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A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 18]

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Chapter 30 (part 1)


Once both Severus and Hermione had left his bedroom and shut the door, Severus paused beside the door that led to his library.

“No doubt you are still curious to see what my own library looks like,” Severus said, a glint in his black eyes as he looked down at her.

Hermione tried and failed to conceal a flush upon her face. She remembered her recent curiosity about this closed door and how tempted she had been to see what was behind it, the handle of the door having turned a green warning colour in response to her. Well, how was she to have known that Severus had already placed security measures upon his library, she thought, but in retrospect it should not have surprised her that much.

“Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious at all,” she admitted.

“Indeed,” Severus said with a hint of mockery in his voice. He eyed the Muggle style top and the trousers that she was wearing and added, “Usually I would require a certain standard of dress from any visitors I bring in…”

At that, Hermione put her hands meaningfully upon her hips.

“…but on this occasion I shall make allowances,” Severus went on smoothly.

“Just as well,” Hermione said in a spirited tone, though there was amusement in her eyes.

Severus then placed his wand upon the handle and spoke a quick string of musical words under his breath, the door then making a ‘click’ noise and opening without any fuss.

“There,” Severus said, smirking slightly at Hermione as he stood aside so that she could enter first.

She wasn’t too surprised when she walked in to see that the room was lined with bookshelves, apart from one area of a wall where a writing desk and a chair were. She blinked though when she saw a small table in a corner with a box with upon it, a glass side of the box peppered with small holes revealing a small green snake resting in sleepy coils upon a bed of straw. After Severus explained with a note of pride in his voice that this was his familiar, Asherath, Hermione relaxed (though she felt happy keeping her distance for now with the snake asleep).

Many of the books on the shelves were leather bound and old looking to Hermione’s eyes. There was a green carpet on the floor and a worn leather couch was in the centre of the room, a neatly folded green tartan rug placed on its back. Hermione smiled when she saw a leather footstool in front of the couch too.

“I love the footstool,” she chuckled as she walked over to the couch, an image in her mind of Severus wrapped up in the tartan rug, his long legs stretched out with his booted feet on the footstool.

“I am surprised that the footstool was the first thing to catch your attention,” Severus said acerbically. “I will have you know though that it has come down through my family, and is not something I purchased myself in Diagon Alley.”

“Maybe that’s just as well… your fearsome reputation would probably never recover if it was known that Professor Snape liked to put his feet up,” Hermione teased.

She immediately felt Severus approach her from behind and press firmly against her as he slipped an arm around her waist, the feel of his thin body against her back sending tingles through Hermione’s body.

“My… fearsome reputation, as you put it, would hardly be dented by something like that, especially since I have now tamed a Gryffindor,” he murmured by her ear, his warm breath on her neck.

“What are you talking about now, saying that you’ve ‘tamed a Gryffindor’,” Hermione protested laughingly, moving out of his embrace so she could face him. “I’m not something to be tamed.”

“Yes, you are,” Severus said as he looked down at her, reaching out to wind a curl of her brown hair around his finger. Winding up Gryffindors was equally enjoyable, in his opinion. “Your hair is certainly an indication of someone or… something needing taming.”

“I’ve only just brushed my hair before,” Hermione grumbled. “You know, I wouldn’t put up with that kind of talk from anyone else.”

Hermione then fell silent as she found herself wondering though how people at Hogwarts would treat Severus once it became more known that he was seeing her, an ex-student of his from Gryffindor. Dumbledore and perhaps Professor McGonagall would be supportive, but it would only be human nature for others to whisper behind Severus’ back…

“What is it?” Severus questioned, sensing a slight pensiveness radiating from her now.

“I was only thinking that I hoped life at Hogwarts won’t be too awkward when you return and it becomes eventually known we’re going out,” Hermione said soberly. “My friends will have been spreading the news, and since Ginny will be going back for her last year at Hogwarts, she’s bound to be telling a few people, I think.”

“If students talk about me behind my back, it will not have been the first time,” Severus said crisply. He felt touched though that Hermione was thinking of such things, even though he did not need help defending himself against gossips with nothing better to do.

Severus went to kiss her forehead. “Besides, if they are… unwise to do so within my hearing, they will be dealt with appropriately.”

He said the last words with soft menace and a slight shiver ran down Hermione’s back despite herself. Yes, Severus was more than able to take care of himself.

“Your concern is noted, though, Hermione,” Severus said, his words softer, and a moment of peace settled over them both.

Hermione then glanced towards the bookshelves, her natural curiosity about new books reasserting itself. From what she could see at this distance, some of the names of the books on their spines were potion making-related, while others on higher shelves related to countering dark magic, she suspected. Some of those books had a sullen feel to her senses and she hastily looked at another shelf.

A title caught her eye.

“Hmm…” she said in interest as she peered towards it.

“Should I be jealous of whatever book has just caught your eye?” Severus said dryly.

Hermione turned back to him. “You’ll always be the most delightful thing in a room to me, Severus Snape,” she sweetly assured him before she went over to the bookshelf.

Severus wasn’t sure whether to be amused or vexed at those words. “Did you just refer to me as ‘delightful’, madam?” he grumbled.

“Well, I have a list of other words, but I’m not sure they’ll be good for your ego,” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“Let me be the judge of what is suitable for my ego, thank you,” Severus said, his sharp gaze upon her back. “What other words?”

Hermione hummed to herself, ignoring his words and then carefully pulled out the old and slightly worn book she was interested in. Written in faded blue ink on its first page were the words Lucretia Snape. His mother or a grandmother of Severus, perhaps?

“You know, I’ve heard of this book before but I’ve never actually sat down and read it… ‘The Language of Flowers’,” she said cheerfully to Severus as she turned back to him. “I suppose it attracted me since I’m still used to thinking a bit like a gardener.”

She noticed that Severus was looking as if he wasn’t sure whether to scowl or smile at her. He then settled for looking down his hooked nose at her.

“You may borrow it, since I am surprised that there is an actual book you have not read, Miss Know-It-All,” he said tartly. “Especially one that deals in a very… feminine way of communication.”

“Thank you… But look, that’s a bit sexist, calling this a ‘feminine way of communication’,” Hermione said scoldingly as she started looking through the book.

“Oh? Declaring sentimental thoughts to others by the way of wearing certain flowers… What is that, if not feminine,” Severus said sardonically. “You still have not answered my question,” he added, moving so that he was standing in front of her.

Hermione looked up to see a glint of amusement in his black eyes, but also the hint of something… lonelier.

We all want to be praised at times, even if we pretend we don’t care, Hermione thought.

“Well, let me see if I can find an appropriate, non-sentimental flower or herb for you in here,” Hermione said thoughtfully as she looked quickly through some of the pages of the book. “Well, I can start with this one… Imagine that I’m wearing a, erm, a coral rose right now,” she said. “Which means…”

“…I Admire Your Achievements,” Severus said dryly, though pleasure appeared briefly in his black eyes. “I never took you for a flatterer, Hermione.”

“You’re quite knowledgeable about this book, despite saying it’s too feminine,” Hermione remarked swiftly.

“I know the contents of most books in my house, even ones that belonged to my grandmother,” Severus said.

He then reached out with a hand to brush her cheek.

“Osier,” he said meaningfully.

Hermione blinked at him, his touch having made her cheek tingle pleasantly, and then looked quickly back down through the book to see what the meaning was for her.

“Frankness,” she said aloud with a laugh before continuing to look through the book. “You know, I can’t seem to find a flower or herb that means ‘tall, dark and sarcastic’, but this one will do…”

She looked up at Severus and said simply, “Fennel.”

Severus stared at her, the look in his eyes inexpressible for a moment. “Worthy Of All Praise, and Strength,” he said in a low voice, the energy between them heightening.

He reached out with his hand again, this time running a long finger gently over Hermione’s lower lip.

“Milkvetch,” he said quietly.

Hermione swallowed and then started looking down through the book for the meaning.

Severus put a hand over the book to stop her.

“Your Presence Softens My Pains,” he quoted softly with a slight twist of his lips. “I am becoming guilty of spouting silly sentiment after all, it seems.”

Hermione looked up and smiled at him, the warmth in her eyes almost something tangible that Severus could wrap himself up in. “Thank you,” she said equally softly. “I won’t tell,” she added.

“Hmphf,” was Severus’ reply.

“I have heard though,” Hermione said thoughtfully after she had put the book back, an impish look appearing in her eyes that Severus did not trust at all, “that there was once a book written where the wearing of certain flowers and herbs were given more intimate meanings.”

A facial tic appeared by Severus’ mouth, though his eyes flared hotly. “Utter nonsense,” he said severely. “If such a book had the temerity to exist…

“…you would have searched for it high and low so you could lock it away, to prevent dunderheads from getting their hands on it,” Hermione finished for him.

Severus snorted and then leaned down closer to Hermione, his eyes glittering. “Undoubtedly. Such a tease you are, Hermione,” he whispered. “You are enough of a handful as you are, without wearing the contents of a greenhouse to drive me to further distraction. Or to physical exhaustion through flowery demands,” he added meaningfully.

“Now, now,” Hermione said mildly, though there was laughter in her eyes. “At times I could be wearing something that just meant I wanted a little cuddle.”

“Oh?” Severus said with a raised eyebrow. “Just how long would it stay ‘a little cuddle’ with your wandering hands, hmm?”

Hermione sighed and patted his arm. “Your mind can’t resist dropping to the gutter, I’m afraid.”

“Hmphf,” Severus said darkly, and as Hermione went back to the bookshelves she heard him mutter under his breath about long detentions needed for Gryffindors.

Severus then watched as Hermione continued to prowl the room and stop at times to peer at the books and sometimes murmur excitedly under her breath. Hermione seemingly had no idea what she was doing to him when she bent over occasionally to look at a lower bookshelf, the sight of her shapely bottom in those snug Muggle jeans of hers stirring all sorts of heated desires in him.

“I shall take pleasure in looking at some stage through your own little library, Hermione,” he said.

Hermione straightened and turned to him. “What do you mean, ‘little library’, Severus?” she said with a martial light in her eyes.

Then she looked around the room.

“Well, I suppose it’s not as big as this,” she grudgingly conceded. “But I wouldn’t call it little.”

“I suppose it is full of Muggle romance novels then,” Severus said silkily.

Hermione looked amused. “Why, are you after some?”

“Certainly not!” Severus said waspishly, and Hermione smiled to herself.

Severus’ gaze fell upon his writing desk, and then his eyes narrowed before he walked over to the desk. He opened one of its drawers and Hermione turned to look at him, curious to know what he was doing.

He then drew out a small framed photograph and gazed down at it before he looked at Hermione.

“You wished to see what my mother looked like, did you not?”

“Yes… yes, I did,” Hermione said cautiously. She walked over to Severus and peered down at the photograph.

It showed a stiffly smiling woman in a navy blue robe with sallow skin and dark brown hair scraped back in a severe style, sitting ramrod straight on a chair. Her angular face had a worn look that tugged at Hermione’s heart. As she watched, she saw the woman pat her hair in a distracted way.

“She looks nice… I can see some resemblance to you, Severus,” she said quietly.

“I resemble my father more, but she deserved better than him,” Severus said curtly.

Hermione placed her hand upon Severus’ one. “I’m sorry,” she said simply. “I’m sure she would be proud of you today.”

Severus looked at her and said nothing, but his eyes softened a fraction.

When he went to open the drawer to put the photo of his mother back in, Hermione was close enough to see the glint of another photo frame in there as well.

“Who is that other photo of?” she asked with curiosity in her voice.

Severus stood quite still for a moment with his back to her, and then he removed the other photo from the drawer.

“Hermione, when I go to visit you, I shall take great pleasure at pointing at your things and saying, ‘what is that?’, and ‘what is in there?’” he replied sardonically as he turned back to her with the other photo in his hand.

Hermione had the grace to look sheepish as she reached out and took it from Severus, aware of his black gaze observing her.

She blinked as a teenage version of Severus, dressed in a slightly old fashioned Slytherin school uniform, looked warily back at her from within the frame. He was standing in front of a stone wall, and both his body, and his face framed with lank black hair, were thin. There was a hint of wariness too in his posture, as if he was on constant alert for danger. It gave Hermione an odd jolt to see Severus like that, dressed as he was as a Hogwarts student.

Well, of course it would be logical that any old photo of Severus would have a good chance of showing him in his school uniform, Hermione thought ruefully to herself. It was just that she was so used to seeing him in the same, severe black teaching attire most of the time; part of her had half expected that he would have worn a smaller version of those outfits when he was younger.

Hermione was filled with the absurd wish to reassure the younger Severus, to brush some of his black hair away from his face and say something that would make him relax. She found herself half reaching out a hand to him, pausing when she belatedly realised how foolish such an action would be.

“I’m glad to see what you looked like when you were a student at Hogwarts. You… he… looks real enough to touch,” Hermione admitted, conscious that Severus was still watching her.

“No doubt my younger self is more pleasing to the eye than my current appearance,” Severus said dryly, inwardly irritated at the spike of jealousy that had gone through him when he had seen the soft look in Hermione’s eyes when she had looked down at the photo. It was beyond absurd for him to be jealous of a photo from his own unlamented teenage years…

Hermione looked thoughtfully at Severus as she handed the photo back to him. “If we had been in the same year at Hogwarts,” she said slowly, “I like to think I would have befriended you somehow, or at the very least argued with you over who was going to check out the latest book in the library first.”

Severus found the corner of his mouth twitching as he put the photo of himself away in the drawer, firmly shutting said drawer.

“I would have accused you of being just another impertinent, bossy Gryffindor if such a thing happened,” Severus said acerbically as he turned back to Hermione, moving so that he was looming over her smaller self.

Undeterred, Hermione tilted her chin at him, an impish look in her eyes. “Well, I would have then called you just another rude, arrogant Slytherin who didn’t want to wait his turn for books,” she said forthrightly.

“Yes, even back then we would have always been clashing,” Severus said ironically.

“You’re probably right,” Hermione agreed. “And yet…”

“And yet?” Severus echoed, his gaze fixed upon the face of his witch. He found himself wondering for a fleeting moment what his life would had been like if Hermione had been there at Hogwarts when he had been a student. But even if he had disliked her, it would have been impossible to ignore her whenever she was in the same room as him.

“I prefer you as the man you are,” Hermione said simply, reaching up a hand to gently brush his cheek, before her hand dropped down to run lingeringly over the buttons of his frock coat. “Mmm,” she added innocently.

Severus growled at that and embraced her tightly in turn.

“You are indeed an impertinent, bossy Gryffindor for saying such things,” he said severely against her hair before releasing her. “Now come along… you shall look at the rest of the books in here later.”

But when they were walking downstairs, something occurred to Severus and he stopped once he had reached the ground floor. Seeing the picture of himself as a teenager had stirred up some memories he wished best forgotten.

“Hermione, surely Potter… a few years ago, perhaps… would have had reason to tell you what I looked like as a student?” he said in what seemed to Hermione to be an odd tone.

Hermione paused on the last few steps, which, a part of her mind noted, made her able to look Severus in the eye.

She then looked puzzled, trying to remember if Harry had ever done such a thing.

“No, no, I can’t remember anything like that happening,” she said honestly, though with a curious expression on her face now.

Hermione saw that Severus’ sallow face was starting to have that shuttered look of his again upon it, and she automatically went to stroke a cheek of his with her fingers.

“What’s wrong, Severus?” she said softly, her brown gaze intent.

Severus reached up to wrap a hand gently around her one that was stroking him so, and he gave a short laugh.

“You may recall a few years ago that I was entrusted with the task,” and here he gave the last word a twist, “of teaching Potter Occlumency lessons. Then at a certain point, they came to an end.”

Hermione remembered something now, and she bit her lip.

“What is it?” Severus was swift to say, his eyes narrowing.

“I remember now thinking his lessons with you had ended sooner than they should have,” she said slowly, “but Harry said you had told him he had the basics, and that he could carry on by himself. Then later on Harry confessed that he had sneaked a look at memories you had put in a Pensieve while you were out of the room, you caught him when you came back and that was the real reason the lessons had ended.”

Snape’s eyes were still narrowed. “He did not reveal what memories they were?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, I think he was too ashamed to say anything more. So he should have been ashamed,” she added with a spurt of irritation. “I mean, I know I’m hardly better since I tried to get into your library earlier, but I wouldn’t have looked at anything like that.”

Severus felt a mixture of surprise and disbelief. All these last few years, he had been certain that Potter would have immediately told his friends about what he seen in the Pensieve, especially the scene of Severus’ public humiliation at the hands of those damned Maurauders. It didn’t change his overall antipathy towards Potter, of course, especially given his recent treatment of Hermione over her decision to be with Severus. But it did mean he could lay something to rest.

He stared down at Hermione’s hand that he was still holding.

“You have no wish to know, then, what those memories were?” he said at length in a low voice, realising in his heart that Hermione would always be someone… safe to share those kind of memories with, if he wished to.

He then felt Hermione gently touch his chin to lift his face up to her, sympathy on her face.

“I can guess it’s probably about something particularly nasty that happened to you when you were a student, since you didn’t want Harry looking at it, but I won’t pry,” she said soberly. “But it almost makes me wish I had a time turner so I could go back and smack anyone who even looked funny at you,” she added feelingly, her brown eyes glowering.

“My fierce protector,” Severus said dryly, but the darkness, and old pain too, Hermione thought, left his eyes.

“Enough of the past,” Severus then went on in a more level tone. “You are supposed to be giving me your expert appraisal of my home.”

“Well, let me at the rest of it, then,” Hermione said but with a smile upon her face.

There were doors on both sides of the hallway, and Hermione was first shown a formal and cold looking dining room. She felt uneasy straight away, though she couldn’t really put her finger on why, and felt unaccountably glad that Severus had given them both breakfast in bed this morning.

Severus saw her expression and merely nodded. “I feel more inclined to eat meals at a table in the kitchen,” he said.

Another door led to a storeroom full of potions that she guessed to be just like those that Severus had at Hogwarts. Hermione supposed it made sense – if something had happened to his Hogwarts supply, especially to the kind of potions that could take weeks to make, then he had duplicates here if he needed to fetch them in a hurry.

A door that was slightly ajar led to what Hermione deemed to be the kind of room that you put things that had no real place elsewhere in a house, and noticed Crookshank’s basket had been placed there. Well, that solved the mystery of where her cat had spent the night, she thought, pleased that it was a fairly warm and dry room.

When she laid her hand on the handle of another door, Severus curtly told her that it only led to the laundry, spots of colour appearing in his sallow cheeks. Hermione removed her hand, smiling to herself. No doubt he had no wish for others to see any dirty clothes lying around.

The kitchen had a pleasant, homely feel to it with a well scrubbed pine table standing in the centre. Against one wall was a dresser filled with jugs and plates, while a range for cooking dominated another wall. Severus found himself showing a curious Hermione the contents of the pantry and the cupboard that was spelled to keep its contents cold.

Severus thought that every time that he had come alone here to his house, it had been all too easy to recall the often tense atmosphere within its walls when he had been growing up, the old rooms carrying echoes of past arguments... the dining room especially. But here and now as he had been showing Hermione around, noting the interest in her eyes that appeared at times, it was easy to imagine that the remaining shadows would soon depart.

“We’ll have to come back here later and have some more of that chocolate cake I brought you,” Hermione said to him, her eyes sparkling.

What else could he say but yes, Severus thought.

Once they were back out in the hallway, Hermione asked in a curious tone, “Where is your laboratory? I would have thought you would have one here.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Have I shown you all of the house, madam?”

Hermione then belatedly remembered a few doors she had seen when she had first walked into the house. “Well, no,” she admitted.

“Then you are not in a position to know everything about my house, are you, then,” he said silkily.

Why did he have to be so smug and superior when he was right, Hermione thought ruefully.

“All right, then,” she said, throwing up her hands. “I admit I’m wrong. This one and only time.”

All of a sudden though there was a distinct ‘thump’ noise coming from the direction of what Hermione thought was the sitting room. There was too the sensation of a satisfied feeling coming from the house around her, before it receded.

“What in Merlin’s name was that?” Severus said, his black eyes narrowing at Hermione as if he half suspected her to be responsible for whatever his house had done now.

Hermione looked back at him, remembering how the house had transformed the front door yesterday so that it had a cat flap. To please her…

“Perhaps your last words were ah, overheard?” she said delicately.

“Only because you are with me, I suspect,” Severus grumbled as he firmly took her hand and headed towards the sitting room. “First the cat flap and now… whatever this house has decided to do to change things, with you in mind no doubt!”

When they went through into the sitting room Severus stopped abruptly, muttering something underneath his breath.

“Oh,” Hermione said, noticing that the furnishings in the sitting room had been rearranged - one of the wingback chairs that had been by the fireplace was gone, and in a corner of the room was an elegant chaise lounge that Hermione certainly didn’t remember seeing before. Obviously the house had decided to do some Transfiguration of its own.

“Well. It looks nice,” Hermione said diplomatically.

“It is not something I would have chosen… and it is in a Gryffindor colour,” Severus muttered further, and also as if he was not sure which of those two things was the greater sin from his point of view.

Hermione looked at the chaise lounge dubiously. Well, she had to concede that it was not something that Severus would have chosen, he was right there. It was luxurious looking and fairly begged the viewer to sit and lie back down on it, perhaps with a box of chocolates and a good book from a nearby shelf. She had noticed that the books in this room related mainly to magical history in other countries. Obviously they weren’t considered worthy enough to keep upstairs, but Hermione thought they could provide some enjoyable reading nonetheless.

A treacherous inner voice whispered that the chaise lounge was just about wide enough for two to lie back against it… if they were very, very good friends.

Ahem.

“It’s not in a Gryffindor colour – we have a scarlet-type hue, and this is more like deep burgundy,” Hermione said practically.

Severus looked down at her with an eyebrow raised. “It is near enough,” he said with asperity. It was the done thing in his family to respect the wishes of this house, but it did not mean he had to like this one! The chaise lounge was too… too decadent looking. A treacherous inner voice whispered that surely it was made for him to sit with his witch on, especially on cold winter nights in front of the fire. Perhaps a rug too could be provided.

He would not be manipulated.

“You wished to see my laboratory? You shall do so,” he said pointedly to Hermione.

To Severus’ chagrin, there was an amused look on her face, as if she knew the way his thoughts had been running.

“You could always change this room back to the way it was, you know,” she said gently, “as well as the front door.”

Severus eyed her darkly, and then relented. “It would be… impolite for me to do such a thing,” he said brusquely. “But I can only hope I won’t find my bedroom redecorated in pink later on, madam.”

“I’m not really a pink person. In fact, I prefer green far better these days,” Hermione said demurely but with an impish look in her eyes.

The corner of Severus’ mouth tilted upwards at that.

Wretched woman.


TBC


A/N: Well, I’m sorry to have taken such a long time to update, but 2008 was a bad year for me, mentally as well as physically.

Many thanks to those who have waited patiently for an update. This chapter was quite long so I split it in two – the next part will follow ASAP.

There is an actual website devoted to the ‘Language of Flowers’ with meanings ascribed to different flowers / plants as mentioned earlier in Severus’ library - sadly, I never found a flower / plant meaning ‘tall, dark and sarcastic’ that Hermione could have used. Aha.



A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 18]

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