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Chapter 26 : xxvi.
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Christmas morning Hermione woke to a small bundle of parcels at the end of her bed, on the floor. She sat up while wiping the sleep from her eyes and stretched, before crawling down to reach for them.
It was strange to be opening Christmas gifts on her own. Never had she been alone for the holiday before, and for a moment she let herself be overcome with a pain of sadness. She thought back to the last Christmas she spent at home, when things were still somewhat normal. It was during her sixth year. It seemed silly to her now, how lonely she felt during that time, since she and Ron were not speaking due to Lavender Brown. But at least she'd had her parents.
It was a pleasant day, she remembered. Snow lightly fell from the sky, as the three of them sat in the sitting room watching black and white Christmas movies, drinking tea, and stuffing themselves with sweets and other confectionary. It was quiet, certainly much more quiet than what she heard the Burrow had been like. With Mrs. Weasley’s simmering anger, barely controlling her urge to curse her future daughter-in-law. But she enjoyed quiet. It didn't bother her. Well, not always.
This type of quiet. The type that reminded you that you were so painfully alone. Well, that bothered her.
Regardless, she tried to cheer herself up at bit at the thought of leaving the dormitory and spending her day in the company of Severus. Another person, who like her, she knew felt entirely alone, despite being surrounded by people. It was another thing they had in common.
Deciding she should open her gifts, so she could get down to the Great Hall, Hermione reached into her pile, and began choosing parcels one at a time.
The first package she chose was a tiny blue box, the card attached letting her know it was from Amelia. She tucked her thumb underneath the wrappings and peeled it off, revealing a black satin squared jewelry box. When lifting the lid to it and seeing the piece of jewelry inside she gasped softly, then picked it up to examine it closer. The ring was incredibly unique and very pretty. The band was bronze and flat, with a glass orb in a setting that was carved to look like talons. She slid it onto the middle finger of her right hand and was please to find that it fit perfectly, then she took in a surprise breath when grey smoke started swirling inside the glass, slowly changing to a light blue.
There was a card inside of the ring box which listed colors accompanied by corresponding moods to match each color. According to the chart, the light blue meant happy, which she certainly was in that moment. It was mood ring, not one of those cheap muggle-type that always seemed to remain black after the first day of use, but a stunning magical one that was guaranteed to be accurate.
Hermione smiled, thinking warmly of Amelia, as she traced her finger around the glass bubble on her finger. She was glad to know that she'd have a token to take with her. Something she could remember Amelia by. The smoke started to change to green -- melancholy.
Next there was a flat box from Otto, which had a wide variety of sweets from Honeydukes, another box from Sturgis which contained a three-pack of golden tipped quills, and one from Edgar, which had a large book entitled, Wizarding Cultures and Customs Around the World. The note he left with it said that he thought, since she was nearly always reading in the common room at night, that she would enjoy the book, being that he hadn’t ever noticed her reading it before. Then lastly was another box of sweets from Remus, which was a surprise. She wasn't expecting anything from him, but was glad that she thought of picking him up a little something the last time she was at Hogsmeade.
She sat smiling to herself, admiring her gifts from her friends in this time, and thinking of how much she would end up missing them. More than she ever would have thought she would.
As she cleared up the shredded wrappings from her bed, a gleam of silver caught her eye. There was a box that was just about the same size as Amelia’s gift that she hadn’t noticed until then.
Hermione took it into her hands and opened it carefully. Inside was a folded up piece of parchment which she unfolded before opening the plain brown box that was beneath the wrappings.
I do apologize for the long
wait before giving this to you.
I am hoping it proves to be useful.
A very Happy Christmas to you,
Her hands started to tremble slightly as she put the note down beside her and began opening the little box.
“He got them,” Hermione whispered to herself, while taking the glass vial out and curling her fingers around it tightly.
It was the Phoenix tears. The last piece of the puzzle. The ingredient that she needed more than any other to ensure Severus survived the night before she'd been sent back in time. The ring on her finger turned to an iridescent pearl color, while tears of happiness streamed from her eyes. It was the best gift she could have asked for. Not just the Phoenix Tears, but the confidence and hope for the future that came along with them.
Quickly she hopped out of bed, and rushed to her trunk with the vial in hand. After opening it, she dug down to the bottom and felt the handkerchief which had her bottle of Unicorn Horn powder inside. Not knowing if Dumbledore already did so or not, or how long the tears would stay good for, she placed a Stasis Charm on them, and wrapped them up alongside the remainder of the powder she had left over. Very carefully she tucked the bottles down the bottom of her trunk, closed it, locked it and warded it, so that no one else could get in but her.
After she showered and dressed for the day, she took the thin package she had wrapped for Severus out of her wardrobe. Since the two of them were remaining at school for the holiday, they'd both agreed to exchange gifts in person, rather than let them be delivered by the house elves during the night.
Running her finger along the side of the box, she hoped that Severus would like his gift, before sliding it into the pocket of her robes. She felt anxious, wondering what Severus had gotten her, but knowing that no matter what it was, she would love it, because it had come from him.
Hermione checked herself once in the mirror, and smoothed her hair into place, then turned to leave the dormitory and make her way down to The Great Hall to meet Severus.
Once again she took a seat at the Slytherin table and smiled at Severus, who had already been there. He handed her a cup of coffee which he prepared for her, looking a little nervous.
“Happy Christmas, Severus,” she said cheerfully, then lifted her mug to take a drink. “Thank you,” she said while looking pointedly at the mug, setting it back down on the table.
“You're welcome. And Happy Christmas to you as well.” He gave her a crooked smile then reached into his robes, pulling out a flat square box, wrapped in blue and tied with a bronze bow.
Even though they weren't technically her house colors, the fact that he'd been thoughtful enough to use what he thought were her’s warmed her heart.
Before reaching for her present, she pulled his gift from her pocket, then pushed it across the table. “I hope you like it.”
Instead of taking his gift, Severus placed his hand on Hermione’s. “I’m positive I will like whatever it is,” he told her sincerely.
While she sat smiling like the lovesick teen she was, an idea struck her. She did not entirely wish to open their gifts in the middle of The Great Hall, with the handful of students who remained, and the staff at the head table watching them. She wanted to be able to react and thank him properly, and thought of a more private place to go. Somewhere where no one could find or bother them.
“Severus?” she asked, an excited spark lit her eyes. “Would you like to perhaps open these somewhere by ourselves?”
He arched an eyebrow at her as his mouth curled up into a smile. “I would not mind that,” he answered, then made a move to stand up.
Hermione laughed. “Not quite yet. I'd like to at least have a little bit of breakfast before we leave.”
Truthfully she was just as anxious as he was to see what he had gotten her. But the growl in her stomach won out over her curiosity. She laughed even more when he frowned before sitting back down in his seat.
“I'll eat quickly,” she told him with a wink, then tucked into her breakfast.
After they'd both finished eating, Hermione took Severus by the hand, and eagerly towed him to her destination. She was beyond excited, and ran a little too exuberantly. Severus joked that she was going to tear his arm from its socket about three times on the way there.
Finally she found herself standing across from a tapestry of a man attempting to teach some trolls the ballet, looking up at what would be the entrance to the Room of Requirement. She paced back and forth in front of, what must have seemed to Severus, an ordinary wall, thinking of exactly what she wanted for the two of them.
“What are you doing?” he asked after her second time turning around. His brow was raised, and he looked at her like she'd finally lost her mind.
“Hush,” she responded, then finished her last time walking by the wall.
She had a smug smile on her face when he stopped speaking, due to an ornate arched doorway appearing before them. His eyes were wide and filled with curiosity as he turned back towards her.
“What? How did you find this?” he asked in a low voice.
Hermione grabbed his hand again and brought him to the door.
“There are some advantages that come along with having your uncle as the headmaster,” she lied, thinking that would be a believable enough answer.
Originally she hadn't planned on using the Room of Requirement while she was there. She felt it would be too strange for a new student to know such a secret piece of information about the castle. But then when she thought of her cover story, and how she was supposedly the niece of Albus Dumbledore, she figured that would be the perfect excuse for knowing about the room.
When they walked in, it was exactly as Hermione hoped it would look. There was a stone fireplace to the left of them, a large, brown, squashy sofa sat in front of it. A book shelf rested against the wall opposite the fireplace -- fully stocked. And in the back of the room, across from where they stood was a window, showing a snowy mountainside, with fresh snow falling from the sky. A Christmas tree with green, silver and red baubles stood next to the window, with the scent of pine hanging in the air all around them. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. It was perfect.
Severus looked around the room with a dumbfounded expression on his face.
She squeezed his hand then leaned up to kiss his cheek.
“I didn't fancy spending the whole day on the floor of that classroom,” she explained with a small shrug.
When he finally tore his eyes from the space around them, he looked down upon her with an unfathomable look in his eyes. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him appear so stunned, yet also happy.
Without warning he took her face between his hands, leaned in and kissed her hard.
“I couldn't imagine a better way to spend the holiday,” he told her after they broke apart.
Hermione beamed up at him. “Neither could I.”
Hand in hand, the pair made their way to the large sofa in the room, sitting down together. She nudged him with her knee and pointed towards the pocket of his robes.
“Go on,” she urged him, “open it.”
She couldn't keep the nervous excitement from her voice, as she bounced in her seat watching him take out his gift.
He laughed softly. “Alright, alright, I'll open it.”
Carefully he peeled the wrappings from the box. Hermione waited with baited breath as he lifted the lid and saw the contents inside. He looked at the metal stirring stick curiously for a moment, before gently removing it and turning it to read the inscription on the side. He hadn't said anything yet, and Hermione began to feel nervous.
“Don’t you like it?” she asked quietly.
Still he kept his eyes on the words she had carved into it. Then slowly a smile formed on his lips.
He nodded. “Thank you, Hermione. I’ll cherish this forever.”
From her memory of that day in her fifth year, she knew that he spoke the truth. Regardless, she let out a sigh of relief.
“It's tungsten. So, it should last you that long,” she explained.
Severus placed it back in the box.
“And I know you mentioned continuing on with Potions, so I'm sure you'll get plenty of-”
Hermione didn't get a chance to finish her sentence, since Severus silenced her with a kiss.
“You talk too much at times,” he joked after leaning back in his seat.
Hermione’s cheeks darkened as an embarrassed giggle escaped her. “Shut up,” she teased.
Severus laughed then reached across her lap. She froze when his hand went into the pocket of her robes, making sure to gently caress her thigh, before taking the box out and setting it on her lap.
In that moment, she didn't give a damn about the gift. Everything in her was fighting the impulse to dive on top of him and snog him until she couldn't breathe. Severus must had either been thinking along the same lines, or read her thoughts on her face.
“We have all day, Hermione,” he told her as he trailed his finger across her leg, before placing his hand back on his lap. Hermione shivered. “Open it,” he said.
When she opened the box, she could feel Severus’ eyes on her the entire time. And when she saw what the box contained, her eyes began to water. They were absolutely beautiful.
There were two matching decorative combs for her hair. She could tell that they must have been antiques, they looked very old, and way more than she assumed he could have afforded.
The combs were sterling silver, and at the top was an intricate floral design. There were two flowers, the leaves of which were made of emeralds, and the buds were sapphires. Each flower had six leaves to it, and they were set on a swirled silver pattern. They were probably the most elaborate piece of jewelry she'd ever owned.
“Oh, Severus…” she breathed out, while running her finger across the jewels. “They're...I don't even know what to say. They're stunning.”
When she looked up at him and blinked the tears away, she saw that he was watching her with a gentle softness in his eyes.
“I'm glad that you like them,” he told her, then placed his hand on her leg. “They belonged to my grandmother.”
Hermione’s heart felt like it stopped. He'd given her something that belonged to a member of his family? But why?
“Your grandmother?” she repeated, clearly stunned.
“That day in Hogsmeade,” he began. Hermione stilled. He was about to tell her what she'd been so eager to know. “I met with my mother.”
Her mouth popped opened. Hermione knew that Severus had a complicated relationship with his mother. He obviously loved her very much, from the way she'd heard him speak of her, but he also in a way resented her, for the way that she'd stand by and allow herself and Severus to suffer his father's verbal -- and at times physical, abuse.
“Oh?” She didn't know what else to say.
“I - I've written to her about you,” he admitted quietly, not quite looking her in the eye. “I hadn't a clue what to get you. I've never...I've never had a girlfriend before.”
Watching Severus appear so vulnerable and so self-conscious, caused Hermione’s heart actual pain. He needn't be embarrassed, she thought to herself. It wasn't like she'd ever been in a relationship like theirs either. Of course she had that minor fling with Viktor her fourth year. And there was, whatever it was she had with Ron. But neither of them had ever been someone she was committed to in this way. Severus was, as strange as it sounded, her first boyfriend.
“It's not like I have many real friends in Slytherin, and I didn't know who else to ask,” he continued. Hermione remained silent. “So I thought I'd try mum,” he shrugged.
Hermione rested her hand on top of his, which still sat on the top of her thigh. “That's actually really sweet, Severus,” she whispered.
He half-smiled. “When I told her how much I --” his voice cracked, “I've come to...care for you, and how special are, she wrote back saying she knew just the gift and asked to meet with me during my next Hogsmeade trip.”
How much I've come to care for you, repeated in her mind. At that moment she knew that the two of them had fallen much, much deeper than she ever could have anticipated. She wasn't sure if she could have possibly ever loved him more than she did right then.
Hermione looked up at him from beneath her lashes. Her heart pounded. “I care for you a great deal, too.” she said so quietly, she was amazed that he even heard her.
Severus cupped the side of her face softly, rubbing his thumb across her cheekbone. The two sat watching one another and she was quite sure both of them were fighting to hold back the same words. But still, she couldn't bring herself to be the one to say them first.
He leaned in and gently placed his lips onto hers. The kiss began slowly, sweetly. Then little by little, it grew more passionately, until her hands travelled up and tangled themselves into his hair. He snaked his arms around her waist and squeezed their bodies together tightly.
When they broke their kiss, they remained sitting with their hands linked together. She saw the resolve form in his eyes.
“Hermione. I'm --” he swallowed. “I love you. I'm in love with you,” he told her, his voice hoarse from nerves.
Her breath caught in her throat as a feeling unlike any she ever felt before came over her. She couldn't even put a name to it. It was like the first day of a new term, combined with the day she purchased her wand, also with the joy at learning she was top of her class, mixed with that feeling of going down the first hill of a rollercoaster. But even that didn't do it justice.
He watched her face carefully. Deep down she had had a feeling that he'd felt that way, but to actually hear the words and watch them fall from his lips, she was stunned into silence. The only thing that caused her to speak was watching the anxiety creep across his face due to her lack of response.
She knew she had to do something.
His eyes widened when she lunged forward and hugged him as hard as she could, taking in those wonderful earthy scents that were uniquely his. “I love you, too, Severus,” she said into his ear.
A shaky laugh came from him as he held onto her so tightly, it felt as if he never intended on letting her go.
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