"We missed you for Easter hols."
It took Hermione's mind a moment to catch up. She was standing in the library of 12 Grimmauld and Ginny Weasley was standing in front of her; her arms folded, her eyes downcast. Her tone of voice was casual, but the purse of her lips suggested that she was annoyed.
"I mean," she continued when Hermione had yet to respond, "I know you said Snape had a stressful semester and wanted the holiday with you to himself, but… we hardly see you when school is in session and… he sees you all the time, doesn't he? It just seems a little… controlling, don't you think?"Her sharp brown eyes popped up to Hermione's at that and her jaw was set in that familiar stubborn line.
"W-what?" said Hermione, stalling for time.
“We’re only worried because we care about you,” said Harry, who was standing over by the nearest shelf, doing his best not to meet her eye.
Hermione’s heart was pounding. This could not be happening. She was not ready to defend Severus Snape to her friends right now. But she would probably want herself to do just that, wouldn't she? And her future self would be inheriting an awful mess if she didn't.
Ginny had started to pace and was biting her lip anxiously. “We haven’t brought it up before now because… to be honest… we thought it would fizzle out.”
Harry nodded. He took a step towards Hermione, but couldn’t manage any more than that. “We thought it was a rebound. Or, you know, a-a fling.”
“Maybe even a cry for help.”
“Y-you don’t understand,” Hermione stuttered, her mind buzzing with thought. “He’s really different when you get to know him. He’s… he’s… so clever and… and even… kind .”
There was a snort from the direction of the doorway and they all turned to see Ron standing there. He had a beard now. It was rather handsome on him, though the effect was ruined by a nasty grimace of disgust. “He was a bleeding Death Eater, Hermione. How could you be so thick?”
The shock of seeing Ron for the first time since their breakup snapped Hermione’s mind into focus. The nerve . How dare he stand there and presume to tell her how awful her current lover was when he had been such a shite one himself? “That’s not fair and you know it,” she growled. It wasn’t even a good argument. They’d been over all of this before. Who knew better than the three of them what Snape had risked? What he had done? “Yes, he made some awful mistakes when he was young, but he spent twenty years making up for it. He proved his loyalty to the Cause. He almost died!”
“Oh sure, and now he does charity work for sick kids on the weekends, does he?”
Hermione bit her tongue. She couldn’t tell Ron about Severus’s work on the Wolfsbane. How could he know any better?
Ron’s face was twisted with disgust. “He was a spy , Hermione. A master manipulator. Look what happened to the last two people who trusted him. The two most powerful wizards on the planet. The two best Legilimens! And you think you’ve got it right about him? You think you understand him better than they did? I think you’re a damn fool.”
Hermione’s temper flared and a certainty she hadn't had before suddenly rose to the surface. "You think you know him better than I do? You have no idea. Who was it defending him all those years when everyone else thought he was a dark wizard? And I turned out to be right all along, didn’t I? So maybe you should be trusting my judgment now.”
Ginny reached for her hand, giving her a pitying glance. “Maybe he’s not evil ,” she said in a gratingly patient voice, “but that’s a low bar, isn’t it? This is Snape we’re talking about. He’s not exactly Prince Charming.”
“You don’t understand. None of you understand my relationship with him because you're not like us! Like... me . When I’m with him, the time slips away. We can talk for hours on end without ever getting bored. Or we can work together in silence and neither one of us takes offense that the other isn't talking. We’re both the sort of people who love to learn new things; to philosophize and to read…”
“So what!” Ron had gone red in the face. “You want a bloke who reads, you can find a bloke who reads! There are plenty of them out there, you know. Much nicer blokes that the bleeding Greasy Git!”
Gin squeezed Hermione’s hand, shooting a warning glare at her brother. "We’re just saying you haven't had many choices, that's all. Do you really think Snape is the only man out there who likes to talk about potions and theoretical magic or whatever? I know he isn't exactly a Death Eater anymore, but I still think it's a red flag that he wouldn’t let you visit us. It’s like he wants you all to himself. Like... he's afraid we'll snap you out of this spell."
Hermione jerked her hand away and crossed her arms across her chest. "You're being absurd. You and Harry see each other all the time, but if the both of you had a couple of weeks off work at the same time, don't tell me you wouldn't want to take a romantic trip together. And if you did, no one would think it was because Harry was too jealous to let you spend your holiday with all the rest of your friends."
Ginny rolled her eyes, huffing with exasperation, but she had no response.
"I appreciate the concern. I know you're only trying to look out for me. But you have to trust me on this one. I'm not an idiot you know."
"We know that, Hermione. It's just… we never see you anymore. It isn't the same. And… well… it just always seemed like bad timing, you know? You have to admit, Snape does seem like the opportunistic type, and… you were in a vulnerable place."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "Is that what you think?" She was shaking her head absently. "No. It wasn't like that at all. I was the one who pursued him. He was positively coy about it."
Ginny snorted. "Snape, coy? If that’s true, it’s probably only because he didn’t know what you were doing. Can’t imagine that’s something he’s especially familiar with.” She smirked at Harry. “Which is another reason… I mean… obviously you really care about him, but… how do you even know he truly cares about you? He’s never struck me as the romantic sort. Possessive, sure. Even obsessive , given his past. But... it seems to me he’s telling you what you want to hear because… again... he’s a master manipulator and you’re… honestly... the only witch who’s really… available . I mean, it’s not like he’s got a lot of choices, has he? If you really did come on strong, I can't imagine him passing up that opportunity.”
Hermione was shaking her head. "You're just going to have to trust me, Gin. Severus and I are connected on a much deeper level than that. It’s much more than just physical. It’s cerebral and personal in ways I’ve… I’ve honestly never connected with anyone before, romantic or otherwise." It hurt to say that aloud in front of her friends, but they had brought it upon themselves, after all, accosting her this way. “Not to mention affectionate. Caring , in the deepest sense. I know it’s unconventional. I know he’s not the obvious choice. Honestly, if… events hadn’t unfolded as they did… it might never have occurred to me that we would make a good match. But we do . And that’s what matters. And I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to trust me on that.”
The door creaked open and Arthur Weasley’s head appeared, his hair streaked with a bit more white than it had been the last time she saw him. “Ah, there you are. We were about to get started. Is everyone ready?”
Hermione looked around at her friends and took her cue from them to nod. They still seemed to bristle a bit as they slipped out into the hall, but Hermione felt as if she’d just finished her last exam of the season. A weight had been lifted that she hadn’t noticed hanging around her shoulders until now that it was gone. The issue wasn’t resolved; far from it. Clearly her friends were still unhappy about her relationship with Severus. But she had survived a confrontation with them about it. And now she knew it wasn’t impossible.
She followed the others down to the cramped, basement kitchen. The muffled sound of murmured conversations met them on the stairs and upon reaching the bottom Hermione saw that the kitchen was full. It was like stepping into the past (as opposed to the future, ha!). Every Order member still alive was there, congregating around the table as they used to do. Molly was fussing over something in the corner. Kingsley was pouring himself a glass of champagne. Bill and Fleur were signing what appeared to be a guest book.
There were a few new people, too. Luna Lovegood was nodding serenely in response to the babbling monologue of a small child with toy dragons in each of his fists. Draco Malfoy was hiding behind a teacup and nodding occasionally at whatever Neville was saying to Padma Patil. Parvati and Lavender were giggling and blushing at Charlie, who appeared to be telling a very exciting story. And there beside Aberforth Dumbledore, tucked away in the corner with his back to the wall, was the stiffly uncomfortable form of Severus Snape.
Hermione caught his eye and navigated the crowded room toward him. “Hello professor,” she murmured when she had reached his side.
He blinked at her. “Granger?”
She nodded. “Is this some sort of celebration?”
“The Third Annual Battle of Hogwarts Order Remembrance Celebration.”
Hermione gasped. “The third? How is it the third already?”
“Potter started this little tradition the summer after you started teaching.”
“But… but then…” That would mean that they were three and a half years in the future! She glanced around in shock at the gathered crowd. No wonder they all looked so much older. And the child talking to Luna… that was Teddy Lupin, she realized. And Molly was turning away from the corner, cradling a baby in her arms. A baby! Whose baby was that? Had that much time passed since her first premonition? Or had it taken her that long to accept this future? She was afraid to ask. She wasn’t sure she ought to know. Certainly, she didn’t want too much detail, but… “How long have I been… visiting you?”
Severus opened his mouth to respond, then closed it and seemed to consider. Someone was calling their attention, clinking a spoon against a glass. But Hermione paid them no mind. Her eyes were fixed on those of her lover as he calculated his response. Finally, he turned his full attention onto her, giving her that infuriating blank stare that she knew meant he didn’t want to tell her too much. And all he said, in a low voice, as Harry started into what was sure to be a very touching speech, was “a while.”
“I don’t know how you managed it,” Draco teased mysteriously as they headed down to dinner Friday night.
“Convincing Severus to go in on the greenhouse.”
Hermione’s step faltered and her heart skipped a beat. “ Did he?! ”
Draco nodded, sending her a wink as he headed toward his chair beside Neville. Hermione sat heavily in her own chair, staring down at her plate without seeing a thing. He had decided to stay. Was it because of what she had said? He had been awfully quiet during breakfast and lunch, but not in the grouchy taciturn way he usually was. More… calm; confident.
When he didn’t show up to dinner, Hermione couldn’t stand it. She knew she’d be seeing him in half an hour for the Wolfsbane lesson, but she just couldn’t wait until then. Already, she was imagining the new greenhouse; where it would go, what they would grow, how the Weeping Cactuses would need to be separated. How they would be a success. She knew they would. She had already seen it. What a beautiful gift this Curse had given her! She would change lives with this knowledge!
Leaving her half-eaten plate on the table, she slipped out of the Great Hall and practically ran all the way to his office.
“Good evening,” she sang, beaming up at him.
He gave her a long, blank stare before dropping his gaze to his grading. “You’ve heard.”
“Yes, Draco’s just told me. I can’t tell you how excited I am! This is going to be brilliant! You’ll see.”
“Have you thought any more about the Wolfsbane? About your altered version, I mean?”
“I…” she hesitated. “I may have asked Neville… in theory… whether or not he would be able to grow them…”
At this, he set down his quill and gave her his full attention, his face set in a scowl. “Did you.”
“Yes. I know. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I promise I haven’t mentioned anything to Draco. But I just… got carried away, I suppose.” She was pacing the length of his office, now. “I mean… do you know what this would mean? If Neville can grow them—and he thinks he probably can—this could change the lives of werewolves all across Britain! Or even… eventually… the world! Granted, the ingredients are expensive…”
“And the brewing is, obviously, quite an undertaking…”
“But those are solvable problems! We could apply for a grant! Muggles do that all the time. If the Ministry subsidized the effort, we could provide life-altering potions to the werewolf population for… sickles!”
“Most werewolves are outcast from the Magical world. Think of it! They could be re-integrated into society.”
“Not to mention it would vastly reduce the spread of infection…”
“In a generation or so the stigma of being a werewolf could be all but erased!”
She blinked up at him in surprise. He was leaning over his desk now, his hands firmly planted on the surface, an expression of bemused exasperation on his face.
“You are getting ahead of yourself. You have no idea whether Longbottom will be able to grow the cactuses. We haven’t even bought the greenhouse yet. And my notes on the subject were more idle musings than serious calculations…” He broke off, clearly taken off guard by her determined grin.
“It will work. I know it will.” At his skeptical frown, she stepped up to his desk. “In any case, if this method fails, we can try something else. This is only the start, and isn’t it… invigorating? ”
His Adam's apple bobbed, but he didn’t look away. “Any particular reason why you’ve chosen this as the subject of your next... pet... project?”
Hermione dropped her gaze to her desk. How could she explain her certainty to him? And didn’t her excitement stem from that? After working so long for the Greater Good, not knowing whether or not her efforts would be in vain, she might have been as jaded and hesitant as he was about it if she hadn’t known they would succeed. If it weren’t for her dreams, she’d likely be reluctant to put so much hope into something that might very possibly fail.
“I suppose I was inspired when I saw your notes,” she began, not dishonestly. “It made me realize something. Something I’ve been missing, I suppose. Voldemort is vanquished, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a million other ways we can still work to improve the world. And I have to admit… I miss that feeling. Working tirelessly to solve a problem. Putting my all into something, you know? And imagining the good that might be accomplished if we succeed.”
His face was blank, but his calm was belied by the way he flinched when a knock came at the door.
Draco looked genuinely sheepish when he saw that both of them were already there. “Oh… I, er… hope I’m not interrupting.”
“So… Severus… “ Draco began with a sly grin after he had downed the smoking goblet a few hours later, “I have a very serious biochemical/metabolic question for you.”
Severus shot him a suspicious glare.
“How long after consumption of the Wolfsbane potion may one partake of... recreational substances?”
“You will have to be a bit more specific.”
Draco smirked, sending Granger a playful wink. “I was thinking at least one round of Ogden’s Old before we switch to something frothy and chilled.”
Severus sighed. “It is probably unwise for you to drink anything so close to the full moon, but… as we are still a few days away, I would say… at least an hour ought to mitigate the effects of any interaction between substances in your system.”
“Excellent. Will that be long enough for the two of you to get ready?”
Both sets of eyebrows raised in unison.
“What are you on about?” asked Granger.
“Oh come on,” said Draco, giving them his most charming Malfoy grin, “it’s Friday night and we have a lot to celebrate, don’t we? I thought we could discuss plans for the greenhouse over a couple of pints.”
“Oh! Yes, let’s do!”
“Amusing as your proposition is, Draco…”
“Come on, Uncle. There’s this swanky new place in Diagon Alley and I know for a fact neither of you has rounds tonight.”
Severus glanced at Granger. She was practically bouncing on her toes at the prospect of discussing their plans for the greenhouse. He let out a dramatic sigh then bowed his head in acquiescence. Letting Draco drag him into this would be worth it for the promise of watching Granger light up with excitement again. Seeing that radiant, hopeful smile of hers made a tight ache form inside him from somewhere deep beneath his breastbone all the way down to his groin.
“Excellent,” said Draco, practically rubbing his hands together with whatever mischief he was planning. “Well Granger, I suppose you’d better fetch Longbottom as well. He’ll probably want a say in the plans.”
Severus nearly groaned.
Hermione was running late. She was determined to wear her Muggle jeans out tonight (Severus Snape had expressed a preference for them, after all), but she was having trouble finding any that fit. Even her stretchiest pair were a bit snug.
It shouldn't have bothered her. She was still quite slender. But studying herself in the mirror, she couldn't help but notice the faint curve of her stomach and the relative fullness of her behind, and remember the photograph she'd seen of Amandine. Perhaps she should go easy on the French toast next time.
Neville was waiting for her in the Entrance Hall. “I er… bumped into Dr-Malfoy. He er… said we should go on and they’ll meet us there.”
"Sounds good," she said to cover her smirk.
Elixirs was full nearly to capacity, witches and wizards of all ages congregating around the elegant columns and lounging in the many squashy couches and chairs. There was nowhere left to sit, but Hermione and Neville got drinks at one of the black marble bars and found a nice corner to stand in.
It was a shock to see so many unfamiliar magical faces in one place. And these were not the harried mothers and business folk normally rushing about in droves in Diagon Alley. There was a disproportionate number of handsome young wizards in well-tailored robes or even Muggle attire. Hermione had not realized there were so many young people in Wizarding Britain who hadn’t attended Hogwarts. To her shame, she remembered Ron’s words in her dream last night and wondered for the first time whether she might be better suited to another bookish wizard more her age.
Apparently it was the bar’s first anniversary of being in business. Hermione had not realized it had been around so long. A number of beautiful witches wearing elegant black robes in various styles and cuts weaved in and out of the enormous crowd with silver trays of drinks. By the way they lifted their trays up over the heads of customers and practically danced about through the chaos, Hermione was sure the trays were Charmed not to tip.
It was a surprise when Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy appeared in front of them—she had not seen them come in—and the sudden appearance of the man who haunted her dreams, in all his elegant, powerful glory, made Hermione’s breath catch in her throat.
“Busy night,” said Draco, lifting his eyebrows in surprise. He glanced between Hermione and Neville, then up at his godfather. When no one spoke, he nodded awkwardly and took a long sip of his drink.
Before any of them could break the silence, one of the beautiful witches in black appeared between them with her silver tray. “Shots?” she asked in a sultry voice that immediately grated on Hermione’s nerves. She was tall and slender with silky, raven hair and skin so pale she rivaled Severus. It made the bright red of her lips pop in the dim lighting of the room.
“Is it Ogden’s?” asked Draco, eyeing the tiny cut crystal glasses full of amber liquid.
She gave a throaty laugh—a completely unmerited one, mind—and shook her head. “It is of our own devising. A new brand to celebrate our first year in business. We’re calling it ' Heat.' ” As she spoke the word, she tilted her lovely face up to Severus Snape, her deep brown eyes meeting his from beneath her sultry lashes. Jealousy blossomed in Hermione’s chest, sending flushes of angry heat across her skin.
“How droll,” said Severus. “Is it any good?”
“Surprisingly good, yes. A little on the sweet side, but it’s two for a Galleon tonight.”
“Well, I suppose we will have to have a round then.”
The witch nodded, holding her tray out so that they could each take a tiny glass. “We also have a sweet caramel brandy, for those with delicate palates,” she purred, gesturing to a smaller selection of glasses full of what looked like thick, golden-brown syrup before glancing pointedly at Hermione who glared and lifted a shot of Heat off the tray.
“And put it on my tab,” Severus continued. “I’m…”
“Oh I know who you are,” said the witch, shooting him a teasing smirk as she turned and sauntered away.
Neville let out a low whistle, waggling his eyebrows at Severus. It was all Hermione could do to keep from glaring openly at him.
“Well then,” Severus began again, acting for all the world as if he hadn’t noticed Neville or the witch. “Shall we toast to our imminent enterprise in gardening?”
“To gardening!” said Draco and Neville together. Hermione only managed a smile.
They took turns buying shots every time one of the flirtatious waitresses approached. Severus was surprised that Granger was still keeping up with him. Longbottom had opted to switch to the caramel brandy on their second round and Draco had begged off after only a few. But the petite witch was swaying on her feet now, laughing heartily at everything any of them said and laying her hands on both his and Longbottom’s arms whenever she spoke to them. Severus suspected she would have treated Draco to the same delicate tease had he been standing next to her.
He was so intoxicated by the allure of Granger’s proximity—her laughter, her rosy cheeks, the bounce of her riotous curls, the shape of her bum and thighs so apparent in her jeans—that he hadn’t quite arrived at the bout of self-loathing that usually accompanied such a binge of Firewhisky.
That is, until he left his little group for a much needed piss and noticed a group not unlike his own standing in another niche alongside the bar. A petite blonde with a disproportionately ample bosom very much on display in her bright red dress was juggling the attention of three blubbering buffoons, laughing prettily and clutching at the bare V of her exposed breasts in a most obviously contrived way.
No sooner had he noticed this transparent example of male idiocy than he recognized the tableau for the mirror of his own group that it was. Disgust welled up inside of him and he found himself reluctant to return to his party. It was then the raven-haired waitress who had been flirting with him all night appeared at his elbow, this time without her silver tray.
“I hope you aren’t leaving,” she purred.
“That’s a shame. I was hoping I could persuade you to have a drink with me.”
Severus considered her. There was no denying that she was a beautiful witch, delusional motivations aside. Why shouldn’t he allow himself to enjoy her company while Granger insisted on toying with him?
“I suppose that would be agreeable.”
Where was he? Hermione craned her neck around for the millionth time, not that Draco and Neville had noticed her preoccupation. They were all but ignoring her, arguing lightheartedly about the merits of caramel brandy.
“Oi! Look at Snape!” said Neville.
Hermione’s head swivelled around. The crowd had shifted and she caught sight of him—of them . A shock of jealousy rooted her to the spot. The raven-haired beauty was standing far too close to the tall wizard, sipping at her own drink and batting her eyelashes at him. And he was enjoying it! There was a confidence to the teasing smirk she had often had directed at herself, and Hermione burned with envy at the sight of it.
“Good for him!” Neville cheered. “Blimey, they make a striking couple don’t they?”
Draco cleared his throat and made as if to argue the point, but clearly couldn't bring himself to lie outright.
If only she could amend her confrontation with Ginny in her dreams last night. After all, it was very apparent that Severus Snape did have options. In fact, he looked like he was considering taking one of them home.
Another of those blasted, gorgeous waitresses appeared and Hermione accepted another shot. Part of her seemed to think she could chase away this irrational hurt. And it was irrational, wasn’t it? He wasn’t hers. She had no claim on him. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to lay claim to him. Hadn’t she just been wondering whether she might find a more compatible match than Severus Snape?
Glancing up at the beautiful witch currently staring with intent into her lover’s eyes, Hermione realized for the first time that this wasn’t only her choice. Severus Snape had options, too. She hadn’t argued with Ginny’s presumption that she was a catch for him, but… what if that wasn’t really true?
“Hermione, are you okay?”
“What?” Neville’s face was swimming. “Oh. Yes. Fine. I just… need the loo.”
Walking took more concentration than Hermione had anticipated, but somehow she managed to weave through the spinning, lurching crowd. A curvy waitress with flaming red hair and the face of a cinema actress offered her another shot somewhere halfway to the bathroom and Hermione accepted without a second thought.
Her eyes were bloodshot in the mirror. Her hair was a riot. She was a mess—had been a mess for a long time. What was she thinking?
She had thought she could take her time making her decision; that it was all up to her. But that raven-haired beauty seemed to match Severus in a way Hermione never would. It had never occurred to her that she might not be the most attractive witch to seek out the older wizard’s attention. Stupid stupid stupid. He was a war hero! He was beloved by the Magical community now. Witches probably flocked to him! Just as every single blasted one of the waitresses had all night. She should have known.
Lurching out of the bathroom, Hermione stumbled back in the direction of her little group. The room was spinning. It was too hot and there were too many people. Strangers. Tall, handsome wizards chatting excitedly with so many beautiful witches. Nobody seemed to notice her.
She pushed her way toward the wall, thinking there would be more space to navigate around the edges of the room. But she stopped short. There, on one of the sofas that had been tucked away into a shadowy corner, was Ron Weasley. And he was currently stuffing his tongue down Amandine’s throat.
It shouldn’t have hurt. She already knew this would probably happen. But something in the way Ron’s hands groped the petite but voluptuous blonde made a searing sting of hurt lash through her chest. She was sure he had never touched her like that. So eager and desperate. She was wearing a slinky red dress that clung to her figure, much bolder than anything Hermione had ever worn. And suddenly she was the frumpy, bookish girl again. The one no one noticed. The one no one wanted. Forever the outsider looking in.
She turned away, shoving back through the crowd the long way around, tears pricking in her eyes. This was a nightmare. There were people everywhere. Swaying. The lights too dim. The music suddenly too loud. Her head was pounding and her eyes were swimming and she was pretty sure she was going to be sick.
And then there was Severus. And he was like a beacon of hope. She would be safe with Severus. Without even thinking, she stumbled into his tall frame, wrapping her arms about his torso with a whimper.
He had been trying to excuse himself from his conversation with the lovely but incredibly dull brunette when Granger veritably tackled him. His wand was out of his sleeve in an instant and his arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. “Granger? What’s happened?” he barked, expecting there to be some danger chasing after her.
“We need to go,” she moaned, looking up at him with glassy, red-rimmed eyes. Clearly she had not been handling the Firewhiskey quite as well as he had thought. Her eyes were practically crossed with drunkenness. But his traitorous heart gave a little leap at the realization that she had sought him out to save her. We need to go , she had said. We.
He excused himself from the brunette and guided Hermione toward the Floo. He was too drunk, himself, to Apparate, especially side-along, but perhaps the walk from Hogsmeade to the castle would be beneficial for her anyway. Throwing down a generous portion of Floo powder, Severus named The Three Broomsticks for their destination and ushered her into the flames.
Granger took two steps into Madam Rosmerta’s bustling establishment and promptly vomited all over the polished, wooden floor. Severus was quick with his Evanesco, but several of the bar’s patrons jerked away in disgust.
“So so sorry,” she was blubbering.
“Shh, it’s alright,” he murmured, some instinct he hadn’t known he had rising to the surface in that moment to comfort her. It was strange. He couldn’t imagine this scenario playing out with any other person of his acquaintance. Not even Draco, and they were practically kin. He had known that he was growing fond of the bushy-haired Gryffindor, but now he couldn’t deny that he cared for her, too.
The night was cold and Severus kept a protective arm around Hermione as they made the trek to the castle grounds. She had to stop once along the way to vomit in the bushes, and Severus cast a quick Charm to tie her hair up out of her face.
“I’m so so sorry,” she whimpered when she stood, and he saw that there were tear tracks down her cheeks. “I’m an utter dolt. I’ve ruined your night.”
“Don’t be absurd.”
“You were talking to that perfect , gorgeous witch. All’ve them were so so gorgeous and slender and perfect and you could have any one of them!”
Severus’s heart skipped a beat. Was she actually jealous? Was she insinuating that she had some interest in him, herself? But she had spent the whole night laughing at everything Longbottom said and teasing Draco and practically ignoring him.
“I know it shouldn’t hurt,” she was saying, and Severus realized he had been so shocked by her pronouncement that he had completely tuned out her words. “Ron and I were never good together. Never good. I knew it wouldn’t work and I knew he wanted her , but to see it…” she was actually blubbering, now, wiping her face with the sleeve of her jumper, muttering something about a blonde and a thigh gap. He didn’t know how to respond.
She was stumbling so bad, he wrapped his arm around her and she surprised him by stopping short and turning to bury her face in his chest and wrap her arms around him. She had done as much back at the lounge, but he had reacted as if to a threat that time. This time, however, it was impossible to keep from noticing how soft and small she was in his embrace. Her breasts were squashed against his torso and he could smell her hair. His hands had gone immediately to the small of her back and were resting awkwardly on the waistband of her jeans. He couldn’t help his body’s reaction to her and had to gently untangle himself from her before she took notice.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, and she sounded a bit clearer, now. Her crying had slowed and she stumbled a little less as they continued along the path.
“Don’t be,” he murmured, appalled when his voice came out rough with suppressed arousal.
He guided her all the way back to the castle and up to her rooms where she promptly vomited again and sobbed as she splashed cold water on her face. She was shaking visibly. He hated to leave her in such a state. “I will return momentarily,” he told her before sweeping out the door and down to his rooms for a few potions. When he returned, she was sitting on the bathroom floor with her back to the wall, her head tilted back and an expression of misery on her face.
“I hate that you’re seeing me like this,” she moaned.
“Drink this,” he told her, ignoring her words and holding out the first bottle. “My own variant of a Sober-up potion. It acts a little slower, but with far fewer side-effects.”
“This one is a mild anti-inflammatory,” he said as he handed her the second. “And this one. Electrolyte solution.”
“I’m n-never drinking again,” she told him, when she had swallowed the last of the phials.
He smirked. “Yes you will.”
She shot him a wry grin, but then her face crumpled with misery again and tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m so stupid. Rattling on about Ron. I thought I was over him.”
“You cared deeply for him. He was an important part of your life. It is only natural for you to have lingering emotions.”
“I wish I had never gotten together with him in the first place.”
Severus sighed and surprised them both by easing himself down the wall to sit beside her. His joints creaked like those of an old man and he questioned the wisdom of such a gesture, especially considering he would soon have to stand back up. Perhaps the Firewhiskey was still pulsing a little stronger in his blood than he had realized.
“We never wanted the same things,” she continued, through renewed tears. “I always knew, from the very beginning, that Ronald Weasley wanted a horde of children. And… and I don’t think I want any at all. Is that terrible?”
“And we have none of the same interests. We bore each other to tears. Not like… not like…” she trailed off and he noticed a blush on her lovely cheeks. His breath hitched. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? But no, she could just as easily be referring to Longbottom, or Draco.
“But it still hurt to see him with her , and she’s everything I’m not. Effortlessly sexy and feminine. Like those blasted waitresses that kept flirting with you all night. I thought—I thought,” her breath hitched on a sob, “that one with the perfect black hair… she was so slender and… and… and I could hardly get my arse in my jeans tonight!”
He glanced at her in astonishment. That this beautiful witch could be so unsure of herself. “Is that what you’re worried about? Your arse?”
She nodded, not looking at him, tears tracing across her cheek.
He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Perhaps it was from shock, or from relief, but she was obviously offended, so he shook his head. “Perhaps you are an utter dolt after all."
"What! Why? "
"Why? Because, Hermione…" he scoffed, shaking his head, "your arse is…” there was no other word for it, “ outstanding. ”
Shocked laughter bubbled up from beneath her tears and then she gasped and turned bodily toward him, grabbing onto his arm with both of her hands. “Severus Snape! Did you just give me an ‘O’?!”
He was already regretting his slip of the tongue. Clearly he was still very much under the influence. Perhaps he should have taken his own Sobering Tonic.
But his worries fell away as he met her eye. They were so close he could see her pupils dilate. A jolt of arousal shot straight down to his groin and he had to adjust his legs as his cock hardened in anticipation. She wanted him. He knew it in that moment. Possibilities flashed through his mind. He could pull her to him right here, hold her in his arms, her soft perfect body tight against his own.
She leaned closer, her intent obvious, and Severus panicked. She was drunk. He was drunk. This was madness. She had been crying over Ronald Weasley only moments ago. He didn’t want to ruin the tentative friendship they had formed over one stupid, drunken mistake. So he pulled away, clearing his throat and not looking at her.
“I should go. You… need your rest…”
“Okay,” she breathed. That was definitely not a note a disappointment in her voice.
“Let me know if you need any more… potions… in the morning.”
“Thank you. For everything.”
He struggled to his feet and she followed him, not quite meeting his eye. The bathroom was suddenly too small for the both of them. Every move he made felt awkward and stilted. He strode through her bedroom—certainly not noticing her large, comfortable-looking bed—and straight through her living space toward the door.
She was right behind him. “Severus?”
“Do you think… tomorrow… we could make tea? You promised to show me…”
“If you like.”
“Lovely.” She smiled up at him then, looking so beautiful and flushed, and he had another panicked impulse to flee.
AN: Sorry for the wait! Again… :/ The good news is I have the rest of the story outlined! The bad news is wrangling the characters into following that outline tends to take more time than just seeing where they go with it, so hence the delays in posting. I’m learning! Anyway, I hope y’all enjoyed this chapter. I know many of you have been waiting eagerly for her to get that ‘O.’ And you know what that meeeeans! ;)
Once again, thank you all SO MUCH for the Reviews. They’ve been a light in the dark this summer, haha. I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me. And I’ll try to post the next update soon!