Hermione bent low over the piece of paper in her hands, the crisp parchment scroll unrolled upon the small desk in her bedroom. The tears that were sliding down her cheeks threatened to blot out the pristine writing upon the page. Hermione gave a soft sniffle and wiped them away roughly.
Downstairs she heard the sounds of Severus shuffling around sleeplessly. It was late, but she did not care. She lowered her head onto the desk, brushing aside the piece of parchment. Outside the storm had settled into a steady drizzle, and the rain ran down the glass in small droplets, the dark skies outside making them hard to see if it were not for the small lamp Hermione had dimly glowing upon her desk.
"Stop this," she said to herself tearfully, hating the way she felt sorry for her own lot when Harry, one of her best friends, had finally escaped the horrid situation he had been in, just as she had always hoped he would. He and Severus would get to live together. Harry would have something like a father, at long last. She had gone downstairs to retrieve a book from the sitting room, and overheard Severus and Dumbledore discussing it in the kitchen while Harry got changed.
Of course, they had said that they were uncertain as to whether or not Harry would accept. But Hermione knew in her heart that after what had happened this summer, Harry would never say no once asked. If anyone else had seen the way Harry looked up to Severus, and the way Severus' eyes sometimes came alive with a kind of fondness he would never say aloud, they would know immediately that those two could never accept anything to the contrary. They had found each other in the darkness that had brought them to Bell Point, and Hermione felt she had no right to feel bitter and sorry for herself. Especially when she looked down her own letter, so kindly worded, loving even. Great Aunt Isobel was rigid and proper, but spoke kindly and promised to allow any of Hermione's friends to visit. She had said she was sorry again for how she had acted, but Hermione had known from the moment Great Aunt Isobel had apologized the first time, before leaving Bell Point, that she truly did regret her actions. The letter continued to say that she couldn't promise to be a perfect guardian, but that she could promise to let Hermione be herself, something she said she hadn't done well the day of the funeral, and that she'd do anything to rebuild the bridge she broke from her own mistakes.
It was a nice offer. A kind one, but not the one Hermione wanted. Yet, this was her only option.
The reply would only take an hour or so to get to the countryside home that Great Aunt Isobel had inhabited as long as Hermione could remember. Perhaps this was why Hermione was so terrified that she had sent her answer as soon as she heard Severus saying to Dumbledore that Harry would be welcome to live with him, wherever that may be.
Yet, here I am, alone still, thought Hermione with a small sniffle. She shook her head, hating her thoughts. Harry deserves this. Severus needs this. Having me around would only make it too much to handle.
Hermione sighed, knowing she could never intrude on that, that she could not ask and risk ruining the delicate balance Severus and Harry had. Besides, she had been thinking that probably, Severus wouldn't even have enough room for her wherever he went anyway. Dumbledore had mentioned to her that Bell Point was owned by the Order before she came here, and that it had been used over the years in crisis. Hermione suspected that they could not remain here forever, not Harry, not Severus, and certainly not she. Bell Point was a refuge, a safe haven, one that would be needed again by others. Even knowing this, she wished she did not have to go. She wished she could stay here forever in its comforting walls, with the people she had somehow grown so accustomed to living under the same roof with. For the past few days, things had been different from when she'd first arrived. It started small, and reminded Hermione of the feeling she got when she reread a familiar book. It was a faint glimmer of hope and warmth, and she had started to feel it here, at Bell Point, with Harry and Severus. It was a small, tantalizing taste of what things used to be like. It was different than it had been at home, with her parents, of course, but she had started to get a glimpse of something that recalled days of what her life had been.
She reached forward and grabbed the green cover of the book Severus had given her, dragging it away from the other books on her desk. The golden letters across the fabric binding welcomed her, asking her if she wanted to get lost in the world of Anne of Green Gables once more. Hermione sighed and pushed it away. She was even jealous of Anne now, a girl whose childhood had been nothing but orphanages and bad homes until she had turned twelve and her fortune changed.
The reason for her jealousy was simple. Anne found a home. Anne got to stay at Green Gables, even though they had sent for a boy to work in the fields and accidentally been sent a girl instead. They didn't have to keep her, but they did, because she was charming and winning despite her flaws and broken past. But Hermione didn't feel charming and winning like Anne. She just felt tired and bookish like Hermione.
Anne belonged at Green Gables, even before she'd gotten there.
"And me?" whispered Hermione under her breath as she stared out the window where she had sent the resident owl of Bell Point hours earlier. "Where do I belong?"
Surely not at Great Aunt Isobel's. True, she was getting along with Great Aunt Isobel, but that was not the same as belonging with someone. So surely she did not belong there, with her.
Not at Bell Point, either, that was certain. She wasn't Hermione of Bell Point. She was just Hermione, the orphan. Not even the orphan. An orphan. Somehow, within Hermione's mind, the prospect of being taken in by Great Aunt Isobel did nothing to this new status.
Hermione let the tears fall, and she didn't care that she was getting the papers on her desk wet and that the clock had struck one. She didn't care at all.
She cared even less about the hours of lost sleep and the state of her desk when the owl returned at seven - thirty in the morning, the house still silent and its occupants sleeping in from the late night. Aunt Isobel must have found it waiting for her in the early hours of the morning (for Hermione doubted she would have been awake at the late hour the owl had arrived), and written back, much to Hermione's relief. Her eyes scratchy from a sleepless night, she unrolled the reply, surprised but grateful it had arrived in time.
I am surprised you wish to come so soon, but I am pleased nonetheless. I had almost given up on a reply what with sending that letter a few days ago, so your owl gave me quite a start when I found the owl on my porch when I woke! It must have been delayed by the storm. And yes, Hermione, of course I can be there in the morning. I shall be there for you at eight-o-clock. A bit earlier than you expected, I think, but a friend is dropping by at nine to borrow my pruning shears (I told her to keep those garden gnomes under control, and now look what's happened). I apologize for this, but Matilda is having her family over for lunch and wants her garden to look tip top, and I did promise her, after all.
Looking forward to seeing you,
Great Aunt Isobel
Hermione left the letter on the table and a few minutes later lifted her trunk, which she had packed during the night. She did not intend to be back in this particular room. She had thought perhaps she would at least have time to say goodbye if Great Aunt Isobel was coming at nine, or so. Now that she knew she would be earlier, Hermione wasn't even sure if she would say her goodbyes in person. She could leave a note, and send letters later. It hurt too much to say those words in person, and it was not like she would never see Harry again, or Severus if Harry was to be living with him.
She walked out of the bedroom door, the room behind her spotless, the bed made. The only things that remained were the ink pot that had been on the desk when she came, and the green book that lay upon the bed with its shining gold letters and printed picture of a young girl sitting at the train station, waiting.
Severus woke up at seven forty-eight, still exhausted, confused, and groggy. A nightmare had thrust him roughly from the folds of sleep, his mind still filled with images of it. He paused for a second in his sleep-befuddled state to recall the nightmare. A twisted mess of people and places had arranged themselves in his dream, and the more he thought about it the weirder it got.
It had begun at Privet drive, where his father and Petunia had been sitting at the dining room table and passing a bottle of whisky back and forth. Severus had been standing, scowling in the corner as Petunia had gotten out the shot glasses, but suddenly a four year old Harry was there and she was filling them up with bleach and cleaning products and making him drink them down one by one while Tobias made bets with Dumbledore on whether or not Harry would live.
Harry, who was starting to cry, was out of reach, for the Dark Lord had shown up somewhere in this as well, and had stolen Severus' leg brace, so he was unable to move. Hermione was there too, crying and trying to push Tobias out of the way so she could get past him and over to help Severus and Harry, but Tobias kept pushing her away from the table.
Then, things took a very strange turn. Severus' mother had come into the room as well and started threatening to give the Dark Lord a spanking for taking Severus' leg brace, of all things, and Severus had begun to laugh at this. He had made to turn to the Dark Lord to stick his tongue out at him (for he noticed then that he was only ten years old, and thus found this to be an appropriate response), only to find that when he looked back at the table everything had vanished, and he was all alone in his room at Spinner's end, lying in bed, still ten and waiting for the clock to strike midnight and sound his eleventh birthday.
He had a niggling feeling something wasn't right, and it was then that he woke up again to find himself at Bell Point, thirty-six once more, and thinking that he should never, ever, under any circumstances have taken Dumbledore's advice and had hot chocolate before bed to help him sleep after a stressful day. Thus, while putting on his brace and scowling at the bright light streaming through the window, Severus couldn't help but classify such a piece of information as the most bullshit advice Dumbledore had ever given him.
His mind still preoccupied with the rather absurd thought of his mother threatening to take the bloody Dark Lord over her knee for being bad, Severus stumbled into the hallway. To his immense surprise, he just about ran straight into someone. Running on only about four hours of sleep after having been up half the night with worry, Severus was hardly in his right mind.
"Mum, you can't just say that to the Dark Lord," he ended up mumbling, still half asleep.
"What?" said a familiar voice.
"What?" Severus said, snapping awake and realizing he'd been drifting off slightly along with his train of thought.
"What did you say?" Hermione said, bewildered.
"Nothing," said Severus quickly as he edged past her, trying not to look too embarrassed. "Er ... coffee ..."
He was so hasty in his retreat to the kitchen he did not properly pay attention to what Hermione had been bringing down the stairs. It was only as he took his first sip of coffee that his hazy brain notified him that she had been carrying her trunk. This realization hit him like a bolt of lightning. Slopping hot coffee down his front he rushed out of the kitchen (hastily putting his mug down on the table as he did so) and into the sitting room.
"Hermione," he said breathlessly, panting from shock, looking a little deranged with his wrinkled pyjamas and coffee-stained dressing gown. "Where ... are you ... going?"
Hermione seemed to pay almost no attention at all to his appearance. In fact, she hardly seemed to pay any attention to the fact that he was even standing there. She simply seemed to be elsewhere, as though in an attempt to distance herself from the present.
"I'm off to live with Great Aunt Isobel," she said softly. "She's coming to get me. I know it's short notice. I didn't get a chance to send her letter back until last night, and I thought I would just ... just say goodbyes some other time. Or write. I was going to leave a note in the kitchen saying where I went."
"But -" Severus began, "I thought you weren't going? And just leaving a note ... you know better than that."
"I changed my mind - she's alright, actually," muttered Hermione with a shrug, her eyes downcast. "I mean, she was pretty bad the day you met her, but she isn't always like that. The ... the funeral got to her." Hermione either hadn't hard Severus' last comment about knowing better, or was ignoring it, something he thought to be odd.
"What time is she coming?"
Severus swore under his breath, his fatigue making it harder to filter his thoughts before they hit his mouth. That left five minutes for him to say what he thought he'd get at least a day to work himself up for. Hell, a day to find the words to even work himself up to saying aloud.
"Oh, she won't mind that you are in your dressing gown," said Hermione, looking concerned as Severus began to pace.
"No ... it's just ... I have to tell you ... something," Severus began, twisting his hands. Why was he so bad with words when it really came down to it? How could he possibly ask her if she wanted him as a guardian? How could he say that he wanted her to stay?
"Well, what is it?" Hermione said, for a moment, her voice losing that dull, forced tone.
She was staring at him. Expectantly.
"So..." he began, the ticking of the clock filling his ears, "you know when you make a Wolfsbane potion?"
WOLFSBANE POTION? he thought to himself. Severus, REALLY?
Oh great. He'd started this metaphor, and now he had to finish it.
"Well, I've read the theory," said Hermione slowly, now completely nonplussed.
"Good," said Severus, trying to remember where the hell he was going with this. "Right, then you know the most important ingredient is ... is the Wolfsbane?"
Right, essential ingredients. That's where I was going.
"Yes ... er, the potion will be useless without it."
"Right and wrong!" Severus said with sudden enthusiasm, quite sure now that she would understand exactly what he meant in a moment. Besides, Potions, he could talk about.
"The wolfsbane is the most important ingredient, and yes, the potion is useless without it ... but ... the wolfsbane needs the moonstone to act as a catalyst or it it won't be able to start the necessary reaction to neutralize the worst of the werewolf transformation! See? Do you get it?" Severus finished, panting slightly and waiting eagerly for her to get it, waiting for his metaphor to sink in. Waiting for her to understand that he needed her around ... that she made him a better person. Wolfsbane ... moonstone ... didn't she get it?
"I don't think I'll be brewing wolfsbane over the summer, Severus," said Hermione slowly, clearly not trying to sound ungrateful. "But thank you for the tip."
"No ... no it's a metaphor."
"Er ... Severus? What are you trying to say?"
"Sorry ... bad example ... Hermione, what I've been trying to ..." Severus faltered as he wrung his hands slightly and paced a little. Three minutes. Three minutes left. "I want ... I need ... you to understand that -"
That I want you to stay!
"- duelling is useless without a good team." Alright, now Severus really, really wanted to cry. And he was totally alright with admitting it to himself. He pinched the bridge of his nose and refrained from doing so, thinking hazily that he needed to start getting more sleep. "No, no, that's not what I meant to say ..."
"Well, Great Aunt Isobel is outside," said Hermione apologetically, looking both bewildered and sad when she glanced outside to see the upright figure in navy robes walking across the lawn.
No, no, he thought to himself. I have to say it! I have to! Come on Severus!
"What I meant to say is ..." - there was a knock on the door - "is have a good summer," he finished lamely, hating himself.
"You too," said Hermione, choking slightly as she rushed forward to give Severus a hug, which was so quick he had no time to return it.
She picked up her trunk and hurried from the room and out onto the porch, closing the front door.
Severus stood numbly in the sitting room, wondering why he had to be a Snape ... an emotionally challenged, hard-headed, inarticulate Snape.
"Severus?" said Harry groggily, having come downstairs to see what the commotion was about, "what's going on? Where's Hermione?"
"Hermione ... Hermione left," he said in disbelief, although the way Harry had said it, it sounded as though he already knew. "To her Great Aunt's."
"But ... but she left this," Harry said. "On her bed. Her things were gone ... all them but this. She never forgets her books."
Severus looked over to Harry, who was holding a familiar, green book in his hands.
She doesn't want to stay, muttered a voice inside of Severus when he saw the title. It's her way of saying she doesn't want to know you, Severus.
Then why did she look so sad as she left? said another, and a strange sort of hope filled his chest. Maybe it made her think too much of this place ... maybe ...
It was at that moment that Severus took the book from Harry's hands, his own fingers trembling, because right now, right then, as Hermione's figure could be seen walking down the sloping, grassy hill off in the distance with Great Aunt Isobel, moments from being out of reach, Severus knew what to say. He knew how to tell Hermione in a way she would understand, and in words he could say aloud.
Harry, who seemed to have just noticed Hermione's distant figure, started toward the door to go and catch her, but Severus got there first. Not even pausing to appreciate the hilariously shocked look on Harry's face he scrambled to the door, waving the book and shouting for Hermione to wait.
He was halfway down the lawn when Hermione turned round, and holding the book up high, panting, he called out breathlessly, "Hermione, you're my Anne!"
He knew that she understood it from the moment he said it, because her smile was brighter than the sun.
"Stay, please," he called, relief washing over him, his words seeming to have unglued themselves. "Don't go. I'm sorry it took me so long to say!"
Hermione looked to Great Aunt Isobel, who looked over to where Severus was standing, and Harry, who had at last caught up. She nodded, and said a few quiet words to Hermione, smiling. She looked a little bit sad as Hermione dropped her trunk and began to run toward Severus, grinning ear to ear, but Great Aunt Isobel did nothing to stop her. She watched with a melancholy sort of expression as Hermione spread her arms and threw herself into Severus'. Severus laughed with relief as he hugged Hermione. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder, and as Harry walked over to them she reached an arm out and dragged him into the hug too, so that the three of them were standing there together. Hermione seemed to have no words to say when she let go, her eyes wet, but she didn't need to, because her relief was enough.
"I'm sorry it took so long for me to say," muttered Severus again.
"It's okay," she said with a smile. Her lip twitched with suppressed laughter. "But that analogy with the potion really was terrible."
"That was bad, I admit," Severus said, feeling his face grow warm, making Harry stare in surprise.
Hermione glanced over to Great Aunt Isobel, looking a little lost as she stared out at the lonely figure standing by her trunk.
"Severus, can we invite Great Aunt Isobel for a cup of coffee?"
Severus thought that it would be Hermione to say it, but it was Harry, who seemed to say what was on Hermione's mind as he watched the exchange.
"Yes, certainly," said Severus, surprised that Harry would not mind.
A wave of relief fell over Hermione's face, and she whispered a thank you. Harry grinned at her, and without another moment's hesitation she ran over to Great Aunt Isobel. Severus watched as the two talked. Great Aunt Isobel smiled softly as Hermione spoke, and in a few moments, the two were walking across the grass toward them.
Severus looked to Harry, nodding slightly, his way of saying he was proud. Harry smiled. It was clear he understood. Sometimes things were easier to understand when no words were spoken.
It was a pleasant visit that followed. Great Aunt Isobel was polite, highly particular about things, but kind. She seemed a great deal more relaxed this time, and listened more than talked (although it seemed to pain her on occasion). Almost immediately she asked where the little boy was that she had met last time was because she wished to apologize, making the three others laugh with delight as they explained. Her amazement was terribly funny to all three, although this made Great Aunt Isobel purse her lips and frown, so they tried not to laugh too hard. Amazingly, she kept quiet about the whole thing, and instead moved the subject toward something less to do with her surprise and more to do with magical herbs, which Severus knew plenty about and Hermione was happy to contribute to. She left shortly before nine. Hermione promised to visit, and in turn, Great Aunt Isobel very sternly made Severus promise to look after Hermione well (You will hear from me if you don't, young man!), and send her any letters updating her on what Dumbledore was doing on the situation, for the paperwork still had to be done. She said she had faith in Dumbledore, however. And so did Severus.
Great Aunt Isobel said goodbye for the time being, promising that her teapot was always ready should Hermione wish to come visit. And that was that. No disasters. No worries. Just a simple goodbye that left a family to go on with their day in peace. And a proper family they would be, something Severus had never thought he would be a part of again. Like Severus, it was clear that neither Harry nor Hermione had thought they would be either. None of them had expected it. Then again, wasn't it this quiet delight at finding themselves wanted the thing that really brought them together in the first place?