The light is dirt-tinged and insistent and it blooms across my closed eyelids like a shapeless splotch of blood in the bathroom sink. The growth is slow, but it is unexpected so I sit up in a panic and flail. The sheets drag me down. The smell of sleep is heavy in the air, and I suspect that my skin reeks of it. My wand is in my fist and a curse is on my lips before I quite know what I am doing. Heart hammering. Synapses firing. I rip the covers off my legs and dig my heels into the mattress and—

There is nothing but the dust.

I tuck my wand back under my pillow and let my body fall backward, sinking into the lazy warmth of your bed. I throw an arm over my face.

You know very well that I am a neat freak, and that I might even pride myself on it. You've laughed at me many times; don't think I couldn't see you trying to duck your head and hide your smile. You hypocrite, you. I suspect that you're even more uptight than I am when it comes to personal organization. Which is why I cannot fathom why your house is so bloody dusty all of the time. There's nothing I can do about it. Cleansing charms and Banishing spells last a maximum of twenty-four hours before it is back, lacquering everything in a sepia graininess like an old photograph. I suppose it has its own charm, in a very old-world, nostalgic sort of way, maybe like walking into an antique shop when the afternoon sun steals its way through the tinted windows and warms the polished surfaces with a borrowed glow. But really, it's cliche. Everyone expects the cranky Wizard to live in a dusty, decrepit house. I thought you didn't like cliches.

But I'm sure you had no idea what to do about the dust either because if you had, you'd have done it a long time ago. It's almost as if the house itself has a peculiar partiality for cinders and soot.

It's a stubborn old thing, Spinner's End.

Or the Grey House, as we've learned to call it. A creative name, that. Really. They should give you another medal. Grey because of the peeling walls, grey because of the perpetually overcast sky, grey because of the molting refuse strewn across the sidewalk. Even the dust is grey. This is another cliche.

Don't get me wrong, it doesn't really bother me that much. I mean, I'm not that neurotic. I just thought it would bother you, since you've always insisted on being contrary, whether by intention or by sheer force of personality. Maybe we should call it the Clean House, or the Non-Dusty House, just to throw people off. I don't know. I'm not that good with names, either.

You told me that the name 'Spinner's End' always left an unpleasant taste in your mouth.

I make myself get up from bed. Do you know what I feel like on dusty mornings like this, when the light is intent on remaining an ambiguous non-colour and the sun hovers in the same spot for what seems like hours? I feel like an apple core. No, that's not quite right. I feel like a wool glove. Not the nubby, expensive kind, but the scratchy kind. The one you don't mind getting food stains on. Thick and serviceable. I feel like one of those gloves being peeled off a cold hand and tossed into the corner. I guess you can say that I am not a 'morning person.'

In the bathroom I brush my teeth. Now, don't laugh, but I have a lot of fun brushing my teeth. I find it a fortifying activity. Gets me up and ready to face the day. Up and down and up and down, don't skip the gums, just like my parents taught me. Sleep tastes horrible in my mouth, though you never seemed to mind it in yours.

I find you in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and obviously waiting for me.

"Good morning, dearest," you drawl with that special irony that I like to think you reserve only for me. That little quirk to your keen-edged top lip, which I always thought was more shapely than mine. Because you never call me anything but Granger unless you're angry. Or horny. Or both.

"Good morning, darling," I retort, glaring at you until I feel certain that I have properly expressed my indignation. But I ruin the effect by padding over and wrapping my arms around your waist. I hold you hard to myself and breathe in your scent. I hope you don't think I'm being sentimental. I just like the way you smell. I sometimes wonder if you were born in the north where the glaciers are, where the trout streams flow and the eagle flies, because that is what you smell like.

You place a hand on the side of my neck, your thumb skimming my jaw, and you look at me. Did you know that your eyes have their own kind of black? It's hard to describe. There is black, the absence of colour, the negation of light, a black that feels hollow and everlasting like a hole ripped into the fabric of space and time.

But then there's your black, which is entirely different. More… alive (is this the right word?). Black like the sky over the sea during a storm. Like the howl of wind. Like moonlight on wet earth. Your kisses are black, too. Please don't laugh at me. This is serious. Your kisses are black and they taste to me like the horizon and the big, big sky, and I don't think that I know of any sweeter coldness.

"You look like a harpy, Granger. Stop smiling like that."

My cheeks are aching but I am suddenly giddy—so giddy—and there is nothing I can do about it.

"No, Severus. Never. Never. Never."


Do you remember the time you came back?

You were even skinnier, if that were possible. We all were, in a harried, overexerted, nervous kind of way. One time I even joked that we all looked like we were tweaked off our arses, but no one thought it was funny. But you were the skinniest out of all of us. It did nothing to lessen your imperious gait, though. It made your eyes sink further into their sockets, the skin around them soft and gently purplish, and your nose seemed larger than ever, but you still walked and held your chin like you could take fifty points from anyone who would dare to breathe your air.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you what you looked like.

When I saw you, I tried to hunch my shoulders and slot my body into the space beside Ron. It was the first time I'd seen you since that night in the Shack, almost a year ago.

"What are you doing, Hermione?" Ron asked me, a bemused grin on his face.

"Nothing, I just… My, er… bra strap was slipping off. I was just trying to hike it up."

"Slipping off, eh?" he leered.

"Shut up." I still blushed, even at my age.

It was me who saved your life, of course.

Yes, I know, I should say: It was I. Not 'it was me.' But it sounds even more pretentious that way, so I think I'll sacrifice grammar in this case for the sake of not seeming like a smug, affected bitch, which you told me enough times that I had a tendency to be.

I'm sorry for that. I really couldn't help it, half the time. And the other half I turned it up on purpose just to get your attention. I'm sure you could tell. You were always so perceptive.

But do you know why I saved you? I'd like to say it was for some high-sounding, grand reason, or something universal and operatic in its themes. Something I could layer in pomp and bombast (one of your favourite words), maybe shed a tear or two. But no. It wasn't anything like that.

I saved you because I was who I was, and "life-saver" might as well be written on a placard and tacked to my forehead. I remembered how hot your blood was as I tried to staunch its flow from your throat. And how it was sticky and almost black in the dim light of the Shack, and I thought that I would never get it out from under my fingernails and it would stay there forever. It was a silly thought because it took five minutes to wash my hands free of the viscous sheen and it flowed down the drain in inky clots.

I remembered how I felt oddly guilty when I Portkeyed you into St. Mungo's.

Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are: "It might have been."* Someone said that. Someone important, I think. A Muggle author whose name I can't recall. And so I didn't regret it. Saving you.

You must know this. You must know.


Do you remember the time you came with Narcissa Malfoy?

I don't need to tell you this because you already know all of this, and I don't know why I'm dwelling on the fact that you came with her, but I am and I can't help it. I use that excuse a lot, don't I? I can't help it. I can't help myself, and I couldn't help you. And isn't that the human condition in a nutshell?

Don't oversimplify, you would have said.

Anyone who thinks he can understand the human condition is a fool, you would have said.

Anyone who thinks there is such a thing as 'the human condition' is a fool, you would hav said.

But enough of that.

We were in one of the safe houses. The Green House, perhaps. Or was it the Old House? Merlin, who comes up with these names? Anyway it was either one of the two, because none of the other safe houses had space for meeting rooms. We were holding a meeting with some of the senior members of the Order. I knew you'd come back to the war some few months back, but your injuries prevented you from joining the front lines. I'd only seen you in passing.

I'd wondered before what you would look like standing in the midst of people who, only one year ago, would have willingly nailed your severed head over the doorpost. I thought you would look ill-fitting and make everyone else uncomfortable for it. You didn't look ill-fitting at all, but you still made everyone uncomfortable, if only for the fact that you looked very comfortable in your own skin. Beside me, Ron looked like he was trying very hard to bite his tongue and not blurt out something really insulting to you. Ron was good with insults, but he knew that he was nothing compared to you.

Near-death hadn't made you a changed man. You were still ugly, still miserably beaky, still holding your mouth in that indelible snarl, but Narcissa was beautiful enough for everyone in the room even with the tiredness in the slight slack of her porcelain jaw and the shadows under her eyes.

Especially with the shadows under her eyes.

She had the kind of beauty that brought to mind stars shivering in the distance and northern lights. There was a time when I thought that you did it for Narcissa. I wondered about your motives because I wonder about everything, and I thought you'd killed Dumbledore for Narcissa. To save Narcissa's son. Anything for Narcissa, because you could not stand to see her chin trembling so. But I'd since learned from Harry that it was another son. For another woman with another beauty.

Some women can make tragedy look good, I supposed. I was not one of those women.

"What is she doing here, Snape?" Kingsley asked you. "And you. You don't have to be here anymore. You've done enough."

"You know why I'm here, Shacklebolt." Your sneer was as acerbic as ever. I was almost impressed. "You will never find the rest of them without me. Or her."

Kingsley was tired. I don't mean tired in a big way, like tired of life or tired of fighting. But just tired on that day. It had been a long day for everyone, and Kingsley was only human. Which was the only explanation I could think of for Kingsley looking at you long and hard and then sighing. Kingsley wasn't really the sighing type. "Very well. If you want to give even more of yourself, then I will not stop you. But the wife of a Death Eater is another matter."

It was an unspoken question. Can she be trusted?

"I am not giving anything of myself to anyone," you said with quiet anger. "Narcissa Malfoy is no longer the wife of a Death Eater." You shifted your stance slightly so that your shoulder blocked Narcissa from view. It was unclear whether you meant that Lucius Malfoy was no longer a Death Eater, or that Narcissa was no longer Malfoy's wife.

"I don't trust her, Snape. Even if she did save Potter during the Final Battle."

"She was just trying to save her own flesh," Charlie piped up. "That's the only reason she risked her neck." You know how the bad blood between the Malfoys and the Weasleys never quite dissipated.

You opened your mouth—to say something scathing, I was sure—but Kingsley beat you to it. "Be quiet, Charlie. You just got here three weeks ago."

Again, there were a lot of unspoken things.

Like: You just got here.

Like: You weren't a part of the Final Battle.

Like: You couldn't know how much smoke there was. Or what it smelled like. And how it tasted.

We—the Order, that is—called it the Final Battle even if it wasn't the final one. It turned out that in war, there were no such things quite as grand as Final Anythings. It was all fine on paper, in theory, but in real life it was just isolated skirmishes here and there. Some were violent, a few were horrendous, but most of them resulted in nothing more than bruised egos and sprained elbows. A few mangled robes. Missing shoes. A lock of hair singed off. In real life it was just a lot of darting around safe houses and trying to steal information from the other side and a lot of waiting. Sometimes it gets a bit dull. We just call it the Final Battle for the sake of reference because at that point, it was getting hard to keep track.

But who am I kidding? You know far more about war than I will ever know. Than I will ever want to know. It's the only life you got. You were dealt a crap hand, but I am not sorry for you because you were not sorry for yourself.

"I vouch for her, Shacklebolt," you spat. "Is that not enough?"

It was astounding how quickly your reputation shot up after Harry started telling everyone that you were the bravest man he knew. I don't think he meant to embarrass you. You know how he is. He gets excited, sometimes. I hope you've forgiven him for that. Anyway, if Harry were there, I know he would have jumped to your defense the moment you walked through the door. We all knew this. There was a moment of hushed tension, only a moment, before Kingsley acquiesced. Like I said, he was tired.

"You know it's enough, Severus."

"Good."

"Good."

We were seated. I felt your presence behind me like a tingle in my scalp. A light skimming up my spine.

The meeting continued on in relative equanimity among all parties. There had been another raid somewhere near Kent. There were more packets that needed to be delivered to other safe houses. There wasn't any new information about the remaining Death Eaters' central location. There was one new casualty—Ernie Macmillan—who tripped on a shoelace and fell behind in last week's mission.

When the meeting ended, there was a press at the door as everyone rushed to get out, eager to get on with their own missions. I hung back to let them pass.

"Come on, Hermione," Ron told me, an indecent grin on his face. Somehow it embarrassed me, even if it never had before.

"No, Ron, not now. I have to… Just go. I'll be along shortly."

He gave me an odd look, but he went anyway to chat with Charlie.

I fiddled around with my belongings. You know how I did this every time I got nervous. But I don't think I knew then that I was. Nervous, that is. I didn't know what I was thinking. This is another excuse that I use a lot. You'd be proud of me: I gained a lot of self-awareness over the past year.

I took my time with my notes, placing them back in my folder, which was slotted neatly into my bag. I dropped my quill twice. Behind me, I heard your footsteps as you and Narcissa walked out of the room. You were holding her elbow and whispering brusquely into her ear. In the milky light streaming from the bare bulb up above, her face looked naked and drawn.

Quite unexpectedly, my eyes were met with frosty blue—the same hue of shadows that shy away at dawn—and I had just enough time to react before I looked down at my feet. I felt my cheeks warming. Then I remembered my manners and looked back up, offering a tentative smile. I wondered if she remembered that day in her drawing room, when I screamed my throat raw and left a pool of sick and urine and filthy Mudblood tears on her marble floor.

She nodded at me gravely. I knew then that she remembered, but that I shouldn't wait for an apology. There were too many things to apologize for on both sides, as things stood. And it's not like I was holding on to it or anything. With apologies come expectations—of reciprocation, or forgiveness, or, at the very least, mutual civility. Maybe I didn't want to be civil. I don't know. Maybe I just wasn't ready.

But I looked up at you, hoping. Hoping. You weren't looking at me, though. You were still saying something to her. She was a tall woman, the top of her head level with your brow, and you did not have to bend your head very much for your lips to reach her ear. I watched your jaw. Your lips. Your robes almost brushed my arm as you left the room.


In the darkness, I know the texture of your sweat-slicked limbs and the sound of your ragged breathing. It took two years before you let me see your body in the light, but we turn it off anyway because there is something about the immensity of night that ravishes and ignites. In the darkness, I trace with my fingers the angle of your jaw, the liens of old grievances around your mouth, the hard ridge of your cumbersome nose (a kind way to put it, you would have said), the dip of your collarbone, the hollow between your shoulder blades, the crags of your spine.

This is my favorite spot. Your spine. Pressing my palms into the small of your back as you rock above me. Feeling your muscles tense and release as you take pleasure from my body.

Your favorite part is the hollows of my hips. I notice your eyes riveted there sometimes. And you like to grip me there when I am on top of you, or when I am seated before you, and you dig your thumbs hard into my flesh. You like to hold me still, to stop me from moving when I get frenzied, and you grip me and guide me slowly, up and down, slowly, slowly, slowly, just how you like it. Every brush of skin echoing across nerve endings. Every second heavy and laden with tension.

I know what you will say. You'd say something like: Don't presume to tell me what I want, you daft girl. Or something like that. And then you'd push me into the mattress and prove my presumption accurate.

But now we are lying side by side, sweaty and exhausted. I am thinking of many things and of nothing at all. I didn't think it was possible for my mind to feel this blank and vertiginous. You've taught me many things.

"Severus. Severus." Your name on my lips sounds like the whistling of a blade.

"What?"

"Severus."

"Granger. What do you want?"

"Nothing. I just felt like saying your name."

I think that is what I said. I know you are looking at me now, the way you looked at me before. In the darkness, your black is even darker, and it puts the unfeeling night sky to shame. This is how it should be.

"Severus."

Your name on my lips has the same cadence as my heartbeat.

"Hermione," you reply, amused at first.

But then, you bury a hand in my hair.

"Hermione."

You buss my cheek with your nose, which wouldn't have worked with anyone else, but your nose is just the right shape for it.

"Hermione. Hermione. Hermione."

Inside, I feel hectic and disquieted. My name on your lips is crisp and clean like the first dew of a spring morning.

"You said you were going to give me something. You told me not to ask about it, but you never gave it to me. What was it?"

You don't say anything. You kiss your way up my neck and I close my eyes, willing the tightness in my throat to go away.


Do you remember the time I passed you in the Sunny House after Narcissa died?

You came back because of her.

Narcissa Malfoy, who presided over Death Eater dinners, and yet could not stand the sight of blood. Narcissa Malfoy, who cried when she was told that she couldn't use magic in the safe houses because they could track us if she did. Narcissa Malfoy, who would rather go for weeks without bathing rather than ask anyone how to turn on the hot water. Narcissa Malfoy, who wiped the vomit out of my face when I once Apparated outside the White House and we were the only two people there, and I was moaning something about God and Hell and pounding on the walls and please, please, Lavender was taken, please someone go back out there.

Narcissa was perhaps your only friend. Even if everyone thought you a hero. People don't really like being friends with heroes. Harry was lucky with us.

But Harry was also kind. You, on the other hand, were still a fucking wanker, and you made it clear to everyone that it wasn't us you did it for. You loved her, maybe. Not like Lily. Never like Lily. But somehow you loved her, and you needed her, in the way that someone needed water in their throats, or the way someone needed the sky to keep stretching over them.

She died like the rest of them; it took less than a minute, and in two hours she was under the ground. If you mourned her, you did not show it.

Narcissa did not have a gravestone. That was reserved for after the war, when we told each other that we would have time for proper funerals. If she did have one, I imagined that you would stand in front of it in stop silence, staring at her name etched in stone. This would have been a cliche, too. But tragedy tends to bring out the trite in us.

It didn't matter anymore that you loved her, or that you lost her, because all of us had loved and lost so much, and every day we were reminded that we held so much more in our powerless fists, and the world was waiting to tear it away from us.

A few words were said. Narcissa had given us all she knew, which was a lot, considering her former position with the Death Eaters. All she asked was that we never inquire about the whereabouts of her husband and son, which was just fine with everyone. I passed you in the kitchen of the Sunny House, and I croaked out something I meant to be politely commiserating. I think I was more worried about doing the polite thing than actually making you feel better. You wouldn't have cared. You didn't look at me, just walked right by. The last time you looked at me was that night in the Shack, almost a year and a half ago.


"I thought you quit."

"Yes, well. I thought you didn't snore. I would never have agreed to let you sleep in my bed, had I known."

"I do not. Snore."

"Oh, but you do. In fact, I'd wager you could beat even Weasl—"

"I could not. And stop trying to change the subject, Severus. Those things will kill you, as you very well know."

"Will they really? Well, now," you drawl, raising a skeptical eyebrow at me. Then you smirk wickedly. "Do you know, once you even farted under the covers. More than once, actual—"

"Shut up," I say, blushing fiercely. I thought that had been a dream. I look up to find you staring at me.

"Come here, Granger," you say, giving me that look, and my heart skips on a beat. It's not fair, you know?

"No. I refuse to kiss you when your mouth tastes like nicotine and tar and lung cancer."

"Ah. Now that you put it that way." You drop your cigarette to the ground and stomp it out with your boot. You like to do this sometimes: shock me into silence by agreeing with me. It doesn't happen often enough, so it keeps me on my toes like you knew it would. You were always a manipulative bastard.

You look up at me and smile slow and heavy, and I remember how your indolent smirk was always my downfall.

"You have to brush your teeth," I say, trying not to smile.

You growl at me and grab my by the hip (your favourite spot) and press me to you. "Are you certain I can't possibly... convince you?" you say, and I can almost feel your breath against the shell of her ear. I like it when you do this. When you grab me, when you're feeling a bit playful and a bit rough. I will never tell you this.

With one hand you push my hair aside, and you skim your lips down the line of my neck. You smell of smoke and leaves, old sweat and cool water. I smile because I can't help it anymore.

"You smell gross."

Your answering laugh rumbles deep in your chest, and I think I can feel your lungs expanding against my skin. You are wearing a shirt so thin that I know you might be cold, so I press a kiss to your breastbone. You pull me even closer—ever closer—and rest your mouth against my temple, your bottom lip dragging slightly against me hair as you bury your nose in it. Your breath tickling my cheek.

"And you farted in your sleep."


Do you remember the first time we spoke since my sixth year?

We were given different missions this time. According to our abilities, our superiors said. Harry was good at being a leader, so he was usually put on the front lines on the raids and such. Ron was one of our top strategists, so he was often at headquarters, wherever that was. I no longer had the clearance to know such things. I, on the other hand, was on medic duty, jumping from safe house to safe house with supplies and information. Sometimes, I brought letters. Most of the time, it was just a rubbish bag of soup tins and bar soap and old copies of the Daily Prophet. There wasn't any more research to be done at this point, so I volunteered for this.

At first, I hated it. Not knowing things. Being relegated to itinerant nurse. You would have smirked knowingly, because you thought you knew everything about me. At first, it felt to me like I was slacking off. Eventually, I got used to the isolation of moving from location to location. Sometimes, I would get so immersed in me own head that whenever I saw someone I knew, it would take me a while to adjust to seeing a familiar face besides my own.

Despite the broken sleep and hurried conversations, there was a peace in not seeing the same people for more than three days that I found and was grateful for. I'm not just saying that. I was truly grateful.

What most people don't realise is that you can only change the world so much before you have to let things go. I killed one piece of Voldemort, and helped find the others. That was enough participation for a lifetime. After a while, I was content with my role on the sidelines. In the end, I volunteered because I was a Gryffindor, and there was nothing else to do, and after all, loyalty was my calling card.

I was in the Old House when you found me, the one with the shag carpets that smelt of naphthalene and the sagging chimney. I was restocking the cupboards with tins of meat processed beyond all recognition and packets of dried pasta.

"Miss Granger."

I actually laughed at that one, because it's been three years since anyone called me that.

"What is it, Snape?" I examined a tin of onion soup closely in the dim light. Merlin, it's two years since the expiration date.

"Are you waiting for me to thank you? Do you want me to sink to my knees and kiss your feet, is that it?"

I looked at you. "What?"

"What did Potter and Weasley say? Did they congratulate you for being the only one—so sweet, so kind—the only one to see through my facade? Did they give you an award for saving the martyr, for giving the double agent a second fucking chance?"

I threw the expired tin in the rubbish, but missed. The tin clattered to the floor and rolled under the formica table. "What the hell are you talking abo—"

"Fuck you. You think you're some kind of saviour, don't you, looking down at us from your lofty pedestal. Shit. How does the fucking blood smell from up there, Granger? Can you even smell it still?"

I sniffed at you. "Are you drunk?"

"Does it offend you, then? Does it make you want to fix me? The nasty spy with a heart of gold, buried underneath all that spite. You think you can tell me what to do just because you saved my life? You think you fucking own me—"

"I never said a thing about that! What the bloody hell is your problem? God. It's almost two years ago, Snape. Get over it."

"I would if you stop walking around with your nose in the a—"

"So I saved your life. That's what I do now, Snape. They don't put me in the battles because I'm crap at recognizing people in the darkness and because I'm better at saving lives. I saved Lavender when they brought her back, I saved Finch Fletchley when they put him in a bloody coma. I'm not lording it over anyone, it's just my job. Get over it."

"Get over it?" you laughed harshly. "I see. So you are waiting for us to thank you, then. Well, thank you, Granger, for seeing the fucking goodness in me. Thank you for forcing me to live through another bloody war. Thank you for forever blowing my cover. Thank you for condemning me to this—to this—"

"I'm sorry: so I should have left you there? Is that what you're saying?" I said, my voice shrill. I'd handled ornery patients before. But you were just something else. Maybe you were right. Maybe I did want you to be grateful.

"Yes. Yes, Granger. You should have fucking kept your presumptuous, self-satisfied, fat fucking head out of it and left me there," you sneered, your voice dangerously low. I was always bad at recognising your warning signs.

"Okay. Okay," I bit out, my shoulders shaking with anger. "Why don't you just get yourself killed in a raid, if you want to die so badly?"

I chucked a tin of soup at you, regretted it halfway, and flung it down at your feet instead. It hit the tip of your boot. You didn't even flinch. You bastard.

I pushed past you to leave the kitchen. When I was in the other room, I heard a tin crash into the wall behind me.

Was that the beginning, then? That night?

It's impossible to tell. It's not like I can just draw a line through time and say: This is where it all began. Beginnings are messy things. They creep up on you and lurk in the dustiest corners. Then, when you least expect it, they pounce.


I run my fingers through your hair, and it slides over my knuckles like algae in a cold pond. Not a flattering comparison, but apt. I like apt. You like apt. This is one thing we share in common.

"Wha—whayou doing..." you mutter into the pillow. In the past, you never let yourself be caught in this state of half-wakefulness because it could have cost you your life. We live in better times, though. And a sleepy Severus Snape is indeed quite a sight to behold.

"Severus. Severus, wake up."

It takes a few seconds.

"What? Granger. Get the bloody hell off my stomach. I can't breathe."

I roll my eyes. It's a bad habit, I know. I'll try to correct it. Maybe not. Anyway, you are infuriating.

"I made breakfast, you wanker."

You open one bleary eye.

"You. You made breakfast."

"Yes, I did."

"The cooker doesn't work."

"I'm a witch, Severus. I don't need a cooker to cook."

You raise an eyebrow.

"Oh, fine, you bloody git. I Apparated to Molly's and she gave me what's left of her fry up to take home, and I, out of the kindness of my own heart, waited two sodding hours for you to wake up so we could eat it together. Are you happy now?"

You turn to look at me. To really look at me, and something tautens in my eyelids. I touch a finger to the fine hairs above your ear. Black was always your color, but silver works just as well for me.

"Yes," you whisper.

"What?"

You run the tip of your index finger down the bridge of my nose, which is funny because I always do that to you when you're asleep.

Shh, it's a secret.

"I mean, yes. I am happy." That sounds like a secret too.

I screw my eyes shut.

"I never regretted it, Severus."

"Perhaps you should Summon the dishes up here. My back is hardly in working order. The last twenty-four hours were quite... draining." Your mouth curls lasciviously around the last word.

"Severus. Listen to me. I never regretted it."

"I suppose you could always find a way to tempt me into getting up." You waggle your eyebrows at me, and I remember how much I loved it when you got playful.

"Even when they told me. Everyone told me I would, even Narcissa. Did you know that? She came to me before she... She came to me and told me that you would always love her. Lily, I mean. Not Narcissa. I thought she thought I was someone else because she was half-delirious that time. Do you remember that? There was a fever going around."

You sneeze, and it is the most endearing thing I have ever seen.

"Fuck. It's bloody dusty around this sodding hovel. I've no idea why I acquiesced when you said you wanted to live here, Granger."

I look at you with something desperate and beseeching in my gut.

"Severus. I never asked you before, because I thought I... Because I couldn't. Do you love her still?"

You don't answer. I didn't really expect you to because... Well, you know why. You throw the covers off your naked body with a swiftness that belies your many complaints about your aging back. The gritty light outlines your silhouette, and I take a moment to admire the contours of your shapely thighs, the indents on your sharp hips, the shadows that mark your ribcage. Your wan skin fits you in a way that takes my breath away, like molten candle wax poured over the perfect cast of your bones and set in a perfect mold of your slim muscles.

You remind me of a tree twisting in a hurricane, with your weather-stained features and the hunger ever-burning in your eyes. You remind me of a lake just at the point of freezing over.

I look at your face to find you smirking at me, and Merlin, can you make me blush.

"Feed me, Granger. I require nourishment," you pronounce with the air of a despot. My chin wibbles a bit, and I wish I could still feel something, anything at all.

"Okay, Severus. Okay."


Do you remember that time I thought you were trying to kill yourself?

"—most got yourself killed, with that stunt you pul—"

"—risk assessment, and I decided that the reward was worth the bloody risk. Or did you not want to win the fucking war—"

"—had orders, Snape! What? What? How dare you ask me that? I. Am. A Mudblood. If I don't win the bloody war then I might as well turn my wand on my head right now."

I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. You muttered something under your breath.

"What about three weeks ago? You went on your own to that house we discovered in Cornwall, even though Kingsley told you to wait for backup."

"I got their bloody maps, didn't I? If I hadn't taken some fucking initiative, then we would have ended up with noth—"

"That's not the point, Snape! What about February, in Durham? You didn't end up with a bloody thing that time, did you? Jesus. You were a spy for twenty years and you fucked up. You fucked up, and you almost got Hannah Abbott killed."

You didn't answer me.

"Just... Just hold still, okay? I need to stitch this up. It doesn't... It doesn't make it right, Snape. I shouldn't be telling you this. You of all people should know this already. Revenge doesn't fix anything."

You flinched as I dabbed at the gash on your back. The garish purple was vivid and jarring against your waxy pallor.

"I don't give a fuck what you think, Granger. Don't you try to tell me about revenge. He killed Narcissa. It was only just. Don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing."

My breath hitched, and my throat suddenly got very itchy.

"There was a time when..."

I tried again.

"There was a time when I would have. But that's not justice, Snape. If I don't know about revenge, then you don't know about justice. You want to know what justice is? Justice is a knee in your gut in the dark, a razor blade in your instep, a Slicing Hex at your throat without a word of warning. Trust me, you don't want justice. None of us do."

"Ah," you huffed out with wry amusement. "Ah. Thank you for reminding me that they used to call you the brightest witch of your age. Do they still call you that, then? Well, aren't you wise beyond your years? Did the war break you, Granger? Did it open your eyes? Are you all barren and bitter inside?"

I pinched my lips shut and exhaled loudly through my nose.

"Piss off, Snape. All I know is that it doesn't make a bloody bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead."

"What if I'm already dead?" you said so quietly that it took me several seconds to understand. When I did, my fingers slipped into the torn edge of your skin, and you hissed through your teeth.

You stood and snatched your bloodstained shirt from the back of his chair, wincing as you drew it over your shoulders. We were in the Sunny House, so called because it faced west and it had far too many windows to be deemed practical. From the sun room on the third floor, when the skies were clear, you could see out for miles and miles into the surrounding emptiness of the fields because the Sunny House was on top of a hill.

It was mid-morning, and the sunlight was sickeningly resplendent. It glinted and searched for lighter colors in your hair, but it found nothing but unrelenting black.

"What was that supposed to mean?"

"Where is the lavatory?"

"Why?"

"Why do you think, Granger?"

I fixed you with a beady eye.

"Second floor, third door to your left."

I waited for him to disappear up the staircase before slumping into a chair and covering my face with my hands. I cringed when the tang of dried blood hit my nostrils, and I realised that I forgot to wash my hands after stitching you up. Upstairs, the pipes started clamoring with an oncoming rush of hot water. The sound was too heavy to be a flushing toilet, so I concluded that you must be in the shower. Then I berated myself for wondering what Severus Snape was doing in the bathroom.

Then, your words came back to me as words often do. What if I'm already dead.

The chair clattered to the floor when I leapt to my feet. I ran up the rickety staircase. I passed the first, the second, the third door. I skidded as I stopped.

"Snape! Open the door!"

I tried the knob, but of course it was locked. I started pounding on the door, wondering if I had enough strength to shove it open with my shoulder.

"Snape! Don't make me break this door down! I have to stay here for another three days, and this is the only bathroom, and I can't repair doors without magic! Open the bloo—"

"What. The fucking hell. Do you want."

You only opened the door far enough for me to see three quarters of your face, but your glare chilled my bones and wormed its way into my veins. One side of your head was wet, and your hair stuck in stringy clumps to your face and neck. There were drops of water leaving streaks through the mud caked on your skin. You looked ridiculous.

"We've run out of potions here. Most of the supply are sent to headquarters, and the more serious injuries are Portkeyed there. You'll find the cupboard by the sink empty."

"What?"

"The tub won't fill up either. Did you see that little fissure by the top of it? You could probably get the water up to your arse crack, at the highest."

"Are you alright, Granger?" you asked me slowly.

"The razor I gave you is too dull for your purposes. It can barely slice through hair, so it won't work on your wrists."

"What are you on ab—I'm not trying to kill myself, you daft bint."

"Of course you'd say that. But I won't let you. I'm in charge of you as long as you're injured, you tosser, and I'll be buggered sideways with a Flamebolt before I let you snuff it on my watch."

"A Flamebolt."

"A Flame... broom. Whatever. That's what it was about, isn't it? The recklessness? It isn't you, Snape. And I know you—"

"You don't."

"Okay, no. I don't. But I think everyone who's ever heard of you can safely say that you are the least reckless man in the entirety of Great Britain, and possibly the world. It's not worth it, Snape. You've got a lot to live f—"

"Will you just stop your yakking for one fucking second? I am not trying to commit suicide. What the devil do you take me for, one of your melodramatic headcases? Did you think I would honestly slit my wrists and bleed to death in a fucking bathtub with no one but the Great Swot of Gryffindor within touching distance of my prone corpse? Did yo—"

"What? Are you implying that I would touch your prone corpse? Are you insa—"

"—ould recite fucking Hamlet?"

There was a pause as I thought about what you just said. "You know Hamlet?"

"Insane," you pushed out through gritted teeth, your nostrils flaring, "is barging into the loo while a grown man is showering and accusing him for absolutely no reason of attempting suicide. Insane is thinking you even have the right to stop me in the first place."

"Ha! So you were trying to kill yourse—"

The last thing I heard was a great, big, beleaguered sigh before you slammed the door in my face.

I suppose it was funny then.

It isn't so funny now.

But I don't want to be depressing, so I suppose I'll stop talking.


"How are things at the Grey House?"

Three children later, and Ginny Potter is as radiant and dewy as ever.

"Good. Great. Things are great." I pop a chip into my mouth.

"You told me you were having trouble with the dust."

"Yeah. I mean, it's not such a big deal, really. I can handle it."

"You know," Ginny begins cautiously. "I know a bloke with a flat downtown. Everything's set up: the Floo Network, basic security wards. It's even got a few modern Muggle conveniences. Harry said it's got a marcowave," she finishes with a smug smile.

"Ah, yes. All I ever wanted was a marcowave," I drawl sarcastically.

"Stop that. You sound like—" Ginny stops suddenly. Then she clears her throat. "You know it's for your own good."

"My own good, yes. Thank you, Ginny. Sincerely." I offer a conciliatory smile. "But I have no intention of leaving the Grey House. I don't—"

"What is that?" Ginny cuts me off quietly, her eyes on my hand.

"Oh," I reply dumbly, shoving my hand under my thigh. "It's nothing. I found it."

"Where did you find it, Hermione?"

"Why does it matter? I found it. It's mine," I say sullenly, aware that I probably sound like one of Ginny's little boys. The thought makes my scowl even more pronounced.

"Hermione," Ginny sighs sadly, placing her warm, small, slightly sticky palm on my arm. "Hermione. Don't you see what this is doing to you? I can't—we can't stand seeing you like this. We love you, Hermione.We are still here for you. He isn't—he never cared for y—"

"Don't you dare, Ginevra," I whisper. "Don't you dare finish that sentence if you ever want to see me again."

Ginny draws her hand back like she is burnt, a look of anger and hurt on her face. She sets her jaw in that determined way that makes her look so much like (Fred and) George.

"Stop being pathetic, Hermione. You're being so—Merlin. I hardly recognise you anymore."

"Good afternoon, Ginny," I choke out, before twisting my body. I appear with a pop among the overflowing rubbish bins and piles of broken bricks in a rain-soaked alley. My feet smack stridently against the ground as I hurry to the end of the street, my heartbeat soaring as I step into the shadow of the Grey House. The sun is blotted out by thick, steely clouds, and the wind is faint and cool and earth-tinged on my face, and it reminds me of you.

"Severus? Severus!" I call as I fumble for my keys and shove the door open. When it shuts behind me, it feels like all sound is sucked out of the room, and I am left standing by myself with the grubby dregs of a lifetime.

I check the bedroom first, trailing my fingers across the dust on the armoire. Then the bathroom. The dining room. My creaking footsteps seem to grow louder.

"Severus? Where are you?"

Have I, perhaps, left you out in the open, where you shouldn't be?

I start to worry. Anyone could have seen you. I don't want anyone to see you. You are... Well. Not mine. You would have hated that. You would have hated me forever if I said you belonged to me. But I can't let anyone see you. I'm sorry. I'm sure you understand.

I find you in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and obviously waiting for me.

"Good morning, dearest."

Even at home you'd taken to wearing your robes. I smile at you warmly, my heart slowing down to a manageable pace.

"Hi. Good morning, darling. My darling."

I walk to you and wrap my arms about your waist.

"Severus, don't be angry. I found this in the box in your closet the other day. You said you were going to give me something. You told me not to ask about it, but you never gave it to me. Is this it?"

I lean back to show you the slim gold band around my finger, inlaid with a single cut emerald.

You say nothing but place a hand on the side of my neck, your thumb skimming my jaw, and look at me. Just look at me. My hands clutch at your shoulders, and I can feel the blood pounding in my ears, and I press the fingers of one hand to my lips, trying to quell the sudden tender spasm of hurt in my gut, and still you say nothing and just look at me.


Do you remember the time I woke up to find you staring at me from a chair in the corner, the shadows imbuing your features with a grief that wasn't yours?

You wouldn't have seen the shadows, of course. All you would have seen was a skinny girl lying on a hospital bed.

"Does it look hideous?" I whispered.

You stood up and approached my bed, and for a wild moment I thought you might take my hand, but you just clenched your fist at your side.

"Yes. You look like Crabbe."

"Really?"

"Worse than Crabbe. You look like Bulstrode."

I smiled at that, lifting one corner of my mouth up high.

"They said I was lucky I didn't get any scarring. I can't feel it, though. What does it look like?"

I lifted my hand to touch the left side of my face, feeling my permanent, one-sided glower. Facial paralysis wasn't too common an ailment in the Wizarding world, and no one knew what to do about it when they brought me into the sick ward. The more experienced Mediwitches and Healers were all at headquarters or St. Mungo's, and there was a waiting list for the minor injuries to be treated. Mine was considered minor.

"If you frown at everyone all the time, then no one would be able to tell."

"But then I'd look like you. I think I'd rather stick with Bulstrode, thanks."

You clenched your lips and said nothing. I wondered if I had offended you. I never knew, those days. Sometimes, you were as touchy as Ron. Other times, I would say the worst, most horrid things and you would take it with stoic acceptance, and I would have to apologize afterwards because I could never stand the way the guilt settled in the back of my throat.

You furrowed your brows, and you had the same look on your face as you did when you were reading a particularly abominable essay, back in the Potions classroom eons and eons ago.

I watched, entranced, as you uncurled your balled fingers and slowly brought them up to my face. You touched your fingers to my left cheek.

"Can you..." You cleared your throat. "Can you feel this?"

I felt like that moment when you trip and flail your arms, and the world tilts in front of your eyes and leaves you hanging unbalanced in its wake.

"No..." I breathed.

You nodded gravely. You looked at me like you were about to tell me something very important, but you didn't speak. Instead, you stretched your fingers and rested your palm against my cheek, cupping the side of my face. If I could feel it, I knew that the heat of your hand would sink into my skin, and it would leave an imprint there that I would remember in fifty years. A hundred.

"Can you feel this?" you whispered.

"I—" I faltered when I saw you staring at my mouth, and I was suddenly very conscious of the placement of my teeth and tongue. I wondered what I looked like to you; scowling with the left side of my face, and impossibly wide-eyed on the right side. I had the distinct urge to cough, or clear my throat, but my body was working against me.

You started bending at the waist, and still you weren't speaking.

Oh, I thought.

Oh.

My heart was knocking itself senseless against my chest wall, and I could feel my right cheek heating up. I wondered what I should do with my hands because you were still too far up above me for me to wrap my arms around you. And I didn't know if you'd want me to. I settled for bunching my fingers in the covers instead.

Then you were close enough for me to map every line of stress on your face. I knew them quite well, now. I settled my eyes on the thin, hook-shaped scar below your lip, the one you got in Durham. And then you were closer, and a strand of hair swung forward from behind your ear and tickled my neck. And then you were closer still, and I shut my eyes, and my head was suddenly so very silent, and you were kissing me.

It was chaste, the barest brush of softness, and I had trouble with moving my mouth. I waited for something, for an explosion between my ears, or a sudden jolt in the earth beneath us, or for my lungs to start working again, but your hand came up to grasp my arm, and you fitted your lips to my half-scowling ones, so I wrapped my arms around your back and pulled you closer and kissed you harder.

You groaned and pulled back just enough to whisper, "Can you feel this?" against my mouth, your hot breath blooming against my face, and I felt something fiercely alive in my stomach.

"Yes," I whispered back. "Yes. Yes."

Then you made a sound, like a growl or a snarl, and you pulled me up by the shoulders and held me so me upper body was slanted against yours, and kissed me, and kissed me, and kissed me.

Your lips were soft and cool and audacious, and they looked so thin but they felt plump and sensuous between my teeth. You tasted like lightning and something... something bitter and wonderful, and I thought my heart would either deflate and collapse, or drop down to my stomach floor, or burst out of my ears and shatter right in front of you.

I was bloody terrified. But I could not, would not, have stopped for anything.

You kissed me for seconds, or for minutes, or for hours, gripping the back of my head and angling my mouth just so, before you started pulling back, gently lowering me back into the bed. Our hard breathing seemed to echo in my tiny room. I stared at your chin.

Your hands moved to my shoulders and tightened there before you stepped back from me entirely. My brain went into overdrive right then, trying to piece together cause and effect and cause and what the helljust happened. The nerves in my mouth—the part of it I could feel—seemed to curl in on themselves and implode, tiny sparks dancing across my lips. I felt your eyes on my face, and suddenly I felt like pulling the covers over my head.

"I—" you began. It was strange, because I'd never heard you so hesitant before. I'm sure you'd never heard your own voice like that, either.

"I—" you began again, but you never finished your thought. I looked up as I heard your footsteps hard and fast and walking out of the room.


"I am not her," I breathe in the darkness.

I think you are asleep, but your shoulders go still, and I know that you heard me.

"No. You are not."

You turn to me and take me in your arms, and suddenly I am sorry for everything, for doubting you, for not having the courage to call you by your given name to your face, for not telling you what you were to me—what you still are to me—so I do just that. In my own way. People think I'm articulate, but I've always had trouble saying what I really mean. When it comes to you, at least.

"I didn't want children with Ron," I whisper into your chest, my tears soaking through your skin. "But I think I might have been alright with a couple of them. With you. Perhaps a boy first, then a girl. Or two girls would be nice too."

You hold me tighter, your legs sliding against mine, your fingers tangling in the back of my shirt.

"They'd have greasy, bushy hair, and gigantic front teeth, which would be hidden from notice by their equally gigantic noses."

I laugh through my tears. Your hands lower to my bum, and you grind your loins into mine, and I feel an answering heat in the pit of my gut.

"They'd be insufferable, and arrogant, and rude, know-it-all little shits. And I would teach them to raise their hands compulsively whenever someone asks a question. And you would teach them to billow as they stalk the halls."

You remind me of the north, where the glaciers are. You remind me of the frozen horizon.

"They'd have to be sorted into Ravenclaw, of course, because we don't want to play favorites with our own children. And Hufflepuff is out of the question."

Black was always your color. Black like the brutal glint of light on a scalpel. Black like smoke. Black like memory.


Do you remember the time we spent an entire day together?

Grimmauld Place was empty. The war was terrible, but it was those little moments of peace that made it bearable.

Don't be sentimental, you would have said.

"I think I should like to die by a lake."

You didn't respond.

"Wouldn't you, Snape? It's an awfully poignant way to go. It's like dying in a storybook."

"I think we've established that I am not trying to kill myself. Stop trying to pry it out of me."

"Oh, don't be such a killjoy. Come on, just tell me. If you could die in a way of your own choosing, how do you want to do it? I'd like to die by a lake. At sunrise. In the winter, I think. Yes, in the winter, with two feet of snow all around me, and my fading breath clouding the air."

Your raised eyebrow dripped contempt.

"You are a fool," you said, brandishing your finger at me like a weapon.

"Just tell me, you tit. I thought you wanted to be friends."

"I don't recall ever saying such a preposterous thing. And don't call me a tit, you dithering cun—"

"Hey!"

"Yes?" you grinned. You didn't do it often because you thought your teeth made you look like a leering ghoul. They might have, but I liked it anyway.

"That was exponentially more insulting than what I called you!"

"Are you going to cry, Granger?"

"Are you going to cry, Granger?" I mimicked in sing-song, pulling a revolting face, which I imagined was made all the more revolting by the fact that it only worked on the right side of it.

"Charming."

"Is that why—mmhm—is that why you're licking my nipple?"

You released it from your mouth with a pop and I had to try very hard not to laugh and choke at the same time. You watched my skin pucker in the cool air with a prurient fascination.

"It's one of the reasons."

"It won't be a frozen lake though. That would be too sad. Too symbolic."

"Bloody hell," you groused, rolling away from me and flinging an arm over your eyes.

"I mean, I want the whole scenery to be appropriately sad, because it's my place of death after all. But sad in a good way. In a nice, wholesome way."

"There is something very wrong with you. I don't think you realise that it isn't normal for people to contemplate their place of death with as much detail as you do. Especially now, when we're both naked," you intoned irritably.

"Have you ever been anywhere up north? I mean really up north, like in Scandinavia or something?"

"Hmm," you shrugged.

"It's lovely in the spring when the ice melts and you can hear the water running over the rocks. It sounds like little birds flapping their wings."

You snorted your opinion of little birds. I ignored you.

"But when the water freezes, it's quite a staggering sight. It gets so quiet. And still. It's like everything has gone underground, or migrated, or just up and left and the entire world seems empty, and—what?"

"It's winter, Granger. That's what happens in the winter every year, and in the spring the sun thaws everything and your fucking rabbits and forest creatures come out of hiding."

"Yes, I know that. It's just... It's sad, okay? Don't you ever just find yourself in a certain place, at a certain time, and just feel things? "

You rolled your eyes.

"You don't have to take it personally. Lakes only freeze on the surface because ice is less dense than water. Everything is still alive underneath. I was under the impression that you were somewhat intelligent. You disappoint me."

I pinched your waist, and you glared at me. I was used to your glares, and they no longer frightened me like they did in school. I pretended to be frightened sometimes because I knew how secretly proud you were of your ability of glaring someone into submission. Only sometimes, though. I'm not one for pretense.

"Yes, but you can't tell that it's alive, can you? It might as well be frozen through."

"Have you ever heard of spring turnover? When the ice melts the variations in temperature result in stratification, and the less dense water rises to the top of the lake, which distributes the oxygen and nutrients that were collected at the bottom."

"So the lake has to freeze if it's to survi—"

"Stop trying to find metaphors in everything, Granger. Stop trying to analyse completely trivial weather processes. It's not healthy. Besides, I've seen you tottering about on those ridiculous skates on the Black Lake. You didn't seem very sad, then." You gave me a pointed look.

"That was before."

"Before what?"

"Just... before. Before things."

"Right."


"I am not her."

I think you are asleep, but your shoulders go still, and I know that you heard me.

"No. You are not."

You reach for me.

"I love you, Severus."

I can't stand the look in your eyes, so I get up and leave the room.


Do you remember that time you came back from a raid and you were covered in blood and I screamed?
"I thought you said you weren't trying to kill yourself."

You swatted my hand away as I brought it to your face.

"I wasn't. Stop it."

"You said you would be more careful."

"I thought you liked your men brave and rash, Granger. What's the matter, was that not Gryffindor enough for you?"

"This isn't—that wasn't courage, Severus. That was desperation. That was... that was pathetic."

"You think you know this world so well," you seethed, and I heard your unspoken admonishment. You think you know me so well.

"Courage is knowing that there will always be unhappiness in the world and having the strength to get up out of bed every morning in spite of that."

"Fuck off, Granger. For once in your life, just fuck off."

"Is it... after all this time. Is it still about her? Now that you've done your duty to her, you have no more reason to live. Is that it?"

You stiffened under my touch, so I pulled my fingers back and pressed them to my mouth.


"I am not her."

I think you are asleep, but your shoulders go still, and I know that you heard me.

"No. You are not."

I knew I shouldn't have looked for it. I knew it was from a long time ago, from before I was born, even. I don't know what I was thinking.

"Fuck you. Fuck you," I spit, flinging the ring at your face. It hits you in the forehead and falls to the ground.

The words For Lily, Always wink at me from inside the wobbling band. You continue to look at me, your eyes silver, your gaze even and without recognition.


Do you remember when the war ended?

Of course you don't, because you didn't make it that far.

But like I said, I don't want to be depressing, so I'll stop that train of thought right there.

It's over, they told me. Over. Over. Three years of my life. Over.

They found the location of the enemy's main headquarters, and a raid was staged for next month. We no longer had to jump around the safehouses. I had nowhere to go.

I was in the Green House when you found me, the one you'd entered with your hand on Narcissa Malfoy's elbow, and I watched you and waited for you to look at me. I was restocking the cupboards with tins of soup and beans. I did not know why, because no one would be coming back to the Green House when I left.

"Miss Granger."

I smiled at that, because you never called me anything but just Granger unless you're angry. Or horny. Or both.

"Professor," I smirked.

You snaked his hands around my hips from behind, your fingers toying with the hem of my shirt and your nose buried in my hair. You secretly liked my hair.

"Are you using my shampoo?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?"

I did, because it smelled better than mine, but I would never have told you.

You gave no response. You did that a lot, I thought. Falling silent at certain moments, as if you were trying to absorb the quiet into your mind and remember the placement of your hands on my body, of your lips on my neck, the texture of our voices tangling in the air. I knew this because I did it too.

"Where are you going after?" I muttered.

"After what."

"After. Just after." I closed my eyes and tried to picture your face behind my eyelids. "After things."

You took a moment to answer, and I wondered what you were looking at.

"I might restock on potions supplies." You moved the strap of my top aside and pressed a kiss to my shoulder.

"I might get something to eat." You flattened your palm against my stomach and pushed me back into your body.

"Before that I probably have to go to St. Mungo's. They want us all there for evaluatio—"

I turned in your arms and looked at you, running my fingers up your back and burying them in your hair. I secretly liked your hair too, though not as secretly as you liked mine.

"Severus. Where are you going to go?"

Your grip on my waist tightened.

"I have a house."

"You have a house."

"It's very dusty. And very ugly. It's in Manchester."

"You have an ugly, dusty house in Manchester."

"Stop repeating my wo—"

"Stop repeating my word—"

"Granger," you growled, leaning me backward and nipping at the skin below my ear. I held you hard to myself, breathing in your scent, and I thought that you must have been born in the north where the glaciers are, where the trout streams flow and the eagle flies, because that was what you smelled like.


"You said you would come back. Even if you were choking on your own blood, you said."

"Yes, well. I thought you didn't snore. I would never have agreed to let you sleep in my bed had I known."

You remind me of finger tracks in the dust. You remind me of a frozen lake in winter before the turnover. You remind me of a lot of things.

"I miss you every day. I sometimes wish I'd never met you."

"Oh, but you do. In fact, I'd wager you could beat even Weasl—"

"But you lied to me. You said you would come back and you lied to me."

"Will they really? Well, now," you drawl, raising a skeptical eyebrow at me. Then you smirk wickedly. "Do you know, once you even farted under the covers. More than once, actual—"

"Shut up," I say, my face heating up. "You can't keep—you're a fucking joke, Snape! You—you're not him! You're nothing but a silhouette, a bloody shadow, and you use his voice and his body but you don't know the things he does, you don't feel what he felt. You. Are. Not. Mine."

"Come here, Granger," you say, giving me that look, and my heart stutters on a beat.

"No."

"Ah. Now that you put it that way." You drop your cigarette to the ground and stomp it out with your boot. You like to do this sometimes: stomp on things. Stomp the spark right out of them. Grind things to a cindery pulp with the force of your presence. With the painfully rarefied air of your absence. I don't know which is harder to take.

You didn't mean to do it, though, so I suppose I forgive you. You didn't mean to die.

You look up at me and smile slow and heavy, and I remember how your indolent smirk was always my downfall.

"I can't—I've got to stop. I can't keep doing this..."

You growl at me and grab me by the hip (your favourite spot) and press me to you. "Are you certain I can't possibly... convince you?" you say, and I can almost feel your breath against the shell of my ear. With one hand you push my hair aside and skim your lips down the line of my neck. You smell of smoke and leaves, old sweat and cool water.

"I can't keep you, Severus. They—everyone's worrying about me, and they're right. I can barely remember things now. I think I might be going—I told myself I would remember, but you'd be surprised how quickly things fade away, even the most precious ones. That's why Harry tried to help me. This isn't how it was meant to be. "

I pull back and look at you. Black was always your color, and the silver I see in front of me is sickening. And heart-breaking. And soul-wrenching.

"There isn't always a turnover in the spring, Severus."

My vision is starting to blur.

"Sometimes... sometimes things stay frozen."

Your answering laugh rumbles deep in your chest, and I feel it against my skin. You are wearing a shirt so thin that I think you might be cold (you were always so cold—but no, you didn't mean it—you couldn't, you couldn't), so I press a kiss to your breastbone. You pull me even closer, closer, closer and rest your mouth against my temple, your bottom lip dragging slightly against my hair as you bury your nose in it.

"And you farted in your sleep."

I feel my throat start to seize and clog, my heart stutter in my chest, and I wish I could hold you to me until I die.


Do you remember what you promised me?

That you would come back?

You lied through your teeth, didn't you, you sneaky fucking bastard? Was it easy for you, I wonder?

Anyway, it's over now. You told me that I should learn to let go of things. That I shouldn't hold on to grudges. I'm not bitter, I promise. I just...

Stop your snivelling, you would have said.

Okay, Snape, okay.

But do you remember when I saw you for the last time?

"I have something for you."

"For me?" I said with a cloying sweetness, fluttering my eyelashes at you in a way that I knew disgusted you.

"But you have to wait for it. Don't ask me about it. Don't even try looking for it, I'm warning you. This house is fucking malevolent, and there are certain things that you shouldn't touch."

"Oh, you know me so well." I tugged on the collar of your heavy cloak, smoothing the lapels over your chest. "When will you be back?"

"You heard Shacklebolt. They chose an empty warehouse in the city. It's fairly straightforward. I should be back before dawn. I'll give it to you then."

"I still don't see why I shouldn't go with you," I whined. "I'm perfectly adept at defending myself, and you could u—"

"Hermione," you said, and something in your eyes shut me up. I hated it when you looked uneasy. I wanted you quick to the draw, no vulnerabilities in sight. That was how it should have been.

"They need you here. You know that healing is what you're best at. You need to be here," you said, reassuring me with your thumb rubbing circles into my palm.

"Alright. You—you're right. I'll see you tomorrow, then. I just wish—"

I pull you forward and kissed you senseless, and when you pulled back you had a silly little smile on your lips. It was the youngest I'd ever seen you.


"How did you do it, Severus? How could you bear it, when she died?"

Courage is knowing that there will always be unhappiness in the world and having the strength to get up out of bed every morning in spite of that.

"Shut up! Shut up! How could you know when all you've ever done was hide? You coward! You bloody coward!"

Courage is knowing that there will always be unhappiness in the world and having the strength to get up out of bed every morning in spite of that.

"Stop, please. Stop. Stop. Stop."

Courage is knowing that there will always be unhappiness in the world and having the strength to get up out of bed every morning in spite of that.

"I didn't mean it. When I said that you ought to get yourself killed in a raid if you wanted to die so badly. I didn't mean it."

You look at me with your blank, empty, frozen, silver eyes.

"Harry said it helped him after the battle. With everyone that died he..."

"Are you going to cry, Granger?"

"He thought it was his fault, like he usually does. He said it helped him stay sane. He told me how Dumbledore knew how to make his memories take the form of... of a real person. Not just a scene in a Pensieve, but a real person. I mean like, you could feel what you felt, and smell, and taste, and hear. And touch."

"I have a house."

"Dumbledore never told him how to do it. But I figured it out."

"Are you using my shampoo?"

"I could even make you step out of the Pensieve. And I could feel you touch me. And… And kiss me. And do… Did you ever really know how clever I actually was? I think you only had the faintest idea. I reallyam, you know. The brightest witch of my age."

"It's winter, Granger. That's what happens in the winter every year, and in the spring the sun thaws everything and your fucking rabbits and forest creatures come out of hiding."

"I love you, Severus."

"You look like a harpy, Granger. Stop smiling like that."

"Please..."

"The cooker doesn't work."

"Please!" I scream.

The Pensieve falls to the ground with a sharp clang, spilling silver clouds all over the grimy floor. I watch in stony silence as my memories seep into the worn wood, and I fancy that they form your silhouette in the dust. I fall to my knees.

"No...no...no..."

I scrape my fingers on the floor, trying to collect the silver into a little pile.

"No...please..." I choke out as I try to gather what is left of you.


What do I want from you?

Not love. That would be too much to ask.

Forgiveness, perhaps, for resurrecting you so grotesquely. For dragging you back to life when you made it very clear that you wanted no part of it. For polluting your memory with my own.

You don't own me, you would have said. And you would be right.

Maybe I want revenge, too. For your leaving me so abruptly. It wasn't fair. You knew that. You tried to drop hints. I was too happy to notice how you weren't happy at all. But could you really blame me? Happiness isn't really an accusation anyone could lay at your doorstep.

Closure, probably. Though I don't exactly know what the word means. You were always so selfish. You took everything with you, and you made sure of it.

Anyway, closure isn't yours to bestow. You always liked to keep a mystery. And closure isn't the right word at all.

Oblivion.

That's better.

Mine, yours; I'll take any kind of oblivion, really. I'm not picky.

In the darkness, I know the texture of your sweat-slicked limbs and the sound of your ragged breathing. It took two years before you let me see your body in the light, but we turn it off anyway because there is something about the immensity of night that ravishes and ignites. In the darkness, I trace with my fingers the angle of your jaw, the lines of old grievances around your mouth, the hard ridge of your cumbersome nose, the dip of your collarbone, the hollow between your shoulder blades.

The crags of your spine.

"Severus. Severus." Your name on my lips sounds like the whistling of a blade.

"What."

"Severus."

"Granger. What do you want."

"Nothing. I just felt like saying your name."

I think this is what I said. I know you are looking at me now, like you looked at me before. In the darkness, your black is even darker. At least, it should be.

"Severus."

Your name on my lips has the same cadence as my heartbeat.

"Hermione," you reply, amused at first.

But then you bury a hand in my hair.

"Hermione."

You buss my cheek with your nose, which wouldn't have worked with anyone else, but your nose is just the right shape for it.

"Hermione. Hermione. I love you. Hermione."

You kiss your way up my neck and I close my eyes, willing the tightness in my throat to go away.

I suppose it's time I put these memories to rest.

This is the last time, I tell myself. The very last.

I couldn't help it. I didn't know what I was thinking.


The window is open, and winter settles into the Grey House.

Sometimes I think that I made it okay, and maybe I just might wake up tomorrow. But with each passing winter I understand that I didn't leave you behind nearly as much as I might have thought. Somewhere underneath, I still feel you there, and at times it is beautiful. At times it nearly makes up for the weariness in my eyes, and the heaviness in my joints, and the feeling of having all my major arteries excised and my spine ripped out of my skeleton and my heart aching like so much, so much, too much salt rubbed into the sores festering under my skin.

On the good days, I like to think that there's a place for us, like the song from that musical.

Somewhere, a place for us.

On the bad days, I remember all the things you remind me of. Like the dust and the wind. Like the smell of your robes when I sometimes takes them out to drape around myself. Like the pockets of shadow in the corners of the room. Like the cadence of my heartbeat and the sibilants in your name. Like that moment between sleep and wakefulness. Like the sound of breathing in the darkness and how I sometimes press the pillows over my chest and imagined that it was your body moving over mine, fingers digging into my hips. Like the heat in the summer and the rustling in autumn. Like the falling snow, dirty and mangled and unwept.

On the really bad days, I remember every word, every look, and I doubt each one. And I despise myself for it.

How could you?

How could you?

You didn't mean it, though. I don't like to think that you meant to die. And if you did, then it matters little because all that is left of your thoughts are now mine.

I loved you. I loved you, fiercely and without reason, and of this I am sure.

Sometimes, you loved me too. But my love couldn't keep you, and sometimes, I wonder if I ever really had you. Maybe you treasured our time together. Or maybe you took it for what it was: a pleasant distraction in a time when all we could look forward to was the aftermath.

The window is open, and winter settles into the Grey House you gave me. There is nothing but the dust. It is all that is left.

This is the biggest cliche of all. Ginny says I'm losing it. Maybe I am.

Don't be melodramatic, you would have said.

I turn away from the dim cold greying light and trace silhouettes in the grit caked on the floor.