Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction based on characters from the Harry Potter universe owned by J.K. Rowling.

Fire in the Belly

by Djinn

Part Eleven

Hermione knew Snape was watching her as she moved around the room Tenzing had given her. She'd apparated—against Snape's wishes—back to her flat to get some clean clothes and some other things she thought she might need. It had been a week since she'd been hurt, and she was tired of being treated like a china doll that would shatter if knocked wrong.

And truth to tell, apparating hadn't taken that much out of her. She was stronger than she looked, and the healers here were extremely good.

"Why didn't you tell me you'd left Ron?"

She froze, was thinking of the right thing to say when he snapped, "Answer now, Miss Granger," the way he would have back at Hogwarts, and she blurted out, "Because I didn't want you to think it was because of you."

"An honest answer. Thank you." He sat down on the floor. "So I don't have to hold myself culpable for destroying your happy home?"

She sat next to him. "It wasn't that happy. Not at the end." She sighed. "The sad thing is: Ron was happy. I was the problem."

He made a sympathetic noise, and she hit him on the arm. He grinned at her and she grinned back, unable to resist an expression she so seldom saw.

Then his smile faded. "Does Ron even know you were hurt?"

She shook her head. "The mood he was in when I left, I don't know that he'd care."

"Does he know where you are now?"

"In general terms. Nepal. With some monks."

"Ah. Left it vague, did you?"

"Can you imagine him charging in here and finding you?"

"Actually, yes. It's not a pretty picture."

"Exactly." She leaned against him. "He suspects there's someone, though."

"I imagine he thinks it's Potter."

"He gets jealous of Harry. Which is a little amusing seeing as how he always had the thing Harry wanted most: a loving family and stability." She looked down. "But I shouldn't laugh because I'm jealous of a dead woman so..."

"You don't have to be."

"I still am." She took his hand in hers but wouldn't meet his eyes. "What was she like?"

"In the past, I would have said incomparable."

"She was beautiful. I've seen pictures."

"Yes, she was. I loved her from the time I was a boy to—"

"You still love her." She sighed. "I can't compete with a memory."

"You don't have to. Lily is gone. And you are here. And I realize what a blessing that is since I almost lost you."

"So you're transferring your grief over her to me?"

"I didn't say that." He sighed. "Hermione, you're so different than she was. What we have, it's different than what I had with her."

"I know."

"That doesn't mean it's less. I certainly never sat holding her hand while we talked about old loves."

She laughed. "If you're so crazy about me, why don't you want to...you know?"

"What makes you think I don't?"

"You haven't made much of an effort to ..." Oh bugger this. It was like being a teenager again. She started to get up and he pulled her back down.

And kissed her. Very, very thoroughly.

When he pulled away, she ran her hand over his cheek. "I want to. But...I've only ever been with Ron."

"My condolences."

She laughed.

He leaned into her hand. "Hermione, it's not as though I'm a man about town on this subject."

"But you've been to town, yes?"

He laughed. "Of course."

"Oh. Good, then." She moved, so she was straddling him. "Do you think we'll get into trouble if we make love in this room?"

"I think it's highly likely."

"But Tenzing made us do that breathing exercise. I asked Sonam about it. It's a tantric exercise."

Snape just laughed.

She kissed him before asking, "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?"

"For what purpose?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm being romantic, you git. Where would you like our first time to be?"

"Anywhere. I just need you."

"I've never been to Tahiti."

"Nor have I."

"Perfect." She frowned.

He was smiling in a way that said he'd arrived at the problem before she had. "Going to be hard to apparate there if neither of us know what it looks like and we're this keyed up." He pulled her in for another kiss. "I have an idea. Do you trust me?"

She nodded. "But let me grab the blanket." Once she had it, she said, "Okay, then."

A moment later, they were in the Forest of Dean. "But how did you..."

"I may have been here before. A long time ago. To deliver a sword."

"That was you?" She smiled. "You were always looking out for us."

"Well, for Potter at any rate. The rest of you were incidental back then. If I'm honest."

"And I want you to be." She smiled and began to unbutton his shirt. "Have I told you how much I like you?"

"I am inordinately fond of you, as well, Miss Granger." The formality of the address was contradicted by the fact that he had his hands under her shirt and was running them up and down her back. "And for what it's worth, I've done this before, but never with someone I truly cared about. Never like this."

She spread the blanket out and they crawled onto it, all the while kissing and removing whatever bits of clothing they could reach. She pushed him down, slid on top of him, sighed as he lifted her up and settled her down and—there.

She closed her eyes, heard him ask, "Are you all right?"

'Oh, yes. You?"

"Wonderful. Truly."

She opened her eyes, saw him smiling at her in an open and free way she wasn't sure she'd ever see. She began to move and the smile changed into something more sensual.

She closed her eyes, moaning as he kissed her, as he stroked her back and steadied her as she finished, as he clutched her a moment later as he, too, found his way home. He buried his head against her chest, breathing hard.

She laughed. And knew it was a strange laugh. Almost a defiant one.

She was free. She was herself. She was in love. And she was happy.

He was watching her with concern.

She pulled him to her and kissed him hard. "I adore you."

He smiled and pulled her down to cuddle. A moment later, he smacked something on his arm. "Mosquito," he said at her look. "Why in God's name did I think this would be romantic?"

She laughed. "Because it was." Normally she'd just do a spell to keep the bugs away. She knew Snape would have, too. "What would Tenzing do in this situation?"

He laughed. "Become one with the bugs? Not smash them, I daresay."

She cuddled against him. "It would seem we still have a lot to learn."

He nodded and kissed her hair. "It would indeed seem so." His voice changed, became a bit tentative. "So we should probably stay in Nepal? Or I should."

She pulled away so she could look at him. "I can't be there all the time. I have children. And I do love them."

"I know. And I don't think Weasley will want me anywhere near them."

"I don't care. But it would probably be good to let him cool off before we try anything like that."

"Agreed."

"Do you like children?"

"Everyone thinks I don't."

She laughed. "I know you were good to your house."

"I saved those I could. It wasn't enough, but it had to do." He smiled at her. "I do, for the record, like children. I may not, however, be very good around them. You know how you reacted to me."

She smiled. "Ah, but the you of back then was not involved in a blissfully sensual relationship with a certain woman, a relationship that will make you very prone to smiling rather than scowling."

He shrugged, proving her point about how mellow he might become with the proper attentions.

She smiled. "We'll see how it goes. You're in my life. That's enough if the children and you don't take to each other. But I have to be in their lives."

"Of course you do. I'd never take a mother away from a child. God knows, my mother would win no prizes for maternal instincts, but she was still important to me." He sighed. "I'll see if I can find something close to the temple for us. Tenzing told me there were some other options for housing."

"He never stops matchmaking." She smiled up at him. "He also likes you. I think he wants you around because he's a little lonely."

"Tenzing? Master of the Universal All?"

She laughed. "I know, it's inconceivable, but there it is. I think he likes you quite a lot. I think you like him quite a lot, too."

"I do." He sighed, a very contented sigh. "You make me happy, Hermione."

"You make me happy, Severus."

"Who would have thought?" He slapped at his arm again. "Oh bother this. I have no intention of leaving this place for quite some time, so Tenzing will just have to excuse the use of this." He reached for his wand.

She stopped him. "Meet him halfway. Use your mind to do it."

He made a thoughtful face, and then seemed to be concentrating madly.

Suddenly, they were surrounded by a lovely little bubble.

"Well done, you."

He smiled. "No bugs allowed."

"How did you make it?"

"I tried to force it at first. The way I would have with the wand. Then I thought about just putting it together slowly, letting whatever bugs were on us get out before I closed it up. The way I might a garage door, if a bee has gotten in."

"Nice."

"I thought so." He looked very pleased with himself. "Now, let's see what other kind of magic we can get up to."

They found any number of creative ways to fill the day.

##

Snape was sitting on the benches outside the temple when he heard someone cough softly. He turned, expecting one of the monks, and saw Potter standing in front of him.

And Potter did not look surprised to see him. "So. You are alive."

Snape was not sure what to do, so he just nodded.

To his surprise, Harry came over and sat with him, although he turned so his legs dangled over the benches. "I love this view."

"Ah, my two favorite visitors." Tenzing came from God knows where and put a hand on both of them. "It's been a long time, Harry. Good to see you."

"Sir." Harry had the same star-struck look he used to get around Dumbledore. At least this time, Snape didn't think he was giving his loyalty to a man who would hurt him.

"I'll leave you two to talk," Tenzing said.

"But, sir, I thought you wanted to see me. I got this message at the Ministry."

"I did. And now I have. So, I'll leave you two to talk."

Well, the man was as subtle as a bull and as manipulative in his own way as Albus ever was. But when he looked at Snape, he gave him a gentle smile before walking back to the temple.

"So," Snape said, deciding to take some pity on Potter. "I hear you named one of your sons after me?"

"Albus Severus. You'd like him, I think. He's very...serious." Harry looked down. "You'd probably not like James much. Too much like my father and I."

"The only reason I never cared for you, Potter, is because you reminded me of your father. I should have looked beyond that."

"Maybe. It's in the past anyway, right? Can't change that. Well, unless you're Hermione with a Time-Turner." He startled Snape with a friendly grin. "Took me a while to figure out just who she was going to rescue when she borrowed my cloak. But it came to me finally."

Snape was unsure what to say.

"Did you try to break up her marriage?"

"No. I didn't even realize she was the woman who saved me until she went back to do it again. I probably should have realized, but I'm...unaccountably stupid at times when it comes to women."

"Not a man alive who can't say that." Harry sighed. "Ron's really unhappy."

"I wish I could say I was sorry but of all of you, he was the—"

"Don't." Harry held up his hand. "Whatever you're going to say, just don't. I know how you felt about him. About most of his family."

"His mum was all right. Seemed a fair lady."

"If you weren't Hermione. She never really took to her."

"Maybe she knew Hermione was wrong for her boy. Molly's not stupid."

Harry shrugged. "Maybe."

"Are you doing all right? Happy?"

Harry looked over at him. "I am. I have a wife I love and children I adore. It's funny: I first came to Nepal seeking something, but everything I wanted, I found I already had."

"Sometimes we don't realize that until it's too late. You're a lucky man if you can still enjoy it, Harry."

They sat for a moment, and then Harry asked, "You didn't like Hermione when we were at Hogwarts, did you?"

Snape shot him an appalled look. "Good lord, no. What do you take me for?"

Harry looked relieved. "You'll treat her right?"

"I should think you'd be more worried about me."

Harry laughed. "I should probably be more worried for anyone around you, the two of you together. At least you're here, where they'll train you up right." He shook his head. "Part of me is sorry I'm not coming here still."

"I have a feeling you're always welcome."

"I know. I just sort of think I should stick with Ron for a bit. Solidarity and all that." He took a deep breath. "I don't plan to tell him you're alive. He really hates Slytherins enough without finding out one stole his wife."

"I didn't steal her. She left him. She probably would have done that even without my presence in her life."

"Somehow, I doubt that."

Snape shrugged. "At any rate, I agree. Don't tell him. Will just be one more nail in the Slytherin coffin."

Harry smiled. "I was almost sorted into Slytherin."

Snape couldn't hide the surprise he felt. "What?"

Harry nodded. "The hat wanted to put me there. I wanted to be Gryffindor."

"Of course."

"I'm not sorry I was in the house I ended up in. But I do regret I didn't get to know you better."

'Now—you regret that now. You certainly did not regret it then."

Harry smiled a bit ruefully. "No, I didn't, you're right. At any rate, I thought you should know."

"I appreciate that." Snape studied the man who had been his nemesis and greatest worry. "You know, watching the three of you when you were at school, I always thought that you and Hermione would be better suited than Ron and she."

"She's like a sister. My best friend. Don't tell Ron I said that."

"Trust me, I won't."

Harry swung his legs around and got up, and then he held his hand out to Snape. "I never got to say, sir, how brave I think you were. Everyone says I was the hero, but I got to live in the open. I got to be the one everyone rallied around. Got to be lauded and do the right thing. And you had to hide, the whole time, and still do the right thing. I can't imagine how lonely that was for you. So I just want to say thank you for what you did for us."

Snape took his hand. "You're welcome." Then he let go.

"Oh and you don't have to hide anymore. I made sure that your contribution was known. Your sacrifices acknowledged."

"Because you couldn't have your son named after a traitor?"

"No, sir." Harry's expression was very like one of Tenzing's when he was a little disappointed in Snape. "Because it was the right thing to do."

##

Hermione walked around the small little stone structure that was part of a cluster of shelters. She and Harry had always wondered what they were for, lying just far enough away from the temple to seem like they were separate. "So this is your house?"

"This is it." Snape smiled. "I could use some help decorating it."

"I'll say." She smiled at him.

"And you can use the word 'our,' you know."

"I can? And how would I use that particular possessive." She laughed as he pulled her into his arms.

"As in, "Ah, Severus, man of my dreams." He actually laughed when she rolled her eyes. She wasn't sure she'd ever heard him make such an easy, happy sound. "All right, something more akin to what you might actually say might be, 'So, you marginally satisfying man who I have decided I love—'"

"I would not deem you marginally satisfying."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it. It is maddeningly difficult to get to the point with you, Granger. You know that?"

"I'll help you out. "So, Severus, pain in my neck, this is our house?" She felt funny asking it despite the cheeky way she'd put it. She still had moments where she did not want to presume and find humiliation waiting on the other side of that presumption.

"Yes, Hermione, endless source of frustration, this is our house." He pulled her closer. "Frustration because you so rarely listen to me when I am obviously older and clearly wiser."

"I have yet to see evidence of that."

"Vexation of vexations." He threw his hand over his heart, looked up at the roof as if begging the heavens for mercy.

She pushed him down onto the bed while he was busy overdramatizing. "I think we should break this thing in."

"If you insist," he said with a long-suffering sigh, but he was already easing her clothes off her, so she ignored it and got to work on his. Then he stopped her for a moment, a truly puzzled look on his face. "Why me, Hermione?"

She could see he was serious. "Because you're smart."

"There are many smart people in the world, some closer to your age."

"Stop with the damn age thing. You know it irritates me." She tried to unbutton his trousers, and he stopped her again. "What? You need more reasons than just your sterling intelligence?"

He nodded. She could tell he was trying for one of his more sarcastic looks but he failed utterly.

"Because you make me laugh in bed, which admittedly is the last thing I would have thought we would do."

"Laugh or be in bed together."

"Both. Oh, come on, you cannot seriously say you envisioned me as a partner."

"I did not. But to my credit, I was dealing with a pert young schoolgirl about whom I was most specifically not supposed to envision future dalliances. Whereas you could easily have had a schoolgirl crush." His mouth turned up into a half smile. "I know: I am delusional."

She laughed. "You are. But witness: we are in bed and we are laughing. Now, may I please continue disrobing you?"

"If you insist." He pretended to be bored, but as soon as enough of him was free of clothing, he pulled her on top of him and moaned as they joined.

He was, for someone who claimed to be not that experienced at this, bloody good in the sack. Then again, the fact that their tattoos had become not only visible but had also started to glow might be helping that along. Tenzing had said there were interesting other ways the tattoo could be used to amplify things.

When they were done, and they lay sweaty and sated in each other's arms, she said softly, "Why you, Snape? Because I love you."

He met her eyes, smiled wistfully. "It is wonderful to hear that."

"My wish is that someday, in the future, if you ask me that again, and I tell you that I love you, you say, 'I knew that.' And not act so surprised."

"Wouldn't you rather hear me say 'I love you, too'?"

She thought about that. "You have to say it first some of the time. Too many times it's just a rote response, a Pavlovian kneejerk. 'Oh, right, quite, I love you, too, snookums."

He laughed. "Well, I do love you."

"But never as much as Lily."

He shook his head slowly. "You have that backwards, Granger. I never loved her as much as I do you. Oh, yes, I idolized her and adored her and wanted her. I nearly died when she did. But I never knew her, because the girl I thought I knew better than anyone, that girl of course loved me back, and Lily most assuredly did not. I never lay in a bed after wonderful, wonderful sex and just...enjoyed talking with her. I never had her, Hermione. Not like I have you. Not like I love you."

He smiled, and it was an open and real smile: one of the rare ones. "And I'm not saying that because I've learned to make do, or because I'm older and I've been through a lot. I'm saying that because for the first time in my life, I know that I have someone who can, when necessary, love me more than herself. Do you think it was lost on me that the first thing out of your mouth when you came back, bloodied and alone, was 'You're still here'?"

"Well, my effort and potential death wouldn't have been worth much if you hadn't been."

"This is true."

"And it could have been a statement of 'Ooh, look at how extremely skilled I am.'" She pulled him to her for a long kiss. "Or it could have been just as you said. Because, my dear man, living without you if I could stop it: not an option."

"There will come a time—"

"You don't know that. I could go first. I think that means we should just be happy and enjoy what we have."

"I think you are most wise."

She pulled her arm up so she could see the tattoo. "I think you should make yours glow." She worked on her own, making it brighter and brighter, and his started to glow either because he was trying to make it do so or because it was responding to hers.

His look of surprise and pleased, "Oh, Granger, well done, you," as he rolled her to her back, let her know which it was.

##

Snape sat next to Tenzing on the grass, looking out at the mountains and the valley. It was an unusually beautiful day; the sun was hitting the snow on the mountains just right, turning them pink.

"You are content, my friend?" Tenzing asked.

"I am."

"But you seem to have a question."

"And even if I hadn't had a question, that sort of statement would make me find one." Snape smiled at Tenzing. "I am wise to your ways."

"So you think." Tenzing took a deep breath. "It is good having you here. Someone who does not answer to me. Who is my friend."

"Have I ever thanked you for welcoming me here?"

Tenzing shrugged that off. "We welcome all who seek."

"Do you befriend them too?"

"Not as often. I must maintain my air of mystery." Tenzing's eyes crinkled up as he tried not to laugh. "But you do have a question, Severus, so just ask it."

"Something has been bothering me. What I don't understand is how Hermione healed me in the first place. I understand why dittany worked on Harry—Nagini knew not to kill him, probably barely injected him with venom. But I was as good as dead. That snake gave me more than a lethal dose."

"Yes, she did." Tenzing shook his head. "Dittany alone will not close a wound like that. But perhaps with something else?"

"What else is there?"

"Some energy restorers perhaps. To get you on your feet and out of that shack."

Snape shot him a look. "That alone wouldn't do it."

"No. That alone would not do it." Tenzing began to make a slow, quiet hissing noise. A few moments later, a little orange snake slithered into view.

"You're a parselmouth?"

Tenzing nodded, holding out his hand and the little snake crawled onto it, then up his wrist, coming to rest like a living bracelet. "This is Cepla. She is a special little serpent. Her venom, while very weak when used in defense against a human, is adequate for mice and other small beasts." He held her out to Snape. "Take her."

Snape put out his hand, and Cepla moved gently from Tenzing to him. Her scales sliding over his skin felt almost like silk, and her little tongue moved in and out as she wrapped herself around his wrist and seemed to go to sleep.

"Her venom, when combined with dittany, negates Nagini's venom. Not all at once: she is, after all, a very small creature. But in time."

Snape rubbed his throat with his free hand. "Yes, in time." He sighed.

"What is it, my friend?"

"Hermione thinks she thought up saving me, but you did, didn't you? I mean you brought us all together, starting with Potter that day. Why?"

Tenzing shrugged. "It is, at times, good to be the head of the order and free to move around. Free to pay special visits on bright men who will help me get you back."

"Get me back? You didn't know me then."

"Severus, I have lived so many lives. One at a time and all at once, as I tried to explain to you when you tried your stupefying charm on me—Hermione did that, too, by the way. So alike, you two. At any rate, I tried to explain that like light, we have dual natures. We can be soul, and swim in the wave of ourselves that spans Eternity, or we can be physical and choose to be a particle, losing our connection with the all. Sure only of one thing: our location or our speed in leaving it."

Snape smiled. "That is a bad paraphrasing of quantum physics."

"No, quantum physics is a bad paraphrasing of Universal wisdom." Tenzing reached out and stroked Cepla. "Most of the time, I am something in between. I am old enough, close enough to moving on, that I can live as a wave even with my feet on this earth. And therefore, your magic had no target when you tried your spell."

"You had a point about friendship in all of this scientific mumbo jumbo?"

"I did. I see all when I connect. I see the past. I see who I was. I see how I lived and who was important to me. I see who they are now and watch them as they struggle and as they fight. As they keep fighting, no matter what."

Snape made a mocking face, the old one he'd used at Hogwarts. The one that kept him safe from having to show any kind of vulnerability.

Tenzing took his shoulder and shook him slightly. "Severus, I have known you before and I watched you this life. I saw what you had to do, and I know how much it cost you. And I know you would have died alone if Potter and his friends had not come along. After everything you did: that was to be your only reward? And sometimes, sometimes I do not have to sit by and let my friends die. Sometimes, I can say, 'No. Not this time.'"

Snape swallowed hard.

"This is karma, my friend."

"I thought karma was punishment."

"It is what is earned. Sometimes punishment. Sometimes a reward." Tenzing smiled. "That woman is a reward. She will love you with fierce abandon. And you will never, ever bore her, although it's possible you will drive each other crazy at times struggling over who is in control." Tenzing smiled, seemingly amused at the thought. "Have you finally no words? You who are so quick to defend?"

"I... I just... Thank you. I wish I understood this all better. I wish I..." He shook his head.

"Sometimes it's better to speak in the language of the listener. Is this easier, my friend? Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You have toiled long enough, Severus. Time to rest. Or whatever that wonderful woman allows you to do." Tenzing actually laughed at that. A simple, innocent, heartfelt belly laugh.

"You're enjoying this far too much."

"I know. Indulge me. Life is fun sometimes."

"Yes," Snape said, as he saw Hermione walking out of the temple with Sonam, as she gave Snape the sweetest smile imaginable and a little wave before continuing on. "Sometimes life is."

FIN