"Kiss me, please?"
It was a softly spoken request, almost a command if it hadn't been for the longing, hopeful expression in her eyes.
He had told her no already, or at least, he had voiced all the reasons why he should tell her no. But looking at her now he realised that he couldn't refuse her. He simply didn't have the strength to. And, if he was honest with himself, he didn't have the willpower, either.
He reached out, brushing his fingers against her cheek before cradling her face in his hand. "If you so wish..." he murmured, leaning closer. Her breathing stopped, and he could feel her erratic heartbeat in her chest when his mouth ever so slowly descended to meet hers.
Hermione had often imagined how it would be kissing the stern, unapproachable and intimidating Potions master. It was a fantasy she had found fascinatingly difficult to indulge in. Maybe because kissing incorporated everything Snape did not stand for: human contact, emotions and warmth. It was difficult to associate him with feelings other than anger, impatience or scorn. Which is why she had often imagined that his lips, which she had often seen pressed into a thin line, a scowl or a sneer, would to be just like that: hard and unforgiving, punishing even, leaving her lips bruised as punishment for daring to invade his personal space.
If he could ever be tempted into kissing her, so she had imagined, he would not hesitate to take whatever pleasure he could gain from what was offered. His kiss would be demanding and uncompromising, more about taking than giving. And just as he radiated power and commanded obedience in every other situation and in everybody, he'd exert control and dominance over her and make her bend to his will. Strangely enough, she didn't mind that at all, but found the idea oddly exciting.
On the other hand, Snape had always seemed a bit incompetent when it came to relationships and basic human interactions. He didn't even do small talk, he never danced at any of the Hogwarts festivities, and he surely had never been seen flirting. It seemed unlikely that he had a vast dating history, but, despite everybody else's unfriendly guesses, Hermione thought it equally unlikely that he was completely inexperienced. A bit out of practice, possibly. So it might well be that his kiss would be a bit awkward at first, with clanking teeth, bumping noses and clumsy attempts to find the right angle. She hadn't dwelled on that possibility very much, as she was insecure enough herself and felt that at least one of those involved should feel competent and knowledgeable about what they were doing. But, admittedly, the idea of discovering a more human, vulnerable side of the most feared professor was strangely endearing, too.
Still, she found that scenario highly unlikely. Though he wasn't classically handsome, he definitely had that dark allure that women probably found challenging. The question was whether his experience had ever involved anything beyond carnal pleasures. The latter was surely easy to find for a man. As a Death Eater, so she had thought, he even might have been forced to participate in all sorts of depravities. But even when she had heard the rumours about rapes and revels, she hadn't been able to imagine that Snape had voluntarily taken part in those vile acts. He could be cruel, no doubt, but no matter how angry or hateful, he had never raised his hand against a student or caused any of them physical harm. Although he did seem to perfidiously enjoy causing discomfort and sometimes humiliation, she was convinced that he didn't take pleasure in someone else's pain.
He did have passion, of that she had never harboured any doubt. Every student who had ever faced an angry Professor Snape could tell that the man was capable of very powerful emotions. In those moments, they could be seen flashing in his eyes. Yet, depending on what women he had associated with, she could well imagine that he knew all about lust, but nothing about love. If that was the case, his kiss would be wanton and passionate, as dark and intense as the man himself. Just as likely he'd have no inhibitions and would know no restraint; he'd take her breath away, set all nerves afire and leave her body burning with need.
Yet in all her fantasies of touching him and being touched by him, she had never imagined that it would be like this... that his arms would enclose her so protectively, that his touch would feel so warm and that his kiss would be so gentle.
At first, it was just his lips moving against hers, flesh on flesh in a soft caress. The almost chaste gesture was enough to bring a sudden rush of warmth all over her body and cause her heart to skip a beat. Then, his tongue brushed ever so lightly against her lips, as if painting her mouth, outlining it, bringing it alive and filling it with warmth and colour. His kiss was undemanding and presumed nothing, and yet it made her open her mouth to him and silently plead for further exploration.
He accepted the invitation, and Hermione learned what it was truly like to be kissed by the Potions master. He handled her like he would handle his most delicate and volatile potions: With utmost care and patience, with all due respect and yet with competence and confidence. He was mindful of every detail, payed utmost attention to her slightest reaction, but trusted his instincts enough to allow room for experimentation. And just like with his brewing, he knew exactly how much to add, how long to stir and when to let simmer, and was careful not to put too much heat or pressure, or to be too hasty lest it would ruin the outcome. Potion making clearly was not the only fine and subtle art he had mastered.
Embraced in his arms, enveloped in a scent of sandalwood and spices, and completely overwhelmed with sensations, she felt her head spinning and her legs weakening. Had he not held her firmly against him, she surely would have melted to the floor.
The caresses of his hands, the warmth of his body, the taste of his mouth it evoked feelings in her that her fumbles with Ron had never brought forth. Passion. Desire. The wish she could melt into him and never be apart again. If this was what all the fuss was about, she almost considered her time in the library utterly wasted. Never, ever had she felt anything like this.
Eventually, he gently withdrew his lips from hers, his face lingering close for a moment longer. She remained completely still in his arms, afraid that the tiniest movement would break the spell she was still under.
"Breathe, Hermione," he reminded her with a soft chuckle, noticing that her hands were clutching the soft wool of his robes as if she feared he might run away if she let go. Yes, the urge was there, the need to reestablish distance, to quickly retreat back behind the safety of his walls, to be untouchable again. But stronger than that was the surge of elation, pleasure and pure bliss, that made him reluctant to release her from his grasp. Sweet Nimue... he surely hadn't expected that. Clearly, neither had she.
"Wow..." she finally muttered in wonder, feeling as if she had just come to after losing consciousness.
"Yes," he said drily. "That most adequately sums it all up." He found himself utterly at a loss for words. Why now, twenty years too late? Why she, of all people such a young witch, his student? A bloody Gryffindor, Harry Potter's best friend? Was he so starved for human contact, for a gesture of affection and some compassion that it could so overwhelm him? How could such a mere slip of a girl inspire such a forceful reaction just with a simple kiss?
Though, if he was honest, there had been nothing simple about this kiss. Especially not about what had led to it and that was probably the heart of the matter. His heart. Somehow, she had managed to find and to touch it behind all the protections he had carefully built around it over the years.
Maybe he shouldn't be surprised. If he was honest, the assault had begun years ago. She had crawled under his skin without intent and without even taking notice. He had allowed her to believe that he had recognised himself in her when discussing her studiousness and her eagerness for knowledge. It was certainly true they had a lot in common but despite their mutual interest in books and learning, she had, more that that, always reminded him of Lily. Her beautiful mind, her brightness, the fierceness she displayed when fighting to right a perceived wrong... even her soft heart, her openness of mind and her compassion.
With the boy-who-looked-like-James and her, the girl who was like a re-incarnation of his sweet Lily, it was like ghosts from his past had come back to haunt him. At times, it had been almost unbearable.
And it hadn't even been much of a relief when he had, in later years, realised that her resemblance to Lily didn't run quite as deep as he had thought. Unlike Lily, Hermione wasn't an all popular girl; she didn't have any of Lily's playfulness, her flirtatiousness or her vanity. Instead, she possessed a deep sense of loyalty which Lily had never had.
Students often thought that their Potions professor never took notice of their private lives, given that he expressed so little interest in it. But he had always been a keen observer, something that came with being a spy. And he had seen her friends hurt her more than once over the years with their ignorance and their big mouths that often spilled words faster than their brains could exert damage control. And yet she had always graciously forgiven them. Hell, she had even forgiven Draco for calling her Mudblood and had come to a tentative truce with him after the war. And Draco had never been her friend, but the enemy.
Her capacity for forgiveness went beyond anything he'd ever seen or experienced. Had Hermione Granger been his friend and not Lily, she would have forgiven him for hurting her like he had hurt Lily. She would never have withdrawn her friendship.
And now, just with kindness, compassion and her incredible mind, she had somehow managed to peel apart all his carefully constructed layers of defences and had laid him bare before her eyes.
It scared him and thrilled him in equal measure. But whatever these strange feelings were that she had unknowingly unearthed, he couldn't allow himself to nourish them and see what might grow out of them.
He was her teacher, he was too old and too damaged for a young and innocent girl like her, physically and emotionally. And that was only the most apparent reason why he should never have acted the way he had; why he shouldn't have given in to a moment of weakness. They were opposites in every possible way he was tainted, she was pure, his soul was dark, hers was all light. He was a loner, a recluse, a pariah she was social, had friends and was well-liked.
And yet... while his mind insisted that it couldn't be and meticulously enumerated why what he had done and what he felt was all wrong, his heart, which had been silenced so long ago, was shouting in a most elated voice that finally something was perfectly right in his world.
"Now what?" Hermione helplessly asked when her power of thinking finally returned, and with it the hash reality of their situation.
She had just kissed and been kissed by a teacher. Not any teacher, but her stern and unapproachable Potions professor. And she had loved every second of it. God, she might even love him. How come she had never realised that before? It wasn't just a crush, hero's worship or mere admiration of a brilliant mind. She felt drawn to him. She could listen to him all day, she could look at him all day and study every move of his eyebrows to discern the feelings it might reveal. She wanted to stay in his arms which had felt so warm and right around her. She wanted to kiss him again. But he wouldn't let her. The rest of the world cared not about what felt right for them.
He sighed. "Now you go back to you dormitory, and we'll meet Monday in Potions class. I will deduct points for you being a know-it-all, and you will curse your most hated teacher under you breath..."
"Never! You can't expect me to behave as is nothing has changed... not after this!"
"Nothing has changed, Miss Granger," he said, distancing himself with his words and his body. His voice was gentle, though, and his eyes full of regret. "For the remainder of the school year, which surely will never have seemed as long, you will remain my student, and I will remain your professor. You will take your N.E.W.T.S probably all 'outstanding', except maybe for Potions..." She scowled at him, causing him to chuckle once more, "... and then once you have your graduation papers in hand you may seek me out in the dungeons again if you should still so wish."
She looked at him with an expression that was halfway between horrified and hopeful. "You want us to wait for another eight months before we explore whatever these feelings are that we both obviously felt quite strongly only a minute ago?"
"Oh, I think we both know exactly what those feelings are..." he answered, passing her a meaningful glance.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "I hope you're not trying to tell me that it was only lust..." she started, fearing that this might be a new excuse to distance himself, to play down what had happened. "Because if you are, I need to tell you that..."
"I'm not," he interrupted, not saying anything else, but the words were meaningful enough.
"Oh..." she murmured, taken by surprise by his subtle, but still clear enough confession. "But
you still want us to stay apart from each other for the remainder of the school year?"
"Yes. It has to be for both our sakes."
"I don't know if I'm that strong..."
"Then I will be strong for both of us," he said resolutely. "Hermione there is not much I am proud of. Will you take what little pride I still have left and make me defile the oath I took when becoming a teacher?"
She hung her head and slowly shook it. "No."
"Eight months is nothing. If anything, it's ample time for you to examine your feelings, to make experiences to kiss some boys, for Merlin's sake. To truly figure out what you want."
"I already know what I want," she said with utter conviction, raising her gaze to meet his again. "I couldn't be sure before, but I am now."
He sounded doubtful. "You're still so young..."
"In years, maybe," she shrugged, then smiled, albeit a bit sadly. "It doesn't matter. I understand your reasoning, and as I said before, I respect it. I know that eight months won't change a thing. Will you wait for me?"
"Wait for you?" He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. "I've been waiting for about twenty years for something like this to happen. Though truthfully, I haven't been waiting in a while I hadn't even dared to even hope that it could still happen. What do you think?"
Her smile turned a bit brighter with his reassurance. "Alright then, Severus," she said, purposefully using his name. She had the right to, just this once. "I'll see you again in the summer. You can bet on it."
For the second time this evening, she headed for the door, and once again, she briefly paused after opening it.
"Goodnight, Professor Snape, and thank you for everything."
"You're most welcome, Miss Granger," he answered, before the door fell shut behind her. "Goodnight to you, too."
Well, this is it - given that it's a chamber play, it has to end here, from where you can take this beginning of a romance to wherever you want it to go.
If you ask me, I doubt that Severus and Hermione manage to stay completely apart from each other for eight long months. She has been drawn to him for far too long, and he has been lonely for far too long to go entirely without her company.
So I suppose he will continue to call her a know-it-all in class, maybe even more often than he did before, but it will have a different, deeper meaning, one that all the other ignorant students couldn't possibly imagine, and it will carry a tender undertone that no one else will notice, either.
She will smile at him serenely not matter how snide his comments or how harsh his critique, because she will still see the truth of his feelings in his eyes, and because she has become very adept at reading the code of his brow movements by now. Only once in a while will she completely act out in class, so he can't help but give her detention for lack of respect towards a professor and for her cheek. (And because one of my kind reviewers was concerned about this: Please know that Hermione will be very respectfully disrespectful, and probably only if her professor was especially hard on one of his most abysmal students).
The first time it happens, Severus will make her scrub cauldrons for a little while after all, she did try to disrespect his decision to keep their distance and stay within their established bounds. But she will be given the good cleaning product to use, and he will discuss the latest articles in Potion's Weekly with her while she's working, among other things. He will also try to stay behind his desk and appear totally calm and collected.
Later detentions (or probably they will arrange for Hermione to take an advanced potions project instead, which will give them opportunity to spend some quality time) will see her sit at his desk and correct first-year homework essays with him, or find both of them amiably working side by side, taking stock of his potions ingredients and putting the shelves in order. Sometimes, she will be asked to assist him in brewing potions for the hospital wing, and that won't be under the guise of detention.
And always, she will be offered a cup of tea afterwards (no firewhisky, sorry), and he will transfigure the stiff wooden chair into a soft armchair. These evenings, scarce as they might be, are their highlights in those long months, which Hermione uses to study for her NEWTS as if there was nothing else in life. All the while, her friends have no idea that her life is safely tucked away in the dungeons, waiting for her.
I don't know if Hermione will be able to steal a kiss from him every once in a while. Maybe. But surely not in the hallways.
That will only happen much later, when she wears his ring on her finger and he finally feels that laughing out loud in public is totally acceptable, every once in a while.
A/N: Well, almost a year and an entire story later, I know exactly what happens in those eight months. Unable to let go of these two just yet, I got started on a sequel as soon as this story was finished. 'Getting the Best of the Gloomilows' is almost completed now, too. Depending on interest, I'll start posting it here in a little while. Thank you for reading, and thank you even more for leaving a comment!