No Longer Ten Feet Under and Upside Down
"If I could just see you, everything would be alright,
If I'd see you, this darkness would turn to light.
And I will walk on water; and you will catch me if I fall.
And I will get lost into your eyes.
I know everything will be alright."
Storm by Lifehouse
Hermione paused in her work and watched Severus at his. He was taking advantage of the summer break to engage in personal research. The fascination and enthusiasm that lit his eyes as he swept his dark hair behind his left ear and continued reading made her smile. He was so absorbed that the world around him failed to register and by that fact alone, Hermione knew Severus trusted her. There were few around whom Severus lowered his guard to this extent. Seeing him like this, Hermione realized that Severus was every bit the passionate swot that she was, and she found it utterly endearing.
Long moments she watched him bending over his books and scribbling notes until, finally, he glanced up and noticed her regarding him with a fond smile. Momentary flashes of startlement and wariness flashed across his face before a slight blush colored his cheeks. It made her sad, seeing even a hint of the wariness that was a residual effect of lifelong abuse and ridicule. It was amazing, really, that he'd come so far and become as open as he had – amazing, also, that he'd relaxed enough to not sense her eyes upon him. Hermione wasn't sure if the pink tinge was due to his being caught unawares or to her frank regard, but it made her heart thump just a little harder and her smile widen just a bit more.
It was like a siren's call to her, the almost uncertain innocence yet burgeoning confidence she could see in Severus. Unable to resist, Hermione set aside her quill and parchments and walked quietly up to him. His dark eyes followed her progress, and when she reached him, she bent down to kiss him first on the forehead and then briefly on the mouth.
"I'm sorry," she told him, trailing her hands across his shoulders and chest. "I won't disturb you for long. I know you don't have much time for your projects anymore…but I just couldn't help myself," Hermione finished.
She almost melted at the smile Severus gave her. Especially when he grabbed her hand, pulled it to his mouth and kissed her palm, watching her intently all the while. 'A lifetime of this,' she thought, 'Two lifetimes, even, would never be enough.' It was times like this that almost overwhelmed Hermione – when thoughts encroached – of how close it had been, of how it had almost not been, of how close she had come to losing Severus before she'd ever known him or ever had him. Swamped with emotions, good and bad, and flooded with gratitude, Hermione burrowed her head into his neck and allowed Severus to scoop her into his lap. She held on for dear life, breathing him in deeply and reveling in the feel of the strong arms that wrapped around her.
"I love you, Severus," she told him, sounding almost small and lost.
Hermione felt his arms tighten and the kiss he placed to the top of her head in answer. The words didn't come easily, she knew, but after a pause, he offered them quietly. "I love you too, Hermione."
It was almost funny that as much surety and peace as she'd found in the last couple of years, Severus was able to undo her in this way. Belligerent, arrogant, and overconfident witches and wizards many nations over, she could handle with decorum and aplomb mostly intact. But such was the love and trust she bore him, and the sense of safety and home she found in his arms, that Severus Snape rendered her completely open, vulnerable and malleable with the least little effort. It was terrifying and wonderful, and most wonderful of all, it was reciprocated. Such an everyday yet profound miracle.
Severus offered conversation to return them both from the rushing tide of emotions. "I was impressed with your presentation yesterday. All of Wizard Britain owes you a debt of gratitude – again."
"It was just facts and statistics…and a few suggestions," Hermione smiled and replied. "They'd have been fools not to listen."
Severus huffed. "That's never stopped the august body of the Ministry of Magic from putting their idiocy on display before. And don't sell yourself short. You are a wise and gifted researcher."
She must have looked insufficiently persuaded for after a brief pause, Severus continued. "Yes, you outlined concise and irrefutable facts, but they were unpalatable ones – the magical population of Britain is dangerously low and in threat of dying out - and even so, you outlined a plan that satisfied every faction of our world. I don't know that that's ever been done before. You almost single-handedly ensured our continued free will while also ensuring a plan that, I think, will deal successfully with the problem – leaving one and all grateful. But for you, we'd have been forced into a detestable marriage law. Now there are incentives and breaks in place to benefit those of any blood status who marry and grow their families, as well as aids to those who start or grow their businesses. And just enough impending threat implied that if we don't rectify the situation by our own will and hands we will be forced in future with no one but ourselves to blame. I'm impressed, to tell the truth."
Hermione beamed at his praise. "That's almost the best grade you've ever given me," she teased.
Severus gave her a look that showed his exasperation. The less she related to him as a student, the better, in his book, she knew. Still, his eyebrow lifted in amusement and curiosity. "Almost?" He asked. "It's the lengthiest and most glowing that I recall."
"But not the best," rejoined with almost a straight face.
"No?" Severus asked, pretending not to have a clue. "And that distinction goes to?"
With a mischievous grin, Hermione said, "I recall a certain night at a club after I completed the cure. That was definitely the Best. Grade. Ever."
They both chuckled.
"Hmm, I would say this last feat was definitely on par, if for no other reason than the nightmare of what could have been. I concede your point and offer amendment. Do you accept?"
He sounded perfectly serious but Hermione delighted in his playfulness. "Yes, please," she answered.
Severus caused her breath to hitch when he drew close and paused with the same almost-but-not-quite that he'd employed the night of mention. And then…he threaded his hands into her hair and masterfully kissed her senseless.
Severus walked through the Ministry atrium toward the lift, his mind half in the present and half replaying his time with Hermione the evening before. It was all he could do to not to walk about smiling like a goon, but when he caught the looks aimed his way by a group of nearby witches, the temptation to smile died a swift death. Obviously, the familiarity of his visits with the Minister over the last couple of years was not proof against that sort.
Severus ignored the fawning and maintained his fast pace and his scowl, which kept all but the most tenacious at bay. Relief reigned when he reached the sanctuary of the lift, but it was premature. When the lift stopped on Hermione's level, one of his admirers of the tenacious variety attempted (unsuccessfully) to latch on to him and, laughing off his acerbic cut, settled for hovering and following. Severus didn't groan out loud or hex her, but he wanted to.
When he reached Hermione's office, Severus paused at the doorway and the sight of Hermione pouring over whatever project obscured her desk flooded his awareness causing all else to fade for a moment. Peace, quiet joy, love and even hope filled him to overflowing. It was moments like this that firmed his resolve and settled his nerves. The mere sight of Hermione made everything alright. The adversarial thoughts that betimes interjected, 'too young,' 'too Gryffindor,' 'too close,' 'too risky,' 'too good for you'...they were quieted by the sense of just right that was gifted him in her presence.
Hermione looked up, at the chatter of his hanger-on, Severus realized. Her champagne-brown eyes took in his admirer first in confusion and then with amusement.
"Is it that time already?" she asked checking a nearby clock.
She did have the knack of completely losing track of time. It was just Hermione. Severus could already foresee a future of habitually fetching her home at the end of the workday. He hoped her face always lit up this way when she saw him, and that she always came to him so easily as she did now.
"Yes," he answered quietly and gave her a small smile.
Hermione clearly sensed his annoyance at the witch next to him. "Shall I save you, my Prince?" she teased.
His tone was absolutely deadpan in answer. "Please."
Hermione quirked an eyebrow as she flicked her wand and straightened the disaster area that was her desk.
"Thank you for escorting him to me, Lauren," Hermione said in what sounded like a pleasant dismissal. Her look, however, conveyed, for a moment, a clear warning. Lauren, apparently still deluded, made to protest - but it was utterly pointless.
Hermione turned her full attention to Severus. He pulled the quill from her makeshift bun, threaded his fingers through the soft waves and curls that tumbled loose, and gave her kiss that was warmer and far more public than he would have otherwise were it not tailored for their audience – who, thankfully, departed soon after.
"Interesting moniker," Severus told her when they began walking toward Kingsley's office. She'd never called him My Prince before.
"Which you dubbed yourself," Hermione answered.
"It was a play on words," he grumped.
She smiled at him. "I'm aware. I did have another reason for using it, you know. Well, another-another, besides this one," she said nodding toward Kingsley's open door.
Severus was prevented asking what the deuce she was talking about when Kingsley greeted them both. As far as Severus knew, he, Hermione, and Shacklebolt were to floo to Grimmauld place for dinner about now. An important, not-to-be-delayed dinner as far as he was concerned. Hermione, though, appeared nervous and excited about something – something they knew about and he didn't – and he wished they'd spit it out, whatever it was.
It transpired that, in an effort to preserve what Wizard lineage they could, the Minister and certain other Ministry members were giving him the Prince title and properties. As opposed to the Ministry subsuming the several seeming extinct titles and properties, extensive research had been done, and if there was family of any degree that could be traced or tracked down, they were bequeathed in favor of continuance.
Generally speaking, Severus agreed and thought it a good move. But personally, it agitated him. What he would have given when attending Hogwarts to have been able to call himself Prince in truth – to have quieted his fellow Slytherins and gained their acceptance. But now…all it did was bring up old hurts…and stubbornness. He neither needed nor wanted what had been denied him by the family that had disowned his mother and left them no recourse or help when they had needed it.
Hermione, ever able to read him, grasped his hand. "Severus, they can't hurt you anymore." The concern in her eyes set his world to rights again, as did her half smile that followed. "And the best revenge is to live well."
Severus smirked at her almost Slytherin comment and squeezed her hand. What did it matter, really, as long as he had her? When the three of them left Kingsley's office, he left as Severus Tobias Snape Prince, head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Prince - a family of one. But not for long if he could help it.
Hermione began to wonder if pressing Severus toward accepting what was his due had been for the best after all. Throughout dinner with the SevenS, Ginny, Kings, and her visiting parents, she picked up on Severus' unsettled, almost nervous state. Her own nerves began to rattle.
Wandering into the sitting room, Severus pulled her close and said, "I have a question to ask you."
Slightly worried, Hermione asked, "What is it, Severus?"
"What was the other-other reason?"
Hermione scrunched her face in confusion, said, "Huh?" and then, "Oh! The other-other reason for calling you, 'My Prince,' you mean?"
Severus, amused at her blush, nodded.
Hermione tried to tamp down her embarrassment as she answered. "It was something that crossed my mind at the night club that night."
It was Severus' turn to look confused.
She chuckled and continued. "There everyone was, trying to emulate some sort of tough, dark persona, and in you came, their effortless king, their glittering-eyed prince, radiating the power and beauty of the night and put them all to shame. You were quite beguiling that night, and remain so to me...My Prince.'
Severus looked gob-smacked and looked at her as if judging whether to take her seriously or not.
"Yes, that's really how I see you, Severus. You're beautiful to me. Body, heart and mind," she told him quietly.
Severus closed his eyes and shook his slightly bowed head. When his eyes opened, Hermione saw one of those open-souled, only-for-her looks that took her breath away.
"I...that wasn't really...I have another question," he told her quietly.
Never, excepting when apopleptic with anger, had she heard this man at a loss for words. Worried again, Hermione asked, "What is it Severus? Anything...whatever it is...just ask me."
"Marry me, little one?"
Hermione's eyes went from scrunched in concern to wide in surprise in an instant. When he dropped down on one knee and lifted a ring she'd never seen him reach for, she gasped and covered her mouth with her hands.
"Not because of the state of our world," he continued, "not because of Ministry incentives, not even because I tend toward jealous and possessive, or that I owe you my very life..."
Hermione dropped one of her hands and grinned at him fondly.
"...But because I love you utterly and to distraction and cannot bear to be apart from you even one moment more."
"Yes," she said. Awe-struck, happy tears flowed freely, and she was incapable of saying anything besides, "A million times, yes."
She heard clapping, whistling and cheering from their audience as Severus slid the ring on her finger and rose up to kiss her. They chuckled together and she turned in his embrace to share smiles with their friends - their family.
They basked in their circle of happiness. Ginny hugged her, a little teary eyed, and mouthed, 'Wow!' Hermione laughed and nodded in agreement.
When her Mum hugged her close, amidst the boys' congratulations to Severus, she heard Harry grumble about him setting the bar too high. She and her Mum laughed quietly. "I'm so happy for you, Sweetheart. And for him. So is your father."
"Thanks, Mum. I'm so glad I got you guys back," she said, finding it difficult to imagine being more happy than she was in this moment.
"Alright, Hermione?" Harry asked her. His smile acknowledged all that had been and all that could be.
Her smile was radiant. "Wonderful, actually."
Hermione knew that life was not perfect, easy, or even fair. It was life, after all, with its ups and downs, its joys and pains, a beautiful mess, and sometimes a terrible one too. They had all weathered a storm. It would always be a part of them, but they would make the best of it and help each other along. They would be grateful and build beauty, and everything would be alright.