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The French Connection

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Hermione leans over the railing of the Pont d’Arcole and stares out at the evening panorama of the city around her. The paper clutched in her hand flutters in the mild breeze like a symbol of surrender, a white flag latticed over with a network of red lines.

To her left looms the Hôtel de Ville, a wedding cake of a building overwritten with elaborate swoops and swirls of pale stone like so much fancy icing, painted with all the colours of the sunset. To her right, the spectacle of Notre Dame rises, rigid and Gothic, while its fabled flying buttresses gleam in the dying light, glittering like some fantastic insect. Hermione stands in the middle of the bridge, neither left nor right, floating over the Seine in a perfect state of limbo.

She is young and healthy, unencumbered by unwelcome company. She has money in her bag and a decent place to sleep. The weather is gorgeous, ripe with the last golden glow of summer, although the air carries a foreshadowing of impending autumn, something crisp and clean. In her hand is a map of the City of Light, the totality of Paris laid bare and clear and stark upon a sheet of paper, reduced to comprehensible lines and grids and names upon names. The whole of this famous city is at her disposal: an inexhaustible well filled with more opportunities than any one person could explore in a lifetime.

The problem is only this: she has no idea where to go. She has known for some time that she needs to go somewhere—it is this impulse that has brought her as far as Paris—but beyond that, things remain blank. For a clever witch used to having the proper answers at her instant disposal, accustomed to directing others with perfect certitude, this is an exercise in frustration.

She feels like a lone boulder in a river, sunk down in the mire while life flows on around her.

A voice cuts into her musings. “Pardonnez-moi, mais est-ce que vous êtes perdue?”

Hermione flinches at the unexpected interruption, her heart suddenly pounding. Beside her stands a slender, fair-haired man, middle-aged and slightly balding. His pale eyes look kind and polite rather than predatory, and his clothing gives him the nervous, tweedy air of an academic.

For a moment, Hermione thinks of Remus Lupin, who was tweedy and kind and polite, and who did not live to see his son celebrate his first birthday.

Even in Paris, the ghosts are always lurking.

“Mademoiselle, est-ce que vous êtes perdue?” the man repeats, gesturing to the map in her hand. Are you lost? Hermione considers the question.

“Oui,” she says and walks away with no particular destination in mind.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Hôtel Fourcy has a dungeon in its depths.

It’s not really a dungeon so much as it is an old stone-lined cellar, a grimly elegant relic of the 18th century that has been repurposed as the hotel’s restaurant. Judging by the opinions of Hermione’s fellow lodgers, most of them find the restaurant’s medieval look to be wonderfully atmospheric, like some fairy-tale castle. Hermione, however, has actually lived in a castle, and to her it looks like the dungeons of Hogwarts. She always half expects to hear the crack of a door being flung open, heralding the arrival of a man who has been dead for years and hasn’t been her teacher for even longer.

She always eats her complimentary tartines very quickly and takes the rest of her meals elsewhere. She has little appetite these days.

Still, the Fourcy has its compensations: the restored townhouse is clean and well kept, quiet and discreet. Tucked on a relatively quiet street in the heart of the increasingly trendy Marais, it houses nothing more troublesome than overeager German tourists who sometimes talk too much, too loud.

The Fourcy bears the stamp of aristocratic origins, and even if it had nothing else to recommend it, Hermione would love it for the cobblestone courtyard that fills its centre, a light-filled oasis that invites long contemplation. Hermione does most of her work in this space, drinking in the sight of the genteelly crumbling masonry and the vivid green vines that embrace it, curling around ledges and caressing against windowpanes. There is a sense of history here, such that she can almost imagine herself in the times when a carriage would have entered through those massive blue doors, passing under the porte-cochère and into the courtyard beyond it.

Still, the Fourcy has one major flaw: none of the staff can brew a satisfactory cup of tea.

They offer it as a matter of course, yet they always seem surprised when Hermione takes them up on the offer. The request inevitably results in them presenting her with a pot of rapidly cooling water, a stale, ancient teabag and a look of apology.

The tea that results tastes like nothing so much as cardboard—or, when sugar is added, sweetened cardboard. It only leaves Hermione even thirstier for real tea; this pale imitation is worse than nothing at all, for it brings no satisfaction and intensifies her longing. The Fourcy’s poor substitute for tea is the one thing that always pushes Hermione out to explore the streets of the Marais, in search of the real thing.

She has yet to find it, but at least it gives her an excuse to get out in the city.

It is on one of these excursions that Hermione first sees the ghost of Severus Snape.

She’s become accustomed to seeing the echoes of the dead in the faces of random strangers: a man with eyes as blue as Dumbledore’s, a lanky boy whose infectious laugh makes her thinks of Fred. Hermione can’t help but remember Tonks each time she looks at the beggar girl who sits in front of the Crédit Lyonnais on the Rue Saint-Antoine; she’s by no means a double, but her multicoloured hair stands out in wild spikes, and despite her circumstances, she has the same relentlessly cheerful manner as Tonks. Hermione always drops some coins in the girl’s waiting hat.

She wonders what it means, to be haunted by memories of the departed and yet to rarely miss the living friends she’s chosen to leave behind.

Today, as she straightens from depositing her change with Not-Tonks, she sees something much stronger than any echo: she sees what can only be an actual ghost, in the form of the late Headmaster of Hogwarts.

He is dressed in dark Muggle clothing and seated at a table in front of the café called ‘Les Chimères,’ his slender legs outstretched and brow furrowed in thought. One long, white hand raises his espresso to his lips while the other toys with a biro as he contemplates the crossword puzzle. His profile is unmistakable, given the distinctive silhouette of that oversized nose, and he moves with an eerily familiar grace. He looks as solid and real as any other man, yet she knows that he must be a ghost because she has seen him die.

Hermione gasps out loud, feeling suddenly light-headed. She has never been the type to swoon, but at the moment she feels the impulse.

“Tiens! Elle est malade!”

Hermione turns in the direction of the shouting, the strange spell broken. Several passers-by are eyeing her with either concern or suspicion. Not-Tonks is staring up at her with huge hazel eyes.

“Are you okay?” she asks in French. Her voice sounds nothing like Tonks’.

“I’m fine,” Hermione assures her, although her heart is thundering, and she feels more than a little shaky. It’s not every day one sees the dead, after all.

When she looks back up at the little café with its flimsy green awning and flimsier chairs, Snape’s spectre is gone. Hermione is both crushed and comforted by this fact.

It’s only a figment of her imagination, she’s certain. She’s read about this phenomenon in a hundred books and articles on psychology and post-traumatic stress and is certain that all can be easily explained. She’s only imagining Snape’s presence because of the guilt she feels for his death—a guilt that stems from failing to act while he died before her eyes, a guilt that is compounded by every sad detail she has learned of his life since then. Her brain is only showing her this illusion because she needs to get over this and get on with life.

Yes. There is a rational explanation for everything, even irrational things.

Hermione feels very smug in this theory until she walks further down the street and passes by the empty café table. Upon its surface sit a few coins, an empty demitasse in a saucer, and a folded newspaper with a half-completed crossword puzzle sitting right on top.

The handwriting on the puzzle looks like Snape’s.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After a week filled with Snape sightings, Hermione is convinced that she’s much worse off than she’d ever have guessed. Clearly, she’s gone insane.

She has spotted him on the quais along the river, or in the shadows under bridges. She’s seen him once more at Les Chimères, and she’s almost certain that she saw him walking out of a boulangerie, stalking away with a baguette under his arm and his long coat streaming behind him like an inky storm cloud. Every time she thinks she might get close enough to look, to really examine her delusion, he turns the corner or melts into the shadows, or for all she knows, Disapparates.

Once, she thinks she sees him in the Métro. As she waits in the white-tiled station for her train to arrive, she catches a glimpse of a dark-haired man on the opposite platform, a thin, sharp figure with a beaky nose and the prowling gait of a jungle cat. She very nearly calls his name across the distance of the tracks—Professor? Headmaster? Snape? Severus?—but the opposite train arrives while the words are still stuck somewhere inside her, and by the time she unstoppers her throat, the train has gone, leaving no trace of the man in the black coat.

This is, she thinks, going beyond a mere fixation. To see Snape—Snape, of all people—in every place she goes must surely be some sort of psychosis. She knows that she hasn’t coped with everything as well as the people all around her had expected, but until this point, she’s never actually questioned her sanity.

Even worse than the prospect of being haunted by the ex-Headmaster’s ghost is the foolish, foolish hope that wells inside of her each time she thinks she spots him. In those brief instants, she reminds herself that they never did find his body, only an ocean of his blood. Snape had once claimed that he could stopper death, and if she’s ever known a wizard who could perform such a feat, it would be him. A clever spy and skilled brewer might have Blood Replenishing Potion in his pockets, might have a bezoar or antivenin at his disposal, might have known a way to escape such a monstrously unfair fate. Perhaps, Hermione allows herself to think, his death is not on her conscience, after all.

And then she remembers the gore they found in the Shrieking Shack, the floorboards thick with blood and the air reeking like a slaughterhouse. She remembers the dullness of Snape’s normally glittering eyes and the way his tortured, gasping breathing ceased. She knows that she had only a small window in which to act; she missed it, and the man who worked to save them all is dead as a result. This time, there is no convenient Time-Turner to help her erase the mistake.

In an effort to drive the Snape problem from her mind, Hermione resorts to her favourite method of escapism: books, and lots of them. A woman with a bottomless beaded bag can afford to expand her library significantly, even whilst on holiday, and for that reason, Hermione decides that some book shopping is in order.

From the street, Shakespeare and Company looks small and exceedingly quirky, a tiny place painted in brilliant shades of Gryffindor scarlet and gold with a healthy dose of the deep, dignified green that Hermione is coming to associate with Paris. The doors are open, allowing the wares to spill out onto the pavement, crammed into cardboard boxes and one rickety bookcase, arranged under what appears to be an icon of Walt Whitman.

Hermione loves it at once.

Shakespeare and Company is unquestionably the most magical Muggle place she’s ever seen—in fact, she’s not entirely convinced that it isn’t magical. How else to explain a place so much larger than the outside would indicate, a place so lined with books on every conceivable subject that it appears to be entirely composed of them? The colourful volumes cover the walls from floor to ceiling, forming an organic structure with no rhyme or reason to it, only bulging shelves and all manner of unexpected nooks and crannies. Hermione looks down, just to reassure herself that the floor hasn’t been paved with books as well.

Looking at this embarrassment of riches, she feels a glimmer of real excitement. The possibilities are so endless that she hardly knows where to begin. It’s no wonder that the shop is crowded; Hermione would rather have this attraction over the Eiffel Tower any day.

Two hours and many volumes later, Hermione knows she hasn’t even scratched the surface of what the shop has to offer her. However, she has blissfully wallowed in the dusty, musty smell of pages and has an armful of new acquisitions to purchase. She’s just about to reach for another when she’s jostled from the side, nearly falling over a display-table buried under a mound of trade paperbacks.

“Ah, excuse me,” apologizes a familiar voice. “It’s quite crowded here.” Slender but strong hands reach out to grab her shoulders, steadying her and preventing an embarrassing tumble. Whoever the man is, she likes the way he smells… although this, too, is familiar.

Hermione turns to thank her rescuer but freezes at the realisation that she has seen him before—many times, in fact, and several of them less than pleasant.

She is standing before the almost-Snape, the man in the long black coat—her phantom—and he is no less surprised to see her than she is to see him.

Now that she can examine him up close, there’s not a question in her mind as to his identity. He’s a mix of the strange and the strangely familiar: slender and pale, with spiky dark hair and equally dark eyes. His clothes are so Muggle and ordinary that no average wizard would ever recognise him as one of their own, and a pair of dark-framed rectangular glasses perches atop the lumpy bridge of his nose, giving the impression that he’s a clever bloke and knows it. He’s rather smaller than the looming menace Hermione thinks she remembers from her school days—he’s really not much taller than Harry, in fact—yet there’s no mistaking that furrowed brow, sharp chin or beaky nose, and when Hermione glances at the side of his neck, she can see silvery scars rising above the edge of his collar.

The last time she saw him, he was on his back in a brilliant pool of blood, his eyes very blank and very dead. Yet dead men don’t walk around and browse in Parisian bookshops. Dead men don’t frown at her—not outside of her nightmares, not in broad daylight.

Clearly, Severus Snape is alive and well.

Hermione tries to breathe and finds she can’t. The shop suddenly seems too narrow, too crowded, filled with the sick, humid warmth of too many bodies in too close a space. Her legs feel like rubber beneath her, but she has just enough presence of mind to move to her right, effectively trapping the man in the nook between the stairs and the groaning bookshelves. He’s been driving her insane for a week, appearing and disappearing at random; this time, she won’t let him get away so easily.

One way or another, she must have an answer.

“It’s you,” she whispers.

He scowls at her, and that’s when she is certain that this man is truly Severus Snape.

She hasn’t been seeing visions, she’s been seeing a Snape—a living, breathing, scowling Snape, who is currently standing before her and looking as though he’d like nothing better than to hex her into non-existence, if only the shop weren’t stuffed with inconvenient Muggle witnesses.

“You’re alive!” Hermione squeaks.

“Demonstrably,” Snape replies, his tone dry as day-old bread. His voice is exactly as she remembers: low and silky, equal parts beauty and menace. “If you have no further statements of the obvious to offer, Miss Granger, would you mind removing yourself from—?”

“And you’re dressed like a Muggle!

Snape’s hand clenches around the volume he’s holding, his knuckles going briefly white.

“Surely you appreciate that this is a highly inappropriate venue for this conversation.”

“But I saw you die! There was nothing—if I could have done something, I would have done—how did you manage—”

“Miss. Granger. Cease your babbling this instant.” Snape bares his teeth, which are whiter, but no closer to straight than they ever have been. “You are making a scene,” he adds pointedly.

Hermione glances around and sees that he is right: several of the patrons are staring, and at least one older man is glaring at the two of them for daring to block access to the books he wanted to see, not to mention the staircase. The shop is stuffed full with both books and people, leaving them with no place to stand out of the way.

On an impulse, Hermione reaches out to grab Snape’s arm, seized by the certainty that if she allows him to walk away, he will disappear into the air. Through the rough green wool of his jumper, she can feel that he is bony and lean, warm and solid. Though the situation seems fantastic, he is not a phantom; she can feel him, so therefore he exists.

“Miss Granger,” he says, looking at her with distaste, “unhand me imme—”

“Come to lunch with me,” Hermione blurts.

“I beg your pardon?” He is staring daggers at her, his voice a dangerous warning. She ignores it, more frightened by the prospect of his leaving than she is by the thought of what he could do to her. He can’t still have his wand; they’ve buried it in Hogsmeade, the only trace of him that the survivors could find.

“Please come to lunch with me. My treat,” she adds, remembering too late that words such as please have never moved the stony heart of Severus Snape.

“Your treat,” he repeats slowly. “I fail to see how such a situation could in any way constitute a treat. I have neither the need nor the desire to have you provide me with a meal. I have no desire to see you, whatsoever. For all I know, this is some ill-advised trap, and any minute your dunderheaded partners-in-crime will show up—”

“Harry and Ron aren’t here,” Hermione explains before Snape can work himself up to a full head of fury. “Really, I swear it. It’s only me, and I just… I just want to talk to you.” As she says it, she realizes that this is easily the longest conversation she’s had in nearly a month. She hadn’t realized how much she misses speaking in English.

He looms forward as much as he can, radiating danger. It’s somewhat less intimidating without the billowing robes of a schoolmaster, but for an instant of doubt, Hermione fears that he will hurt her, shove her over in his determination to escape. How could she have forgotten that, whatever else he has been, Severus Snape has never been a man to underestimate?

He might look like any normal, rather bookish fellow at the moment, but it does not do to forget that he has cheated both Voldemort and death and come out victorious.

“So much for the supposedly Brightest Witch of her Age,” he sneers, “coming after a wanted man all by her lonesome, armed only with an invitation to lunch. Tell me, Miss Granger, have you forgotten who I am and what I’ve done?”

It is then that Hermione notices that his hands are trembling. She thinks of all the things she’s learned from the memories Harry has shared with her, and then she thinks that perhaps Snape is not so very different from Crookshanks, puffing himself up to look impressive when he really only wants to be left alone.

“No,” she murmurs. “I haven’t forgotten. That’s why I trust you: I understand who you are and what you’ve done. I’m just not certain that you do.”

Snape rears back at that, eyeing her with suspicion and something that in another man might be called fear.

“Professor Snape…”

“Hush! I am nobody’s professor, and that is not my name,” he whispers in a vicious undertone, his gaze darting about to make sure that they haven’t been overheard.

Of course: he’s living under an assumed identity. She should have guessed.

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you, Mister… ?”

“Prince,” Snape grudgingly admits. “Patrick Prince.”

Hermione almost laughs at the irony of him naming himself after the legendary vanquisher of snakes. “It won’t happen again, Mr. Prince.”

“You’re damned right it won’t because I have no intention of ever meeting you again.”

“Sir, please.” Hermione grips his arm harder, willing him to understand. “I only want to talk. Just lunch, and then you’ll never have to see me again. I won’t tell anybody about you, I promise. I… I understand. About not wanting to be found, I mean.”

Snape stares at her for a very long moment, and she shivers at the intensity of that searing dark gaze, focused only on her. Though she does not feel the intrusion of Legilimency, he nonetheless seems to see enough in her face to convince him of her sincerity. He yanks his arm away from her and self-consciously neatens his coat.

“You’re a perfect fool… but very well, Miss Granger,” he says in a long-suffering tone. “If I agree to this request of yours, you will never again pester me with your infernal presence. Is that clear?”

For the first time in several months, Hermione’s smile is genuine. “Crystal, sir.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Snape knows the Latin Quarter considerably better than Hermione does, and he directs her around the corner, past the unique architectural collage that makes up Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, and into a cosy little place called ‘The Tea Caddy.’ Its front is panelled in warm-coloured woods, and there are two tiny, perfect little topiaries that flank the entryway. Inside, the light is dim but not too dark for comfort, and the chairs are comfortable. Snape orders them a proper tea. He speaks French with perfect grammar and a terrible accent.

All of this pales, however, in consideration of the wonder that is a hot cup of perfectly brewed Earl Grey. The waitress brings it to her in a china cup, steaming and fragrant, and Hermione closes her eyes and takes a moment to simply savour the familiar aroma of bergamot and citrus.

It feels like sheer bliss.

“Mmm,” she hums, relishing the first sip. She wants to imprint every moment of this experience in her mind, a shining memory to cheer herself when she is stuck in a place where the tea tastes like cardboard.

Snape quirks an eyebrow at her and looks almost amused. In the short walk from the bookshop, he’s cooled down considerably. He’s changed from the time when she knew him, she thinks—he has mellowed without the constant stress and strain of espionage. He looks younger than she remembers, restored to his natural age by good living and the absence of mortal peril.

“That good, Miss Granger?”

“Better,” she confirms. “Do you mind not calling me that? It makes me feel like we’re still at school.”

“Perish the thought,” he says, shuddering. “Very well, then: Hermione.”

It sounds rather lovely when he says it like that, and she’s surprised to feel a little shiver of excitement at the sound. “Yes, Patrick?

Snape snorts and sips at his own tea—black, of course—before tucking into a fat scone studded with currants. “Twenty points from Gryffindor for your cheek.”

There is something pleasant about this bantering—an ease that Hermione has not felt in some time. In her chest, something loosens, though she hadn’t realized that it was so tight. They were never close when back in Scotland, but here on foreign soil, they form a secret society of their own: a kinship of shared language and shared experiences.

He answers most of her questions, telling her a tale of treacherous masters and assumed identities, of shrewd investments and one narrow escape. It seems almost too fantastic to be true, but Hermione finds herself inclined to believe him; the proof, after all, is sitting right in front of her, dressed in green and black and grey. In exchange, she offers some news of herself: of Crookshanks, who prefers the Burrow to her flat in London, and of parents who’d preferred to cultivate their new lives in Australia, rather than return to their old ones in England.

Snape frowns at that, but Hermione shrugs it off. Her parents have always urged her to be an independent soul; it shouldn’t have been so surprising that although she’d cared enough to send them away, they hadn’t cared enough to return.

“So…Fawkes?” she offers, changing the subject.

“Fawkes,” he confirms.

“I thought he’d left, after…”

“Quite. I thought so as well, but it would seem that there were many things going on of which I was unaware.” Snape’s expression is tight. “I can’t imagine why he returned, but I am… grateful for the favour. It wasn’t a perfect solution,” he admits, gesturing to the scars that peek out from his collar, “but it was enough to get me to where I needed to be.”

“I can see that. You must have been very ill.” Hermione envisions the beautiful phoenix bent over Snape’s bleeding body, weeping pearly tears over his sacrifice. The thought brings another stab of guilt; if Snape is alive and whole, it’s certainly no thanks to her. “I’m just so sorry. It all happened so fast, and I couldn’t think… and, oh God, we just left you there, all alone…”

“You believed that I was dead. I believed that I was dead. You had no moral obligation to help a man you believed to be your enemy, and I understand that you were all rather preoccupied with more pressing matters at the time.” Snape frowns at the tabletop, as if this generosity of spirit is painful to him. “Perhaps I owe you thanks; if you hadn’t left when you did, I might never have managed to escape. Without your negligence, I might be rotting away in Azkaban.”

“Never!” Hermione protests. “You’re a hero, you know, with an Order of Merlin and everything. Harry told everybody…”

“Yes,” Snape says grimly, “I suspected he might. Yet another reason not to return: I doubt I have the stomach to be glad-handed by people who previously despised me, simply because the Great Harry Potter says they should.”

Hermione thinks that although he has a point, there is something to be said for collecting rewards that are long overdue. She does not share this insight with Snape; she doubts he would agree.

“You don’t miss it, do you?” she asks. “The magic, I mean.”

He gives her a sharp, narrow-eyed look, piercing as any dagger.

“What do you think? Do you miss it?”

Ah, so he’s noticed.

“Sometimes,” she answers honestly. “It can be reassuring, knowing that your wand is up your sleeve and you’re prepared for any trouble. It certainly makes some things a lot easier—not to mention packing,” she adds, brandishing her trusty beaded bag. “But on the whole… I don’t miss it as much as I thought I might.”

In truth, the time without it has been nearly a relief. Having seen some of the very darkest sides of magic, it has occurred to her that it’s unwise to be so dependent on it. She doesn’t think she’s left magic behind for good, but it’s therapeutic to take a holiday from it.

Snape nods. He’s staring out the window at Saint-Julien, a place that’s been broken and destroyed countless times, only to constantly rise again, scarred and yet stronger than before.

“Before I came to Hogwarts, I could not imagine wanting to live a life without magic,” he says. “During that last year, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to live a life with it. That world did me no favours: it took everything I had and gave me nothing in return. I owe it nothing. It wasn’t a hard decision to leave it behind.”

It’s an honour, Hermione knows, to be allowed to hear this. Snape is famously opaque, and even the memories he gifted to Harry have done remarkably little to illuminate a man that none of them ever really knew. She’s flattered by the gift of his confidence.

“Still, I confess I’m curious,” Snape continues, turning back to look at her. “Why have you left it behind, Hermione? What brings such an ambitious and well-regarded witch to hide in a foreign city and the Muggle world? Why are you here?”

It is, she knows, the question that everybody would like to ask. Even she is curious to know the real answer, though she’s no closer to understanding it than any of the disappointed souls she’s left behind.

She shrugs and sips her tea. “I had to go. I just don’t know where to go next.”

Snape stares at her over the tops of his glasses. It’s quite amazing how a look that used to reduce students to tears can have a very different effect on her in this context. It’s a shock to realise that he’s actually rather attractive, even if he is nothing like handsome.

Hermione isn’t the only one to think so. She can see that the waitress is flirting with him, and she can also see that he’s utterly oblivious to it. This secretly pleases Hermione, for reasons best left unexamined.

“Do you live here?” she asks.

“For now. I’ve moved around quite a bit. I thought it was about time I did some travelling. When I lose interest, I move on. I’ve been here for a few months; I was last in Seattle.” His long fingers play with the few coins left on the table. His hands are really very beautiful, and his touch is deft. “And you?”

She shrugs. The only thing she’s sure of is her uncertainty.

He pretends to be harassed when she asks if they might arrange to meet again, but there’s a spark in his eyes that belies all his grumbling.

Hermione thinks that secretly, he is looking forward to it. She can’t blame him; she feels the same way.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She is not prepared for what she finds. She might have deduced it from the address, but still… this certainly does exceed expectations.

The Place des Vosges is one of the loveliest places in Paris, a neat and symmetrical jewel box of a square, lined with stately townhouses composed of rosy sandstone, surrounding lush green lawns, manicured trees and several sparkling fountains. The houses themselves are almost pathologically neat, and the entire area exudes an air of regal elegance and old money.

Numéro 15, Place des Vosges is also home to Patrick Prince—or, as she thinks of him now, Severus. If she didn’t know of his contempt for pranks, she’d think he was having her on.

After taking a moment to admire the organized beauty of the square, Hermione seeks out Number 15. The entryway is deserted, and in order to get to the first floor, she has to climb a vast marble staircase that looks like something out of a film set; her footsteps echo loudly in the silence. Finally, she reaches the hefty, double oak doors and rings, feeling oddly nervous. She glances down at her jeans and pullover and wonders if she’s underdressed for the occasion.

The door swings open to reveal a cavernous entry hall and a little old lady who only comes up to Hermione’s shoulder. Her white hair is piled on top of her head, and she has the perfectly self-possessed manner of the aristocracy. Her clothes are neat and stylish, and she is clearly not intimidated in the least by this stranger at her door. Hermione suspects that there is nothing in the world that could disturb such unruffled calm; in an odd way, it makes her think of Lucius Malfoy.

“Bonjour, Madame,” Hermione says, thankful once again that her parents insisted on her learning French. “My name is Hermione Granger, and I’m looking for Patrick Prince. You must be Madame de La Rochefoucauld; Patrick has told me so much about you.”

This is a lie. In the several weeks that they have been meeting, Snape has told her nothing about Madame de La Rochefoucauld, except for her name and the fact that she exists.

Madame de La Rochefoucauld looks vaguely amused. “I doubt that,” she tells Hermione. “Talking isn’t his strong point, poor boy. He doesn’t talk about much of anything, except for the stupidity of other people—and you, of course.” She peers at Hermione with piercing blue eyes, measuring her worthiness before giving a curt nod of approval. “Please come in, Mademoiselle Granger. You may call me Marie-Céleste,” she adds, with the air of conferring a royal indulgence.

The flat is outrageously huge and shockingly empty. Room after room is devoid of carpet or paintings or even much furniture, the perfect blankness only highlighting the lovely bones of the space: massive windows overlooking the Place des Vosges, sculpted fireplaces, elaborate mouldings and cornices decorating the plaster. The walls are the greyish-yellow colour of benign neglect, badly in need of a new coat of paint. Marie-Céleste’s high heels echo against the parquet floors as she walks past the parlour with its one solitary chair. She carries herself proudly, brimming with a confidence that Hermione can’t help but admire.

“Patrice? Votre petite amie est là!” Marie-Céleste announces.

Hermione blinks at her phrasing. Since when has she become Severus’ girlfriend? Curiously, she finds that she feels no strong objections to the idea.

Severus’ room is much like the others in the flat: enormous and largely unfurnished with a magnificent view of the Place. On the opposite wall is a white marble fireplace with a grand mirror above it, and the perimeter of the room is ringed with stacks of books, sorted in a system comprehensible only to Severus. His mattress sits on the floor in the centre of the room, half-buried beneath sheets and blankets.

“There. Now you’ve satisfied your curiosity,” Severus tells her. He looks acutely uncomfortable at her presence in his bedroom, as though she’s disrupted the cosmic balance.

“Bonne journée,” Marie-Céleste wishes them as they leave. “And Patrice, don’t forget to be back in time to prepare dinner!”

Severus’ cheeks turn pink, and he sulks silently as they exit the building.

“You prepare dinner?” Hermione finally prompts him. It’s not hard to picture him cooking, actually; he’d never forgive her for saying it, but cooking isn’t so very different from brewing.

“Ever since Marie-Céleste discovered that I know my way around the kitchen, she’s been eager to press me into service,” Severus mutters, scowling at a crack in the pavement.

“She’s very interesting,” Hermione offers.

“Yes, and tough enough to spit nails. Her husband died some years ago; he left her the flat, but not much else. She refused to give up her home, so she’s sold off the antiques bit by bit and taken in the odd lodger or two.”

That explains the empty rooms, then. “Like you.”

“Like me. She only charges me a pittance for rent, so I don’t mind helping out where I can. If she didn’t need it, I suspect she would prefer that I not pay her at all,” Severus reflects, as they cross the Pont Louis-Philippe, scuttling past the crowds coming from Notre Dame and heading towards the Latin Quarter. “In fact, I believe she finds the very idea of money to be appalling. She knows how to pinch a penny ’til it screams, but heaven forbid anybody should actually want to make money.”

“She likes you, I think.”

Severus shrugs, although he might be pleased. “There’s no accounting for taste, especially in somebody so opinionated.”

Hermione’s original impression is confirmed: Marie-Céleste is not a woman to be taken lightly. If Severus approves of her, then it would appear that he appreciates a bossy woman.

The thought cheers Hermione.

“Where are we going?” she asks. The question is futile; he never tells her what he has planned until they’ve arrived at the selected destination. Severus has a certain knack for finding hidden gems, and Hermione has come to look forward to each new discovery.

He smirks. “You’ll see.”

Hermione follows him through a maze of old streets in the Latin Quarter, past the riot of competing aromas from the kebab stands and Tunisian bakeries. Finally, they turn down the narrow Rue Saint-Séverin, only to stop in front of an old Gothic church.

Though ornate and solidly built, the church looks rather worse for the wear with overgrown shrubs outside it and large patches of blackened stone on the façade. There is something sad about it, Hermione thinks—a slight air of neglect. It lacks the presence of Notre Dame, which probably accounts for the utter absence of tourists, but she can’t deny that there is something strangely interesting about the massive building with its carved arches and jutting, snarling gargoyles.

“Very nice,” she says politely, sensing that Severus is presenting this discovery as a test of some sort. He’s tenser than she’s seen him since her schooldays, fairly vibrating with restrained nervous energy and expectation.

“Wait until you see the inside,” he promises.

Hermione tends to think that most old churches look alike inside, but from the moment she crosses the threshold of Saint Séverin, she senses that it is different. The silence within the church is almost absolute, as though she and Severus are the only people in existence. There are no tourist hordes or souvenir shops here, only stark beauty unlike anything she’s ever seen.

The silence and dim lighting lend a sanctified atmosphere, so much so that Hermione feels that even the echo of her footsteps is an offence. She explores the space slowly and carefully, taking in all the strange and wonderful details: the twisting columns like palm trees, the soaring ceiling, the glowing candles and the magnificently bizarre organ with its undulating pipes.

“Here,” Severus whispers, leading the way towards the back of the church, turning to face up the long central aisle towards the altar. “Look.”

She does. The view is awe-inspiring—she might even call it divine. As she watches, the sun breaks through the clouds outside, and all of the stained-glass windows glow like jewels, a vibrant mosaic of every colour imaginable.

Hermione steals a glance at Severus and sees a look on his face that she’s never seen before: perfect contentment. The earlier nerviness is gone, replaced by a profound tranquillity that nobody would ever have expected of him. The colours of the stained glass are reflected on his pale skin, lending him a rainbow aura.

Nobody would ever detect it from the outside, but Hermione knows that there is magic in this place. It occurs to her that the attraction Severus feels to the church is a sympathetic one: he, too, contains far more beauty than the average person would ever suspect. It is only waiting inside of him for a more discerning person to discover it.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks her, eyes fixed on the windows.

She looks at him and smiles.

“Yes,” she agrees. “Yes, it is.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The canopied tomb is old and beautiful, well carved and well kept, though the people it commemorates have been dead for centuries and in fact might not even be buried here.

Between the stone sarcophagi are bouquets left by admiring visitors, paying tribute to the very idea of romance as much as they are to the legendary lovers. Hermione sets her offering down with the others, a small clutch of blossoms tied round with ribbon. She steadfastly refuses to think about the significance of selecting scarlet and gold flowers paired with green and silver ribbons. She also does not think about the small, sealed letter tucked in the midst of the stems.

“Very nice. I’m sure Héloïse and Abélard appreciate the gesture,” Severus snipes. The wind is sharp, and he pulls his long black coat tightly around himself in an effort to ward off the chill. “Are you satisfied, or have you not yet had your fill of the grand cemetery tour?”

Hermione takes one long, last look at the serene stone figures and nods decisively. She is not by any means superstitious, but she feels somehow lighter, happier for having entrusted her confessions and hopes to the tortured philosopher and his most beloved student. “Finished.”

“Finally. This entire exercise is as maudlin and sentimental as it is macabre.” Severus snorts in eloquent disgust. “Since when has death become a tourist attraction?”

Hermione refrains from mentioning the small mountain of flowers that tends to accumulate on Severus’ own empty grave near the war memorial in Hogsmeade. She doubts that he would appreciate the gesture. Then again, perhaps he would; Hermione has never met another wizard with so little understanding of his own value.

“I did offer to come by myself, you know,” she reminds him. The autumn leaves crunch beneath her feet, yellow and orange and red as phoenix feathers. “You didn’t have to come.”

“As if you can be trusted to navigate the Métro by yourself,” he scoffs. “Must I remind you of the unfortunate incident at the Châtelet station?”

“That station is enormous!” Hermione protests, wounded. “Five lines all meeting in the same place, ten different directions to go in, a thousand different levels… anybody could be confused under those circumstances. Anyway,” she adds, as she can see him opening his mouth to complain again, “I know that you secretly wanted to come here.”

“You know nothing of the sort.”

“I know why, too.”

“Do not presume to know my mind.”

“And it’s fine with me,” Hermione continues. “I don’t mind if we visit Jim Morrison’s grave, too. It’s right over there,” she adds helpfully, pointing towards the squat granite headstone in the distance. Even from here, they can see the obscene heap of flowers, rosebuds shimmering in their cellophane shrouds.

Severus stops and stares at her. “How did you—?”

“Your iPod is filled with songs by The Doors. Don’t deny it; I’ve seen the evidence.”

Severus looks as scandalised as if she’d just admitted to rifling through his underwear drawer, rather than his music collection. Lately, Hermione has been spending so much time at the Place des Vosges that Marie-Céleste has made pointed remarks about moving her in, but clearly, Severus has not considered all the implications that come with sharing a space. “The vaunted integrity of Gryffindor at work again, I see. Whatever made you think that you should—?”

“I wanted to know something about you,” Hermione cuts in, looking up to meet his gaze. “I can’t do something nice for you if I don’t know what you like, can I?”

His expression goes from astounded, to mystified, to cautiously pleased. It’s a subtle transformation, but Hermione sees the way his mouth quirks in an almost-smile and the way his eyes warm from shiny black to the darkest possible brown, and she knows that he is happy.

It takes so little to make him happy, she thinks. Why did nobody ever try before?

Of course, he does not thank her for the consideration. Instead, he simply nods and slips her hand inside his as they walk together in comfortable silence to pay homage at the altar of the Lizard King. Her skin, where it touches his, tingles in a way that neither magic nor logic can explain, and Hermione can’t help but smile.

Despite the frigid air, she feels very warm inside.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It is not until they’ve actually arrived at the Musée Rodin that Hermione realizes that this is, perhaps, not the best museum to explore with Severus, given the strange and fragile thing that seems to be growing between them. Their progress has been sure but slow: a lingering touch here, a heated look there, some suggestive banter that could almost be flirting if Severus weren’t pants at that. Having come to the conclusion that Severus is who and what she wants, Hermione is reluctant to do anything that might endanger what they have. All appearances to the contrary, he is nothing if not skittish.

The Musée Rodin is not really for the skittish.

It’s not that Hermione isn’t enjoying the museum—not at all; it’s a lovely house filled with lovelier sculptures. It’s just that she somehow had allowed herself to forget how many of these sculptures are nude, and what, exactly, they’re doing with one another. There’s nothing pornographic about it, despite the nudity, but the sculptures tell stories of almost excruciating intimacy: lovers draped over one another, entangled in intricate knots, gazing into one another’s eyes and baring their souls at least as much as their bodies.

She’s worried that Severus will think she’s trying to drop him a hint. Not that she’d mind it if he were inspired, but…

Hermione glances at The Eternal Idol with the male figure on his knees, worshipping his mate and tenderly burying his face in her breasts. Briefly, she imagines what it would be like if she and Severus were in that same position. Would Severus look at her that same way? What would it feel like to cradle him in her arms? Her face heats at the thought of it.

It’s suddenly far too warm inside the museum, and Hermione escapes into the empty sculpture garden, even though it’s late October and her jacket is too thin to stand up to an extended stay in such a brisk wind. The sky is a pitiless steely blue, and in the odd light, the pavements glow a greyish-lavender. The trees are mostly naked, stretching their bared limbs heavenward with infinite grace.

Hermione hugs her arms around herself and tours the garden, hoping to chill her overeager thoughts as much as her body. As she stops to regard The Kiss, she hears the soft crunching of footsteps approaching. She does not need to turn and see who it is; he is so close behind her that she can smell his scent.

“You’ll catch your death out here,” Severus says, and before she can tease him for fussing like Molly Weasley, he has scooped her into the shelter of his coat, pressing her against his chest and enveloping her in wool warmed with the heat of his body and impregnated with all the scents she associates with him: aftershave, soap, a trace of spicy clove cigarette, the smell of books and parchment, and something else that is Severus and nobody else.

She breathes in deeply, resting her head against his chest and listening to his heartbeat. For a moment, she’s sure she feels the ghost of his lips pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “This is a much nicer way to warm up than hot cocoa.”

He snorts. “I suspect you are very much alone in that opinion.”

“I don’t care. More for me.” Within the confines of the coat they share, Hermione slips her arms around Severus’ skinny torso and hugs him. “Are you enjoying the museum?”

“It is… very interesting,” Severus says after a moment. He stares at The Kiss, observing the passionate lovers with an unreadable expression. “What’s the name of this one?”

The Kiss. That’s some kiss, isn’t it?”

“So is this,” Severus says, before he tilts her chin up and meets her lips with his own.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione frowns when Severus finally offers an awkward invitation to dinner. His phrasing is stiff, and his sober, frowning gaze is trained on the potatoes they’ve agreed to peel for Marie-Céleste. If she didn’t know better, Hermione would think that Severus is nervous.

“Haven’t we already shared quite a few dinners?” she points out. “We’re making one right now, in fact.”

The crease between his eyebrows deepens.

“Not that sort of dinner,” he mutters. “You’re going to force me to spell it out, aren’t you? I’m talking about a date.” He spits the word out as though it tastes bad.

Hermione raises her eyebrows in surprise. Pleased as she is, she’s never dared to hope that Severus might make such a gesture; the offering of it makes him far too vulnerable for it to be anything but excruciating for him.

“My answer is ‘yes,’” she tells him.

Yes?” He’s too incredulous to pay enough attention to the knife.

“That’s what I said: yes. Oh! You’d better get that under a tap.” Hermione leaps up and hustles Severus over to the sink, firmly holding his bleeding hand as she thrusts it beneath the stream of cold water. Fat crimson droplets dot the bottom of the sink, turning the water a pinkish hue.

Hermione inspects the damage: a deep cut, but thankfully not so bad as to require stitches. Severus hasn’t made a single sound of protest, although he must be in pain. He’s avoiding her gaze again, but it hardly matters when they’re pressed against each other this way, arms and hands intertwined.

“Good job that wasn’t something poisonous. It’s unusual for you to be so careless with knives,” she observes.

“It’s unusual for an intelligent and attractive witch to agree to go on a date with me, as well,” he hisses.

Ah. So that’s what this is about. Hermione suspects that on most days, Severus still sees himself as a nine-year-old boy, flapping around in his father’s old coat and hiding in the bushes rather than summoning the courage to simply make the first move.

She smiles. “If it makes you feel any better, I think we’ve actually been dating for the past month. We’ve only just agreed to start calling it dating. Purely a semantic difference, really.”

Severus says nothing, but he allows his uninjured fingers to interlace with hers, warming her hands under the chill of the water. She is close enough to rest her head on his shoulder, and so she does, burying her nose in his scarred neck and breathing in the clean, spicy scent of his aftershave.

“After all, we’ve certainly kissed enough to be dating,” Hermione continues.

Severus makes a choking noise.

“Really, we just haven’t had sex… yet.” She offers him a cheeky smirk and winks for emphasis.

She never ceases to be fascinated by just how red Severus’ face can blush when he’s embarrassed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The date turns out to be rather different than Hermione expects it to be.

Severus does such a remarkably good job of acting like a sneering, unsentimental bastard that she sometimes forgets that he actually contains immense reserves of untapped soppiness. Therefore, it is something of a surprise to find that he’s capable of making a grand gesture when the occasion calls for one, though it’s hardly an unwelcome revelation. In any case, Hermione is glad that she’s made the effort to tame her hair into something halfway stylish.

Severus insists on picking her up in front of the Fourcy, waiting outside the bright blue doors until she emerges to meet him. He, too, has made an effort to look smart, wearing a sharp gunmetal grey suit over a lighter grey shirt, complemented by a silvery tie. As always, the black overcoat completes the ensemble. The overall effect is cool and sleek and altogether gorgeous. When Hermione tells him this, he looks both pleased and disconcerted.

“Yes, well… you look very lovely,” he mumbles into the wool of his muffler. He keeps stealing sidelong glances at her, as though he doesn’t want to be caught staring.

This is how Hermione knows that he likes what he sees.

Severus leads her through an intricate web of streets, down to the Rue des Barres, which is transformed by the night. He offers his arm to help her navigate the cobbled steps with her impractical shoes while the gargoyles of Saint-Gervais wink down at them.

Their destination is tucked into a quiet corner next to the Hôtel Maubuisson, overshadowed by the larger buildings and only distinguished by a single glowing lantern. In the daylight, Hermione doubts that she would ever notice it. When Severus opens the door for her, she reads the name on it: Carte Blanche.

The restaurant inside is both small and perfect: plain walls the colour of fresh cream and furniture the colour of espresso. The white damask tablecloths are proudly starched and stark against the dark tables while crystal and silver flatware gleam in the candlelight. There are only four tables, and none of them are occupied.

“Bonsoir,” the maître d’hôtel greets them, as polished and professional as the setting requires. “Ah, Patrice. Excellent timing! Céline is ready for you—just as you discussed.”

“Excellent. Merci, Alain,” Severus replies. He’s smirking like the cat that got the cream, which can only mean that he’s plotted something. Alain, meanwhile, is looking from Hermione to Severus and nodding in approval.

“Do you mind telling me what that was all about?” Hermione asks him after they’ve been seated. She straightens the sleeves of her ruby-coloured dress and wonders why there are no menus.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Severus says. “Alain and Céline offer a very—ah—specialised sort of service.”

“Will I like this?”

“I certainly hope so. That was rather the point.”

The service, as it turns out, explains the question of menus. It would appear that there are none: the chef has designed their menu for the evening.

“How does she know what we’ll like?” Hermione wonders.

“I’ve spoken to her. She knows what I have in mind,” Severus says, fiddling with the stem of his wineglass.

“I suppose it would be too much to hope that you’d let me in on the secret as well,” Hermione says tartly, though she really doesn’t mind. She wonders what Severus must have planned to have him fidgeting like a first year.

“Belon oyster vichyssoise with Sevruga,” Alain announces, as his young and handsome assistant presents them each with a shot glass filled with soup and dotted with what appears to be caviar. Alain then pours a flute of champagne for each of them; the bubbles form along the edge of the glass like a string of pearls. “Enjoy, Mademoiselle, Monsieur.”

They do. The soup is creamy and chilled, with a silky texture and a clean, salty taste like the ocean. The champagne is like drinking stardust, pleasantly warming as it tingles down her throat. Severus, she notices, is staring at her.

“It’s excellent,” she reassures him, reaching across the table to place her hand on his.

He does not pull away.

The second course brings more champagne and scallops over stewed fennel, garnished with sea urchin roe. Though Hermione is reluctant to try the roe, she gives it an honest attempt and is pleasantly surprised by the results.

“My compliments to the chef,” she murmurs in appreciation, scooping the last trace of sweet fennel from her plate.

Severus, meanwhile, has decided to glare at Michel, the server. “And to the server as well?”

Hermione glances at Michel. He is very good-looking, and well aware of it: tall and muscular, fresh-faced and handsome, with wavy blond hair and very blue eyes. His arse, she concedes, is the stuff that fantasies are made of.

Clearly, Severus is jealous.

“He’s very nice,” she says carefully.

Severus scowls and downs the last of his champagne.

“But he’s not my type,” Hermione continues, giving him a significant look. “On the whole, I think I prefer the view where I am.”

It’s a beautiful thing, to coax a smile from him. His smiles always look a trifle stiff, as though he is unused to them; Hermione’s goal is to make them a more regular occurrence.

The main course is as delicious as everything before it: turbot, lightly smoked and saffron-roasted, accompanied by fava beans and clever little chips made of celery root. It is only as Hermione savours the last sip of the divine white wine that accompanies it that she realises the theme of the meal: oysters, caviar, scallops, saffron…

It is a feast of aphrodisiacs, and this meal is nothing less than Severus’ attempt at a grand seduction.

Hermione could have told him that he hardly needed to try so hard, but who is she to argue with his methods when the result is an experience like this? When it comes to personal matters, Severus is far more eloquent with actions than with words.

“Are you pleased?” he asks her. He sounds supremely unconcerned, but she knows him well enough by now to hear the uncertainty beneath the question.

She looks into his eyes, which are warm and worshipful, and allows her smile to speak for her.

By the time they’ve completed the last course—an earthy, roasted truffle paired with a wine that tastes like the love child of red wine and dark chocolate—Hermione feels as though she’s floating, pleasantly sated with good wine and good food, and impressed beyond belief by the man who’s arranged it all for her.

She thinks she might love him, more than just a bit. If she had any doubts about the depth of his feelings for her, they are more than answered by the look in his eyes. Severus Snape does nothing by half-measures, and when he chooses to give his heart, he gives it fully.

Hermione will guard it much better than Lily Evans ever did.

Once they are strolling out in the lane again, Severus hesitates. “There is… a certain decision to be made,” he begins.

“Yes,” Hermione interrupts before he can torture both of them with more excruciating awkwardness. “I’d love to spend the night with you, as long as Marie-Céleste doesn’t mind.”

Severus blinks at her, astonished, before breaking into a full-throated laugh that echoes off the buildings around them.

“I’m sorry if I spoiled your script,” she explains once he’s sobered up, “but you know us Gryffindors—no sense of subtlety.”

Severus smiles and brushes a curl away from her forehead. “I must confess, I’m beginning to see the merits of that trait,” he murmurs. “But, Hermione, are you certain? I’m very—”

“Cranky, rude, opinionated and antisocial?”

He considers and then nods.

“Then we’re well-matched. I’m as opinionated as you are, and bossy and nosy besides. I don’t mind if you don’t.”

Severus smiles again—it’s small, nearly imperceptible, but there all the same.

“I don’t mind at all,” he says. “However, fair warning: the flat is freezing cold, and even the fireplace doesn’t take all the edge off the chill.”

She pauses in a pool of lamplight to kiss him very thoroughly.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble keeping warm,” she tells him when they’ve both caught their breath again.

Sure enough, they don’t.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The following week, Hermione leaves the Fourcy behind for good, all her worldly possessions packed into one improbably tiny beaded bag. Not coincidentally, she moves into Numéro 15, Place des Vosges immediately afterward, at Severus’ rather diffident invitation and Marie-Céleste’s insistence.

She has no plans to leave it anytime soon. Neither does Severus, who has travelled the globe enough and is ready to put down roots in a place of his own choosing, rather than a place dictated by circumstance. Neither of them says these things out loud, just as neither of them ever dares to name this thing they share, the magic they raise between them. They know what it is all the same.

She writes of the news to Ron and Harry and the others at home, sending actual owls with thoughtful and honest letters, rather than tacky postcards with clichéd sentiments. She does not share the name of the man she has met, but she is sure to inform them of her happiness. If the responses she receives express dismay that she won’t be returning to England, then they are also filled with well-wishes and congratulations and promises to visit soon—a situation that they will deal with as it comes.

Hermione eventually unpacks the beaded bag in the room that now belongs to the two of them, making the space a bit less barren than before. Her book collection mingles with his: law and Arithmancy and molecular biology texts piled next to volumes of Flamel and Eliot and Baudelaire. Somehow, this merging seems an even greater intimacy than anything else they’ve shared together; surprisingly, neither of them seems to mind.

Perhaps one day, they’ll get some furniture for the room—a pair of reading chairs by the fireplace would be rather nice, or a writing desk for professional correspondence. Perhaps they’ll adopt a cat of their own. Perhaps she will eventually persuade Severus to pick up a wand again, as she has decided to reclaim hers. Perhaps one day, they’ll even buy a real bed. But really, all they need is each other and the books; everything else is extraneous.

Hermione smiles when she pulls the final item from her bottomless bag: the neatly folded map of Paris with its delicate red network of streets, bisected by the fat blue curve of the river. She remembers a day when she clutched this map and stood on a bridge and felt lost beyond the telling, simply because she did not know where to go next. It is only now that she understands that the question was not where to go but how to get there, and that the journey was not one that could ever be graphed on a sheet of paper, easily reduced to charts and grids.

Nobody has yet found a way to form a map of the human heart, and Hermione doubts that anybody ever will.

Severus finds her smiling over the map and peers over her shoulder. “What’s so amusing?”

“Nothing, really. Only thinking about how far I’ve come—how far we’ve come.”

“Hmm.” His breath is hot against her ear. “Speaking of coming…”

Hermione laughs. “Very clever—now I know where your mind’s at. Mind you, I don’t think I’d need much convincing to join you,” she adds, turning to look him in the eyes. They are dark and open and so filled with emotion that it takes her breath away.

It is the greatest of all powers that he offers her—the power to crush him utterly, beyond salvation—and yet, she knows that she will never dare to exercise it. Instead, she will defend him to the death, and beyond it, if necessary. She knows now what the woman in The Eternal Idol must feel when she gathers her lover to her breast, overwhelmed by the strength of his devotion.

Her heart feels as though it might burst, but she gently pulls his head down towards her and threads her fingers through the short black spikes of his hair, pressing a kiss to each eyelid. His arms reach up around her in a tight embrace, and their heartbeats echo the sound of one another as Hermione relaxes in the circle of Severus’ arms and feels that at long last, she has come home.