Hermione asked Snape if he was comfortable as they walked up the familiar drive. Around them, there was laughter and loud chatter. Today was Lavender Weasley's children's birthday party and he was determined to be there, despite his…form.
Yes, he told her, his presence fluttering like gossamer wings against her mind. Since his birthday, celebrated only by a whisper of "Happy Birthday, Severus" when he fell asleep, they'd exercised the practice of Legilimency; Hermione quietly explaining it would be easier to communicate with him instead of guessing what he was trying to convey.
It was a stroke of genius, coming to her as she woke in the heat of her room and Snape pressed into her stomach, head resting comfortably on her soft, large breasts.
She studied the subject for days before coming to Snape about it, explaining quickly at his look of derision and lowering ears that it would be far easier to communicate with each other instead of trying to guess what he was saying. Reluctantly, he agreed.
I'm sorry about you being unable to attend in your human form. I told Ron about it so everyone knows you're—She began to explain.
Dear god, you did? His voice was much sharper than intended and she flinched at the feedback.
I'm sorry, she offered shyly, looking away quickly.
Don't be, he sighed.
She made to knock on the door but it swung open and she was engulfed in a very Weasley embrace, Fred and George ruffling her hair; Bill and Charlie greeting Snape cautiously; Percy was squished between Hermione and Ron, turning redder and redder.
Snape barked sharply. They'd bloody better keep their sweaty little hands hands to themselves or—
Or what? You'll growl them to death? So ferocious. She laughed at his flattened ears and snarling lips; the laughter, however, her laughter faded as his head whipped to the side, ears up and alert as his eyes locked on the edge of the Burrow.
"Oh, dear," chuckled Lucius Malfoy as he smirked at his friend; Snape growled and snapped his teeth.
"Come in, you lot!" yelled Molly over the cacophony of the den and, as Percy led the way in, Hermione saw Lucius lean down to speak with Snape. The Animagus bared his teeth in a surprisingly relaxed, playful manner.
The Brightest Witch of Her Age turned her back to the cold and headed in, feeling Snape pressing his shoulder into her calf the entire way.
A spastic Tonks and overly eager Pansy pulled her away from Snape, who seemed to be immersed deeply in a story of Lucius's, his head tilted back, eyes trained solely on his friend. "I see he's behaving rather…calmly," said the Auror, patting her leg as she picked up a Butterbeer spiked with Firewhiskey, squinting at it before sipping it.
"He has been for a while," Hermione admitted, taking a nonalcoholic Butterbeer and cracking it open. Fog spilled over the opening and floated over her fingers; condensation dampened her palm. "He's been quite docile since you blew his secret a year ago," she said to Pansy, taking a sip as Tonks hounded the Slytherin for more information.
"He was staying with you before?" Tonks asked and several heads turned their way; Pansy hissed suddenly and pressed a hand against the other girl's mouth, teeth bared.
"Be quiet, you idiot," the dark-haired girl snarled. "We don't need the entire damn place knowing."
Tonks, now red-faced, nodded, turning her attention to her now way more interesting drink but keeping her eyes on Hermione. "He was. I didn't know at the time that it was Severus."
Their heads cocked, reminding her of freakish twins, one pink-haired, and the other dark-haired. "Well, yes, that is his name," Hermione explained slowly, dragging her finger across her lip as she let her eyes wander in Snape's direction. He was still listening to Lucius.
As if sensing her, his head turned, eyes locking with hers. Cheeks aflame, the witch turned her attention to Lavender, glowing with pride as Ron wound his arm around her plump, wide waist, one hand resting on her protruding belly; another Weasley on the way, no doubt.
Fred and George were setting up lines of Weasleys' Wildfire Whiz-Bangs and Miraculous Mystic Mayhem Makers in the grass, alternating between the two. Angelina spotted Pansy and made a beeline for them; Tonks was pulled away by Lupin, who was eager to include her in a conversation with Arthur about something.
Suddenly, Hermione found herself alone, standing awkwardly, watching her friends split off in different directions, leaving her by herself. She felt small and insecure and twisted strands around her fingers; all over again, it was third year, being ignored by her only friends for reporting the Firebolt to Minerva, worried about Sirius Black trying to hurt Harry.
She bit her lip and slipped off to be by herself, heading to an alcove of dark, shadowed trees and bushes of foxglove and mint and peppermint. Hermione could spot Belladonna and Fluxweed. Dogwoods, Elms, and Chestnut trees shrouded her. She watched everyone converse, completely relaxed and easily speaking to one another and felt a little familiar dark loneliness blossom in her throat.
She sighed heavily and searched in her skirt's pockets, trying to find her journal to take note of the plants surrounding her. If only plants were people she could really relate to. Using a well-gnawed pencil to write down in loopy scrawl, she wrote:
'Foxglove, mint, peppermint, Fluxweed and Belladonna bushes-used for potions, stabilizer.
Elms, Chestnut and Dogwood trees- used for potions as well, normally in bases.'
I see you've found plants. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were studying to be a herbologist.
She jolted from her note-trance and fell off the bench she'd been sitting on, flinching. "Merlin," she gasped out, trying to catch her breath as Severus peered at her.
I didn't mean to startle you. He sounded amused.
"Of course you didn't, Mr. Stealthy," Hermione drawled, brushing off her skirt as she crawled to her feet. He backed up and sat down at the opening in the shrubbery.
It was someone in the distance, a backdrop of yellow illuminating the bright red hair. She squinted and realized it was Ginny, holding James in her arms and Lily clinging to her mother's leg. "Come on!" She was smiling widely as Harry appeared, waving to Hermione.
Snape butted her leg and Hermione grinned, pocketing her journal as she made her way to Ginny. He trotted leisurely at her side.
You're never alone. His voice was calm and sure, a deep timbre.
I have you. Her hands, shaking, were hidden in the depths of her dark-blue jeans.
He turned away as the Weasley Wizard Wheezes explosives shot off, loud and burning bright in the darkening sky. They soared like a rocket, bright and dazzling, and then fizzled out, only to be replaced by a dragon--Umbridge's face attached to a French bulldog (that got everyone to laugh, even Harry as he rubbed his hand), and then it was the Gryffindor lion, roaring mightily.
Gryffindors, Snape sniffed and Hermione, on an impulse, let out her own sparks, adding a miniature snake entwined within the lion's mane. Everyone clapped even louder; Harry whistled loud enough to blow eardrums.
Impressive, the Slytherin beside her admitted begrudgingly, for a Gryffindor.