Just a quick word here, to everyone who's wondered why Hermione hasn't just 'come clean' about her memories, or why it hasn't occurred to her that she's in an alternate reality 'right away.' Hermione is a very logical person. It would not logically occur to someone that they're somehow in an alternate reality simply because their memories tell them something different than what is happening—especially in the wake of head trauma. Even less so would this seem a logical conclusion in a world where charms, artifacts, and spells capable of compromising one's memories and perception exist. Even the notion that she might be going mad would seem more logical than reality-hopping. That she suffered head trauma, and was discovered in a tunnel where there is rumored to exist a number of mysterious, unknown magical artifacts with effects no one understands makes it much more probable that she would think an artifact has affected her.
Hermione could barely keep her eyes open the next day during classes. She'd not had any nightmares, no, but then . . . . She was rather certain the bizarre snippets of dream she recalled caused her quite the restless slumber.
In DADA class she sat, trying very hard to focus on Severus' voice, but, with her elbow propped on her desk, and her chin in her hand, she felt her head nodding of its own volition. Even the vague awareness of Harry nudging her in her side didn't help much.
The only thing that seemed to jolt her, at all, were the moments when Severus fixed his gaze on hers as he continued lecturing the class. Even while her mind was so fuzzy she could not quite understand his words, she recognized the shift in his tone when he asked a question, and not one hand went into the air.
Not even hers, hence the drawing of his attention to her, in the first place.
She knew he'd be concerned with her lackluster response to the lesson, but she'd had a rough couple of days, if anyone understood that . . . . Oh, but it wasn't only the events. Her mind kept tripping back to last night's dream.
Drifting along through the Dark Forest. Had it been winter, or fall? She couldn't quite remember. Chilly, yes, dark despite that it was day, the branches bare.
And she wasn't alone.
The entire forest had been silent, aside from the footfalls of her companions, crunching through the leaves and frozen grass on the ground. Quite without warning, they came upon it.
A door. Impossibly, it stood on its own in the center of a small clearing. She could make out odd smudges against the stark white paint.
Swallowing hard, she looked to the others. The cloaked figures had halted on either side of her. They moved as one, raising their arms to point toward the door.
Of course, how silly of her to forget. This was what they'd come for.
Nodding, she was oddly aware of herself being the only one not dressed in rich, black folds. On the contrary, she wore a simple slip of white.
As she walked toward the door, she was distinctly aware that they had not walked with her. They hung back, watching.
The closer she got, the more she made out the smudges. Crimson against the white paint. Closer, still . . . and she thought she could detect the detail of ridges here, the deep lines of a palm there.
It was only belatedly, as she gripped the doorknob, that she wondered who had left those bloody hand prints.
Hermione snapped open her eyes to find Severus before her. He was leaned toward her, his hands curled around her upper arms, and she was pretty sure he'd just given her a shake.
"Sev . . ." she said, trying to speak around her own quick, shallow breaths.
A concerned expression pinched his features, his head shaking as he looked her over, but did not relinquish his hold. "What just happened?"
She forced a gulp down her throat, hating that she'd gone and caused him to worry, again, but then, she was worrying herself. She'd not even realized she'd drifted off.
Worse, that dream had felt so real, so vivid, as impossible as it had been, that as she stared back at him, all she could manage in response was a whispered, "I've no idea."
Severus frowned as he shook his head once more. "Perhaps we should get you to the hosp—"
"No, no!" Her eyes shot wide at the thought of spending even another minute in the hospital wing. "Please don't take me there, again. After the last few days it's starting to feel like I live there!"
He took a second with that, before he cracked a smirk so slight, it was nearly imperceptible. "Well, under the circumstances, it's always good to find you still sounding like yourself."
She frowned right back at him with his implication that she was always snippy. "Please, I just . . . need a moment, or something."
His shoulders slumping, he nodded. "I have a class shortly, but you are, of course, welcome to stay as long as you need. I'm certain Sirius will forgive you being a little late."
There it was in his tone. The tiniest bit of resentment as he said the other wizard's name. Not as though she'd forgotten their discussion outside the library yesterday afternoon—on the contrary, she'd turned it over in her mind again and again until she'd fallen asleep last night—but hearing that note in his voice brought the matter rushing to the forefront of her thoughts.
"Tell me something," she said, holding his gaze as he continued to hover so protectively before her. Goodness, she'd said that quite a bit over the last handful of days, hadn't she?
His eyelids swept downward in a slow blink as he replied, "Anything."
"It's obvious you're less than thrilled with my . . . um, relationships with Sirius and Lucius." She was acutely aware of one of his eyebrows arching upward. "And I just . . . I don't understand why you put up with it."
Frowning, he rounded the desk to take the seat beside her and she turned with his movement, so she faced him as he sat down. "Hermione, you seem to be under the impression that I have control over you."
Her brows pinched together. "Well, no, not control, but—"
"It's your body, and it's no one's place to control what you do with it. Not mine, or Sirius', or Lucius', or anyone's but yours."
"That's very pragmatic, but I can't see the three of you being happy with the way things are."
Severus pursed his lips a moment in thought. "Memory's still fuzzy, is it?"
She uttered a mirthless laugh. "That obvious, is it?"
Sighing, he raked his fingers through his lank jet hair. "Sirius . . . his ego is his biggest flaw. I'm certain your aware of his little fan club."
Hermione's brows climbed upward as she nodded, recalling seeing the students floating love notes to Professor Black's desk while his back was turned.
"That's all he really wants out of life. Their silly little crushes keep him appeased in that way, so he is perfectly content with the . . . dynamic the two of you have. And Lucius? I'll be perfectly frank, I'm not entirely certain how that started, but I knew he had no one since Narcissa's death, and I think he was lonelier than he wanted to admit, even to himself."
Hermione bit hard into her bottom lip to keep from uttering a sound of shock. Narcissa Malfoy had died. She refrained from shaking her head at herself, remaining focused on the discussion. This would be an ideal moment to ask how she'd died, but that might only derail the conversation.
"He . . . ." Severus shook his head, taking one of her hands between both of his. "He was alone for so long, and then, one day, you'd sprained your ankle, and I'm given to understand you two had 'a moment' while he was tending your injury. You challenged him in a way few people have had the courage to do, so many people are intimidated by him. I think he recognized in you the same spark that had drawn him to Narcissa."
"Funny, the Lucius Malfoy I remember loved to have people cower before him."
He snickered, lifting his gaze to hers, once more. "I see some of your memory is still intact. Yes, but that only goes for most people. People who are not close to him, people whom he does not wish to let see who he really is. Something you said that day made him aware that you were not cowed. You came to me later that day and explained that something had happened between the two of you, and that you were not certain if it was anything, at all. And, a year later, here we all are."
Here we all are, a little voice in her head echoed, yet . . . that we did not include anything about him. She knew how she and Sirius had started, and now she knew how she and Lucius had started.
Her chestnut eyes narrowed as she dropped her attention to his hands around hers for the briefest moment. "What about you? How did you and I start?"
He cracked a tiny wisp of a half-smile. "You and I? Well, it was right after—"
The door opened, then, cutting him off. He didn't snatch back his hands and jump out of the seat, as she might've expected, but then, she reminded herself that everyone in the school knew of their relationship. That and this whole bizarre student-teacher relationships aren't a thing to fuss over notion she was still scrambling to remember.
Sighing, he let his shoulders slump as he nodded and relinquished his hold on her hands. "You recall I asked you to come here at the end of your classes today?"
Again that half-smile appeared. "Good. We will discuss this further, then."
Nodding, she could only watch in silence as he finally unfolded himself from behind the student desk and strolled to the front of the classroom. Hermione swallowed hard, giving herself a shake as she, too, stood up—she was sitting in another student's seat now, after all.
She liked the feel of his elegant, long-fingered hands closed around hers, just now. She liked the visible tone of concern in his spell-marred blue eyes. She liked the way his mouth twitched ever so slightly just before he could let himself smile.
Tearing her gaze from him, she turned on her heel and started from the room. This was ridiculous, she thought, though a grin curved her lips and a little warming blush flared in her cheeks. She . . . she even liked the way he walked.
Once outside in the corridor, she spun beside the door, putting her back to the wall for support. There was a jittery feeling in her limbs, and a giddy zipping through her stomach.
She had butterflies over the thought of being alone with him later, and she liked that, too.
Much of the rest of the morning and afternoon passed in a haze—with the exception, of course, of Sirius tossing an occasional wink or flirtatious grin her way mid-lecture, and the very odd sensation of eyes on her. She could swear she felt that at least once, everywhere she went that day.
Though, of course, no one was watching her when she turned to look, she could not shake the feeling. It reminded her of that troubling dream from last night, somehow.
And that—again, somehow—made her think on the tunnels beneath the school. The robed figures in her dream were probably connected to the mask in her trunk, that made sense. But were they based on actual people, or a figment of her worried imagination?
The door, was it a metaphor?
At lunch, Hermione stirred her fork in her food absently as she tried to put that together with the information she'd quietly amassed, thus far. Both Luna and Pansy had stopped manhandling Harry—and one another—long enough to ask her what had her so distracted.
She was relatively sure she murmured something about her mind being on meeting Severus after last class. Both of the other witches apparently found this explanation enough, and went back to whatever it was they'd been doing that made Harry utter that ridiculous noise.
Yes, yes. A metaphor. But for what, exactly? There were so many things a door could represent. She sat up a little straighter, then as she wondered . . . .
What if it wasn't a metaphor, at all? What if she only thought so because of her own compromised memories, and the fuzzy, non-sequitur nature of dreams?
What if that was what she'd seen down there? What if the emblem she remembered seeing had been set not into a crevice in a wall, but into a door?
Chewing her lip furiously, she wondered if there could, indeed, be a lost room beneath the castle. Not the Chamber of Secrets, no . . . . Something deeper down, something . . . .
A chill danced up her spine at that moment, but she was snapped back to the present by her friends dragging her from the table and onto their next class. All right, she decided. She needed to sort this out, and she couldn't manage that with what she recalled and what had actually been warring with each other.
Severus would listen. He'd believe her—and what a strange turn of events that she could admit to trusting him so completely—when she told him she remembered things that hadn't happened, and forgotten all that had. Indeed, as the Dark Arts professor, he'd probably know of artifacts that had such a powerful and disconcerting affect.
If there was a room down there, then whatever had done this to her was surely inside.
And, if she'd not been so off-kilter those first few days, or even those first few hours, she might've confided in him sooner.
But, he'd promised to discuss other things with her, first, so she'd get those answers, and then sit him down. Oh, God, that was another reason she hadn't wanted to say anything. How was he going to take it when she explained to him that she remembered him as an imposing creature who utterly intimidated her?
As she made her way toward his classroom later that afternoon, she thought of that again, and again. The very idea of what his face might look like as he registered her words broke her heart.
God, what a weird week she was having.
Outside his door, she squared her shoulders and schooled her features. She didn't want him to think she was upset, or he'd derail the entire intended discussion to find out what was troubling her.
Letting out a low, quiet breath, she pushed open the door and peeked in. There he was, his back to her as he cleared the day's lesson from the board.
She slipped inside, closing the door gently behind her. The latch made a distinct click in the silence of the room, and he looked over his shoulder.
For a flickering moment, Hermione felt her heart squeeze in her chest as his gaze locked on hers. Oh, madness, this was!
He went back to his task, allowing her time to cross the room to him. Severus removed his cloak and draped it across the back of his chair as he turned to face her.
When she seemed cautious, still, he patted his desk in a welcoming gesture.
Try as she might, she could not recall sitting like that before. But . . . she couldn't deny wanting to know what that might be like, now. Wanting to perch there on his desk before him as they spoke to each other in hushed tones.
Good Lord, Hermione! What is happening to you?
Nodding, and aware of a wash of color blooming in her cheeks, she moved around his desk. There was something strangely intimate in how he held her gaze as she lifted herself back to sit.
A bit of the tension she'd been carrying drained out of her, then. "Actually, yes."
"Good." Dusting his hands off against his robes, he folded his arms across his chest. "You wanted to know how we began, yes?"
She nodded, aware of something in his tone. Uncertainty, perhaps? Did he think that presenting her with this information, now when she might view things differently, would make her turn him away?
With a nod of his own, he slipped a photograph from inside his cloak and held it out to her. "What I once looked like."
Hermione took the image between delicate fingertips. Yes, there was the Severus Snape she remembered. He looked to be arguing with someone off-camera, and she couldn't help but laugh at that.
"I remember," she said in a whisper as she handed it back.
With a sigh, he dropped the photograph aside. Running his fingers down his own cheeks, he began, "I had hated this face. This new . . . stranger staring back at me from the mirror. Even my eyes no longer seemed to be my own. I shied away from everyone. My temper got worse—"
"I didn't think that was possible." She hadn't meant to interrupt, but thought of a bad temper in connection with the face she'd just seen prompted the words.
With a self-deprecating half-grin, he shook his head. "Well, it was. And then, one day . . . must've been a few months I'd been suffering quietly with this malady. Anyway, I had been cleaning up after class, just as you found me today. I turned around, and there you sat."
Her eyes widening, she pointed at the desk beneath her. "Here? Just like this?"
Severus nodded. "Before I could even tell you to leave, you said, 'Professor Snape, what has you so very angry lately?' Seems you fancied us as having some sort of rapport, one I was damaging with my attitude. Though, I could not deny that we did; a grudging respect, is more what I'd call it."
Hermione pressed her lips together, holding in a quiet giggle at that—she thought that sounded familiar, too.
"And I realized . . . no one had thought to ask me how I was feeling. No one had considered that just because this face was more—more aesthetically appealing, I suppose, didn't mean I was happy with the outcome of what could've been a truly awful result. No one cared that I was so angry because I literally did not recognize myself anymore, and it occurred to me that no one asked because they hadn't been capable of understanding how much the change was affecting me."
He shrugged, those strangely becoming eyes rolling in thought. "So, when you asked, it just came all spilling out. And the last thing I said on the matter was that I couldn't bare to touch my own face."
Severus paused them, seeming to need to catch his breath.
This was just the tip of the iceberg, though, she thought. "And then what?"
"Well . . . ." He cleared his throat and stepped nearer. Bracing his palms against the desk on either side of her, he leaned close, his face right before hers. "I hadn't realized," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper, "that I'd been so . . . swept up in my emotions, that when I finished venting to you, this was how I was standing."
Hermione held her breath, painfully aware of the warmth of him hovering just before her.
"And you, you lifted your hands and cupped my cheeks."
Forcing a gulp down her throat, she did exactly as he'd just said. "Like this."
Nodding, Severus forced himself to focus. He wanted to turn his head, to brush his lips against her palms, in turn, but she wanted to know, and he'd not gotten therejust yet.
"Exactly like that. It was the first time anyone had touched this face aside from the few times I'd done so because I had no choice. You asked me if I had changed. Of course, I didn't think I had, and I answered as much." He exhaled sharply, then, and she could feel the rush of his breath against her lips, making the delicate skin tingle. "You said that that was all that mattered, then, wasn't it? You didn't see me as any different than I'd been before; why should I let an image in the mirror dictate what I thought of myself?"
Now, with the pitch in his tone, and how he looked at her, she had an idea of what had happened next. Even so, she asked, "Then what?"
"Then we . . . ." He dropped his gaze from hers as he swallowed hard. Returning his attention to hers, he said, "But perhaps you don't want me to tell you this."
"You're right. I don't want you to tell me." Hermione shook her head, watching her own movements as she shifted one of her hands to trail her fingertips across his bottom lip.
Severus was acutely cognizant of how close they were to one another, of the weight of her gaze on his mouth and the gorgeous flush in her cheeks.
Bringing her gaze back to up to meet his, she said, "I want you to show me."