A/N: Alright, so after an extremely long wait, here is the first full chapter. I can't make any promises about update times, but I know that I'll have a lot more time to work on fics in the comming months, so I hope the wait will be a bit shorter next time. :-)
Well, I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1-Five Years Later
Hermione smiled at her two friends. Harry was wearing a goofy grin across his face, and Ginny clung to his arm, her expression ecstatic. Harry had proposed to Ginny the day before, and they had decided to throw a party to celebrate. She watched them whispering to each other, both blushing profusely, their happiness radiating off them. Hermione felt a wave of sadness wash over her suddenly. I wish I could be as happy as they are, she thought wistfully.
No, she ordered herself. I refuse to feel sorry for myself. It’s Harry and Ginny’s day, and I’m going to keep it about them. Merlin knows they deserve it. Hermione walked over to the couple. “Congratulation!” she exclaimed, giving Ginny a hug. “I’m so happy for you two.” She embraced Harry, and, beaming, continued. “I always knew you made the perfect couple.”
“Hey, watch it mate!” a voice called. “Don’t you go leaving my sister for my girlfriend.” Ron jokingly warned. Hermione grimaced slightly, but then morphed the expression into a content smile as Ron came and pecked her on the cheek. She thought her action had gone unnoticed, but Ginny was frowning at her slightly. Hermione attempted to silently communicate that she would talk about it later, and thankfully Ginny got the message.
Hermione felt Ron wrap his arms around her. “How’s my sugarplum?” he whispered softly in her ear.
“Just fine,” she lied. He leaned in and kissed her on the lips. He loves me so much, Hermione thought dejectedly. Why can’t I love him back anymore? When he pulled away, she asked sweetly, “How was your day?”
“Oh, alright, except for Bedly getting all fired up about how I didn’t do my paperwork correctly.” He turned to Harry and Ginny. “That’s why I’m late. He seriously was going to make me stay until I had done it properly. The man’s worse than Snape in a detention!”
This proclamation brought an awkward silence between the four friends, and sent off explosions inside Hermione’s chest. A part of her wanted the draw her wand and hex Ron into oblivion at the attack on her friend.
After the war had ended, Harry had fought hard to clear Severus’ name. Most of the Wizarding world had begun to accept the fact that Severus had been working on Dumbledore’s orders, and he wasn’t as bad of a person as they all had thought. It also helped how Severus was perceived that he became friends with Harry, though they both insisted it had nothing to do with image. There were some, however, including Ron, who held out that it was a load of bull, and refused to accept the truth.
In the years following the war, Hermione had become friends with Severus, often meeting him for lunch. As her relationship with Ron progressed however, she saw Severus less and less. Ron was insecure sometimes, and she didn’t want him to think she was cheating on him. Except for a few brief encounters, they had not seen each other in over two years.
“Ron,” Harry warned, “You know how I feel on this subject,”
Ron let out and exasperated sigh. “Yeah, I know.” He held out his hand. “Sorry, mate. I didn’t mean to mess up your special day.” Harry took the proffered hand, and they shook. Ron turned around to grab a tuna sandwich from a platter and froze, his eyes wide. “What the hell is he doing here?” he asked incredulously, the remark almost a subconscious reflex.
Hermione turned around and her eyes were met with the casual coolness of the coal she hadn’t seen for so long. She felt her breath hitch in her throat. Standing in the doorway, was Severus Snape.
Severus really didn't want to go to this party. It was in his nature that he wasn't a party person. If it had been for anything else, he would have politely refused, but he couldn't say no to Harry. Severus smiled wryly at the thought. Who would have thought that one day the Potter brat would have become one of my only friends? Harry was definitely Lily's son; Severus had just been too blind all those years to see it.
He pushed open the door, hoping that his entrance would go unnoticed. His wish was obviously not granted, as the second he walked he walked in he was met by the glare of Ronald Weasley. Severus still couldn't see what Harry saw in the bloke. He was rude, disagreeable, and cruel. He blatantly ignored the fact that similar things could be said about himself.
The beautiful brunette standing next to Weasley turned around and their eyes met. If he had wanted, he could have dug into her mind to see what her mixed expression of shock and delight meant, but he respected her too much. Not to mention that she probably would detect it if you entered her mind, and would be furious. Hermione was the reason he was alive, and he would be eternally grateful for the second chance she had given him.
He tried to suppress the other feeling that lurked behind the gratitude as he hung up his cloak. That feeling would bring more sorrow than joy, and it would never be reciprocated. She's with Weasley. She loves him, and she's loved him for years. We've haven't even seen each other for so long...she would never feel the same way. Severus had dwelled on this for far too many lonely nights. He convinced himself that though a relationship with Hermione would be a wonderful fantasy, that would be all it would remain.
Severus nearly jumped through the roof as someone tapped him on his shoulder. He turned around to face Harry, who was trying and failing miserably to hide a grin. "You should know better than to sneak up on me." he snapped.
The almost annoyingly cheerful expression didn't leave Harry's face. "Yeah, I should. Sorry about that." Without skipping a beat, he continued, "I'm glad you could make it."
Severus forced himself to calm down. After all, Harry had meant no harm. "So am I," he replied simply, trying to soften the tone of his voice.
"Thanks for coming. I know you don't really care for parties all that much."
Severus smiled at the comment. "No, I don't, but I'll make do." He held out his hand. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," Harry replied sheepishly, taking the proffered hand. His face grew serious for a moment. "Hey, I'd try to steer clear of Ron if I were you. He's not in the best of moods, and he has a tendency to pick on people when he's like that. I hate to say it, but you're somewhat of an easy target for him."
Severus grimaced. “I’ll do my best. I wouldn’t want you to have to clean up the mess at your own party.”
Harry chuckled slightly. He actually thinks I’m joking. “I appreciate it,”
Severus’ eyes were drawn to Hermione as she and Ginny retreated to the kitchen. He remained focused on the spot even though she was no longer visible. “How has she been?” he asked, feeling the pain of his absence from her life gnaw at him.
Harry frowned, his eyebrows contracting slightly. “Hermione?” he inquired. “Why don't you ask her yourself?”
Glancing briefly at Harry, Severus smirked. “You said I should avoid Weasley. I suspect that even walking in front of his girlfriend would warrant a confrontation, in his eyes.”
“Severus, he’s not all that bad. I know-”
“What,” Severus snapped, “you know that he’s been a downright bastard to me, but you keep making excuses for him.”
“I’ve defended you to him.” Harry replied stiffly. “Don’t make me regret it.”
As much as he wanted to retort, Severus held his tongue. Now was not the time to get in a petty argument about Weasley of all things. “So, Hermione?”
“She’s been doing alright, I guess.”
Severus kept his head bobbing while he tried to process the emotions raging inside him. He knew that he should be glad that Hermione was fine, but in a way, it saddened him. It hurt a little that she could do so well without him. He vigorously pushed those selfish thoughts aside. It wasn’t like she was trying to scorn him; she just didn’t know how he felt, plain and simple. He forced a smile on his face. “I’m glad to hear it,” he replied, trying to convince himself of the fact as well.
Harry’s gaze moved to the door that so captivated Severus. “Ginny said she thought that something was off, that’s why she’s talking to her.”
Severus sighed. “I hope she was wrong.” She had to be. The whole reason for keeping his feelings a secret were to protect Hermione. He didn’t want her to act out of pity, and that was just about the only emotion he could picture a woman ever feeling towards him. He was willing to sacrifice his potential happiness for hers. But if she wasn’t happy, than it was all for naught. Forcing his mind away from Hermione, he asked Harry, “So, have you set a date for the wedding yet?”
Harry, though taken aback by the abrupt change in subject, seemed relieved at the same time. He shook his head. “We’ve talked a bit, we know we want to get married in the summer. Since it’s already July, the wedding probably won’t happen for at least a year.” Harry smiled dreamily. “We don’t want to rush it. It will be nice to just enjoy being engaged for a while.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with all the fittings and planning details.” Severus pointed out dryly.
Harry sighed, coming down from cloud nine slightly. “It will be worth it.”
As much as the thought of planning a wedding seemed foreign, it tugged at something in his heart. He almost wished he would someday be able to go through all that, because it would have meant that he had found someone who loved him. He nodded, pushing back the tears that stung his eyes like acid. “You’re right, it is.”
Hermione smiled gratefully as Ginny placed a soothing cup of herbal tea before her. She gripped the vessel firmly, letting the steam wash gently over her face as her eyes began to droop together in relaxation.
Ginny, with her own mug, sat down opposite from Hermione at the small kitchen table, concern etched into her face. “What’s wrong?” she asked gently, but demanding an answer nonetheless.
"Nothing," Hermione replied, repeating the lie that she had been trying to convince everyone, including herself, of.
Ginny sighed exasperatedly. "Hermione, how long have we known each other? You might be able to convince everyone else, but don't you tell me nothing's wrong. Please, tell me what's wrong. I want to help."
Hermione looked at her friend awkwardly. "I don't know how to say this..."
"The best way to start is to open your mouth and let your vocal chords vibrate."
This cheeky comment forced a smile onto Hermione’s face. “It’s about Ron,” she began tentatively. Ginny was her closest girl friend, and she knew she could share anything with her, but...Ron was her brother. Hermione really didn’t want to put Ginny into the position of having to choose between her friend and her brother. Besides, she already knew which one Ginny would choose.
Ginny nodded grimly. “That’s what I thought.”
Hermione looked worriedly at her friend. “You could tell?”
Ginny nodded. “I don’t think he even knows that you’re having problems, does he?”
Hermione sighed. “I don’t know how to tell him.” She hid her face in her hands. “I know how he’ll react. When he’s hurt, he lashes out. I don’t want to do that to him.” She knew that her speech probably wasn’t too coherent, but it was such a relief to finally talk to someone about this.
“What don’t you know how to tell him?” Ginny inquired softly, as if she already knew the answer.
“That I don’t love him anymore.”
Hermione looked up slowly. She expected to see anger on behalf of Ron plastered over Ginny’s face. Instead, a sad, conceding look draped her features. “You figured that one out too?” Ginny inclined her head in affirmation. “I still care about Ron, Ginny, I really do. But it’s not in the same way as it was before. It’s like...like how I feel about Harry. It’s more like Ron’s a brother to me than someone I should be snogging with.”
This caused the woman sitting across from her to chuckle slightly. Growing more somber, she prodded, “Did he do something?”
Hermione stood up. She always felt better when she was pacing. It cleared her head. “No,” she answered. “And that makes it worse. If there had been something that I could say, ‘Ronald, you did this that and the other thing, you’re a total prat, so get out of my life!’. But he hasn’t done anything! All he’s been is sweet and kind and loving, and I can’t return it anymore.” She pushed her hair out of her face fiercely with her hands. “I don’t want to break his heart. I know that he’s always felt he’s second best at everything, even when it’s not true. I don’t want him to feel like I’m choosing someone else over him.”
“Well, there’s three solutions to that,” Ginny instructed. “One,” she listed, pulling down her left forefinger with her right, “is to try and act like nothing’s happened. Eventually you become Mrs. Ronald Weasley, have a bunch of children, and are absolutely miserable. You’ve already seemed to start down that path, and it hasn’t been working very well. Second,” she continued, adding another finger to the count, “you break up with Ron, and you never are with anyone else for as long as you live, so that Ron doesn’t feel like you chose someone over him.”
Hermione smiled wearily. “It would be a bit nice if I could have a somewhat happy life,”
“I agree. So, option three,” Ginny pressed down the corresponding number of fingers. “Break up with Ron, but move on. You will have time to patch things up, and I think once his anger and hurt wears off, he’ll be willing to be friends. Besides,” she continued, a mischievous grin crossing her face. “It’s not like Harry and I’ll give him much other choice.”
Hermione chuckled softly, the reverberation of the sound in her chest a unfamiliar but welcome feeling. “Please, try not to hurt him.”
Ginny sighed with mock exaggeration. “Alright,” she lamented.
Just then, Severus Snape burst into the kitchen. Hermione jumped slightly at the interruption. Their eyes met briefly before Hermione tore hers away. The slight fluttering she was feeling in her stomach didn’t settle well with her. They were friends, he had been her professor for Merlin’s sake. She couldn’t be feeling anything for him. She refused to.
Severus couldn’t help but smile slightly at the sight of Hermione Granger. Her hair was tousled, and he could just picture her dragging her hands through it in frustration. Her eyes, which had been filled with anxiety the moment he entered shifted suddenly to have a determined look to them. Her skin was so creamy, and it looked so soft he yearned to touch it. The way her body swayed as sauntered over to the table...
No, he chided himself. She’s with Weasley. He cleared his thought, turning his mind and body away from Hermione. Facing Ginny, he stated, “Harry was wondering where you had gotten to.” That wasn’t entirely true. Harry had a pretty good idea that Ginny had been in the kitchen with Hermione, since they had watched them enter the room. Severus had volunteered to retrieve his friend’s fiancé under the pretence of ‘so that Harry could have an opportunity to mingle with the other guests’. In reality, he selfishly hoped that he could glean a few moments with Hermione.
Ginny glanced at her watch. “Oh, I really should be getting back,” she replied regretfully. Glancing at the other woman, she walked close to Severus. Placing a hand on his arm, she asked softly, “Could you stay with Hermione? I don’t think she’s quite ready to go back to the party, but I don’t want her to be alone.”
“I would love to,” Severus answered evenly, “but I’m not so sure that some people would be so receptive to the idea.”
“You mean my brother?” He nodded, knowing exactly which brother Ginny was referring to. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll deal with him.”
Feeling his stomach beginning to flip flop uncharacteristically at the prospect of being alone with Hermione, he responded, “I’ll stay,”
“Good,” Ginny responded, and after giving him a quick pat on the shoulder and a slight wave to Hermione, she was gone.
Control yourself. You’re not a teenager anymore, you’re a grown man. Act like it.
He inclined his head slightly towards the place that Ginny had vacated. “May I sit?”
Hermione jumped as if she hadn’t realized he was still in the room. “Of course,” she sputtered, her eyes, which had leapt to his face, dropped once again, a red tinge emerging on her face. "I'm sorry you got stuck babysitting." she remarked.
"I don't mind," Severus responded. "Besides," he added, smirking slightly to himself. "You most certainly are not a baby."
This snarky comment, which once would have lead to the precursor of a laughing fit was only received with a tired smile. Severus frowned.
“Is something wrong?” he asked quietly. She didn’t look well. There were dark bags of worry and sleep loss under her eyes; it was almost as if someone had tried to drain some of the life out of her. There still had to be some remnants of the Hermione he remembered, though, as she met his eyes fiercely in response to his question.
“I’m fine,” she hissed. “Why would there be anything wrong.”
Stunned slightly at her outburst, Severus replied, “You just didn’t look like yourself.”
She snorted. “Stop the presses! Hermione Granger’s having a bad hair day!”
Annoyance welled up in Severus’ chest. All he was trying to do was to make conversation, and she was biting his head off. His old defensive instincts resurfaced, and he hit back. “So, this is what you’ve become then? Someone who’s a wreck if you don’t have Weasley clinging to your arm?” he spat venomously. He didn’t know where that had come from, and he regretted it the instant it exited his mouth. “I’m sorry,” his voice was barely above a whisper. “I didn’t mean that.”
“Then why did you say it,” Hermione retorted, the hurt evident in her eyes.
Severus sighed. “I don’t know. I just wanted to talk, but you obviously don’t want to talk to me.”
She slumped in her chair. “That’s not true.” She brought he hand to her forehead, rubbing it slightly. “It’s been a long day.” She smiled slightly. “I guess I could have been a little nicer myself.”
“There’s no excuse for what I said,” Severus apologized profusely. “ I should have controlled myself better.”
Hermione smiled understandingly. “It doesn’t sound like you’re having the best of days either. Do you want to talk about it?” she asked sweetly, her eyes growing wide so that they resembled those of a pleading puppy.
He couldn’t help it. He felt his eyes rolling in his head. “Alright, I get it,” he conceded. “I stay out of your business and you stay out of mine.”
“So,” she asked seriously. Her demeanor was much more at ease than it had been before. “How’ve you been?
Summoning the teakettle from the stove and a mug from the cupboard, Severus poured himself some of the warm beverage, and refilled Hermione’s mug. Sipping his own slowly, he answered, “I’ve been well.”
“You’re still teaching?” she asked, genuinely interested.
He nodded in response. “I’m a bit surprised that they’ve kept me around this long.”
Hermione frowned. “Why wouldn’t they want the best?”
Severus chuckled. “I was always under the impression that you thought I was the worst professor there.”
“No,” Hermione stated cautiously. “Your teaching methods were just a tad bit harsh.” Severus snorted. He knew that he had been downright cruel to his students when she had been in his classes. He had always paid particular attention to her group of friends, now much to his dismay. “At least you knew what you were teaching. I can’t say the same of some of your colleagues.”
“Sibyll, you mean,” he asked, amused.
Hermione nodded awkwardly. Severus got the feeling that she had gone on many rants about the Divination professor’s lack of ability, but was suddenly feeling subconscious about insulting a professor in front of another one. He reached across the table and patted her hand. “Don’t worry about it. She has her uses, but most of the time, she’s a complete nutter.”
“Oh,” she replied, obviously relieved that her remarks hadn’t set off another outburst. Severus felt a burning in the pit of his stomach. In the first year or so after the war, they had grown rather close. He just couldn’t stop thinking about how she had helped him. It was so difficult for him to comprehend; why would someone who hated him save his life? This fascination soon grew into friendship as he realized there was much more to Hermione than her know-it-all abilities. In contrast to other women who worried about such mundane things, Hermione was a breath of fresh air. Fresh air he hadn’t breathed since Lily.
With his developing relationship with Harry, it seemed like they would be seeing much more of each other. However, just as their friendship was growing, so was the relationship between her and Weasley. As the pair grew closer, Severus had felt a wedge forming between himself and Hermione. He wasn’t even sure if she knew it had been there, though Weasley sure did, and he tried to hammer it further and further in.
“Sev?” he heard her voice question. Her hand flashed in front of his face. “Are you there?”
Severus shook himself mentally. “Sorry about that,”
A frown graced Hermione’s features. “You apologize too much.” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Pardon?” That was a new one.
“All you’ve done during this entire conversation is say how sorry you are. I’d even bet my entire book collection that you were feeling regretful about how we’ve hardly seen each other lately.”
“That really is something to regret,” he inserted.
Brushing his remark aside, she sighed, obviously aggravated. “That’s not the point.”
Severus couldn’t help it; he felt the corners of his mouth inching up ever so slightly at the spectacle. “Would you mind enlightening me on to what the point is?” he answered smugly.
“You feel that everything is your fault. You’ve been blamed for everything you’re whole life, and eventually, you accept it and blame yourself as well.” She let out a laugh that sounded almost insane to Severus’ ears. “No wonder you and Harry have become such good friends! You both have the same problem. If you can’t save the world, you blame yourself.”
Severus’ lips formed a thin line as her words hit home. Not that he was going to tell her that. He had his barriers, and he wasn’t about to let them slip. “What happened to not going into my business?” he asked stiffly.
He fought the smile as that blush he was growing to love graced her features once more. “Right.” she conceded. “When things get crazy in my life, I sort of try to micromanage everyone else’s.” She picked up her napkin and began twisting it around in her fingers. “I guess this means I should tell you something to make up for it. I owe it-”
“No,” Severus stated firmly. “You aren’t obligated to tell me anything.”
She smiled. “I want to, thought. I’m not sure why I didn’t before. It’s probably since we haven’t seen each other for a while. You’ve never given me a reason not to trust you.” He felt his eyebrows quirk in doubt. “Well,” she amended, “at least not in the last few years.”
Severus felt his head bob up and down. “I understand.”
Her hands brought the mug she held to her lips for a sip. Setting the vessel down, she began softly. “Ron and I are having problems.”
Severus froze. It was as if every drop of blood in his body had suddenly turned into ice. His eyes darkened. “Did he hurt you?” If he even implied that he would threaten her, I will have a broom stick up his arse before he can say Bludger.
Hermione appeared taken aback by his reaction. “No, no, he hasn’t done anything.” Severus responded with a skeptical look. “Really, he hasn’t. Things have just changed. I’ve changed.”
“So, what? He’s making you act like nothing’s wrong?” He would murder him...
“No!” she exclaimed desperately. “I haven’t told him yet.” she added, her voice becoming more subdued. “I don’t want to hurt him.”
The same expression crossed her face as the one she had worn when he had burst in on her conversation with Ginny. This has to be what they were talking about. Well, one mystery solved. “When were you planning on telling him?”
Hermione covered her face with he hands. “Part of me wants time to think it over, but the other part of me feels that I’ve had enough time to do that. I was thinking I would tell him tomorrow.”
She was really serious about this. Briefly, an image of himself dancing with Hermione in his arms, leaning in for a sweet kiss crossed his mind, but he quickly pushed it aside. I need to concentrate. Taking a deep breath, he informed her, “If you need anything, my door's always open."
A truly genuine smile draped her face. “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
"I want to help you any way I can.” Severus responded.
"I know," her gentle voice murmured.
Just then, Ginny popped her head into the room. "You two would probably like to come out. Harry's about to speak, and-"
"We'll be right out." Severus answered automatically. Hit with a sudden realization, he added, "Wait! Ginny, it would probably be better if I didn't walk out of here with Hermione."
"Why not?" the two women asked in unison, one voice curious and the other furious.
"I don't want to cause you any more grief with Weasley," he stated, his eyes meeting Hermione's chocolate orbs.
Sighing, she agreed. She stood up and moved over to where Severus was and threw her arms around him, causing him to step back slightly. "Thank you," she whispered in his ear.
Patting her awkwardly on the back, he regretfully pushed her away. He wanted to say so much to her, so much that it could not be put into words. Instead, all that escaped his lips was, "You should get going."
He watched her exit with Ginny, feeling his heart sink. She had been so confident about her decision with Weasley, yet he wasn't sure if she would follow through. He really wished she would, for her sake more than his.
Whatever happens, she's your friend. Nothing more. She can't be.
Draining the dregs that remained in his teacup, Severus rose smartly, brushed off his robes, and, wearing the mask he always wore in public, reentered the celebration.
Hermione smiled slightly as she walked up to Ron. The expression, however, felt forced. She felt tears welling up in her eyes, but she harshly forced them back. I have to give him one last night. She couldn't stand the thought of breaking Ron's heart, and she knew that she had to do everything she could to show him how much she cared.
That's why she let him kiss her in greeting. That's why after Harry and Ginny made a few brief remarks, she let him lead her home. That's the reason she let him flirt, saying and doing ridiculous things, all in the name of making her laugh. That's why she let him hold her in his arms. That's why she let him make love to her, even though her heart felt like it was being ripped in two.
He deserves one last night before his world is shattered.
A/N: Please don't forget to leave a review! I'd love to hear what you think, and constuctive criticism is welcome.
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