Disclaimer: never did and never will own it. J.K. Rowling does.
Spoilers: Order of the Phoenix
~ Hope In The Prison Of Despair - Hope ~
The wood structure was almost completed when he heard the alarm of his wards warning him of the imminent arrival of an unwanted guest. He put his tools down, brushed imaginary sawdust from his black robes – he knew quite a few handy spells – and banished all the dust in a corner. Then he stepped outside of his workroom, closing the door behind him and locking it at the same time. The door to his office opened and closed behind the newcomer and there, standing in a beam of light he hadn’t noticed was there before was Hermione Granger, the fire playing on her hair and turning some locks into a bright copper instead of the shiny chestnut they usually were.
She smiled, gently, warmly, and it brightened the room.
“Miss Granger–” he began.
She laughed gaily and the very walls seemed shocked of this manifestation of life and happiness.
“Back to ‘Miss Granger’, are we now, Severus?” she teased him. “The war is over, you are finally free; come celebrate with us.”
Never before had he noticed how her youth and eager mind could chase away all thoughts of the draughty dungeons of his mind. He stared at her like a starved man looked at food and water and noticed everything: her sparkling eyes, the rosy glow of her skin, her parted, inviting lips, her tousled hair as if by a persistent whiff rather than the bitter wind he was used to. Then her hand was on his and he was flooded with sudden warmth that he couldn’t deny.
“Severus? Are you feeling well?”
There was concern, a distinct, soft, delicious concern, in her voice, worry in her eyes and her free hand reached up to brush a stray lock away from his face.
“Severus?” she repeated anxiously.
She was so close that he could smell her hair, a sweet fragance vaguely familiar to him. The crackling fire was drawing gold, red and orange patterns on her half-tamed locks and suddenly he knew what memories she had awaken in him. He was thinking of the little gems of the citrus family, with its five-parted, white flowers and its gold orange peel.
Just looking at her, he could feel the taste of the kumquats invade his mouth, the outer layer spicy, the inner layer sweet and the pulp tangy. He had almost forgotten about it, when it was for him the only happy memory of his childhood, the decorative kumquat trees in the hallway, evenly lined up but whose branches nobody, not even his father, could tame into a defined pattern. It had been his own personal revenge, being attached to the trees that alone dared to rebel against his father.
“Severus, you don’t belong here, come with me,” she insisted gently.
He felt like he was bursting, his heart dilating, pushing against the icy shell life had pressed upon him.
It was as if he hadn’t spoken for long and his voice was raw and dark.
“I’ll be there shortly,” he completed, taking his decision.
She smiled, a little sun in his night, and clasped tightly his hand before blushing and running away.
He went back to his workroom, turning away from the ebony coffin. Almost absent-mindedly, he selected a small piece of clear mahogany taking up the size of his palm and began sculpting it without really thinking of what he was doing. His fingers were flexible and knowledgeable and though his mind wasn’t really on his work, he didn’t cut himself, even if the tip of the blade sometimes brushed against the skin of the heel of his hand. The sculpture was tiny, but his movements were precise and no slip was allowed. Severus Snape didn’t accept less than perfection.
The sculpture was of a girl with bushy hair that she had managed to discipline a bit since then. It was of Hermione Granger the day he had understood that she wasn’t a student anymore but a colleague in the war and that she had no intention of having him ignoring her. He still remembered how her eyes had blazed furiously while she was explaining to him that she had a brain, thank you very much, and that he should try to put it to their advantage rather than let it rot in some obscure department at the Ministry.
There, in his sculpture, instead of having her fists clenched as to hit him like she had had them then, her right hand was open toward him and two kumquats rested in her palm. She was offered him the seed of his rebellion and he would be a fool to overlook it.
He turned around to face his hand-built coffin, the only fate he had thought was waiting for him just moments ago. He pointed his wand at it and murmured a single word that spoke of the leap of faith he was taking:
He watched the coffin burn and a fierce pleasure invaded him as the heat caressed his face. In the writhing flames, he could see Hermione dance, beckoning him, her hands held out toward him, and he would gladly have stepped forth to hold her in his arms had he not known that she was nothing but the product of his imagination. No matter how much warmth her mere presence could bring, she was no fire spirit, even though she had fuelled the raging hope in his heart without knowing it.
That was it. He breathed deeply the smell of smoke and ash, clutched tightly the statuette in his hand and left his workroom, his private rooms, his dungeons. She was right: he was free. And his first act of freedom would be to seek her out. She would understand, when she saw the sculpture of her and the kumquats. After all, she smelled the sweet fragance of their white flowers, she felt warm and soft, and he could imagine that her lips had the tangy taste of the kumquat pulp. She felt like home to him.