Halloween at Hogwarts
The dungeon chamber, which hadn’t changed in the slightest since she was eleven years old, had been transformed. The desks were gone and the room was draped in shadows and thick cobwebs. The only lighting came from a large candelabrum on a tall stand in the middle of the space, the candles themselves dripping inky black wax. An incredibly realistic looking coffin stood in the background, made of dark wood and propped open to reveal a velvet lining the deep red color of blood. Most jarring of all, though, standing beside the gothic candles, was the Potions Master in full vampire regalia.
Hermione blinked several times in quick succession, trying to make sense of the sight before her. Severus Snape, hater of frivolity and murderer of all things fun, had dressed up for Halloween. He wore black trousers and a black satin vest, a white poet blouse with lace frills at the neck and cuffs, and a black cape with a high collar and shiny emerald lining. A large gold and ruby encrusted medallion was fastened over his throat. His dark hair, which had always hung in a limp curtain around his face, was slicked back and tied at the nape of his neck, emphasizing an exaggerated widow’s peak. Being naturally pale, his skin fit the costume without alteration but he was sporting a highly noticeable set of fangs.
All she could do was gape and it seemed that the children were experiencing a similar problem. A full minute passed before anyone said anything. Once the silence was broken, however, everyone began to talk at once, praising their Potions professor for his ‘wicked’ costume and decorations. Snape didn’t reply but gave each of the students what looked like a blood-flavored lollipop from Honeydukes when they supplied the appropriate entreaty of “trick-or-treat.” As she watched the proceedings, Hermione idly wondered what had happened to the Muggle candy that she had given him but appreciated the swap to a sweet that was more ‘in character’. This whole thing was really just baffling.
Once the students had collected their candy and thanked Snape, they filed out of the classroom, chatting loudly about going back to their common rooms and showing off their bounty from the evening. Hermione didn’t move to follow them. Her job was done for the evening and there was no way that she was going to leave the dungeons without finding out what on earth had gotten into the normally stodgy Potions Master.
Snape glanced at her as soon as the room had cleared out. “Was that the last of them?” he asked, his speech noticeably impaired by the enlarged canine teeth flanking his tongue.
She nodded and he pulled his wand from his sleeve. He pointed it at himself and set his teeth back to their normal, slightly crooked state. He stretched his jaw in obvious relief. “You would not believe how uncomfortable those were,” he remarked, massaging the sides of his face with his hand. “And I couldn’t talk without a pronounced lisp so I haven’t said a word in three hours. Luckily, reputation precedes me and no one thought that my silence was out of the ordinary.”
Despite herself, Hermione chuckled. She had never heard the wizard make a joke in her entire life, let alone one at his own expense. She stepped closer to him. “I can’t believe you dressed up.”
He gave her a curious look. “I thought that it was part of the arrangement. Didn’t everyone? You certainly did.” His dark eyes unabashedly traveled the length of her before returning to hers. A smirk played on his thin lips.
“Yes,” she replied, feeling oddly unsettled by his appraisal. If her face wasn’t currently charmed green, it would surely be red right now. “Everyone but the ghosts, though some of them cheated. Still, I didn’t expect you to.”
“Cheated?” he asked, ignoring her inflection. He looked away on the pretense of setting the classroom to rights. He had transfigured the casket from his desk and the elaborate candelabrum from his lectern. She watched as he returned the furniture back to its original state. For someone who disliked ‘foolish wand-waving’, it was an impressive show of magic.
“Sybill’s costume was supposedly a gypsy fortune-teller, but it was literally the outfit that she wore to breakfast this morning.” He snorted while clearing away the conjured cobwebs. “And Minerva just sat at the bottom of her office steps in her Animagus form.”
Snape glanced over his shoulder at her, as if trying to determine if she was joking or not. “Definitely cheating,” he agreed, turning away again.
Hermione watched as he removed a cloaking charm from the corner of the classroom, revealing a stack of tables and chairs. Clever. She propped her broom against the wall and went to help him levitate the desks back into place. “You should’ve seen Hagrid,” she continued, realizing as she did so that this was possibly the longest conversation that she had ever held with the taciturn man. “I’m not sure that he completely understood when I told him that he could wear a costume if he wanted. He put his hair up in bunches and wore a flowery dress that probably began its life as a marquee.”
He glanced questioningly at her again and then shocked her by laughing out loud; a rich sound that she was positive had never graced these four walls before. She swallowed reflexively, thinking that he should laugh more often. It was quite becoming.
With a few more flicks of their wands, they finished setting the potions classroom to rights. Hermione turned to grin at the wizard who had so surprised her that evening. “I’m fairly sure that you won, though. I don’t think that they will ever forget your costume. What made you decide to go with a vampire?”
He gave her his patented blank look. “Surely you remember your time here, Miss Granger. There have been rumors circulating for decades that I am among the undead.” He held his palms out in supplication. “I simply gave them what they wanted.”
Her grin grew. “It was perfect.”
He tipped his head curtly in acceptance of her praise then seemed to focus on her features more intently than normal. He suddenly raised his wand and pointed it at her, causing her to go slightly cross-eyed. Oddly enough, though, she felt no fear. She still trusted him, it seemed, all these years later.
“May I?” he asked, gesturing at her face.
Hermione blinked once and then again before realizing what he was asking. She let out a little nervous bubble of laughter and nodded. He waved his wand and she could feel the magic that had been buzzing around her all evening fade away, restoring her appearance to its usual self. A brown curl fell over her forehead and she pushed it back. “That feels better,” she sighed. “Thank you.”
“Those warts were distracting,” he replied with an odd glint in his eye. Was that amusement? He turned away from her again and strode over to his desk. He bent down to rummage through one of the drawers.
“Well,” Hermione said, suddenly feeling like she had overstayed her welcome, “thanks again for being such a good sport. I’ll let you get back to the rest of your evening.” She grabbed her borrowed broom and made to leave.
Snape looked up from whatever it was that he was doing and arrested her with his penetrating gaze. “Actually, I was hoping to redeem that favor.”
He stood to his full height. “You said earlier that if I participated in your Halloween endeavor then you would owe me. I held up my end of the bargain, did I not?” His brow rose in question.
“Uh, yes, you certainly did.” She was leery as to what she might be getting herself into, but he had gone above and beyond to help her. “What did you have in mind?”
He opened another drawer and the corner of his mouth lifted in the semblance of a smile. He pulled out a dusty bottle of dark liquid and held it up for her to see. “We’re going to get pissed.”
Her eyes widened to near-comic proportions. “Excuse me?”
“You’re beginning to sound like a broken record, Miss Granger.”
How the hell was she supposed to react? She had known this man since she was eleven years old and though she was far from a child now, he had never been even remotely pleasant to her. How was she to believe that the antisocial wizard suddenly wanted her to drink with him? She didn’t know how to respond, even if she could convince her vocal chords to work properly.
He drew a frustrated breath through his considerable nostrils. “Your little teaching exercise tonight forestalled my standing Halloween plans.”
Curiosity loosened her tongue. “You have standing plans on Halloween?” This conversation was becoming more bizarre by the moment.
“For the past twenty-seven years,” he replied with what appeared to be a carefully neutral expression.
Her forehead creased into deep furrows of confusion. “To get pissed?”
He stared at her blankly for several heartbeats, apparently debating with himself about how much to divulge, before his dark eyes slid to the wall to her left. “A friend of mine was killed on Halloween.” His pale cheeks flushed noticeably as she watched. “Every year since that fateful night, I have gotten very drunk on the anniversary. It is a tradition that I do not intend on breaking.”
Hermione’s mind whirled as she did the math, trying to deduce who he was talking about without asking outright. She was shocked that he had said as much as he had and didn’t want to push her luck. The answer came to her like a lightning bolt to the gut — Harry’s mum.
Lily Potter had been murdered by Voldemort, along with James Potter, on Halloween night the year after Harry had been born. It was common knowledge, though now half-forgotten, that Snape had once been deeply in love with Lily and had assuaged his guilt over her death and his grief by defying the Dark Lord right beneath the villain's nonexistent nose.
Hermione had first been made privy to the theretofore secret the day after the final battle. Shortly after Voldemort had been defeated, Harry had demanded that Snape’s body be collected from the Shrieking Shack and placed with Remus, Tonks, Fred, and all the others that had been lost. Neville and Dean had taken up the task without question and Madam Pomfrey had performed a basic medical assessment spell over her former colleague when his remains had been carried into the Great Hall. Imagine her shock, after performing the same magic on dozens of victims to no avail, when the spell came back showing a faint heartbeat and a feeble but nonetheless present spark of magic. Against all odds, Severus Snape had been alive, though just barely.
The former spy had been immediately Flooed to St. Mungo’s with strict orders from both Harry and the acting Minister for Magic that he was not to be harmed or questioned and that the only people outside of themselves that were allowed to see him were the healers assigned to treat him.
In light of him being miraculously and unexpectedly alive, Harry wasn’t sure what to do about the memories that Snape had bequeathed him. He had known that the private man would not wish for his personal recollections to be bandied about, but he also knew that they were the only evidence of his innocence. Harry had finally decided to share the memories with Hermione, in order to garner her advice on the matter, and Kingsley, to assure that Snape wasn’t unduly thrown into Azkaban the moment that he was conscious.
Despite Harry and Kingsley’s best efforts though, the former Death Eater was charged with killing his predecessor just days after the final battle. The Pensieve memories had been seized by the Wizengamot for the trial — one that she and Harry had dutifully attended for its entire two week duration — and had subsequently been released to the public. Rita Skeeter had even written one of her horrid books about it all. It had been a real mess and Snape had disappeared from wizarding society once he was acquitted. When Hogwarts reopened, though, he simply returned to his teaching post as if nothing untoward had transpired.
Though she was sure that she had guessed the correct reason behind the wizard’s proposed indulgence tonight, Hermione was still confused by his request. “And you want me to join you?”
Snape gave her a slight shrug — a gesture so vastly out of character with the man she thought she knew that it made her wonder if it was possible for him to be a Polyjuiced imposter.
“You’re not obligated, of course,” he replied somewhat coolly when she didn’t immediately respond.
“No, I’d be happy to,” she said quickly, acting on gut instinct because logic was failing her at the moment. “You just caught me off-guard.”
“Shall we then?” he asked, striding swiftly towards the door without waiting for a response.
Hermione picked up her broom again and followed after the wizard, a bit dumbstruck by the rapid turn of events. He led her out of the classroom, down the torch-lit dungeon corridor, through his office, and into his private sitting room without a single word. Upon reaching their intended destination, he excused himself to change out of his costume, which she learned he had actually purchased earlier that day by owl order instead of risking his own clothing to Transfiguration. When he disappeared into his bedroom, she looked around the space eagerly.
She had visited several of the other teachers’ quarters since returning to the castle but had never expected to be invited into these. When she was a student, there had been loads of rumors about this place, like that it was perpetually dark like a cave, that it was full of potions ingredients too vile and smelly to be kept in his office, or that the inhabitant slept hanging upside down from his ankles like a bat instead of in a bed.
In reality, Snape’s sitting room wasn’t much different from her own. Being in the dungeons, there weren’t any windows but the space didn’t feel oppressive from the lack of natural light. It was warm and cozy and homier than she would’ve imagined given its owner’s disposition. Like her own study, the walls were lined with overloaded bookshelves and her fingers itched to explore his collection.
With a furtive glance at the closed door across the room, she left her broomstick in the corner and strode to the nearest set of shelves. Her inner bookworm immediately recognized the value of the library. Some of these tomes were worth more than six months rent on her former flat! He not only had some increasingly rare volumes, but a good number of them would likely be considered dark and dangerous, much like their owner. It was as if he had his own personal Restricted Section tucked away in the belly of the castle.
Just as she made to pull an intriguing title from the shelf to inspect it closer, the bedroom door creaked open and Snape strode out. She peered at him over her shoulder, her fingers still outstretched, feeling very much like the proverbial doe in wandlight. It didn’t help that he was formally dressed once again, black frock coat, cravat, and all.
He stopped mid-stride when he spotted her and raised one elegant brow. “Making yourself at home?”
She swallowed and had to mentally remind herself that she was an adult and not an errant child about to be assigned detention. She forced out a small chuckle. “I was just admiring your library. It’s quite impressive.”
“I know,” he replied, gesturing towards the pair of wingback chairs that sat facing the fire. “I have been amassing this collection for longer than you’ve been alive. And I will know who to address should any of them go missing.” His last statement was issued in a warning tone as she passed beneath his watchful gaze.
She grinned at his good-natured teasing — more highly out of character behavior — and took a seat where he indicated. He handed her a crystal tumbler and she dutifully held it aloft while he poured from the bottle in his grasp. She tried her best not to scrunch up her nose as the strong odor of alcohol filled her senses. She had never been a fan of Firewhiskey.
“This is much better than any Firewhiskey that you may have had in the past,” he assured her. She obviously hadn’t succeeded in hiding her distaste. “It’s a special reserve label. Ridiculously expensive and a yearly start of term gift from Draco Malfoy.” He served himself a few fingers.
“I haven’t seen Draco in ages. How is he?” The question was equal parts curiosity and an attempt to be polite.
Snape sat the bottle on the side table between them and took his seat. “He is well, I believe. Married with a blond scion of his own. His lingering guilt over his past misdeeds is enough for him to send me this annual token but not burden me with his tiresome brownnosing. A most satisfactory arrangement for all involved.”
Hermione bit back a laugh. Harry would kill for the chance to hear their former professor speaking in such a manner about Malfoy, whom he still strongly disliked. She raised her glass instead. “Sounds like as good of a first toast as any. To free booze and assuaged guilt?”
He smirked and reached over to lightly clink his glass with hers. They both downed the dark liquid, Hermione more tentatively than Snape. He had been partially correct. It was more palatable than the magical whiskey she had imbibed before, but it still burnt like Hades going down. She just barely managed not to sputter.
“And what of you, Miss Granger? Most of your generation seems to be paired off and beginning to spawn, and yet your name has not been changed to Weasley nor have I seen cases of nappies arriving by owl post.” He refilled both their tumblers. “What has become of your long term ginger-haired paramour?”
Hermione snorted loudly. Was Severus Snape actually asking after her love life? Insane. “No babies for me,” she managed to reply. “No ginger paramours either. Cause and effect, as a matter of fact.”
He turned in his seat so that his gaze fell on her, that damnable eyebrow quirked upward in question. “By choice or design?”
“The babies or Ron?”
“The babies,” he replied, the word sounding foreign in his deep baritone.
She swirled the brandy in her hand. “Choice. Never really fancied myself a mum. I love all my godchildren dearly but I’ve yet to desire any of my own. Ron wanted several and I guess he felt like time was running out.” She shrugged indifferently. She and Ron’s relationship had had a myriad of issues; children had only been the final catalyst that broke them up. Honestly, it had been a relief.
There was a momentary lapse in the conversation as he processed her words. Eventually he raised his glass in her direction. “Then let’s drink to being ginger-paramour-less, shall we?”
Hermione grinned and met his tumbler with her own before downing the fiery beverage. It went down far smoother than the first shot had and warmed a path all the way down to her toes. She glanced over at the wizard who had turned back to the crackling fire. He was somewhat striking in silhouette, all planes and dark angles.
“So you just get drunk every Halloween in remembrance then?” she asked, not being able to resist from poking the obvious white elephant. This was all so strange.
“Yes,” he replied, not meeting her gaze. He shifted slightly in his chair. “Though it’s more out of habit at this point than anything. It’s the only time that I indulge.”
“Harry commemorates the anniversary, too,” she confessed even though it wasn’t necessarily a secret. “After the war he started visiting his parents’ graves in Godric’s Hollow every year. He and Ginny take the kids now so that they can know about their paternal grandparents. I think they take flowers and such.”
Another slightly awkward moment of silence passed.
“It is bizarre to think of Lily as a grandmother,” he said quietly. “But I’m glad that Potter pays her tribute. She deserved as much.”
Hermione was temporarily struck dumb, unsure how to respond to such a sensitive subject without crossing any boundaries. Instead, she decided to hold out her glass to him. When he looked at her in question, she smiled tentatively. “Seeing as her memory is the reason for tonight’s little celebration, it only seems fitting that we drink a toast to her.” She waited until he lifted his own glass before continuing. Not having personally known the woman, she had to go with what felt natural. “To Lily Potter, a hero, a remarkable mother… and an unforgettable friend.”
“To Lily,” he intoned, clinking their cups together before downing his shot in a hasty gulp.
Hermione smacked her lips after swallowing her own glassful. She was beginning to feel quite toasty and her inhibitions were obviously starting to blur. After such a long day, it felt nice to unwind a bit, even in such unexpected company.
“So do you tend to invite the newest teacher to join you each year?” she asked offhandedly. “Or simply ones that you feel owe you a favor?” She reached for the bottle of Firewhiskey and poured herself two fingers before replenishing his tumbler as well.
He leveled his gaze on her. It didn’t seem to be quite as intimidating as it usually was. “You were the one that offered recompense, Miss Granger,” he replied, a slightly amused tone of admonishment in his voice as he glanced away again. “In truth, the only other person to join me has long since been deceased himself. During his time, Albus didn’t abide me being maudlin alone.”
“Hermione,” she corrected, unsure why her name was the only part of his comment that struck a nerve.
He turned to her again and it was his turn to ask for clarification.
“Please call me Hermione,” she requested. “‘Miss Granger’ makes me feel like a child being reprimanded.”
“You are a child,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Though you don’t seem to need near as much reprimand as you once did.”
She scowled. “I just turned thirty, Severus. I’m hardly a kid any longer.”
His gaze seemed to lose focus for a moment before he replied, as if he was mentally calculating her claim. “You were my student. I will likely always think of you as such.”
“That’s ridiculous. You’ve taught hundreds of witches and wizards over the years. You can’t possibly still consider them all children.”
“For the most part, yes, I do. It’s a hazard of being a professor in a boarding school,” he said with another nearly invisible shrug. “You’ll see one day.”
Hermione juggled her glass in order to push the long sleeves of her transfigured dress up past her elbows. “Minerva taught here when you were a student, didn’t she? And Filius? And I know Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey were here back then as well. Do you think they still look at you as a child?”
His grin was rather shark-like. “I will be fifty on my next birthday, have taught here for three decades, and Minerva still scolds me if she thinks I haven’t eaten enough at meals.”
She grinned goofily, highly amused at the thought of her stern former Head of House mothering the gruff man beside her. “You don’t still think of them as authority figures, do you? It’s not as if she can take points from Slytherin if you don’t finish your pudding.”
“Minerva is my employer in addition to our history, so that relationship is a bit different. I typically tell her to bugger off but then eat a second helping to make her happy.” He was quiet for a moment, considering. “As for the rest of them, no, not so much anymore. We have been through quite a lot together in the intervening years, after all.” The corner of his mouth lifted before he continued. “I can still remember Pomona taking a hundred and fifty points from Slytherin the night that she caught me pilfering her greenhouses for potions ingredients when I was fifteen.” His long fingers flexed in his lap. “I’ve paid her back over the years by docking Hufflepuff — sometimes quite mercilessly — but I’ve never dared take so much as a single Tentacula leaf without asking permission in all the years since.”
Hermione giggled and wondered if he had always been this funny, beneath all the snark and sneers, or if she was the slightest bit intoxicated already. Either way, she was enjoying herself immensely. She could feel the wizard’s dark eyes studying her as she laughed.
“And what of me, Miss… Hermione?” he asked once she quieted, correcting his slip for her benefit.
Her given name sounded like melted honey on his tongue — the way that Shakespeare himself must have intended for it to be said. She swallowed reflexively.
“I was your teacher for six years,” he continued, unaware of her distraction.
“And a miserable one you were,” she pointed out before she could stop herself. Definitely a bit tipsy then. She bit her lip, cleared her throat, and attempted to remedy the situation. “I mean, your teaching was top notch, of course. I learned so much from you. But you were hardly the most cordial about it.”
He smirked and she knew that she hadn’t fooled him. She also knew that he would never apologize for his teaching methods nor did she need him to.
“My point,” he interjected before she could wedge her foot any further into her mouth, “is that I was your teacher for nearly as long as Minerva, Pomona, or Filius were mine. I was far from a favorite back then, and I know firsthand how difficult it is to shed ingrained impressions. Do you still look at me as that unpleasant professor?"
She blinked several times, trying to decide how to answer. “I don’t think of you as my superior. Not anymore than the rest of the staff, all of whom taught me as a child. You're a colleague now — one that I just happen to have a complicated past with. So I think of you as… just a man, I guess. Still a rather difficult one, though.”
Another bubble of laughter escaped. Maybe she was a little more than slightly tipsy. That infernal eyebrow lifted again and she raised her glass in salute. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “To difficult men.”
He smirked, obviously not as inebriated as she was, but obligingly clinked his glass with hers before downing its contents.
Hermione tried to refill their tumblers but her coordination was starting to falter. How many shots had she consumed so far? Three? Four? After her second failed attempt at pulling out the cork, he deftly plucked the bottle from her clumsy hands.
“Allow me,” he said silkily, pouring them both another round.
She stared owlishly at the wizard and wondered where he had learned to do that — turn his voice into pure sin on command. It was a true blessing to humanity as a whole that his vocal cords had sustained no lasting damage from his near fatal run-in with Nagini. If anything, his dulcet tones had only become more sensual since she was a student. She blinked. Sensual? Where in the name of Merlin had that thought come from? She blinked again, rather blearily, and looked away from him. Suddenly, she was ridiculously warm.
Hermione kicked off her pointy costume shoes, sending them toppling several feet across the rug. She sighed loudly as her toes were able to wiggle freely again. She glanced up at her companion a bit sheepishly and found his focus centered on her striped feet.
“Sorry,” she stage whispered. “Those damn things have been killing my toes all night. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s bloody hot in here.” She fanned her face rather ineffectively with her hand, thankful that at least she wasn't slurring her words yet.
“It’s one of the drawbacks to Firewhiskey,” Snape replied as he stood in one gracefully fluid motion. Her gaze was glued to his lanky form. Had he always been so tall?
He flicked his wand at the roaring fire in the hearth and lowered its intensity before laying the wand on the table between them. As the witch watched in transfixed fascination, he began the lengthy process of undoing the row of buttons on his frockcoat. Halfway through the task he seemed to realize that he had an audience and looked down at her. Was her mouth hanging open? It felt like it was. Was that a blush spreading across his pallid cheeks?
“Do you mind if I take off my coat?”
She shook her head, slowly and deliberately. “It’s your room. Why would I object?”
He resumed the chore, patiently releasing each shiny black button from its encasement. “I’m simply not accustomed to having company.”
He opened the formal jacket fully and shrugged it off his shoulders before draping the garment neatly over the back of his chair. He was left in a crisp white dress shirt, high black ascot, and a plain black vest. Though still primly and fastidiously attired, it was the least amount of clothes that she had ever seen him in other than in the hospital after Nagini’s attack. She had gone with Harry to visit their former professor before he had regained consciousness. The healers had switched out his blood-soaked robes for a thin hospital gown and copious bandages. It had been unsettling to see him that way, so weak and vulnerable. The image before her was much more appealing. She couldn’t seem to stop looking.
“I don’t normally remove this in front of anyone,” he said, sounding vaguely embarrassed, his long fingers slowly unknotting the silk at his throat. “But it is quite warm in here and you, unlike most, have seen it before.”
Hermione was completely mystified by what he was saying. Maybe it was because she was very nearly drunk; maybe it was because she seemed to be mesmerized by the movement of his fingers and the glimpses of pale flesh being revealed. Either way, she didn’t have a clue what he was on about.
Severus finished releasing the tie and removed the fabric to place it with his coat. He undid the top two buttons of his shirt and breathed a heavy sigh of relief as his body temperature instantly decreased. He picked up his glass of whiskey and resumed his seat.
Hermione continued to stare at the wizard in profile until the realization dawned on her sluggish mind. “Oh!” she exclaimed, clambering up from her chair. She crossed over to him — feeling the full extent of her intoxication now that she was standing. Definitely pissed, but not incoherently so. “The scars. I hadn’t realized.”
With her inhibitions lowered, she perched herself directly on the arm of his hair, drink still in hand, something that she would’ve never presumed to do otherwise. Her focus was pinpointed on his exposed throat. He visibly tensed when she sat beside him — so close that his scent invaded her senses — but didn’t shrink away. Had he always smelt so good? The answer was yes. She could vividly remember the same spicy, masculine aroma from her childhood spent in his tutelage.
“May I?” she asked in a whisper, her fingers already searching out the minefield of scar tissue that littered the long, pale column of his neck. He swallowed so thickly that it was audible, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down sharply, but nodded in assent. She wasted no time in pulling back his collar to reveal the entirety of Nagini’s damage.
Her eyes prickled suddenly as she ran the pads of her fingers along the raised and knotted tissue. “I haven’t seen them since that night.”
She wasn’t entirely sure that she had said the words aloud until he replied, his voice a soft rustle of silk over steel. “Not many people have seen them at all. They aren’t pretty.”
“Far sight better than when they were created,” she replied somewhat bluntly, aware that she was one of only three people still alive who had actually witnessed the wounds being inflicted. The scene still appeared in her dreams from time to time. There had been so much blood and decimated tissue. She had never seen anything quite so… visceral.
“Indeed,” was all he said in response.
She traced the jagged lines and deep pockmarks all the way down to his collarbone, mesmerized by their irregularity. “I’m so glad that you survived,” she whispered, seemingly to the scars themselves. “I don’t think that I could’ve handled even one more death. There was so much.”
He didn’t seem to know how to reply so remained still and quiet, allowing her to caress the memories of war. She relived the feelings of relief and gratitude that had engulfed her upon learning that he hadn’t died in that rickety shack after all. It hadn’t really been about him at the time just that someone, anyone amongst the score of victims, had survived. His resurrection had revived her amidst so much grief.
“They aren’t pretty,” she agreed after a time, finally drawing her fingers away. “But they mean that you survived.” She held out her forearm to him. “We all have them.”
“I see nothing,” he said, confusion lacing his tone.
Hermione looked down and then giggled again, a sound incongruous with the somber mood that had cloaked the room. “Oops,” she apologized, pulling her wand out to drop the glamour that she had applied earlier that morning.
The familiar, angry red letters appeared on her skin, their stark contrast not muted with the passage of time. She was so accustomed to their presence now that she hardly noticed them anymore, though she had returned to the practice of magically concealing them since returning to the school. He, however, was decidedly shocked by their existence. Long pale fingers wrapped rapidly around her arm, holding it steady and bookending the scarred slur.
“Who did this?” he demanded, apparent anger seething just below the surface of the question.
His brow spidered into deep furrows of confusion for a moment, evidently trying to reconcile the fact that these fresh-looking wounds had been inflicted by a mad witch who had been dead for over a decade. As she watched, his forehead gradually smoothed while his thin lips simultaneously curled into a vicious sneer. It was strange to see his emotions play out so closely. He had always appeared so stoic.
“Her cursed dagger.” It was a definitive statement, not a question. His right thumb began to rub tiny, soothing circles over the jagged letters, seemingly of its own accord.
“How did you know?” she asked a bit breathlessly. The odd caress of his calloused fingers was at once sobering and intoxicating. Why was her heart suddenly pounding in her ears?
He traced the scars slowly, as if he could erase them with just a touch. Perhaps he could. She had tried everything else.
“It was a favorite toy of hers,” he replied. “She was an uncommonly cruel witch.”
“I assume that nothing could be done to heal it,” he said, a hint of something unfamiliar in his tone. Was that remorse?
“No,” she replied with a soft sigh as he released his hold on her. She shook her sleeve back over the marred flesh. “St. Mungo’s tried everything, nothing made any difference. But it really doesn’t bother me much anymore. I only keep it glamoured here because of the children.”
His hand twitched involuntarily towards his collar, a gesture that spoke of the type of solidarity that only comes from living through war and torment together. She smiled softly. “We survived, Severus. The crazy bitch that did this—“ She held out her arm again. “—is dead. The madman and his infernal snake responsible for this—“ She gently retraced the scars on his neck. “—are dead. And we survived.”
“That is a toast-worthy statement if I’ve ever heard one,” he replied, his voice thick with some unknown emotion.
She reached across to softly clack her glass against his.
“To survival,” they said in unison.
Hermione downed the fiery alcohol in a single gulp and then giggled, the full force of her intoxication slamming back into place. She was well and truly pissed now.
The wizard turned to look at her quizzically as her nonsensical laughter continued. He slipped the glass from her hand and reached around her to place it on the table. His arm didn’t immediately reemerge.
“I believe that you have met the goal for the evening, Hermione.” This only seemed to make her giggle harder.
After several moments she collected herself enough to catch her breath. He was still angled towards her, his brow hitched just enough to express curiosity. Maddeningly, he seemed to be in perfect control of his faculties. She scowled. “How is it that I’m totally sauced and you’re sitting there stone sober?” She knew by the way that his dark eyes glinted in amusement that at least half of her words had come out garbled.
“I’m twice your size, witch,” he explained. “And this particular reserve is very potent. You hold your liquor surprisingly well for someone so petite.”
Her level of tolerance was not due to anything within her control — she didn’t drink often as she was almost always the designated Apparator of the group — but she took his words as a compliment just the same and smiled. “Still.”
“And,” he continued, capturing her in his fathomless gaze, “I’m not as sober as I may appear. Even now I’m being urged to do things that I normally wouldn’t dare.”
At some point while he was talking, Hermione had become fascinated by his mouth, by the way that his thin lips formed the words that somehow felt like a caress deep inside her. How he accomplished such a thing was beyond her. “Like what?” she managed to ask, her own words coming out breathlessly again.
He swallowed thickly before answering. “Like kissing you.”
She blinked — hard — and wondered if she had actually heard what she thought she had. Had her drunken mind invented this situation from some unrealized desire? Did she desire this? Did she want him to kiss her, this man that she shared so much history with but barely knew? Merlin, yes.
“I think,” she said, her voice barely audible over the pounding thud of her heart, “that you should listen to that particular impulse.”
His pupils seem to dilate as he stared at her until it felt as if the black pools would engulf her. His lips parted ever-so-slightly. “You do, do you?”
Even in her impaired mental state, Hermione recognized that she would have to lean down to facilitate a kiss — her perch on the armrest put her several inches above him. There was simply no way for him to make the first move from his position. So, using his shoulder as leverage to keep from toppling over, she stooped until their faces were better aligned. She quickly licked her lips and replied, “Oh, yes,” with as much sultry conviction as she could muster.
The wizard had thankfully never been slow on the uptake. He cupped her cheek in his hand and swept her into a searing kiss that was full of dark promises and whiskey. With a little whimper of appreciation, her hand threaded into his inky hair and their kiss deepened. Somehow, whether she fell or the hand at her lower back pulled her, she ended up sliding off the armrest and into the man’s lap. The movement startled her and she broke away from his most delectable mouth to assess the situation. She could do nothing but giggle as his long arms encircled her. Her laughter was swallowed greedily as their mouths met again.
After what felt like several glorious days of intense snogging, the pair broke apart for some much needed oxygen. Even intoxicated, they both knew that things could not be allowed to progress any further that evening. They were colleagues, at least for the remainder of the current school year, and an intimate relationship would need to be carefully considered, not rushed into in a drunken haze like randy teenagers.
Hermione sighed a tad reluctantly and laid her head on his shoulder. Her heart was still racing and he smelled divine. “Severus?”
“You’re a very good kisser. I enjoyed that quite a lot.” Maybe it was silly of her to say such a thing out loud, but she wanted him to know, to not have any doubt about her feelings.
His chest rose in a jerk, like suppressed laughter, and his tone was definitely amused when he replied. “Me too, witch.”
They sat in silence for a spell, the only sound coming from the gently crackling logs in the fireplace and their soft breathing. There was something so peaceful about sitting together this way. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but for once her mind wasn’t whirring a hundred kilometers a minute. She was simply in the moment, enjoying the feel of his arms around her. Her eyes drooped shut.
She yawned against the collar of his shirt. “Thank you for spending Halloween with me. It’s been lovely.” She paused as another yawn overtook her. She was suddenly so very tired — like she hadn’t slept in years. She had no idea how she would make it back to her rooms all the way across the castle — it might as well be across the country. She didn’t even know if she could summon the necessary alertness to use the Floo. Instead of worrying about it, however, she snuggled closer to him, her nose pressing into his neck. She placed a feather-light kiss upon a knot of scar tissue. “You are lovely.”
Severus didn’t reply right away. He honestly didn’t know how to reply to such a statement. The woman was obviously far more drunk than he had initially thought. He was saved from a response by the sudden realization that his guest had fallen asleep, right there on his lap. Her breath came out in warm little puffs against his throat as she nuzzled him. He simply sat that way for a while, too stunned by the recent turn of events to move. He certainly hadn’t anticipated getting his former-headache-turned-colleague pissed and then snogging her senseless when he had started out that morning. To be honest, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
Half an hour passed without much change before Severus carefully shifted to retrieve his wand from the side table. A silent flick transfigured the vacant chair that the witch had occupied most of the evening into a chaise. He gathered her in his arms and stood.
He was surprised by how light she was. She had always been petite, even during her awkward adolescent years. She was still more than a head shorter than him but she was far curvier now than when she had been a student. He had assumed that her more mature form would make her heavier but even in the dead weight of sleep, she was as light as a Bowtruckle.
Crossing to the transfigured lounge, he laid her down as gently as he could. Another wordless cast of his wand summoned a blanket from his bedchamber and he draped it over her prone form. Immediately the woman curled up on her side and nestled into the soft throw, emitting the soft snuffling sounds of sleep. He stood there, gazing down at her attentively until she ceased moving and fell back into a deeper slumber. He then fetched his forgotten tumbler and refilled it before taking his seat again. His eyes didn’t seem capable of looking anywhere but at her.
What a surprise she was — a most welcome one. He had thought to spend this evening the way that he had spent Halloween for the past twenty-seven years, alone at the bottom of a bottle, but she had come along and changed all that, seemingly without meaning to. The insufferable Gryffindor know-it-all had simply been herself and had somehow, at least for a time, soothed his restless soul. He couldn’t remember the last time that he had enjoyed another’s company so much.
The woman in question began to snore loudly, the unrestrained snores of the truly pissed. He felt his mouth lift into an unchecked smile and he raised his glass in a silent salute to her. It was going to be an interesting year.
A/N:Reviewing seems to be a lost art these days, but writers thrive off of hearing the opinions of their readers. Loved it? Hated it? Wished you had never read it? I'd appreciate hearing from you either way. :)