The bonfires of the Samhain Festival glowed brightly in the streets of Hogsmeade. The seasonal festivals were popular since the end of the war, and each wizarding town held at least one spectacular party each year. A suburb of London was the spot for Christmas. A tiny village in Wales did Spring Renewal like no other. But anyone who was anyone made a pilgrimage to Hogsmeade at the end of October. The crew of war heroes was no exception.
Harry Potter was flourishing in his career as an Auror and had relaxed into his fame well enough to greet people warmly in the streets and then gently excuse himself to his intended task. At the moment, that task was attending one of Ron's festival shows. "I can't believe Ron is such a star now," he said to Hermione as they sucked on a pair of Snitchpops ( Feel them flutter! ) and approached the stage in the middle of the High Road.
Hermione felt a bit queasy from too much fair food, and when Harry wasn't looking, she vanished her unfinished sweet. "I can. He wasn't happy as an Auror. Too much pressure, too dangerous, and still in your shadow. He seems much happier this way."
And he was. After quitting the MLE, Ron had taken up with travelling performers. He had found his calling, and he performed with the troupe every other month at the town festivals all over the country and beyond. Ron had also found about a dozen groupies, and so he and Hermione quietly broke up shortly after this career change.
Holding her belly, Hermione said, "You go on ahead. I've seen this show already anyway. I'm going to find a place to sit for a while."
Thus, Hermione was alone, tugging her cloak to drape nicely before she dropped to one of the benches placed along the edge of the road. A chance to rest was exactly what she needed to calm her tummy and enjoy the scene. The gathering audience was crushing in toward the stage, but Hermione spotted a fire juggler dancing around one of the smaller pyres dotting the centerline of the road. The raw flames flickered and jumped between the juggler's hands, stretching and bending and mesmerising those who stopped long enough to look. Then Hermione heard a collective gasp over the chatter of the crowd when one of the actors mounted a broom to fly in spirals, higher and higher over the stage.
Shifting her eyes away from the sideshow and tipping her head back to watch the flyers, Hermione pushed her hair off her shoulders and continued raising her gaze to the sky. Between the fires and the waxing moon, the street was well-lit and the stars were faint. She could barely make out Hercules, hanging low over the mountains in the West, but she smiled when she did. The constellations were so constant, so reliable. She turned slowly Southward, squinting hard over the golden glow of the fires, failing to find Pegasus through the hazy orange glow. She knew the creature was there, and she felt an odd need to see him.
The crowd was so big, so noisy, and Hermione got up to leave. Harry and Ron would probably stay for the performers' after-party, and no doubt they would wind up with pictures of their drunken revelry plastered all over the Prophet tomorrow. Hermione wasn't interested in such public displays being captured for posterity. The last time she had partied with the performers, she had wound up with her own set of groupies. The photos were accompanied by the most tawdry speculations about the rocky relationship she had with Ron. Yuck. No thanks.
After only a few steps away from the bench, she caught a sight that made her lips twitch in amusement. Severus Snape was hauling a pair of students by the ears. She thought of how tempting it would be for the Hogwarts pupils, knowing what was happening in the village and yet not allowed to attend. Hermione chuckled a little bit as she watched him deliver the rule-breakers to Hagrid, who seemed quite put out at leaving the festivities himself. Then Snape went back to stalking the crowd, slipping effortlessly between groups.
Hermione took a moment to consider him. After his miraculous survival of Nagini's bite and venom, he went right back to teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, proving that Tom Riddle's curse on the job died with him. She sat his class during that first year of rebuilding Hogwarts. While he was still exacting and harsh, he was much more equal in the distribution of his disdain, and he had been surprisingly apathetic toward her.
Now that he wasn't under the pressure of saving the world, or rebuilding it, it seemed like he was taking better care of himself. His lean body had filled out a bit. Sometime in the last year, he had even cut his hair to better frame the angles of his face. It was now the perfect length for a finger-combing, and Hermione's heart fluttered at the sudden thought of doing exactly that.
Or was that the Snitchpop lingering in her gut? Bloody magical lollies. She'd never have one again.
Gathering her Gryffindor courage, Hermione stepped into Snape's path. She didn't even think about it, just collected her nerve and did it. She caught his eye, and he promptly changed direction. This time her laughter was a proper witch's cackle, and she spent the next ten minutes dodging the churning merry-makers as she chased him. She was a lion hunting a serpent, and she wasn't about to let him slither away.
It was almost a dance, the way she side-stepped, pivoted, and sashayed between the people, the bonfires, the stages, and the vendors. She breathed deeply the smell of firewood smoke and fried festival food, and she hummed along with the fiddler performing at the end of the High Road. She lost sight of her prey behind a vendor's cart, overfilled with twinkling balloons shaped like stars and moons.
When she rounded it, she knew the game was over. She was at the end of the street, and Snape was long gone up the path to the castle. Hermione sighed in defeat, just as a great cheer went up in the middle of town. Ron's play must be over. But instead of going back, she tilted her neck to look skyward once again. Out here, it was darker and much clearer. It was chilly, too, but she simply cast a warming charm on her cloak and glanced around to find a better place for stargazing.
Severus Snape had first caught sight of Hermione Granger when she brushed her hair back and exposed her pretty neck to watch the performers doing their flight stunts. Then he promptly doubled his efforts to root out troublemakers and managed to find the latest set of mischievous twins to grace the halls of Hogwarts.
Dispatching them back where they belonged, Severus resumed his search, until he realised he was the one being hunted. Miss Granger was fearless and not to be underestimated. He had learned that when she came back to finish her education and refused to be cowed, refused to take any more of his snark. She could don a scowl or a sneer worthy of him and was no longer fazed by his dramatic displays or furious outbursts.
She was no longer his student. She hadn't been five years now. He didn't owe her anything, but she was after something. She was all grown up, and his visceral reaction to her pretty neck and tumbling hair was almost as bad as the way he could admit that she was no dunderhead. She was incredible.
Brilliant, but scary.
So he gave her the slip. It was a close thing, and disorienting how he went from predator to prey in a matter of seconds. He hadn't felt like this since his double-agent days, and it made his stomach churn. He wasn't so much into the billowing robes anymore, and that was all the better for this game of chase. He needed more sleek attire as he side-stepped, pivoted, and sashayed between the people, the bonfires, the stages, and the vendors.
Finally ducking out of her line of sight long enough to cast a disillusionment, he leaned against a tree on the outskirts of town and caught his breath. He was, perhaps, a bit out of shape after six years of living with a decent night's sleep instead of running on stimulant potions and stress hormones. He jerked, startled out of this reflection, when the great cheer erupted in the street. No doubt the combined fanclub of Potter and Weasley was one of the reasons Miss Granger found herself alone, with nothing better to do than torment him.
And then instead of returning to join the after-party, Granger's head slowly leaned back, again sending her locks in a waterfall behind her and exposing the enticing vulnerable flesh of her throat. His hand reached instinctively to his own and traced the scars left behind by that blasted great serpent.
Severus watched as she gathered herself and resumed the hunt. Could he get no peace? His hand twitched, ready to draw his wand. Her path was not efficient, and he started to wonder if she was really looking for him or for someone, or something, else. He tried to ease away, carefully stepping further up the path, but when he looked back to see if she was following him...
Of course he had to step on a twig, out here in the quiet, away from the noise of the village. Severus froze, but Granger's head snapped his direction, and in the dim light of the crescent moon, he saw the wicked smile draw up her lips. She looked right at him. Probably, she had done enough hiding during her year on the run, that she was quite adept at seeing things meant to be concealed. He sighed, and he cast a quick finite to cancel the disillusionment.
Her smile faltered, and her eyes went to the sky one more time. "Do you know a good place to look at the stars?"
He scowled, unable to parse the feeling that squeezed in his chest.
She lifted one shoulder, and he didn't know if her shrug meant to express ignorance or indifference, or perhaps both. She explained, "It's too bright near the fires. And too likely I'll be accosted by a stranger who recognises me. Or worse, one of Ron's fangirls , who still sees me as competition."
Before he could think better of it, Severus sneered, "Aren't you?"
There it was on her face and in her tone, one of those matching sneers that rivalled his own, but she simply said, "No." And then as soon as that salty expression had come, it went, and Granger turned her gaze upon him.
Severus didn't have to actively invoke legilimency to see those eyes saying so much. Granger was not hunting him. She had been seeking peace, the same as him. It was saccharine and daft, and he was unsure which of them had originated it, but the thought came through quite clearly: Maybe they could find a little peace together.
And she had already answered the one question that needed to be asked before doing so.
He stepped toward her and held out his hand. "I know a place."
Her hand was cold. Didn't the know-it-all have a decent warming charm in her repertoire? No matter. He tucked her chilly digits securely into the crook of his elbow, and he apparated.
Hermione was surprised that she had found him, or rather, that he allowed himself to be found, and once she had him, she didn't know what to do with him. Seeing Snape was one of the few things tonight that had tickled her merriment, even if it was a bit on the side of schadenfreude toward teenage miscreants. So she asked about the only other thing tonight that put a smile on her face, and she was surprised again when he responded with a teasing offer to take her... somewhere.
This time he made the sound on purpose, apparating them to a ledge on a mountainside. A cool breeze kissed Hermione’s skin, and the thin air stole her breath away. Maybe it was the clarity of that brisk mountain air, showing her the stars as she'd never seen before. She gasped for a breath, and then her lungs adjusted, and suddenly she was entranced.
Snape attempted to smoothly disengage himself, but Hermione gripped him tighter. She felt a chill that may have had something to do with the temperature, but she suspected her goosebumps actually came from the closeness to a powerful wizard who really knew how to show a girl a romantic spot.
In her lower periphery, she could just barely make out the glowing village, and farther in the distance, Hogwarts sat, nestled in the range. She couldn't bear to take the focus of her gaze away from the sparkling lights of the heavens, not even to look at Snape. He must have taken her to the highest peak, and she could finally look South and see the mythological flying beast that eluded her earlier.
She wasn't sure how long she stood like that, not talking, just looking, until she felt her whole body shudder in the cold.
"Foolish girl," Snape whispered in her ear, but before she could respond with any level of wit or sass, he pried her hand from his arm, unclasped the front of his cloak, and stepped behind her to draw her under it with him.
Hermione gasped again as his hands wound across her middle, arms crossed over her belly, palms flat on her sides. By some instinct, she slid her hands over his and rested there. He was a few inches taller than her, but she could tip her head back slightly onto his shoulder, her left temple pressed against the right side of his jaw, and his dishevelled shaggy hair just brushing her forehead, tickling her as surely as her bushy curls must be tickling his neck.
His body was a furnace, a welcome heat at her backside that inspired a more complex heat inside. The angles of their heads meant they were both stargazing, but Hermione was hyper-aware of each point of contact with him. She felt the pressure of each of his fingers on the soft flesh of her lower torso. She felt the plane of his jaw where she dared to nuzzle closer. She felt the steady rise and fall of his chest flush against her back, and when each of those breaths came out through his hooked nose, she could feel the tiniest puff flow over her ear.
He murmured, "More beautiful than I remembered."
Hermione gulped and felt a tingle run from her ears all the way down to her core, now aching with a need she hadn't felt in years, maybe not ever. She cleared her throat and asked, "The stars?"
"No, Hermione, not the stars."
Her heart leapt when he said her name, and she held his hands tightly as she wiggled free to turn around in his arms. In the course of that wiggle, she discovered a certain hardness that had pressed against her bum. The same wicked smile from her earlier hunt tugged at her lips, and she pushed her front against his, slipping her arms around him. She leaned back slightly to see him better, arching her back in a way that thrust her hips and trapped his growing erection between them.
His eyes were closed, and his brow creased severely. He looked exceedingly uncomfortable, but he was trapped. She had him again, and this time she knew what to do.
"Severus," she whispered, trying his given name for the first time and finding it delicious as it purred through her salivating mouth. It was downright sinful the way her tongue slipped through the syllables with s-sounds and her teeth lingered on her lower lip as the v-sound vibrated.
Still closing off his eyes to her, he did relax just a bit, drawing a deep breath and letting out an airy sigh.
She brought one hand up and ran her fingers through his hair. She had been right. His hair felt perfect at this length, with no chance of catching a snag, and only a teeny tiny bit greasy. Then Hermione pulled him down for a kiss. His lips were thin and cold. She was the furnace, now, and she kissed the man thoroughly. She warmed him with lazy, suckling kisses, and then ran her tongue from one corner to the other until he opened and let her taste him.
Festival food. Yum. What a treat!
The impertinent girl only said she wanted to do some stargazing. But then she clung to him, and Severus couldn't help the growing awareness of her soft body, wild curls, and rapt attention to the peaceful sky.
When she shivered, he wracked his brain. Didn't he have a decent warming charm in his repertoire? No matter. He did the only sensible thing he could think of, and he wrapped her up in his own cloak. He was honestly quite embarrassed at his body's reaction to her, but he couldn't move. He was frozen, again, waiting for her to acknowledge the state in which she found him. Earlier, when he knew he was cornered, he had cancelled his disillusionment, with no point in hiding any longer. There didn’t seem much point in concealing this, either. He was not certain if it was courage or sheer stupidity that had him open his mouth to declare her beautiful.
And now she was kissing him. He had kissed women before, but, gods help him, he had never been kissed. It was entirely different. It was magic itself.
He felt truly wanted, for the first time in his life.
Wrenching away from her, panting as he put several paces between them, he panicked first at the overwhelming newness of this feeling, and then at the crushed look of rejection on her face.
"Severus?" she whispered, voice cracking.
The first time she said his name, it sounded like an angel's lullaby, soothing his nerves, even as it further excited him in ways he never thought the sound of his own name could do. This time, her trembling fear tore at his heart, and he said, "I'm sorry," not quite sure what he was sorry for, only that he had caused her distress, and he would do anything to fix what he just broke.
It must have been the right thing to say. He saw steely determination gather in her expression, in her body language, and then she drew her wand.
All right, if she wanted to hex him, it would not be the first time a witch responded that way to his advances. But wait, she was the one who advanced tonight. The nerve!
"No, Severus," she crooned, his name again a blessing on her lips. "I'm sorry. Too fast, right? If I conjure a blanket, can we just lay here for a bit and look up?"
"Hermione," he said, hoping he didn't sound too strangled. "If we lay down together, things will proceed even faster."
With this assurance, her wicked smile was back again.
Severus shifted his eyes to the Eastern horizon, where Orion was creeping upward. It was late, and he was tired, and as one hunter rose above the Earth, he surrendered to another on the ground.