Disclaimer: They're not mine, but you knew that already.

A/N: This is my response to Howlingmojo's picture at http://members.lycos.nl/howlingmojo/newfront%20copy.jpg I laughed heartily.



Home

Hermione ran down the stairs from Gryffindor Tower, tears streaming down her eyes. Ron's words echoed in her head, "She's better than nothing, after all." Ron and Harry were lamenting the usual lack of dates for the Yule Ball coming up in a few weeks as Hermione was sitting nearby reading an old favourite. Harry had been dating Lavender since October so it just remained for Ron to find a date. After almost every girl in the school was discarded as either taken or too ugly, Harry suggested that Ron ask Hermione.

"Yeah, I might," Ron replied, "She's better than nothing, after all.." He didn't say it scathingly and she doubted he knew she had heard his comment at all. However, that didn't make it hurt any less. She knew she was about to cry and didn't want anyone to ask what was wrong. She had to get out.

Hermione put a marker in her book and walked towards the portrait. Harry and Ron's conversation continued without a pause. "Gee, thanks guys," she thought, "Not even a 'Goodbye.' I guess I know how much I'll be missed." She walked past the portrait of the Fat Lady. But where should she go? The library, her usual sanctuary, would be the first place anyone would look for her. The astronomy tower would be overflowing with couples seeing as it was almost time for curfew. She needed a place where no one would go, even if they knew she was there. Then she had it: the dungeons. The fear of encountering Snape would effectively scare off anyone looking for her. She stumbled down the stairs, her eyes blurry. The increasing darkness alerted her she had arrived. She climbed into a niche holding a statue of St. George. She curled up into a ball and did not notice St. George looking down at her kindly and spreading his cloak to hide her shaking form from casual passers-by.

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Snape floated down the hall with a case of small glass vials. A swarm of lacewing flies were found in one of the trees along the edge of the Forbidden Forest and he had collected enough to last for a few months. As he walked back towards his stores, he heard the small sniffle of someone crying. "My work is never done," he thought to himself. He looked to find the source of the sound and noticed the statue of St. George beckoning him. As Snape approached, the sniffling became louder and the saint pulled his cloak aside to reveal a shaking black ball covered in bushy brown hair. Snape started, of all people he never expected to find crying behind a statue in the dungeon, Hermione Granger had to be in the top five.

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Hermione could feel herself being lifted from her place and settled onto someone's lap. The unexpected kindness propelled Hermione into another bout of tears and she buried her face into the enfolding robes. A silky voice whispered nothing of importance in her ear but seemed to soothe the pains of her heart nonetheless. Strong arms held her as she wept. Slowly, her tears subsided and she noticed the wet patches her tears had left on the other person's chest.

"I'm sorry! I've made a mess of your clothes," She apologized haltingly.

"It's alright," Hermione looked up at Snape in surprise, "I can get them cleaned,"

"Oh my goodness! I'm sorry, Professor!" Hermione scrambled to rise, "I'll just go back to my dorm, then.." She wished fervently for him not to take off house points. She could barely conceive of any way for the day to get worse.

"Miss Granger, you are obviously distraught. I would suspect that returning to the melee of the common rooms would not improve your condition. If you would like to come to my office, I shall make you some tea while you regain your composure."

Hermione knew that she did not wish to return to her Common Room. Harry and Ron would still be awake, and she did not wish to face them until the morning. "Thank you, sir," she said meekly. Even if Harry and Ron knew where she was, they would never seek her out in Snape's office.

"Come along, then." Snape picked up the vials from where he had set them on the floor. He swept down the hall as Hermione trailed wonderingly behind.

Snape walked to an empty piece of wall and murmured something Hermione couldn't hear. As Hermione stood in the doorway, she saw two red leather chairs pulled up to the large brick fireplace along the far wall. In front of the chairs was a low wrought-iron coffee table with a glass top. In the middle of the room was a large lab table with innumerable noxious potions simmering over low fires. Snape's voice floated from a connecting room "Either come inside or go away." Hermione quickly stepped into the room and into the circle of light shed by the fire. "Allow me to shelve these bottles and I shall be with you shortly." Hermione heard the clinking of glass as she sat down in one of the chairs. She still felt upset, but she didn't feel the need to cry anymore. Snape came up behind her and handed her a cup of tea. "Now," said Snape as he reclined in the opposite chair, "Would you like to tell me why I found you crying in the dungeons out of the company of the other two musketeers?"

"I've just been having a hard time lately," Hermione said, "You probably don't want to listen to the inane ramblings of a teenage girl." Hermione stared at her cup of tea as if she believed Trelawney's supposition that her future depended on the placement of the leaves.

"Miss Granger, one does not become the Head of Slytherin if he is not prepared to listen to the woes of weeping females. On average, Slytherin generates more teenage angst in a week than all of the other houses do in a month. You are not the first tearstained person to sit in that chair, nor are you likely to be the last. Therefore, if you would like to tell me, go ahead. If not, then we shall pretend you simply came down for a friendly chat with your bat-like, evil, sarcastic potions professor a few minutes before curfew." A tiny smile curled at Snape's lips, but was quickly hidden as he took a sip of tea.

Hermione chuckled. "Well, you asked for it. Although, I'll warn you now, it'll sound silly. It sounds silly to me and I'm the one crying about it, but that doesn't make it hurt any less." Snape nodded in understanding. "Harry and Ron were sitting up by the fire griping about dates for the Yule Ball. When Harry suggested that Ron ask me, Ron just dismissed it as 'better than nothing' and I was sitting right there! Plus, when I got up to walk out, they didn't even blink! It's like they didn't even notice I was there. It's not just today, either. They never seem to notice whether I'm there or not, unless there's homework to be done. I just keep wishing that someone would notice me as something more than the homework help. It felt so nice when I walked into the Yule Ball in fourth year! It was like I was supposed to be there, not like I was intruding on everyone else's fun. I felt beautiful on the inside, like people had finally noticed that there's more to me than answers to tests."

Snape looked at her sternly. Noticing the look, Hermione corrected, "Oh, don't get me wrong! I don't give them the answers or anything, just a nudge in the right direction while they're studying," Hermione corrected quickly.

"Thank you, Miss Granger," Snape responded, "I'm sure that, thanks to your valiant effort, I have been saved from reading even more ridiculous answers than those to which I am accustomed."

"You don't mind?"

"Of course I don't, as long as you're not nudging while the test is taking place. If there's any way of implanting knowledge into some of those students, especially without my time and hard work, I would gladly take it. But please, continue with your story. It is an interesting predicament."

"Where was I.? Yule Ball. Well, the only trouble with what happened there was that it took me upwards of two hours to reach that effect. Besides, I want someone to like me for who I really am, not for the shiny and contrived object I can become. The worst part is that I know I shouldn't be upset with them about this. I know they don't know better and they're not deliberately trying to be hurtful, but I'm upset anyway. Then I start being upset with myself for being upset and it just starts a big spiral of unhappiness. The problem is that I can't seem to break my way out of it." Hermione heaved a sigh at the end of her recital. Somehow, it made everything seem more tangible by telling someone else.

Snape smiled after Hermione had finished. "My dear Miss Granger, I believe I have identified your problem. You have subconsciously realized your own worth and have become frustrated with those who don't. You are intelligent, perceptive, logical, driven, self-reliant, and deserving of much more male attention than you currently receive."

Hermione blushed at the excess of compliments. She wondered if Snape was making up for years of being nasty. "You have to say that because you're my teacher."

"Actually I shouldn't say that because I'm your teacher. Regardless, it's true. My suggestion is either to ignore everyone else and be grateful you are you or to find someone who will help you do so. Obviously, you have outgrown your friends, a fact for which I am entirely grateful. However, I hope you realize it soon enough to prevent any further emotional outbreaks in my vicinity."

Hermione smiled slightly at this return to sarcasm. "I'll think about what you said. It made me feel a lot better. I think I should be getting back to my dorm now." She set her teacup down on the coffee table and walked towards the door. Snape followed to show her out. Just as Hermione was about to leave Snape's rooms she turned around and hugged him. She couldn't say why she did it; she just knew it felt right. He smelled of grass and wind. The embroidery beside the buttons on his shirt depicted snakes twined in knots. "Figures," Hermione thought as her hair tangled around the buttons. Her body curled into him and she suddenly felt like she had come home. She felt as if nothing could hurt her because there was no evil to try to hurt her. As she nuzzled her face into his robes for the second time that night, she whispered, "Thank you."

"Any time; I will always be here, should you need me," Snape whispered back as he wrapped one arm behind her back and the other through her hair. She smelled of dusty books filled with knowledge and flowers at midnight under the summer sky. In that moment he felt like there were no papers to grade and Voldemort was merely a self-important despot consumed with hearing his own voice. He felt as if he had entered such a sacred place that nothing could touch him. It felt like he had come home. As he lifted his head from the fragrant brown waves, he found two pairs of eyes, one green and one blue, whose owners were wishing him dead. As he felt the warm weight resting against his chest and remembered the unhappiness which caused the situation, he allowed himself to do the one thing he had been wishing he could do for years. He calmly removed his hand from Hermione's hair and, ever so elegantly, shoved his middle finger in the faces of Ron and Harry.

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Hermione disentangled herself from the voluptuous robes of the potions master which seemed to want to entangle her in his embrace forever. She turned to find Harry and Ron staring at her with faces of mixed astonishment and discontent. She chose to ignore both sentiments and said, "Hey guys," She yawned. "Gosh, I'm tired! I think I'll head to bed." As she walked back up to the Gryffindor common room, she felt happier than she had in weeks. She already knew who the only person capable of helping her realize her potential was. She had only one question: how?





A/N: My thanks to the writers of the movie Never Been Kissed, for a wonderful piece of dialogue which I shamelessly copied from them. That little piece just seemed to work with Severus and Hermione. My kudos to a wonderful piece of cinema. Also, major thanks to Rebmonk who beta-ed for me! He made sense of my mush. Yay for him!