A/N - Thanks as usual to those who have reviewed. :-)
Conscious that the time for the final exams was approaching, Hermione now focused solely on her studies – let no one point a finger at her and say that Muggle-born witches could not do as well in exams as a pureblood! One thing was to be said about this time of year – she did not stand out as ‘that Gryffindor who always studies’ as her friends and classmates all had their heads buried in books as well, with even Harry neglecting his beloved Quidditch with hardly a complaint.
There were hardly any more trips to Hogsmeade, except when studying got the better of people like Ron, in which they would go to the sweet shop and bring back practically a sack of sweets to satisfy their sugar cravings (and promptly regret it the next day).
Along with Lavender she had strung her piece charmed obsidian on a chain she wore underneath her uniform, and certainly felt heavier in the time she wore it, though the scales indicated that she was her usual weight.
Taking heed though of the advice that Severus-from-the-future had given her about taking better care of herself, Hermione would take the opportunity at lunch times and study breaks to slip outside and find a secluded, sunny spot in the grounds in which to do her studying. Away from everyone and with the warm sun on her face, she was able to find some peace and then be able to face the demands of class, especially Potions. She was often the subject now of Professor Snape’s smoothly barbed comments in the dungeon classroom, with the other Slytherins acting as his willing chorus with their accompanying snickers.
She had taken to heart the warning not to let her feelings about Professor Snape show, and had stopped defending him to Harry or Ron when they launched into yet another grumbling session about how he was Nastiness Personified™. However, she had silently refused to stoop to their level and though she offered no word in defense, she uttered no word of criticism; except for the times when the professor seemed to drop to new levels of pettiness. In Potions class she kept her head down and endeavored to keep attention away from her by not asking unnecessary questions.
Hermione wished that Professor Snape would stop baiting her in class though – oh, she had to hand points to him (how ironic to say that about a Head of a House), they were not outright taunts towards her. His way of insulting was subtle, and there was much he could convey in the subtle tilt of his head, the ironic lifting of a dark eyebrow that she was low on the list of his favorite students. Of the list of students in general, period. This was his way of revenge for what – having to go out of his way to help her? Of the times she had seen a more vulnerable side to him? For trying to reach out to him? Of not reaching out to him in the Pensieve Room?
Maybe it was ‘E’ – All of the above. She grimly clung to the memories though of when she had seen the Severus she knew he could be, and they helped to sustain her. She was obscurely reminded though of a fairytale where before a heroine could be reunited with her love who had been stolen from her by the faeries, as a final test she had to hold on to him as his body transformed into various nasty creatures that hissed, bit and spat before he was himself again.
There was one time when her actions had nearly betrayed her – one night in the time before curfew when she had been trotting down to the kitchens for a cup of chocolate, she had turned the corner and had promptly run into someone who had automatically brought up his arms to grip her upper ones in defense and to stop her. A tall, dark-robed someone with the scent of subtle spices about him; a Professor Snape she had been so close to that she could sense the warmth of his body, feel his breath as a light caress over her face. There had been surprise and then the beginning of disdain in Professor Snape’s eyes as he recognised her before his eyes had properly locked with her brown eyes, and then when they did…
The universe had seemed to pause and Hermione had felt unable to look away from him. For a moment the disdain had faded from his eyes, replaced by the beginnings of something more intense, as if he was trying to stare into her soul. Forgetting herself she had gazed back and swayed closer to him for a moment. His breathing had hitched, and ever so slightly he had bent his dark head closer to hers in the dim light of the deserted corridor in silent query. She had flinched and quickly stepped back, breaking eye contact, his hands releasing her arms as if they had been hot coals.
“I’m sorry Professor Snape… I didn’t mean to run into you,” Hermione had said swiftly and politely.
“Obviously,” Professor Snape said, biting off the word and his eyes now unreadable behind their narrowed black glitter as he looked down at her. “Twenty points off for your usual clumsiness.”
She had opened her mouth automatically to protest and he had tilted his head at her like a predator fixing upon prey. “Twenty more if a student decides to talk back,” he had said silkily, looking at her with dark interest.
She had shut her mouth with a snap and refusing to say any more words of excuse or politeness had lifted her chin and walked away.
* * * * *
Try as he could to dismiss Hermione from his mind, Severus still felt acutely aware of Hermione’s presence in his classroom. He was frustrated by how he still felt drawn to her, and by the protective, tender feelings that would well up inside him when he could not resist glancing her way. It was intolerable, especially when it seemed clear to him now that he repulsed her.
There seemed to be something impervious about her too that he could not touch… and irritated by his apparent inability to vex or annoy the little Know-It-All, he was determined to find a crack in her armour *somehow* and so in class verbally circled her, trying to find a weakness. But to no avail.
He grudgingly conceded to himself though that she was one of the cleverest non-Slytherin students he had ever taught, and he really could not fault her performance in class. However, free from his iron control his treacherous body betrayed him at nights when he woke gasping her name, his lower body aching for release in her sweet warmth and her body twined around his.
Hermione felt relieved that Harry and Ron were no longer seeing her as a romantic interest, although to be fair there was no time for romance at the moment. The three of them had resumed their friendship, but Hermione noticed that there was a certain reserve about Harry when he was around her; that he no longer seemed to be as forthcoming with her as he used to be. She had hurt his pride when she had turned him down, Hermione thought with some regret, and though he had forgiven her he had not forgotten. On Ron’s part he seemed to have gotten over his interest for her fairly quickly, though he occasionally cast a wistful-puppy look in her direction, for the crush he had had on her was of a span longer than Harry’s had been.
To the incomprehension of her friends, she went ahead and applied for the job of working as a gardener at the forest retreat in the holidays.
“As if you don’t get your hands dirty enough in Herbology!” Ron said in bewilderment.
“Why?” Harry said baldly.
“You just want to find yourself a rich wizard for yourself,” Lavender had said to Hermione slyly.
“What?” Harry and Ron had said in unison, Hermione glowering at her friend.
Lavender rolled her eyes and said in exaggerated patience to the boys, “St Morgana’s Forest Retreat isn’t just any old place to relax – a lot of witches go there in the hopes of meeting the rich and powerful who like holidaying there.”
Then Lavender sobered and glanced at Hermione. “I don’t like to say this, but I’ve heard the place is a bit snobby – they might turn you down because you’re… well, not a pureblood.”
Hermione stiffened at the word, and the boys looked daggers at Lavender.
“Gardening isn’t something that only purebloods can do,” Hermione said shortly. “I don’t think Draco would be able to weed a garden to save his life!”
However, one morning at breakfast time a large owl of snowy white countenance flew gracefully into the Great Hall, neatly dropping a rolled parchment beside Hermione’s plate of stewed apple before hooting softly and departing as quickly as it had come.
Curious, Hermione stopped eating and quickly opened the parchment. In graceful brown ink the message inside related that her application to work at St Morgana’s for most of the holidays had been accepted, and would she please report at the retreat at the date given? Bed, board and suitable work wear would be provided as well as her weekly pay. A Hallie Hesterwing signed the message.
“They don’t want you wearing your grungy student clothes there,” Lavender pointed out dryly. “You might ‘lower the tone’ ”.
Hermione did feel somewhat peeved at the thought that her clothes might not be considered suitable enough, even for gardening. But as she stared at the logo on the parchment of the wooden door wreathed by ivy, she felt a sense of excitement run through her and a vision of warm, newly-turned earth in a secret, sunlit garden filled her mind. Even though she was diligently applying herself to her studies, her body hungered for a break from books, a rest from revision. Even gardening was a rest in its way and tending to magical plants would not be boring!
Perhaps too she would find there a way to resolve the puzzle that was the way to reach past Professor Snape’s prickly defences to find the man who loved her, now that she would no longer be a student. A smile lifted the corners of her mouth and stayed there for most of the breakfast.
Severus noticed the air of happy anticipation about Hermione, which appeared to be connected to the parchment she had received, and his black eyes narrowed. A letter from a secret admirer… perhaps speaking of shared plans after graduation, a voice inside him was quick to whisper. As each school year drew to a close each year he would note with a cynical eye the seventh years discuss with animation their hopes and plans beyond Hogwarts, and now in Hermione’s face he could see anticipation already of a life beyond these walls, that in truth she had already started her journey to the world outside. A world that he would have no part in, that he did not care to, he sneered inwardly. But he could not help glancing her way occasionally, as if wanting to record her features in his mind for a future reference.
Albus, who saw much that others ignored, even when it was happening under their very eyes, sighed to himself. It seemed that Severus was still stubbornly refusing inside to admit he had deep feelings for young Hermione. While a refusal to make a romantic approach to a student by a teacher was as it should be under the school laws, a blind refusal to acknowledge that said student would soon be a legal adult witch, and make future plans accordingly, was just as wrong. If Albus read the undercurrents correctly, then young Hermione had yearnings and feelings for his sarcastic colleague in return, but no doubt Severus refused to see that as well. He was a stubborn wizard, burdened by his past and refusing to look towards the future.
Then Albus smiled to himself as he considered the parchment that young Hermione had received – he knew where the owl had come from and the requirement for certain holiday jobs.
What Severus needed was a good holiday as much as the students, the headmaster thought with satisfaction. There was a twinkle in his eye as he mused on how the wizards at St Morgana’s advocated a regime of healthy eating and oh yes, regular exercise, he thought as he considered his colleagues sallow, avoid-the-outdoors-where-possible complexion.
Yes, Albus decided, Severus was in need of a break. If he played his cards right, then all would end happily…
* * * * *
Feeling as though she had been wrung dry, Hermione almost mechanically forced herself to eat the food at the Leaving Feast. It had taken near all her knowledge and determination to get through the final exams, and even now she was unsure whether she had done well or not. Of course you have, part of her mind informed her. If you haven’t graduated top of your year then you might as well eat the Sorting Hat.
No you haven’t, another part of her mind said snarkily. Even in exams you could be still distracted by thoughts of your precious Potions Master. Forget it, if you turned up at his door wrapped in a bow he would sneer and call you a silly girl. Forget him, once and for all.
As Hermione picked at her food and the headmaster droned on in his speech to the seventh-years - outstanding students blah-blah… wonderful life ahead blah-blah… world is your oyster blah-blah… she was aware of her fellow friends and classmates sitting in their own exhausted, slightly wild-eyed states of being. Already some of the bolder students were murmuring as to what *they* were going to do with their uniforms once they no longer had to wear them.
The Potions master had curtly excused himself early from the Leaving Feast; the way he held his back as he left the hall without a backward glance indicating that he was glad to see the lot of them go and he had better things to do.
“Good riddance,” Harry had said with a snort.
“You bet,” Ron had sighed.
She couldn’t say goodbye to Professor Snape, Hermione thought. She wouldn’t know how to without making a fool of herself.
In the privacy of his dungeons Severus regarded a bottle of fine Ogden’s Firewhisky with a dark stare. He knew that this day would come and the way to deal with it… he would not be seeing Hermione Granger again. Oh, their paths might cross but as strangers in a street, her glance only registering him for a moment as a professor she had to endure at school long ago.
For him there would be only the emptiness he had grown used to.