Summary: When the world around crumbles into dust, and darkness seems endless when the pull of the bottomless pit of despair is insurmountable, and life is an unbearable living hell full of pain and misery, all you need to do is say "please". And who knows, maybe your angel will hear your plea and come.
It is the end of Hermione's sixth year at Hogwarts and Severus Snape is one breath away from taking his own life. Would anybody hear how fast his heart thrums its last beats?
THIS FIC CONTAINS SOME PRETTY DARK
AND DISTURBING THEMES AND IMAGES,
SO CAREFULLY CONSIDER IF YOU SHOULD READ IT.
He was behaving weird… In fact, they both were. But if Dumbledore's apparent mood swings and subsequent prolonged absences from the Great Hall could be attributed to his black hand (undoubtedly some nasty curse, lethal, she was sure), Snape's terrible, worse than terrible actually, attitude, ghastly appearance, nonexistent appetite, constant snapping at absolutely everyone, and a number of other things that Hermione noticed throughout the year was not so easy to explain. He never was full of joy, of course, but she thought that the professor would at least be a little more glad to finally get the position he was rumored to want so desperately. No student in their right mind would possibly expect him to become easier to be around because of that, obviously, but still. Even other professors seemed to give the man a wide berth in the halls nowadays and never started conversations at meals. It was incredibly weird and increased Hermione's worry by the hour. It was the end of June, and Severus Snape looked more like a ghost than a man. She couldn't bear it.
Most likely he was worried about Dumbledore. Who knows, maybe those two were best buddies or something. Professors did not tend to share their personal lives with students but Hermione didn't need them to. She was quite an observant young woman. Years of sneaking around the globe with an illegal time-turner one was not supposed to have could do that to a person.
Hagrid, for example, was having pretty hot dates with Madame Maxime in the Forbidden forest every fortnight since the end of the Triwizard Tournament. Madam Pomfrey was a hell of a musician and sometimes ventured in the dead of night to Flitwick's music room, where the school choir practiced, to play piano and sing but for some inexplicable reason was very self-conscious about it. Trelawny was a sleep-waker and had a habit of making eyes at their Potions Master who either did not notice or did not care, which was more likely. Snape himself was a chronic insomniac and spent a better part of almost every night aimlessly wandering the castle or sitting on the floor at the top of the Astronomy tower reading or simply staring somewhere far away, sometimes under the watchful eye of Minerva McGonagall in her animagus form. To Hermione's surprise, the Transfiguration professor was good friends with Mrs. Norris. The two cats patrolled the halls together when possible and occasionally hunted, played, or just walked the grounds in company of one another. Sprout and Filch were in a state of constant silent war because the Herbology professor was messy and couldn't care less about all the mud that she dragged into the castle from the greenhouses on a daily basis. Flitwick was a perfectionist to the extreme. Way worse than even Severus. He kept the charms classroom in an inconceivable order. There were always three pieces of chalk on the blackboard (on the left, precisely in the middle, and on the right side), the furniture always stood in certain places and not an inch further, even bloody cushions were stored in a precise order. And God forbid something was moved… The miniature professor huffed in annoyance and immediately righted the out-of-place piece of his perfect picture. How his poor wife (who, by the way, spent every weekend in the castle) survived him for that long was beyond understanding even for Hermione who too liked order but not nearly to that degree. Charity Burbage had an early stage of the magical equivalent of Parkinson's disease, judging by Hermione's observations. Bins only pretended not to remember students. He just hated those who did not pay attention in his class, and actually was quite pleasant to talk to. And so on. She saw all occupants of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry for what they were, knew their habits and tells, and was goddamn proud of it, even if no one else would ever have any suspicions about that knowledge. Hermione was sure that one day it all would come in handy, so she carefully stored every new piece of that giant puzzle in her eidetic memory along with everything else she learned over the years.
Like her studying in German for a Healer certificate. Or Defense mastery that she received last summer in France. Or her current apprenticeship with one of the best Arithmancy Masters in America. All under false names, of course. Hermione's thirst for knowledge was always insatiable but when she got her hands on the time turner back in 1993, she simply couldn't stop herself. It was wrong, of course. On many levels. But the older Hermione got, the darker the world around her became, the more she understood the value and necessity of knowledge and skill. Dumbledore was all too glad to dump the weight of the world on the shoulders of a kid, not bothering to prepare him for what was coming, leaving him to stumble in the dark without guidance, so Hermione Granger, the ever-faithful friend, decided that at least one of them should be ready.
And she was.
With all the turning, today was her twenty-eighth birthday. No one knew, of course. As per tradition, Hermione sat in some muggle cafe, in Boston this time, sipping her coffee and eating a slice of her favorite chocolate cake. She was glamoured to match her Mary Birmingham ID: a young woman around thirty with a pointy bird-like face, waist-long blond plait, and thin bony figure, dressed in a simple white sun-dress. Some say that maintaining a glamour twenty-four seven wasn't recommended because of the strain on one's magic but Hermione was so used to it by now, it was like a second skin.
Hermione sat near the window looking at the pouring rain outside and thinking back about her first turn of today at Hogwarts. The uneasy gut-wrenching feeling that settled deep in her stomach the moment she woke up refused to subside ever since. Something was about to happen. Something bad. Hermione kept her eyes wide open all day, watching for the smallest signs of distress but everything was quiet. Too quiet in fact. Even Severus was unusually silent and subdued. Burnt out. He ignored students in the hallways, did not snap at them in classes, and actually replied to McGonagall when she asked him something at lunch. It was like he was struggling with something for a long time and finally made a decision. The questions were what was it that he decided and why it bothered Hermione so much.
"I'm sorry, Miss, but we're closing in ten minutes," said a young and quite cute waiter from behind the counter. Ignoring him, Hermione glanced at the watch on her wrist and started to hastily gather her things, preparing to leave. It was almost ten-fifty already and she had to walk from Hogsmeade through the One-eyed witch passage, which always took about an hour. Where did the time go?
Fifteen minutes later, Hermione apparited from Boston directly to the not-really-that-secret tunnel under the Honeydukes and started to make her way to the castle as quickly as possible. The silence was oppressing. It weighed heavily on her chest, making her heart beat faster and faster, faster and faster until Hermione was practically running through the darkness, illuminated only by one small orbit of dim white light that dutifully hovered above. If only she was in time. She has to be. She was reasonably sure by now that it was all about Snape. Nothing else changed. There was always a chance that Voldemort would send Harry another vision or find some other way to get to the poor boy, but Potter was in Gryffindor tower sleeping soundly, surrounded by their numerous housemates, including her. Snape was alone.
Switching the glamour to her seventeen-year-old self and transfiguring the dress back into school robes on the way, Hermione also disillusioned, silenced, and put a notice-me-not on herself for good measure before climbing out of the tunnel. The corridor was empty, thankfully. It was Thursday, and on Thursdays, this part of the castle was patrolled by Sprout, which meant that the professor would be here at eleven-thirty. Hermione checked the time. Eleven-forty.
The incessant nagging worry increased with each passing minute, becoming a full-blown panic and without really thinking, Hermione raced through the night castle toward the Astronomy tower, not stopping even when Mrs. Norris showed up at the end of one of the hallways. Her lungs and legs were killing her by the moment she reached the entrance to the tower. The clock struck midnight. Taking one deep breath, which seemed to only make things worse, Hermione ran up the endless flight of stairs, praying to all the gods that her panic would turn out to be over nothing.
Three minutes later, Hermione finally reached the top landing and for a second everything seemed fine. He was there. He was unharmed.
This time he sat on the railing, rather than on the floor, looking down, and — secrecy be damned — she moved toward him, feeling a short pang of relief. But very quickly her brain caught up with her eyes and her heart dropped with mortification. She jumped forward at the same moment Severus started to slowly slip ahead, throwing her arms before her in an attempt to grab him.
Ten to midnight
Severus sat, clutching the railing tightly and indifferently looking at the ground below. His pulse fluttered, though. A paradox. It was like his body still cared when his mind was blank and calm. Empty.
He didn't plan on attempting suicide. Never was the one who ran from troubles, from tasks, from responsibility. But right now he… No, not he per se, it's just… Severus couldn't explain it even to himself. After yet another conversation with Dumbledore recently, he once and for all realized that no matter what, he would be the one to carry out the deed. There was no way out. Not even the smallest hope. Everything will happen tomorrow. The sense of finality weighed him down with unbearable irresistible force, making his chest swell with dread. So he gave up. Stopped fighting fate. He simply was not capable of doing it. Of lifting a wand and producing that deadly ray of green light. And not only for immediate consequences — namely Dumbledore's death — but for larger consequences too: for him it meant an elaborate, very slow and very-very painful suicide. How long would it take for the Potter-brat to finish whatever task he was assigned? Months? Years? Would he even be able to do it? And all that time Severus would have to be here, feigning a depraved monster, torturing everyone around, but first of all — himself? No, thank you. He was just so fucking tired… He refused. He simply refused to go through this hell. There was no point in… In everything really. Why should he fight for people who hated him with abandon and whom he hated just as much? For the boy who'd be killed regardless? For the ghost of a woman who turned around and walked away to the man that tormented him for years?
No point. No point whatsoever.
And so from the moment Severus sat here, he couldn't stop thinking about Dumbledore's face when he'd find Severus' broken corpse near the tower and realize that he won't have his easy way out after all. About the Dark Lord's rage that he would unleash upon his Death Eaters after discovering how royally his plans were screwed. About the Order that would undoubtedly stumble in the dark like headless chickens without his inside-information. Maybe then they would realize how important, how invaluable was everything that Severus did. Maybe they would even regret his untimely demise.
He was only thirty-seven, for God's sake!
Nothing mattered anymore.
And who was he kidding… No one would regret his death.
He should be sad about it, he knew. But oddly enough, the only thing Severus felt at the moment was peace. Contentment even. That's how it would end. A lifetime of disgust and hatred, despisal and worthlessness… He was nobody. Why should anybody care if he was alive or dead? If he was lonely? Hungry? In pain? If he wanted something? Needed something?
No one ever did. So Severus stopped as well.
And now he was sitting here, seriously contemplating a coward's way out. Such a pitiful end of even more pitiful existence.
Severus chuckled under his breath. Funny, he always thought that he'd die alone and forgotten in some godforsaken shit-hole, not that he'd make such a spectacle out of himself. He tried to ascertain if he cared about that or not, and for a moment an uneasy feeling stirred inside his chest but then the images that plagued Severus' mind the last hour returned, stomping that feeling down. What did it matter? He won't see all that. They could do all they bloody wanted. They could go fuck themselves. Or each other. He even smiled lopsidedly, imagining for a second a mass orgy taking place on the ground near the tower around his corpse. Naked bodies, slick with sweat, all moving in unison. Coming one by one. Grunting with effort and passion, meowing and screaming in ecstasy. And in the middle of all that, panting Dumbledore with his damnable twinkling eyes taking moaning Riddle from behind. Or the other way around.
A shiver ran through Severus' body and he instinctively tightened his grip on the railing, shaking the awful image from his head. That wasn't the thought that he wanted to be his last.
Inhaling deeply, he returned his gaze to the peaceful picture before him. The tiny stars on the black endless clear sky shone brightly, giving enough light to encompass him even without the moon. How he envied those stars… How he wanted to be one of them and spend all his time just watching other people struggle through their lives, not caring about a single one of them. He's had his fair share of caring. Each person he ever cared about ripped a part of his soul away, shattered his poorly mended heart anew into million pieces, and walked away without a second thought.
How many times can a man bleed out? How many times can a man die inside?
Severus lost count.
But all that could be easily rectified, couldn't it? If people were so offended by his existence, said existence could be terminated.
All he needed to do was jump.
Easy really. Just let go of the railing and slide forward. The gravity will take care of the rest.
Severus looked down on the ground, trying to ignore the pang of something in his heart. Was it guilt? Regret? Hope? Not hope, surely. What could he possibly hope for? That someone will suddenly barge in and pull him away from the edge, tell him that everything will be fine, that he won't have to do all those terrible things because they were taken care of already, that he's not as lonely and forsaken as he always thought? That will never happen. Ever.
Angry at himself, Severus took one last deep breath, cleared his head of all thoughts, unclenched his fingers, leaned forward, and slowly slipped away from his seat.
The next millisecond, though, when there was nothing but air under him, Severus regretted his foolish decision, suddenly more than anything wanting to just live, and flailed his arms uselessly, letting a scream out into the night. All he could think of was, "Please!"
Something caught him.
Grabbed by the scruff of his open frock coat, and shirt, and some of his hair, nearly choking him.
"Hand!" barked a voice.
Obeying, Severus held up his hands awkwardly to his savior who took them tightly one by one and was immediately turned around, bumping his nose into the tower wall.
"Help me! You stupid son of a bitch!" she exclaimed (it was definitely a woman), tugging him up, and Severus tried to push off the wall with his feet as if he was walking. It turned out to be much harder than it seemed. She let out more profanities, but Severus didn't hear them behind his furiously beating heart and the endless stream of "please" that still flew through his mind. Inch by inch they lifted him up the wall and then tugged him over the railing, falling on the floor in a heap.
Severus found himself lying on a solid breathing body, though only now realized that he couldn't see it. He should thank her, though, whoever she was.
But when a few minutes later he raised his head, all he could say was: "Who are you?"
She chuckled. "Shit. I forgot I'm disillusioned," she replied in a strangely familiar voice and lifted her spells. Severus furrowed his brows. The woman under him looked like Granger but not like Granger. She was definitely older, for once. And her features were worn and tired. One side of her face and neck was littered in small white scars. They were barely noticeable, but still there. She was breathing hard, too hard, as if she just ran a marathon, not only saved his sorry ass.
And then it dawned. It was Granger. Fucking Granger. Come morning, the whole school will know about poor Snape committing suicide… She'll surely tell those fools she calls friends, and fucking Potter would never miss an opportunity to mock and humiliate him. Swearing, Severus flew away from her as if on fire. He needed to put as much distance between them as possible. He tried to find the stairway but there wasn't one.
Where the fuck was the fucking stairs?! How in the name of Merlin was it even possible?!
Severus thrashed and circled around the landing as a caged animal, working himself up into a full panic, forgetting about Granger. All he knew was that he needed to get the hell out of here. His vision darkened, and his chest started to hurt, he was suffocating.
There was no air.
"No air. No air. No air.
"No. Fucking. AIR! I need out…
"Let me out… I need to breathe. I need air. Please, let me out. Out. OUT!"
A strong pair of hands squeezed him tightly from behind, making his heart skip a bit. Startled, Severus instantly ceased all movements, going limp and toppling them to the floor again. "Shhh…" whispered a gentle voice in his ear. "We're in an open tower. There is air. There's plenty of air. You can breathe. Just breathe, Severus. Breathe with me. Slowly. In," she inhaled, pressing her chest to his back to give him something to concentrate on. "And out," — exhaled. "Come on, dear. In, one, two, and out. One, two, three, in, one, two, three, out. Everything will be fine, you'll see."
Through the haze, Severus tried to do as she asked, but it was hard. Suddenly one hand that held him disappeared, and reappeared with a vial with blue liquid.
"A Calming Draught," he realized after staring at it for several seconds, snatched the potion, and with shaking hands downed it, immediately feeling warmth spreading inside, calming him. He closed his eyes, took another deep shaky breath, and relaxed a little more.
What an awful night.
"How are you?" asked Hermione.
Severus reluctantly opened his eyes again. They were both sitting on the floor near the wall opposite the railing, he was practically half-lying on her stomach, actually, both his hands were gripping her knees. He rapidly removed them and tried to get up but Hermione wouldn't let him.
"Granger. Let me go," Severus growled. "I've embarrassed myself enough for one hour, don't you think?" he added resignedly.
Hermione shifted aside so they'd sit next to each other, and looked at him intently.
"I don't think there's anything embarrassing about what happened to you tonight. Everyone has a breaking point, Severus. It's okay. Everything is going to be fine."
Severus turned away, unable to look at her. Nothing is going to be fine. Tomorrow he'll become universally hated and hunted for the murder of the saint Dumbledore no matter what she said now. He desperately wanted to flee, to hide in his rooms and pretend all this never happened, but he needed answers first. And a promise — or a vow — to keep that evening's events a secret, which was far more important at the moment. He did not even care about her use of his given name… It was strangely fitting. Clearly, he was in shock.
"Why are you looking older?" he asked, still turned away.
"Because I am older. Remember that Time-turner that I used in Lupin's year? It didn't really break. I'm still using it. Today's my twenty-eighth birthday. Well, yesterday was, technically," replied Hermione, deciding that if she wanted truthful answers from Severus, she should be honest herself.
"Happy birthday," sighed Severus, and Granger snorted.
"You don't seem to care."
"I don't." He truly didn't. At least at the moment. The stupid girl did something incredibly foolish once again… so what? Trying to prevent the bloody trio from making deadly mistakes was impossible, and his life was almost over anyway — let it be someone else's problem for once.
They were silent for a long time. Not moving, just looking ahead at the sky. Strange, seeing the stars now, Severus did not have that urge to join anymore. Did not hear their call. Maybe it was because Granger was here too. Her warm shoulder grounded him more than any anchor possibly could.
Because she came, he realized.
At the moment when he desperately wanted someone to show up, she came.
And what was more astounding, she seemed to genuinely care for him. How was that even possible?
"Why are you here?" asked Severus, glancing at the young woman. He simply needed to know.
"For you," she said after a heartbeat.
"For me," repeated Severus stupidly. "And how exactly did you know that I… And why would you care? What do you want, Granger?" he turned to face her fully.
"Nothing," replied Hermione on his last question, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion.
Severus cackled bitterly. "Everybody wants something. So what is it? And don't tell me that you 'just care'. No one cares. Not for me, anyway."
Hermione looked sadly at him.
"But I do." She held his gaze. "I do, Severus. I care. I care enough to sprint all the way here from Hogsmeade because I had a bad feeling all day that something might happen to you."
Severus stared at Hermione in shock. He wanted to accuse her of lying through her teeth, only she wasn't lying. The bloody cheat was looking at him with such sincerity and concern, he thought he might start having another panic attack from the sheer intensity of it.
It was a topic to steer clear of, definitely.
"How come no one noticed that you're almost a decade older than you should be?"
"I know what you're doing. Avoidance will not solve your problem, Severus," said Hermione instead of a reply. Snape glared at her but the look was lost on the young woman.
"If you think that you know anything about me, girl, you're sorely mistaken," he hissed.
Hermione huffed. "I don't know much about you, mister, but I do know a thing or two about depression deep enough to cause a suicide attempt." Severus turned away. "I haven't spent that decade just lying around, you know. I'm a certified mediwitch with four years of practical experience in the busiest hospital in Europe. People lined up to get to me specifically."
"Go to them then. I'm sure they'll be happy to have you. I don't need your patronizing," growled Severus, shifting to get up from the floor but was halted by Granger who grabbed his hand and squeezed it.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound like that. I just want you to know that I know what I'm talking about. And what I'm doing too. I'm really sorry. I just want to help you."
Severus looked at their hands, then at her opened worried face and froze. Merlin's balls… She actually did give a fuck about him. It made him distinctly uncomfortable but he could not make himself leave. There was someone who cared. Right in front of him. He wanted it so bloody much, why not use the opportunity while he had it? Just for one night, before everything went to hell. And as for the fact that she technically was his student… did it really matter at this point? That woman resembled the swoty teenager only slightly: her face was much thinner and angular, her gaze was much heavier, her movements — meticulous, her demeanor — calm and collected. This clearly wasn't the ever blushing know-it-all bookworm he was so used to, this was a confident grown up with years of experience to fall back on. So…
"No one can help me," Severus said quietly, resignedly leaning back on the wall.
"Let me be the judge of whether or not I can do something, please," replied Hermione, still not letting go of his hand. Silence stretched on the tower. They sat on the chilly floor in the almost complete darkness, the night wind toying with their hair, and neither cared much that it was well after midnight. Severus definitely didn't. He knew what she wanted, and debated with himself whether or not he should give in and for once in his life trust someone with his woes. Despite the fact that she was essentially a stranger, it felt right to do so, for some reason. But the ever-present fear that even if she wouldn't condemn him tomorrow, she'd betray him somehow, or eventually tire of him and leave, like everyone else did, breaking him all over again, made Severus unable to utter a word.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty… Nothing changed. Suddenly Hermione let go of his hand and slid somewhat to the side, away from Severus, which caused him to panic. "She's fed up, she's leaving," rushed through his mind and, before he could realize it, he reached to her again. But then the unthinkable happened.
Hermione tugged him by the upper arm, urging him to lay down, using her thighs as a pillow, and, shocked, Severus did so without protest. She must have cast cushioning and warming charms because the floor wasn't as uncomfortable as he knew it should be. But when something heavy — a blanket, as it turned out — was laid upon him, and a small hand started slowly combing his hair, massaging his skull gently, Severus nearly cried. Silence continued as he lay there, gazing at the sky and battling his raging emotions, forcing himself to speak already and end this misery. He started to think that maybe she was a hallucination. Or an angel. No one could be that kind to him… And there's no harm in confiding in either one, is there?
"It's alright, dear," she whispered, continuing to caress him. "Take your time. Everything will be fine in the end, you'll see." Severus shook his head 'no'. "You're not alone anymore, Severus. True, I wasn't planning on revealing myself to you or to anybody for that matter, but it happened. And I'm glad that it did. Because now I can promise you that while I'm breathing, you won't ever be alone, I swear. Whatever it is, I'll do everything in my power to help you."
Another five agonizing minutes passed.
"He wants me to kill him. Tomorrow," Severus blurted out. The hand on his head halted for a moment, then resumed its motion. "Will you help me kill him?"
"Dumbledore?" cut Hermione, ignoring the obvious sarcasm in Severus' voice. He nodded.
"I will. Would you mind telling me everything about it?"
Severus tampered down his shock, took a deep shaky breath and started his tale… from rather afar. Nothing to lose anymore anyway.
"It's so fucking painful, you know… Taking the Mark. Excruciating pain, comparable to the prolonged Cruciatus. Have you ever experienced Cruciatus?" he paused, but not long enough for Hermione to reply. "It's unforgettable, isn't it? Have you ever seen one being crucioed? It's even worse, in some ways. I've seen my godson being marked… You have to understand, there hasn't ever been much love lost between me and the Malfoys, but Draco is… I held him as a newborn. I played with him, taught him, listened to him, I protected him throughout his whole life, and now… Now I can't even look at him. One day last summer Narcissa came to my house with Bellatrix, and they made me take an Unbreakable vow to help and protect the boy and to finish his task — killing Dumbledore that is — should he fail. I'm done for, no matter how you look at it. The old fart, of course, was all too glad to assign me to be his assassin. To spare the boy's soul, he said. What about my soul? Is it really that worthless? Am I really that worthless? Why?
"Always, all my life, I did everything that was asked of me. Everything. But still, people see me as less than nothing. My dear dad hated me with all his might and never was too shy to demonstrate it. And mother… She was always so indifferent, so cold… I hated her even more for that. Lily…" he exhaled, letting his tears fall freely under the protection of the darkness. "Lily Evans, or Potter. She was everything," he gulped. "Until she was no more. I killed her. I killed her… It was me who told the Dark Lord of the blasted prophecy…" suddenly overwhelmed with the need to see her face, Severus turned to lay on his back, searching for his angel's eyes. "Do you hate me?" he whispered.
Hermione gently wiped his tears. "No. No, I don't hate you."
"Why would I hate you, Severus? How old were you then? Around twenty?"
"You were young. Alone. You were hurting. As far as I understand, you're in pain your whole life. And you were desperate, am I right?" Severus sneered. "No, listen, I'm not trying to justify your actions. I'm just saying that you cannot possibly be held wholly responsible for them either. Besides, you did more than enough to atone for everything over the years. We can't change the past, dear, all we can do is better the future. And you're going through hell in order to secure a safe and happy future for hundreds of people. Thousands. Can you imagine the magnitude? It's not just Harry Potter, it's the whole country. The whole world if the snakefaced—"
"He has to die too…"
"No… Potter. Potter has to die too." Severus sat up and turned to Hermione, abruptly realizing how close they were. He could feel her breath on his skin. "Albus told me not so long ago. Apparently, Harry Potter is some sort of accidental Horcrux, as far as I understood him."
Severus watched Hermione's reaction and prepared himself for the onslaught of questions that, surprisingly, did not come.
"Him too?" she exclaimed. "Come on! That's not fair!"
Severus was confused… "Wait… What?"
Hermione sighed and leaned her forehead on his shoulder. "You know about Harry's 'private lessons' with Dumbledore that he's taking this year, don't you? That's what they're discussing. As it turned out, Mr. Tom Marvolo Riddle in his quest for immortality made a number of Horcruxes. Dumbledore thinks six. Seven, with Harry. Two of them are already destroyed: the diary from the ordeal with the Chamber of Secrets and the ring. The snake — Nagini, right? — is the third, again, according to Dumbledore's theory. Though, it does make sense now. That's why Harry saw the attack on Mr. Weasley through the snake… They all contain parts of one soul. The rest of the Horcruxes are supposedly the Founders' relics. You really didn't know about it?"
Severus was dumbfounded… He even forgot to be miserable. All those years of impeccable service, of bleeding and suffering, of lying and deceiving for the man… All for nothing.
He still was not trusted.
"No," he bit out sharply, "apparently I'm not good and trustworthy enough for such information."
Granger closed her eyes and let out a slow breath through her nose, working on containing her fury. Severus could practically feel it in the air, and, oddly enough, a wave of warmth spread in his body. His angel was angry on his behalf.
Maybe it all will truly be fine after all?
He cupped her cheek lightly. "Don't be mad, my angel. Please," he whispered, and Hermione's eyes shot up to his.
"Distract me then," she replied, leaning in Severus' touch for a second, and then motioning for him to lay back.
"Tell me about your work in the hospital. Why did you quit? Did you study anything else?" asked Severus as he was once again getting comfortable on the floor. Hermione readily launched into answering the questions. She told him all about her medical training and work, including the funniest and the most difficult cases, then about her studies for both masteries. They swapped stories about their apprenticeship days, compared their mastery projects. It led to discussing all sorts of conferences each of them attended, then to favorite places in different countries, small sweat habits, annoying habits, tastes, and such.
They talked well into the morning. Only when it was almost six and Severus finally dozed off for the second time (he blamed her soft caresses) did they break apart.
"Come on. We'll go to your quarters, turn back for several hours, and then you'll going to have a full night's rest," said Hermione quietly, shaking Severus awake and smiling. "At what time did you leave your rooms?"
Severus got up reluctantly and rubbed his face. "I don't know. I left for dinner some time right before it, then I had to oversee last-minute detention, then patrols, and then I went here…" he swallowed.
"Come on, don't just stand there," commanded Hermione, disillusioning them both, and tugging him down the stairs. "We'll turn to 7 pm then. It should give you enough time to sleep. And me too. It's been an entirely too long a day…"
In ten minutes they stood in Severus' office while he unlocked the wards on his quarters. There were many… All that time he debated with himself on another topic: should he ask her to stay? Nothing inappropriate, of course, he'll sleep on the couch and give her his bedroom. He just didn't want to be alone. Didn't want to lose that sense of security and hominess that she gave. That feeling of being wanted and valued. How to phrase it, though, without sounding like a perv?
They walked into the spacious living room. Well, it was supposed to be spacious if it wasn't drowning in books and parchments. They were everywhere: on the large mahogany desk, on the floor around it, on the couch, on the mantel, on the shelves on every wall… Severus gave up on trying to tidy it years ago… It returned to that exact state in less than a fortnight. So he just invented a sort of order in that chaos and kept to that. He glanced at Hermione who watched the piles in shock.
"Um… The bathroom is through that door, that's the bedroom, and that's kind of it," he motioned around the room.
"I like it," smiled Hermione. "Now, come here." And she got the Time-turner from under her robes, walked very close, pulled the chain around Severus' neck along with hers, and started tinkering with it. In several seconds, Severus felt a slight tugging at his navel but the sensation stopped as abruptly as it started.
She hid her device back inside her school robes, which oddly contrasted with her face.
Now or never… He took a deep breath. "I was thinking, ah—"
"Can I crash on your couch?" suddenly asked Hermione, relieving him of the need to torture himself. "You see, ah, I usually sleep in the Room of Requirement or in some abandoned classroom, but I'm really exhausted and I don't think I can drag my bones very far… Do you mind?"
"No, not at all. But you should have the bed, I'll take the couch," replied Severus, trying to hide his relief while walking toward his sleeping place for the night.
And then stopped short. It occurred to him all of a sudden that he was not using Occlumency. For the first time in two years, his mind was completely relaxed and at ease. He didn't even notice when the shields had crumbled. Probably when he slid from the railing toward certain death.
"Nonsense," cut Hermione.
"You, dear, are going to sleep in your own bed. And you're going to take a good dose of Dreamless sleep in doing so. And don't even start, I will hear none of it," she stated, seeing the upcoming protests, striding confidently into his bedroom and searching for something in her a little bit too deep pocket for a moment. Then she pulled a vial with purple liquid and placed it on his bedside table.
"Now go change in whatever you're sleeping in, I'll wait here."
"And if I prefer to sleep naked?" smirked Severus, raising an eyebrow.
"Then get on with it, dear. Or are you waiting for me to help you?" Hermione smirked right back. Severus scowled, grabbed his sweatpants and an old t-shirt that he used as pajamas, and stormed to the bathroom as quickly as he could, hoping that she didn't notice the blush that crept up his neck to his face.
The nerve of that witch!
Ten minutes later, Severus emerged from the bathroom to find his couch already made up for sleep and Hermione sitting on his bed, lost in thought. She looked serious and sad, and it made him think about his task. Familiar aversion and desire to just run away from it all burned anew. What would she think of him after the murder? Would she hate him like everyone else? God, he hoped not… He knew it was irrational — she promised to help him do the deed just a few hours ago, whether or not he would take her up on it (of course, he won't) — but couldn't help himself despite it.
"Are you ready?" asked Hermione quietly, getting up.
Without a word of protest, just to show that her efforts were appreciated, he climbed under the sheets.
"Now the potion," she said, took the vial, uncorked it, and held it out to him, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Wait, I… I just… No matter how today will end…" Hermione opened her mouth to say something. "No. Wait. I just want you to know that you gave me something tonight that I never had, and that I will be forever grateful to you for that." He looked her straight in the eyes. "Thank you."
Hermione smiled warmly but sadly.
"And now I shall take your potion, Madam Granger," Severus said, took the vial, and downed the Dreamless sleep. He settled down on his pillow and closed his eyes, thinking of angels and feeling her hand once again combing his hair.
The last thing he heard was a whispered 'good night, love' before she pressed her soft lips to his temple, and then sleep claimed him.