Disclaimer: the characters belong to J.K. Rowling. I've just mangled them. A bit of a parody and fluffier than extra fluffy yellow bunnies (with perfect teeth) frolicking in the sunshine. Angel beta-work by Innogen.
How That Led To This
"Miss Granger, might I have a word with you?"
Hermione Granger instantly recognized the deep, smooth voice coming from somewhere behind her left ear and spun around to face Professor Snape.
Momentarily frozen, she gaped up at him wide-eyed, before forcing herself to react. A small, tight smile and a quick nod were all she could summon while her mind screamed, 'Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, oh gods! He knows!'
She stiffly handed her drink to nearby Neville while telling her friends that she'd join them again just as soon as she could.
Her fears doubled when she saw that it was Snape's intent to have a word well outside of the Great Hall, outside and in the garden apparently; she deduced as she obediently followed the Potion master's dark form out into the late afternoon sun. 'Far away from anyone who could help me,' she thought glumly as she observed the deserted grounds.
The garden was long with shadows and everything was coloured in the beautiful pinks and oranges that precede a lovely sunset. Roses heavily scented the air, and fat bees buzzed happily in the unusually warm June air. Hermione snorted at the irony. The very air was alive with fresh blooming things anticipating summer and new life, just as hers was about to end tragically, no doubt.
Before long, Snape stopped at a stone bench and indicated that she should sit, which she did. He remained standing in front of her.
Hermione began to carefully study Professor Snape's shoes. She had noticed in the past that he always kept his shoes in pristine condition, as was the case now. Very black, very shiny.
After a few moments of scrutiny, she wondered what was keeping Death and risked a look up at her professor. She was very surprised to see him appear decidedly discomfited. The moment she looked up, he looked away and began to pace the area in front of her. His shiny shoes crunched the gravel. He cleared his throat. Hermione looked back down and smoothed the pleats of her skirt. She swallowed loudly and rolled her eyes at just how nervous she felt. Gryffindor indeed.
She was startled when he began to speak.
"Miss Granger, in your third year I had assigned a report requiring all of my students to list the ingredients, properties and methods used to make a variety of medical potions. Your response was rather," here Snape paused to linger over the last word, "unique."
Any small hope she had harboured that this meeting might be about something, anything else, was crushed instantly: He knew.
Hermione hung her head and closed her eyes. She pressed her lips together tightly and felt the prickly hot flush of embarrassment creep from her neck to cover her cheeks.
She could still clearly remember the event that had precipitated her 'unique response', although it had been over four years ago.
Coming back from the library after dinner one day, she had walked through the portrait hole and into the Common Room, meeting with a surprising sight. Every single one of the Gryffindors was present, upper years included; and they had all stopped talking or doing whatever they had been doing to turn and silently watch her enter.
Hermione had stopped short and observed how some appeared to be elated to see her, while others had rather calculating expressions while they watched her. Hermione, unnerved, had then primly asked, "Yes? Can I help you?" at which the Common Room exploded with a cacophony of explanations.
It was disclosed that a select group of nitwits had entered into a magical bet with Slytherin during the last Quidditch game, and it further appeared that all of Gryffindors' honour was on the line. Hermione was dismayed to hear that the terms of the bet: one dare of choice for each side, which Slytherin had already met. The Gryffindors were long on ideas - five Slytherins had to run naked through the Great Hall during dinner with 'Gryffindors Rule' banners - but short on details (and brains, Hermione had thought privately). They had failed to include provisos banning the use of concealment charms or transparency potions so the Slytherins had indeed run naked through the Great Hall just hours earlier, but no one had seen them.
It was now up to Gryffindor to choose one of their own and that person would have to plan the response to the dare and execute said plan, according to the Slytherin rules. The whole of the Common Room had decided that clever Hermione was the best candidate. Based on past experience, she would be the one most likely to find a loophole, satisfy the bet and face no repercussions.
All she had to do was tell Professor Snape that he was 'sex-on-legs'. And, unlike their Gryffindor counterparts, the Slytherins had included clauses. It could be spoken or written but the meaning could not be changed by context. The bet could not be won by saying, for example, "Professor Snape I had a vision where Professor Trelawney had announced at breakfast that she thinks 'you are sex on legs'," or by being or pretending to be under the influence of outside forces while making the declaration. If written, it could not be communicated in code or written backwards or in invisible ink. In short, it had to be said to Snape or read by Snape, as is - no tricks. Of course, everyone knew that saying such a thing to the school's worst humoured professor would result in Very Unpleasant Things. Definitely detentions. Probably Howlers to parents. Possibly a suspension. Undeniably a blighted Potions grade and an enemy for life.
Hermione well remembered her reaction to this utterly juvenile and idiotic frat boy stunt. She had been exceedingly pleased. After all, it wasn't every day that the entire house of Gryffindor essentially prostrated themselves before her and worshipped her genius. Had she not still been gripped by insecurities and the desire to please and be accepted, she would have told them all to find another chump and that would have been that.
Unfortunately, though, Hermione had still to learn the consequences of ego so she had accepted the dare on behalf of Gryffindor.
She had applied herself to the challenge with her usual determination. Hermione had spent hours poring over possible loopholes, applying Arithmantic calculations to probable outcomes and even researching past pranks in the vast collection that was the Weasley twins' library.
Ultimately though, it was a half finished Care of Magical Creatures essay that lead her to the answer. She had stared at it for so very long, her keen intellect willing a solution, when suddenly, with little fanfare, she espied the answer. There, along the margin, if read vertically, the first letter of every word just happened to have formed the word 'poop'.
What serendipity! Hermione had never seen a more beautiful word or experienced such joy and self-satisfaction. She had quickly called an impromptu meeting in the Common Room and explained her intended course of action to those who were present. She would write the dare into a Potions essay as an acrostic. It would be perfectly legible if read vertically. The first letter of the dare's every word would be at the margin in a paragraph engineered to be precisely fifteen lines long, thereby isolating the dare and not concealing it. It wouldn't be too difficult to structure the essay to accommodate this idea. It would satisfy the bet; it was not hidden or coded, and vertical placement as well as use of acrostics had not been barred.
On the whole, it had been very easy to do. The 'x' in sex had proved troublesome at first but she was able to substitute the Latin name for Marsh Yellowroot in an ingredient analysis, leaving her with a completed Potions essay and a finished dare. It was impossible to see 'you are sex on legs' without specifically looking for it. Professor Snape had always claimed to spend as little time as possible suffering through the feeble and trite offerings of his witless students so Hermione was confident she was in the clear. Her assumptions were proven correct when, one week later, Snape had handed back the homework and she saw the usual 95% at the top of her effort accompanied by the usual sarcastic comment and nothing else.
Hermione had enjoyed her new status as Gryffindor hero for precisely the two days until the next Quidditch game. The Slytherins only knew that the bet had been satisfied, but did not know the details.
Professor Snape's voice brought her back to the present.
"Your use of a rarely used Latin term had me thinking you were even more self-absorbed and pompous than I had thought before. But then my eye was drawn to a rather unlikely acrostic at the margin. Can you imagine what that was Miss Granger? An unfortunate happenstance? An unplanned arrangement of letters perhaps? I think not."
Hermione reddened even more, and stared at the ground resolutely. This was quite possibly the most humiliating and embarrassing moment of her life. Here she was, almost eighteen years old and trying to assert herself as a confident young woman ready to face the world, and she was being brought to task for the most childish and silly thing she had ever done in her life. And the man who was doing it was definitely the last man on earth Hermione wished to think ill of her.
"Neither did the other staff when I showed it to them," continued Snape, talking over her horrified gasp. "There weren't too many opportunities to take Minerva and her bloody insufferable Gryffindors down a peg, and this was a good one. Her prized and squeaky-clean little genius, writing dirty notes to a professor. The horror." He paused to snigger unpleasantly.
Hermione could feel herself get clammy as a cold sweat covered her body. All of the staff had known? Well, that would explain the odd looks and behaviour from a few of her professors. She briefly wondered how angry Professor Snape would get if she just Apparated away - but if she wanted to be brutally honest with herself, Hermione had to conclude that this was only fair. She did do that, and she did deserve this; and she would take it like a woman, not a cowering child. Disgusted with her fear, she raised her eyes from Professor Snape's pacing shoes to his face and cleared her throat, ready to apologize.
He stopped her with a wave of his hand and continued on in a hollow tone, enunciating each word crisply. "Of course, they were all convinced that there had to be some explanation, some rationalization other than Hogwarts' little resident genius nursing a crush on Hogwarts' most unattractive professor and demonstrating that in such a juvenile manner."
Hermione thought that was an odd tack for Professor Snape to take. It sounded like the actions of her thirteen-year-old self had been the cause of some hurt feelings. She suddenly felt absolutely wretched. She remembered well the horrid feeling of being teased for being the most seductive siren in the school by her roommates precisely because she was the antithesis to that. They had not meant ill but it had hurt all the same. That had never been her intention with Professor Snape. She had simply not considered him a person at that time, as many children do, self-absorbed as they are.
"A little digging turned up a rather unimaginative dare and put the matter to rest. Assuming this was a one-off I left it alone and found other ways to punish you."
Hermione caught the malicious glint in Snape's eyes as she stared at him.
"Yes, Miss Granger, before you ask, the Orca slug disembowelment detentions were your punishment," he supplied with restrained glee, looking for all the world like he was reliving a wonderful memory.
"I smelled horribly for two weeks," Hermione whispered, shivering at the recollection.
"Yes, you did," he said, sniggering again. He then stopped pacing to stand in front of her again, observing her with an inscrutable expression.
"That isn't why I've asked you out here today, Miss Granger. I'd like for you to clear up something which has truly mystified me."
"There's more?" she supplied weakly while dredging up the old standby of internal monologues, 'Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, he knows!'
"Indeed," replied Snape, giving her one last piercing look before he resumed his pacing. "Imagine my surprise, Miss Granger, when I received another of your fine essays boasting a new acrostic. The word was 'bastard' in that case I think," he said in such a way as to leave no doubt that it was a fact. "A predictable response to the detentions I imagine. The poor, ickle, unfairly punished student venting her anger at the horrid professor. A tale of woe if ever there was one."
Hermione, eyes squeezed shut again, could hear the sneer in his voice. She didn't have to look for confirmation.
Just moments ago, she had thought she couldn't possibly feel worse or more stupid - but there it was. She was being tried as an adult for the crimes of a silly thirteen-year-old girl.
Swallowing hard and moistening her dry lips, Hermione ventured a question. "Professor, why didn't you bring me to task for that?"
He had stopped pacing again and gazed down at her, taking in her knuckles, white from fiercely gripping the seat of the stone bench.
"Well," he said in an oddly soft voice, "it would follow that if I did take you to task, you would no longer embellish your essays with these epithets. I admit I was curious to see what you would write next, if anything. It was an amusing diversion, one that held the additional potential of more embarrassment for Minerva. I simply couldn't resist," he finished smoothly.
"Oh gods," Hermione said out loud, her eyes squeezed shut as if in pain.
Snape smirked and continued. "Nothing could have prepared me for what came later, Miss Granger. Years four and five were mostly filled with angry and vengeful names, like the ever-popular 'greasy git', but on occasion I'd get a surprise. 'Nice hands', Miss Granger? Year six I believe. Then later came 'velvet voice' and 'ebony hair' and 'alabaster skin', hardly potent words of derision - even if said with ill intent. My personal favourite was 'gothic god' I think," he mused.
"Oh gods," Hermione said louder than before, her head now in her hands. Her mortification was complete. "What must everyone think of me?"
"Everyone, Miss Granger?" Snape asked snidely. "I think this concerns only myself."
"But you told them," she said in an anguished voice, muffled by her fingers. "Not that I deserved any less," she added quietly.
Hermione pulled her hands away from her face and looked to Snape. She was surprised to find his expression was one of almost good humour and not the hateful glare she was expecting. His next words shocked her.
"I didn't tell anyone, Miss Granger," he said quietly.
"Why not, sir?"
"I rather thought I'd find myself open to ridicule, or at the very least the object of quite a few friendly jokes at the staff meetings, had they known about your messages to me," Snape said as he looked her in the eyes. With a smirk he said, "I'm sure you can imagine how I might like that."
Hermione smiled up at him timidly and said, "I can imagine."
Snape continued speaking in his normal tone as he resumed his pacing, "As time went by the messages became more personal in nature, especially as relating to the safety of my person as the war escalated, and I found that I wanted this kept private. It was my own secret, even you didn't know that I knew. I began to look forward to your essays and derived comfort from what you said, however you might have meant it. 'Be safe', 'hero' and 'I'll pray for you' were nice to remember on the eve of the battle."
He came to a stop facing away from her.
She wished she could know what he was thinking. His voice had held no trace of malice and had sounded so unguarded. Hermione didn't know how she was going to say what needed to be said or how to organize her feelings into the right words before she lost the opportunity but she had to try, now that the proverbial cat was out of the bag. She was so embarrassed by all of this but at the same time she was aware that, for the first time in her life, she had Severus Snape's undivided attention.
Hermione stood up and walked around to face her professor, not quite looking him in the eye. "I want you to know, Professor Snape, that I didn't mean any of those things in anything but the most straightforward sense." She was talking to his mouth. It looked remarkably soft now that he wasn't scowling. "I know that I said some pretty puerile things in anger, but I was a child then, and I hope that you'll forgive me for not having the experience to know better. Five years can make a lot of difference though. I would never say those things now, much less think them."
Snape snorted at this.
"It's true, Professor." She raised her eyes minutely to talk to his nose, speaking slowly enough to choose her words carefully. A passing thought confirmed the large, thin nose magnificent, in a regal sense. "As a child I thought you unjust and petty and mean. But, as I grew and became more aware of my surroundings, and the situation we were all in, I began to perceive things differently. At first it was just admitting that even though you were unjust, petty and mean, you were also brilliant - a fantastic teacher for those who wanted to learn. Then, when I learned that you spied for The Order I saw you in a completely different light: Pressured, intolerant of stupidity and wasted time, brave, honourable, self-sacrificing among many other qualities. My respect for you grew in leaps and bounds as well as my feelings towards you. What started out as a youthful crush in my fifth year evolved into deep esteem and admiration, among other things," she had trailed off to say the last three words in a whisper.
Just then she was gripped by sadness. To have lived through all of the war and to have survived, to have wanted little but love and acceptance and to be good at something, all of those things had brought her here to this one defining moment, to be standing a meter away from her professor on a gravel path in the garden of Hogwarts. She just couldn't bear to be rejected now but intended to continue this conversation to its conclusion. If she had learned one thing in the last while it was to not leave things unsaid or undone. There were often no second chances.
She raised her head to look him directly in the eyes. It was all she could do not to gape, mouth open. His eyes were so beautiful when he wasn't angry, so dark and intense. Mesmerizing really. She had never had an opportunity to look at him so closely before.
"So, your last message then?" he asked, concentrating on some point beyond her right ear.
"Sir, I meant it. With all of my heart."
"Indeed?" Snape asked, shifting his gaze to watch her intently.
They both fell quiet and he soon looked away again. He inspected the ground turned up by the toe of his shoe before continuing, "But you planned to walk away after Graduation today, never to say anything?"
"Oh no, sir, I had a cunning plan!" said Hermione earnestly. "I've already received word of my acceptance to Oxford Magical. One of my classes is to be an independent project. I had a Potions project in mind. One that I could periodically owl you about and one that you would, I'm sure, find irresistibly interesting despite your reservations. I had hoped to impress you enough to establish a more permanent type of communication, even friendship...," Hermione trailed off lamely finding her eyes were watering unbearably. To her own ears, she sounded like a silly, misguided young girl - hardly a woman capable of interesting such a man.
Snape cleared his throat and then did it again. "Miss Granger." He waited until she looked at him. "That will not be necessary."
"I see," Hermione said quietly, losing her battle with the tears threatening to spill. She felt utterly humiliated.
"No, I don't think you do, judging by your tears."
"What do you mean then, sir?" Hermione asked in a shaky voice, desperately trying to hold on to her dignity. She saw then that Snape looked uncomfortably peaky himself. It occurred to her that he was trying to hide behind his long hair as he dipped his head.
"I mean that it won't be necessary for you to go to all the trouble of a 'cunning plan'. I'd be willing to correspond with you, Potions project or no."
Hermione found herself suddenly grinning stupidly at him through her tears. When she could once again speak normally she said, "You have no idea how happy you've just made me."
Looking at her through the hair hanging in his eyes, Snape said, "Over time, I've come to value the influence you've had on me, Miss Granger. I just had to determine what you meant by it."
"That I love you, sir," she said simply, echoing the message on her last essay.
He gave Hermione a small, shy smile through his curtain of hair. Her heart swelled near to bursting. Too soon though, the moment passed and he reverted to his usual mien. Resuming an erect posture and a certain level of stiffness he said, "I fail to understand how you could develop such feelings for me and all that I am, and have been. You are so young. Surely, your parents, your friends would have many objections?"
"The only concern I have regarding our age difference is what you think of it. I have everything to gain from your knowledge and experience but what will I give you, beyond the obvious? I worry that you'll grow tired of being with a 'silly little girl'."
"Miss Granger, first of all, I can't comprehend what an intelligent and beautiful young lady such as you hopes to achieve by falling in love with me but, ah... I am very grateful, if somewhat skeptical. You have given me so much already, more than you know." He wiped at his brow nervously. "As to the question of your age, I have never before, in my entire career as a teacher at Hogwarts, been so," Snape paused uncomfortably, searching for the right word, "taken, with one of my students. The maturity and intelligence that I value in you is generally not present in the student body at Hogwarts," he said with a smirk. "In short, I would never have dreamt that I would be interested in or have anything in common with someone so much younger than myself, until you came along, Miss Granger. You are very special, and I am honoured by your feelings. I can only hope to prove worthy."
"You already have, sir," Hermione answered with a very relieved smile. "As for my family harbouring objections, well, they've had more than a year to come to terms with it."
To this Snape arched a brow in surprise.
Hermione stifled a giggle at his expression as she continued with her story. "Last summer my mother badgered it out of me when I turned a neighbourhood boy down for a date. She had long wondered why I didn't seem concerned with boys or dating. I confessed that I was already in love with someone, a professor, and the conversation suddenly became an open forum. My parents calmed down once they knew of your ignorance of my feelings and once I had assured them that I wouldn't act until after my graduation. I even received a card from them with my graduation present just this week wishing me luck in the pursuit of my dreams and my professor."
"I see," Snape said, looking quite stunned.
Hermione continued, acting every bit unaware of her Professor's bewilderment. "My friends have long suspected. It's impossible to hide a secret like this from such nosy people," Hermione laughed. "In fact, they placed a friendly wager earlier today on how long it would take me to approach you."
"Indeed?" Almost to himself he added, "I have never been pursued before," the wonderment evident in his voice.
"I can be very tenacious," Hermione stated matter-of-factly.
There was a brief pause as they both stared at each other. Hermione felt herself colouring again, awed by her own daring.
"It's a fait accompli then," Snape murmured after a moment, still looking baffled by what had just taken place.
"I think so, sir," Hermione replied. "Unless you truly object?" a hint of insecurity creeping into her voice.
"I think not, Miss Granger," Snape answered, a smile playing on his lips.
With an answering smile Hermione stepped closer, bringing her arms forward so that her hands brushed his. Taking his cue, he quickly clasped her hands and held on to them tightly. Their eyes locked and they stared at each other unabashedly.
Hermione had never felt such bliss.
Neither had Snape.
The sound of distant cheering brought them out of their reverie.
"We should get back to the celebration, Miss Granger. You only graduate from Hogwarts once after all." He offered her his arm with another beautiful, shy smile.
"Maybe we could meet for dinner soon to discuss my Potions project and, erm, other things?" Hermione asked while taking Snape's arm.
"I look forward to it, Miss Granger." He gave her hand a light squeeze as they started their walk back to the school.
Cool shadows clung to them, as did the lingering scent of roses. The sunset was magnificent.
A/N - The first story I've written since I was in school, which, mercy, was a very, very long time ago and best never mentioned. Constructive criticism would be appreciated but I'll take any kind of reviews. Even nice ones. I actually wrote this months ago but only got the courage to post it now - New Year's resolution and all that.
The words 'cunning plan' may quite possibly be trademarked by Blackadder's Baldrick. Consider my use of the term an homage, if you will.
Check out the drawing I did of Snape (on the Illusions site, Snape's portrait section) for another story I may actually finish one day.