A/N: I wish the characters were mine, but they're not. I'm just playing with them. Any mistakes are mine, and I apologize.
Hermione Granger believed that planning was integral to a successful life. She planned everything, especially now that Voldemort was defeated and life could finally be planned instead of being interrupted at regular intervals with deadly peril. She had planned to return to Hogwarts to complete her education and become a true adult in the wizarding world. She planned to apprentice in Charms and return to Hogwarts once her apprenticeship was over. She knew exactly where her life was going thanks to her planning.
As for her personal life, she had been planning that for a long time. She had developed a crush on Severus Snape after the Final Battle when she had helped nurse him back to health after Nagini's near fatal bite. The crush was further cemented as she helped him with brewing as he recovered from the physical aftereffects of his wound. She loved his ascerbic wit, especially when it was not directed at her, and they had come to be friends of a sort. He helped her restore her parents' memories, and she fell even harder for him. They had both returned to Hogwarts, he to teach and she for her final year, and now that graduation was complete and she was free, she planned to make her intentions known tonight at the ball.
She reviewed her plan as she finished putting on the last touches of makeup, knowing that she would look smashing when he saw her at the ball. She would saunter up to him at the punch bowl, engage in small talk, ask him to dance, and while they were on the dance floor, ask him to get to know her as more than a student and his lab assistant. They had worked together in harmony, engaging in lively debates, and even laughing together. Surely he would see how good they could be together.
Plan B, of course, was to simply corner him in the gardens outside and snog him until he couldn't see straight, which would hopefully lead to fantastic, sex-god shagging against a dungeon wall.
She carefully adjusted a hairpin into her artfully constructed hairdo, pulling out a couple of curling tendrils to frame her face. Her makeup was minimal, but it accentuated the deep chocolate brown of her eyes and the thickness of her lashes. She noted with satisfaction that the cut of her green silk robes emphasized the swell of her breasts without revealing too much and made her waist look incredibly tiny. She was tired of being the mousy bookworm, the sexless brain. She knew she looked sexy, smart and sophisticated, and it made her heart sing.
A swift knock sounded on the door to the Head Girl's room, and Ginny Weasley poked her head in. "Come on, Hermione! The ball is starting."
"I'll be right there," Hermione called, smoothing her robes once last time and slipping on silver heeled sandals.
She descended the stairs carefully, the hem of her robes swirling fluidly around her ankles.
Harry Potter shook his head as she walked in. "Who thought you would ever be a house traitor, 'Mione? Green and silver, really?"
She batted him on the arm playfully. "I look gorgeous, and you know it. "
They walked into the ballroom, and she made the rounds, thanking her teachers, speaking with the other graduates, visiting with her friends, and making promises to keep in touch. She danced twice with Ron, but her eyes continually scanned the room, eagerly waiting for Severus to arrive so she could put her plan into action.
"Oh, look. Snape finally decided to show, and he's got…a date?" the incredulity in Harry's voice caused her to look up. Indeed, Severus Snape had entered, escorting an obviously pregnant woman, whom he helped gingerly into a seat next to Minerva.
Hermione's heart dropped as she saw what the others had failed to note. Severus and the woman were wearing matching wedding bands. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and stamp her feet and demand to know why this woman had gotten to Severus before she could have her chance, to demand to know what this woman had that she did not.
She excused herself, saying she needed some air and declining any company, slipped out back to the gardens before she made a fool of herself. She stared up at the moon. She wanted to cry so badly, but the tears wouldn't come. Why couldn't he have waited for her to finish the year, to finish growing up?
A black velvet voice startled her out of her reverie. "Something amiss, Miss Granger?"
She turned and took in the sight of her professor leaning against a column nearby. The gold band on his hand glinted in the moonlight, a pointed reminder of what she would never be able to have.
"I just needed some air, sir," she replied, barely managing to keep her voice steady.
"Please return to the ballroom soon. Students shouldn’t be in the gardens during the festivities." He turned to go back inside, but Hermione couldn't help but touch his arm to stop him.
"You're married." It wasn't so much a question as a statement.
His eyebrow arched as he studiously searched her face. "Yes."
Hermione's breath hitched, and she steadied herself before replying. "I had no idea, sir. Congratulations." She turned her head away and sat back down on the stone bench, willing the tears that had finally come not to fall in front of him.
"I expect to see you inside in five minutes."
She nodded. "Yes."
Once she was sure he was gone, she began to sob uncontrollably. She had never thought about a girlfriend, much less a wife, and she felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her chest. Girlfriend, wife; that was supposed to have been her now that graduation was over. He was supposed to have waited for her. She had dreamed of it so long, planned her every move. It just wasn't fair! The sobs began to subside, and instead, she felt the desire to scream in anguish, rage, and frustration.
A hand landed gently on her shoulder, surprising her, and a handkerchief was thrust into her hand. She dabbed her eyes and look up to see Snape standing in front of her.
"Miss Granger," he said stiffly. "Whatever it is, you will recover."
Before she could stop herself, she blurted, "Even if it's you?"
He narrowed his eyes at her and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you mean?"
"Will I ever recover from you?" she asked again, then shook her head and stood up. "Don't mind me, sir. I'll head back inside now."
A dawning look of understanding came over his face, and he took her gently by the shoulders. "Miss Granger…Hermione, please."
She turned her face away from him, not wanting to see the look of pity that she knew was in his eyes. "We could have been happy together," she murmured bitterly, "but she got you first."
"Yes, she did." He paused and hesitantly began again. "I'm sorry, Hermione, but love surprises you when it comes. I wasn't expecting to fall for her, nor her to fall for me. We met shortly before the school year began and married during the Christmas holidays. The baby was just a happy surprise."
Hermione nodded, idly picking at a thread on her gown. "I understand," she said resignedly. "I just wish…"
"Hermione, look at me," he said, and she slowly looked up and met his eyes. There was no pity there as she had thought, but compassion. "You have been my friend, and I care for you very much. You are a beautiful, talented, amazing witch with such a bright future ahead of you, and I want to see you flourish and come into your own. You deserve more than an old man who has spent over half his life in darkness. You will find someone worthy of you, someone who will complete you."
It took all her strength, but she knew that she had to do what was right and push her emotions aside for now. "Thank you," she said quietly. "Friends care for one another, and if you are happy, that's all I need to know."
"I am happier than I have ever been before," he answered honestly. "She loves me unconditionally."
Hermione touched his shoulder and reached up to press a kiss to his cheek. "You deserve happiness, Severus, and a good life. Congratulations." She started to go, but then squeezed his hand. "Please remember I will always be there for you when you need a friend. Always."
She left him there in the garden and returned to the ball, throwing herself into the dancing and fun, steadfastly ignoring the shattering of her heart and the grief that threatened to bring her to her knees. Tomorrow she would arrive home and could nurse her sorrow in private. She lifted her chin and gave her dance partner a smile. Yes, she could fake it until tomorrow.