(Highlight to View) Warning(s): UST.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Severus is on the committee for approval of Hermione's Potions mastery. Will their UST/sexual relationship affect the outcome? (SS/HG)
Summary: The night before Hermione's mastery, Severus must make a choice.
Rubbing his thumb in a circular manner, Severus committed to memory the smooth quality of the parchment upon which his speech was written. The watermark was raised ever so slightly. He knew he would remember the touch as long as he drew breath. A span of eyes stared up at him, awaiting the moment when he would begin to speak. A few shifted uncomfortably in their seats like errant school children. Severus held the room with his gaze, his eyes sweeping back and forth. Master Bix was fidgeting. Severus glared at him reprovingly. A dry cough echoed in the back of the hall.
To his right, he settled his gaze on her. She nodded softly.
"Masters and Mistresses, esteemed fellows, scholars, and guests, I welcome you. I have the honor and privilege of introducing tonight's honored guest, Dragonhide Scholar and Gamp's Fellowship Winner, Hermione Granger, our newest Potions mistress."
Severus paused as the din of applause overtook the hall.
"Miss Granger's academic prowess came to my attention long before she set fire to my robes. Her commitment to her studies was evident the first day of school. Ever the scholar, she had read her textbooks during the summer holidays. Keeping Miss Granger academically challenged proved to be a difficult task."
Severus paused for breath and glanced at the speech he knew by heart. Of course it was difficult keeping Hermione Granger challenged. But what else could he say to a room full of his esteemed peers? Looking past the parchment, he saw her standing at the potions bench, as she had been, their last night together.
Steam lifted off the copper cauldron in a perfect corkscrew. Severus paused at the doorway, watching her work subtle magic from the lintel. A secondary corkscrew wound its way down the nape of her neck. With practiced ease, Hermione reduced her flame and added powdered Golden Sneezedust. The beautiful funnel of steam dropped into the cauldron. Severus stealthily stepped into the room.
"I heard you," Hermione said, while mashing crabapples. "Before you stepped inside the door. I heard you before you passed through the garden. In fact, I'm fairly certain I heard you crunching down the walk. You've been banging around all day." She turned towards him, her eyes flicking up for a second as the knife stilled. "Something must be on your mind."
There was a slight tensing of Severus' shoulders, as if bracing for an invisible impact, before he reached inside his lapel pocket and withdrew a fine ebony stirring rod. Placing it gently upon the potions bench, he slid it towards her. "I was contemplating giving you this."
"Ah," Hermione said, her voice distant and mechanical as she processed the remaining crabapples. "The traditional passing out gift for my graduation. How kind. I shall treasure it always."
The inflexible and unyielding rod lay between them, the distance immeasurable.
"I'll leave you to your brew." Severus turned to leave, fists curling.
"Can you really not stay?" Her lilting voice halted his step. "Please, stay up with me tonight. Help me to finish."
Quickly scanning the ingredients laid out in order across the prep table, Severus snorted loudly. Soon-to-be-Mistress Granger did not require his brewing assistance. Nimbly, her fingers parted the sour mash, seeking out the tiny seeds popped free from their tight core, like little buttons scattered across a dirty floor. Quietly, he watched her work. The meditative silence of her dexterous hand was a soothing balm. Severus found his eyes drawn to her thumb, chapped by potion and by flame, her cuticles cut to the quick. He'd caught her gnawing at them in frustration, but said nothing.
All that she was, she'd earned. When Hermione traded perfume for the stink of potion smoke that permeated clothing and sunk into the sink, she earned it. When she gave up hair conditioners and facial scrubs for the damp, endless ripple of cauldron steam, she'd earned that, too. And when she'd taken on her own dungeon-like pallor, Hermione wore it with pride.
Anticipating her need, Severus handed her mustard seeds for her pestle. There was a flash of smile, like a burst of wind on a hot and heavy day. Closing his eyes, Severus swayed towards her, trying to catch the scent of her. Could any man love a woman with soot and dead flowers clinging to her as much as he did? And when she left…
Gritting his teeth, Severus opened his eyes and watched the careful intensity with which Hermione began to prepare the glass tubing for the potion's distillation. He would never accept another apprentice. It couldn't be done. Hermione could not be replaced. Vapor drew up through the tube, swirling and coalescing together as the sum became greater than the parts. She let out a very definitive breath as the first drop of liquid touched the bottle.
The knot of his shoulders flexed as her potion drew to a close, milliliter by milliliter. There was nothing left to say. Her trunks were packed and ready for the coming train. Ought he remind her that she had savaged his Orris Root supply? Severus dashed the thought away and was left with an uncomfortable emptiness, a fumbling in his hands. Hermione's small hand covered his own, calming his impending desire to flee with a touch. For a moment they stood at the potions bench together, one last time before she would no longer be his.
Hermione carefully stepped closer, the dark wool of her apprentice frockcoat touching his. The warmth of the potions bench saturated his robes. The warmth of her body through layers of cloth was a burning heat he could hardly stand. Yet, Severus was unable to snatch away his hand or move; she had immobilized him. When released, he would flee and never look back, but until then, Severus' glittering black eyes drank in her small dry hand softly covering his.
"Teach me," Hermione said, her voice cracked barely above a whisper.
Mutely, Severus stared at their joined hands. The traditional ebony stirring rod was left lying on the table. "I have nothing to teach you," Severus stated regretfully. "You have learned everything I can give you."
Severus turned his head away as he heard the plea in her voice. He did not want to see her heaven-set eyes. The soft press of her body fitted against his cassock and caused Severus to jerk. As her head rested upon his shoulder, Severus tensed the muscles of his body.
"Teach me," Hermione quietly demanded, stroking his hand with feather-light touches.
"I have already given you everything," Severus hopelessly confessed. "There is nothing more."
She'd ravaged every book in his library. Cajoled every story. Begged every scrap of knowledge. Hermione had picked him dry months ago. Everything he had, every bit of information he had learned, he'd willingly turned over to Hermione. She'd taken everything and always asked for more.
"No?" Hermione asked, reaching up. Her potion-chapped hand cupped his cheek and slowly drew him down, closer and closer to her heart-shaped face. He could see her gentle brown eyes as her lips approached his. He could feel the tip of her nose as it brushed his, but never had he been more surprised or unprepared for a kiss. Her undemanding lips rested upon his for only a moment, yet they left him profoundly stunned. Severus stammered for an answer as his mouth and mind attempted to move an unmovable block, the wall that stood between them. There was no moving the unbreakable barrier between master and apprentice.
"Teach me," Hermione said.
Never before had a more tempting siren sat atop hidden shoals.
Breath left his body as he responded. "I cannot."
Her disappointment was measured in the slump of shoulders and the biting of cracked lips. The slight uncoiling of her posture could be read like chapters of a book.
"I see," Hermione said carefully. She plucked her vial of potion from the distillery stand and neutrally palmed the traditional passing out gift. Hermione presented her master a courteous bow.
Severus counted seven steps as she stepped up to the doorway.
"Obtain your mastery, Hermione," he called out. "We ought to be equals, you and I, before you can consider an old fool like me."
As Hermione whisked across the threshold, her quiet voice returned, "Perhaps."
"… which was both well received by our distinguished peers for its valuable import to the potions community, but also praised by the Janus Thickey Ward of Saint Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries for its miraculous healing properties."
Severus paused for a moment and pushed away his speech. He allowed his eyes to stray across the dais to where she sat. Were there words sufficient to tell her how proud he was of her at this moment? If there were, he could not find them. He could only hope, when the time came, for the courage to show her his deep affections. Her lip curved ever so slightly in amusement.
"And so, ladies and gentlemen of the Guild, I present for your consideration, Mistress Granger."