And We Are Not Angels
"And we are not angels, to be comforted by seeing the ends for which everything is sent."
Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters
Hermione declined the invite to the Burrow for Christmas. Everyone tried to mask their relief but mostly failed. She couldn't blame them in the slightest. Even she was sick of herself. But Severus, the obstinate, masochistic, infuriating man, insisted that she come back with him to Hogwarts. Minerva had condoned his Christmas break absence on condition that he was there on Christmas Day itself.
None of Hermione's refusals, arguments or pleading stood against him. "If I must go, so must you," he insisted. "You are not staying here alone. I'll stun you and incarcerate you if I have to."
He'd even ignored her honest, panicked tears. "I'm not ready, Severus."
"Suck it up, Hermione. Force yourself to make an appearance at Christmas lunch and hide in your rooms the remainder of the day. It's what I always do."
And, of course, when he mentioned his plan to spend Christmas alone, she couldn't let him do it.
The only concession Severus made was when she demanded that he hide himself with her on Christmas Day instead of condemning them both to a miserable day alone. He'd agreed to share the misery. Hermione snorted at his description but couldn't argue with it.
The SevenS exchanged their gifts on Christmas Eve before they went their separate ways. Hermione gave Severus an emerald green cashmere scarf and soft, black leather gloves. He seemed to appreciate their softness as much as she had done. She also gave him a bookmarking spell that she'd invented.
Severus and George gave her a portable CD player that they had worked together to modify so that it should work at Hogwarts. Hermione was thrilled, especially when she unwrapped the soundtrack CD to the City of Angels movie they had all seen together in the summer.
"Is that from that weird Muggle movie you took us to, Hermione?" Ron asked, sounding somewhat disgusted.
"You didn't like it?" she asked, feigning ignorance.
"It was strange and sappy. Muggle nutters cutting people open, and then she died," Ron complained.
"And there's the real reason. You didn't like it because it made you cry," George said.
Ron mumbled some evasion with red ears and then told to George to shut it when he laughed even more. "Just don't know why she'd like it so much is all. It's like watching a movie that ends with Hermione getting killed by the Knight Bus after saving him from Voldy pants and his bloody snake," Ron said pointing at Severus.
"Except without the sex," George said. "Unless I'm wrong about that," he wagged his eyebrows at them.
Hermione was forestalled from an indignant reply when Harry caught her eye, then flicked his own at Severus and Ron and gave her a wink.
Hermione saw that Ron's ears were practically glowing red now, which was funny enough, but Severus' cheeks also had quite the pink glow, which was unprecedented. Before Severus could recover, Hermione smirked and said, "Yes, Ronald, it's just like that," with dry sarcasm and shook her head.
Ron obviously hadn't thought that comparison through before voicing it in mixed company, but Hermione thought he had more of a point than she let on: damsel in distress...beguiled by a tall, dark, mysterious man in a great flapping coat...or cloak. Except that Severus was not an angel who had thrown himself from heaven just to be with her, nor had they explored the joys of being together. Hermione sighed. "You're right about the ending though," she told Ron. "I would have preferred a happy one too."
"But I liked the moved aside from that and I really liked the music…and this will remind me of our trip to the movies this summer. Thank you, Severus," she told the still uncomfortable looking man and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Her smile seemed to ease him a bit. George still looked mischievous when she turned to include him in the thank you for the CD player. She just shook her head at him again.
After the gift exchange at Grimmauld, Severus flooed with Hermione to his office at Hogwarts.
Minerva greeted them, and when Hermione could not be persuaded to join them in the Great Hall, she insisted Hermione dine with her in her quarters. Severus was thankful for this. After the ordeal of their weeks-long separation, he was very reluctant to leave Hermione alone, or part from her at all. Minerva, however, was one of the few people he knew he could trust Hermione with in her current state. She was also an excellent Deputy Head and had been instrumental in helping him make several key changes this year. Idly, he wondered what her response would be when she opened her Christmas present from him in the morning.
Another person who he had become grateful for this year was Pamona Sprout. There were an increased number of students at Hogwarts this Christmas, especially among his own house, here because they had been displaced by the destruction of their families. At the start of the school year Severus appointed Pamona to act with him as a special resource to precisely these children and he was pleased at how well she was dealing with them.
As she did, he made his rounds through the tables to greet and speak with them and was gratified to note that he was greeted in return with more respect and less hostility and fear than had been the case at the beginning of the year. If he was proud of any of his accomplishments as Headmaster, it was his successes in the care of the lost children – the steps he had taken to ensure that Hogwarts would no longer be the breeding ground for the likes of the Dark Lord or even himself. Whenever things became tiresome or overwhelming, it was this that reassured him.
Severus knew he owed it as much to Pamona and the leadership of the Trio and their friends, and even, at times, Draco, as to his own efforts. There would be many receiving tokens of gratitude from him tomorrow, and as he normally avoided all but the barest basics of the holiday, it would no doubt cause more than a little shock. At least there would be the amusement that afforded to look forward to tomorrow, and for the first time in many years, the company of someone he actually wished to spend the day with, even if she was as good as a crazy loon right now.
He and his crazy loon of a friend spent the evening drinking hot cocoa, listening to Christmas music (her idea, not his), and sitting companionably on the couch, sometimes talking, but mostly in easy silence. Severus had to admit that if his Christmas holidays growing up had been half so enjoyable as this one had been so far, he would not have developed such an antipathy.
Early the next morning, Hermione knocked on the door of his quarters looking a bit befuddled. When she spotted his pile of Christmas presents, which he himself had just noticed on his way from the bed to the door, she pointed to it and said, "Um, is that normal for you, or am I the only one whose pile is larger than normal, courtesy of people I don't know?"
Severus looked over at a couple of the tags. "No, you're not the only one," he said sneering at pile of unknown wrapped objects.
"I'm a little afraid to open them alone," she admitted. "Would you like to swap help? I'll help you with yours if you help with mine?"
The gifts and notes from unknown people could be classed in three categories: thankful and somewhat tolerable, horrible and detestably fawning, or outrageously ludicrous and beyond horrible. Presumably the ill intent and harmful ones had been stopped from coming through by Hogwarts' screening process because they neither detected nor discovered any of that kind. Still, it was bad enough. He was tragic, misunderstood and was supposed to believe himself irresistible and in need of saving by female attention. She was simultaneously lauded as strong and heroic and offered male protection which she was obviously in need of. Also, she was the most beautiful thing they'd ever seen, even though they'd likely never seen more of her than a photograph. And none of the ones in the Daily Prophet had done her justice as far as Severus was concerned.
Hermione had entirely too much fun at his expense as she read the horrible ones out to him. The beyond horrible ones made her blush, come to a sudden halt, and lay the letter or note aside for him to incinerate. But the middling horrible – the more he displayed his disgust, the greater her entertainment.
He found it very satisfying to reciprocate when they got to her pile.
"I should've remembered the day you read that article in class," Hermione mumbled angrily. "Do you have to make it sound so much worse than it already is?"
Hermione was still highly emotional, but Severus detected the severity was beginning to abate. The letter and gift that Drs. Wilkins sent their 'friend,' Hermione set her off for a while, but given the circumstances, it was expected, and her sorrow didn't seem as desperate as it would have been at the beginning of the week. Her laughter was not quite as hysterical, her anger, while still magnificent, was less hair-triggered. It made him glad for her sake, all their sakes really, but it also contributed somewhat to the day being more enjoyable than he'd thought it would be.
Given the dreaded nature of the holiday, never had Severus indulged in useless wishes or thoughts on what an enjoyable Christmas might entail. Even had he done so, he was certain that spending the day in such a manner or in such company would never have crossed his mind. Was there anyone who would prescribe spending the day in the presence of a 19-year junior, over-emotional girl, exchanging the displeasure of one another's atrocious fan-sent-gifts, surviving lunch in the spotlight, tolerating and even engaging (just a little) infantile students (including said 19-year junior one) in a snow battle whilst on an otherwise perfectly nice walk across the grounds, and calling on a half-giant who happened to be a horrible cook but also an extremely generous one, and oh yes, also quite willing to emote? Surely not. And yet, it was the best Christmas Severus could recall in all his years.
After dinner, Severus discovered the good of the day was not yet done. Hermione had one more gift to give him. It was a framed photo of the SevenS the day they'd gone out to eat and to the cinema. Hermione had her arm around him and was leaning toward him as was the rest of the group who surrounded him. Severus had never seen another picture of himself like it. He wasn't scowling or carefully blank – he looked content. He wasn't trying to slink off frame – he looked like he wanted to be there. However much older he was than the others, he didn't look like the oddment of the picture, he looked included, central even, like he actually belonged. It was a startling pictorial display of exactly how much his life and his circumstances had changed since the day Hermione Granger saved his life.
In that moment, Severus felt overwhelmed. He was glad when she began offering an explanation of her gift, giving him time to gather himself.
"I got one for all of us – the frame's spelled, like our manifesto, so that only we can see the 7S worked into it. They're also spelled to act as enchanted 2-way mirrors so that you can keep in touch with us no matter where we wind up next year."
Severus was overwhelmed all over again with this explanation. He sought calm while she showed him the spell to make it work, but still didn't feel in command of himself when she finished. Obeying the overwhelming urge, he wrapped his arms around Hermione and held her tight. After a few moments he finally managed to say, "Thank you," into her hair.
He could hear the smile in her voice as she returned his embrace and said, "You're welcome, Severus."
Deciding the time was right, Severus pulled a package out of his pocket and handed it to Hermione. She unwrapped the silver-chained bracelet with the little charms attached and looked up at him in question.
"The boys helped me pick the charms," he explained. "It's meant to be a thank you and a reminder of who you are and the things you've accomplished and survived."
She looked at it closely, fingering the charms with awe. "The dragon?" she asked.
"Ron's suggestion…that and the cup and the troll," he explained.
She laughed a little and searched the bracelet. "They make a troll charm?"
Severus smirked, "If you ask them to…there were a few special requests."
"Like the hippogriff?" she queried.
He nodded. "Harry's suggestion…that and the glasses and the lightning bolt. He said those were to remember him by, and symbols of the way you help others, the pain you survived and the Horcruxes you battled."
She found the charms as he mentioned them. "And George?"
"The book, the lioness and the otter. He said they were you."
Hermione smiled and nodded. "The snake?"
"Because you survived it and saved me from it."
"The cauldron?" she smiled. "To remind me of you?"
"Obviously," he smirked. "And because you're the only person I know of who has successfully brewed Polyjuice Potion at the age of twelve."
She smiled looked at the last charm. It was the one that perhaps meant the most and was almost too much to explain. "The heart?" she asked quietly.
Severus chose his words carefully. "Because of your big heart, Gryffindor though it might be, full of kindness and determination…..And because of our friendship. You are beloved of us all, Hermione."
She bit her lip and tears filled her eyes as she looked up at him. "Severus, I….thank you. That's the most….just, thank you."
It was then he saw it - a glimpse of that unknown something buried deep in her mind that he'd seen hints of - the truth she'd not told him. It was close to the surface now and he caught the flicker of it in her warm, brown-eyed gaze. She loved him, as a friend, definitely, but deeply beyond that also...as no one had ever done.
He knew it wasn't simple, knew it was layered over by hurt and damage and that besides being technically his student right now, Hermione was a bit brittle and unsettled at the moment. But she wouldn't always be. Severus looked at her in awe, feeling himself to be on a precipice. His insides felt like they had been tossed into the air and were rearranging themselves midair; his heart beat rapidly in his chest, moving in ways he didn't even understand. However unsettled he felt in that moment, Severus was certain of two things: Hermione was a precious to him and he would hold on to her - forever if he could.
"Hermione," he almost whispered as he cupped her cheek and brushed his thumb carefully across it, "Happy Christmas."