"Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up." -James Baldwin
As November transformed into December, Hermione and Rowena made it a tradition to have tea every Monday evening. Slowly, Hermione grew into a new sense of mature self under Rowena’s guidance. Ron, Harry, and Ginny stopped wondering where she was. Slowly, they were growing apart. Harry was content with forgetting the war, and Ginny was more than happy to help him forget. Hermione wondered how she had ever seen anything in Ron, who was still as immature as ever.
One Monday evening, in mid-December, Hermione made her way to Rowena’s office.
Hermione, no longer needing to knock, simply opened the door. She nearly dropped to the floor when she realized that Rowena had company.
“Good evening, Professors,” Hermione said, clinging to her new lady-like grace.
“Good evening,” Rowena and Severus said in unison, laughing at their acute timing.
For the second time in the past year, Hermione had heard him laugh. The sound was odd, coming from him. His laugh was deep and smooth.
“Sit,” Rowena offered, conjuring up an arm chair, next to Severus.
Hermione sat in uncertain silence, sipping at a glass of red wine Severus had offered her, while the two siblings carried on an animated conversation. She observed the conversation before entering into it, as Rowena had taught her.
“How can you read that drabble anyway, Rowena?” Snape asked.
“You mean Jane Austin?” she retorted, choking a little on her wine.
“Yes. That pathetic romantic waste of paper,” he laughed. “Miss Granger, please tell me you do not share my sister's heinous passion for Miss Austin’s works.”
“I’ve never read those books. My mum bought me Pride and Prejudice for my fourteenth birthday, but I never got around to reading it. I’m always so busy reading other things,” Hermione replied, hoping he was happy with her answer. She did not want to be foolish in his eyes.
“Oh, Severus, don‘t close her mind to a novel before she has read it,” Rowena interjected.
Severus groaned, placing his palm on his forehead.
“Women…” he muttered.
“Severus, shut up,” Rowena stated simply, laughing.
The three of them laughed and talked for many hours, consuming the entire bottle of wine. At last, Rowena peeked at the clock on the mantle.
“Holy shit! It’s three in the morning!” she exclaimed.
“I’d…I’d better get to bed,” Hermione yawned, the wine lulling her into a sedated state.
“Hermione, I’m not sure you should be going out into the dark halls alone. You’ve consumed a few glasses of wine and it’s late,” Rowena suggested.
“I’ll escort you back,” Severus offered, rising from his chair and helping Hermione to her feet.
“I…Okay,” Hermione replied, as he opened the door for her.
They walked down the corridors. Severus walked behind her, making sure she didn’t stumble on the cobblestones. They talked a little of this and that, laughing often. The wine had loosened them up, and they both let their guards down a little. They were mounting the last two steps before Hermione’s door, when she slipped and fell backwards.
“Urgh,” Severus grunted, as he caught her.
Hermione fell into his arms. For a moment they peered into each other's eyes. Their noses were touching. Hermione felt his warm breath, and was certain that she was dreaming. He leaned in closer, as his eyes closed for a moment. Then, he let her go. Hermione caught her balance and stumbled forward into her door, watching the dark figure stalk away.
The weeks dwindled down to days, as the students prepared for the Christmas Ball. Ron secured a date with Lavender Brown, and the pair were snogging twice as much as they did during the sixth year. Ginny and Harry were practically sickeningly sweet, and Hermione could not bear it any more. Hermione considered not attending the Ball at all.
Saturday came, marking nine days until the beginning of the winter holiday, and seven until the Ball. Hermione went down to breakfast alone. She was slathering honey on her toast, when the morning post swooped in. A barn owl planted itself in front of her, presenting a simple manila envelope. Hermione noticed that her name was written on the front in ball point pen, and knew instantly that it must be from her parents. Just as she was about to open the letter, an enormous gray owl, covered in a dusting of snow, swooped down, presenting her with a large brown paper package.
Hermione decided to open her post upstairs, in the comfort of her room, and away from the prying eyes of the Great Hall. She made her way to her room, excited that she had received a package. She opened the letter first.
“To our daughter, Hermione:
We hope this letter finds you well. Your father and I are doing very well. In fact, we won a free trip for two to Italy, yesterday. We leave for Italy on Christmas Eve! Unfortunately, we cannot bring you with us. We hope that you are not upset.
You had discussed spending one last Christmas at Hogwarts, during the summer, and we think that it would be a marvelous idea. It will give you an opportunity to say goodbye to the school, as you prepare to move on.
Have a Merry Christmas,
Mum and Dad.”
Hermione tossed the letter aside, slightly upset that her parents would abandon her so easily, but glad to have some time to herself. Harry, Ginny, and Ron were going to the Burrow, and she had been invited. Hermione needed time away from them, as they were driving her insane lately, and had just declined their offer.
Suddenly, Hermione remembered the package. She opened it quickly, hoping that it was an early Christmas present from her parents. She was surprised to find a white rectangular box, with a small gold card on top. She opened the card tentatively. The paper was fine and heavy, and obviously expensive. Hermione was intrigued.
Something suitably elegant to wear to the Christmas Ball.”
The card was unsigned. Hermione examined the flourished black ink, hoping to recognize it to no avail. Carefully, she lifted the box lid, to reveal deep eggplant purple silk. Gingerly, she pulled out an elegant handcrafted gown. Laying it across her arm, she decided to try it on.
Slipping out of her jeans and t-shirt, she pulled on the luxurious gown. It fit her body to a tee, clinging to her narrow hips and waist perfectly. She walked over to the mirror, relishing the swish of the dress as she walked. She let out a gasp at the sight that confronted her in the mirror. The dress was a vision; fitted, strapless, with amethyst beading at the hem and bust. The color made her fair skin glow, and her hair looked rich against it. She was entranced by her reflection. For the first time, she truly felt like the beautiful eighteen year-old woman she had become.
Thank you so much for all your continued feedback and creative support. You guys really keep me going! A few of you have given me many great ideas for the plot, and as a result, my plot notes are full of marginalized ideas and red crosshatching.
More to come soon!