook your legs around my waist. Please don't be offended, but may I put a lightening charm on you."
"No offense taken," she giggled and felt her body lighten.
"Okay," Severus said, "here goes." He squatted toward the ground and then sprang up, muttering an incantation.
Her first instinct was to scream, but felt Severus would not appreciate that, so she settled for burying her head in the crook of his neck.
"Hermione," Severus laughed. "Pull your head away and look." She turned her head and lay it on Severus' shoulder so she could see.
"It's breathtaking," she exclaimed. Look at the castle!"
Severus flew gently over the castle so Hermione could take in all the features from her 'bird's eye view'. He was surprised when she asked him to take her a bit higher. Doing so, he changed direction slightly and fly over the Quidditch pitch. After a moment or two looking over the pitch, he headed toward the forest. Looking down, she could see the path Grawp had made when he lived there, piles of trees lay in a heap where he had flung them in his rage. They flew lower, and Hermione could make out a nest of Thestrals and several water features. "It's absolutely beautiful, Severus!" Hermione said excitedly.
Severus chuckled again, delighted with her response. "I can take you into Hogsmeade, but I don't think I could manage much further."
"Okay." It took just a few moments, but in those few moments Hermione learned a lot about her friend and colleague. He was rather muscular. She could feel his shoulder, abdominal, and thigh muscles as he changed position in the air and made height adjustments. Secondly, from her little neck burrowing moments when they first took off, she decided that he smelled very nice; Bergamot was now her favorite scent, but his own natural scent was forever imprinted in her brain. His hair, as it rubbed her cheek, was not greasy, but rather soft and silky.
"Hermione, would you like to land on a roof and watch?"
"Oh, yes!" She smiled brightly.
Before she knew it, they landed on the roof of Fortescue's. This gave them a central vantage point to see the bustling little village below. Severus cast a Disillusionment and Silencing charm on them both. "Now, we watch."
After about thirty minutes during which they watched and commented on the villagers, Severus suggested they visit the Three Broomsticks for a drink before heading back to the castle. They apparated off the roof and walked to the pub. Once inside, they made quick work of removing their cloaks and ordering drinks. Hermione ordered hot chocolate and Severus asked for a Firewhiskey. Although the night was warm at ground level, it was colder in the higher elevation, and the couple was chilly after their flight and silent watch. The drinks arrived as they settled themselves by the fire, its warmth washing over them.
Hermione took a sip of her hot chocolate and said, "Thank you, Severus. That was amazing!"
"You're welcome. It is good to see a smile on your face again." Severus was pleased he could do something so simple for the little witch who had become a good friend. He enjoyed watching her pink cheeks and glittering eyes from the adventure they just shared. "Now that you know what a bird sees, how do you feel?"
"A little better. I still have some cobwebs lingering, but you made me feel special, and I appreciate that."
He made her feel special? He didn't think he'd ever done that for anyone, male or female. "May I ask you a question?" Severus rather nervously asked.
"Why are you not dating anyone?"
Of all the questions she expected, that was not it. She inhaled a bit of her drink. "Excuse me?" she asked through a hacking cough, her eyes watering.
"I've noticed that you don't seem to have a gentleman friend. Perhaps it's none of my business."
"No, it's all right. We are friends after all. I don't mind you asking."
"So why don't you?"
"Don't I what?" Hermione evaded. She didn't mind him asking, but she didn't necessarily want to answer, especially since the answer was seated less than three feet from her.
"Have a gentleman friend?" Severus was looking at her over the rim of his whiskey glass.
"Well, for one thing, I live in a school ten months out of the year; it makes it hard to find a date. The times I have, they had no clue what I was talking about and seemed to have nothing on their minds other than bedding a war heroine." She watched as Severus' eyes widened at this tidbit of news. "Not that that happened, mind you."
"It would be none of my business, regardless."
"Ginny tried to find me a date or two once. Her idea of what I might like in a date and hers are vastly different. She goes for brawn, I go for brains." She took a final sip of her chocolate and stood to gather her things. "I am ready to head to the castle. Shall we walk or fly?"
"Walk, if you don't mind. It is a nice night." Severus quickly put his cloak on, helped Hermione into hers, and headed to the door. They left the pub and headed back, making small talk. "Severus, why don't you date?"
"Need you even ask?"
"Yes. You asked me."
"Hermione, everyone knows my story. They see me as a tragic hero still in love with the memory of a girl who died 25 years ago. No one wants to see that I have moved on."
"Have you? When? With whom?"
"There is no 'when' or 'whom'. But, I have moved on. I am ready to find someone who could make me happy. Someone I can talk to, argue with. Someone who might want a family someday." He looked determinedly at the path. "Someone like you," he added quietly.
Hermione stopped. "Like me?" She was stunned. For a long while now she had come to care of Severus as more than a friend, but was unwilling to voice her feelings. She had to admit that she was like everyone else… certain that he would care for no other after Lily.
Severus turned to Hermione. "Is it so hard to imagine I'd want someone intelligent, not hard to find to ask out on a date, has similar values as mine, is beautiful?" Hermione stared at Severus, and the implication of what he was saying hit her.
"Then ask me."
"Ask you what?"
"Ask me on a date."
Severus slowly pulled her hand into his and asked, "Hermione, would you like to go on a date with me?"
"Yes, Severus, I would." She slipped her hand more firmly into his and squeezed it.
Not letting go, the couple walked a little more slowly than usual toward the castle. Quietly, Hermione spoke, "Severus?"
"A few more of the cobwebs have cleared out."
Severus smiled and pulled her closer so he could wrap an arm around her shoulder as they walked.