Beneath the Surface

Chapter the Twenty-Fifthe: Fighting for Control

It would be weeks before Severus and Hermione engaged in any private contact with one another. They met in her classes with him, and sometimes passed each other in the hallways. Neither dared to look at the other, but the other's presence was always noted.

Their private sessions had ended without a single word passing between them.

Upon further reflection the very night after the incident in his classroom where she had run from him, he had decided that her anger was no fault of his; she was a willful, stubborn girl whose intense emotions had once again gotten the better of her. She should have realized that he was just testing her. …Which made him realize that it was indeed he who had begun their argument in the first place.

'That stubborn child…. Absolutely infuriating…. Impossible to control.' He sighed, running bony fingers through his hair. It fell back in his face. He sighed once more. 'But it is no fault of mine that she takes me so seriously. Nothing is any fault of mine. Not anymore.'

He scoffed at his own childish thoughts. But he did not—would not—take them back. Even his own mind fought his will. His conscience, more like. The last time he let it win him over, someone had lost their life. He shook his head.

'No thinking of that, now. Get yourself a drink and waste your mind away…'

"Did the two of you have a fight?" Ginny asked Hermione quietly.

They were studying in the library, several weeks after 'the incident' had occurred. She had noticed that the glowing smiles Hermione had adapted this year had disappeared from her face as of late, her eyes grown tired and troubled once more. It was risky to ask her friend about the Professor—as far as Hermione knew, Ginny thought they were merely friends. But Ginny was no fool, unlike her brothers.

Hermione must have needed to talk to someone, however, as she did not brush off Ginny's line of questioning.

"I suppose you could call it that," Hermione whispered. They were in a library; she must not disturb the other visitors. Never mind the fact that she and Ginny always picked the desks farthest away from the front of the room as possible, and there were no other people in sight.

"It was during one of my extra credit session," she began tentatively. Her need to share with another human being outweighed her need for secrecy. "He was combining the session with another student's detention, which I don't think is fair to me. That's my time with him, right? I mean, how am I supposed to properly learn anything with another student there serving a detention?" Hermione knew that she must pick her words carefully. She didn't want to reveal too much to her young friend.

"He… he can be so cruel sometimes."

"Cruel?" Ginny asked; her brows furrowed in concern. Hermione was whispering so softly that she had to lean in a bit to be able to hear her properly.

"Well… I suppose that's an exaggeration," Hermione amended. "You know how he can be so unnecessarily insulting to people."

"Mmm." Ginny nodded, listening intently.

"What basically happened during that session was that I came up to him and told him just what I've told you about those sessions being my time and no one else's, and he just… well, blew up at me. So I ran out of the room. I didn't know what else to do. And we haven't spoken since."

Hermione sighed. Ginny patted her back as a mother would to console her distressed child.

"I think that he should apologize to me first. After all, what he said was completely uncalled for. Don't you think that's fair?" Hermione asked her friend, almost desperately. She needed validation.

"Of course it is, Herm." Ginny offered her a small smile. Hermione returned it bashfully. She'd never had a conversation about boys with anyone before, and despite the fact that Professor Snape was no boy, and that she and Ginny had completely avoided the real issue at hand, she felt as if she had just engaged in her first session of what she knew to be called 'girl-talk'.

"Well," she laughed softly. "I suppose we'd best finish our work now. Thanks, Ginny."

"Sure. Anytime." She smiled and the two friends returned to their books.

'Oh, dear,' Ginny thought. 'Sounds like what Mum would call a 'lover's quarrel' to me.'

The unnerving sound of one of his father's old brandy glasses (which he insisted on filling and re-filling to the brim with whiskey) shattering against the flagstones of his chambers rang in Severus' ears long after he had hurled it.

His right eyebrow began to twitch rapidly; it was a nervous tic that only revealed itself when he was a combination of intoxicated and angry. His head began to throb dully; the warnings of a hangover for the following morning.

"Damned job. Damned child. Damned… responsibility!" he spat into the emptiness of his small sitting room. The volume of his own voice was too much for his leaden head to handle. He grasped at it with both hands, forcing shut his eyes with a pained wince.

He stumbled over to a worn paisley armchair and allowed his body to fall into it tiredly. The delicate bones of his back cracked as he stretched it out against the straight back of the chair. He sighed heavily, taking comfort in the echo the sound of his breath created. It seemed to be apologizing for the ruckus of a few moments past; he accepted it and began to relax.

The third of whiskey that had been in the glass before Severus had flung it was now seeping into a throw rug like blood. Only magic could remove the stains of either substance, he knew.

With a few incantations muttered under his breath, the liquid was back in the newly repaired glass, which was now resting atop the mantel of his fireplace.

A surge of fear gripped his heart as he realized that he did not know where his wand was. That wand was his identity; he must not lose it.

(A wand, to a witch or wizard, is like a wallet is to a muggle. It is just about irreplaceable, or should not be replaced unless it was completely necessary, and it must be kept on or near one's person at all times.)

Severus scanned the room wildly with his eyes. It was not there. Dizziness swirled through his body as he forced himself up and rushed to the bedroom. He got no further than the doorway; he sagged against its frame in sweet relief as the object of his frenzied search was spotted immediately.

"Thank the gods," he whispered hoarsely. He should have known that it would be resting on his pillow, the spot he always seemed to carelessly leave it when he went in search of something alcoholic to drink.

He floated over to the bed and collapsed upon it, curling up like a cat around the pillow that was serving as a cushion for his wand. He looked at it lovingly, knowing that it would never speak back to him, never lie to him, and never yell… it would never hurt him. Nothing comforted him more than this creation.

He laid his hands upon the pillow, encircling the wand, and squeezed his eyes shut. He knew sleep would come to him tonight. It always came after drinking.

Drinking. How stupid he had been to allow himself to fall prey to one of the family's many secret bad habits. Had he cared more for his well-being, he would have sought out help, or at least have made an attempt to stop.

But Severus had done none of these things. He'd allowed himself to fall years ago into the addiction, sporadic though it was. What he could remember of the person he became while intoxicated sickened him. The things he'd done while what they call "under the influence" made his stomach twist into knots.

These very thoughts made him want to wretch, but he knew he hadn't the strength to drag himself into the bathroom. He stubbornly bore down on his upset stomach and concentrated on concentrating on nothing (the hardest thing for him to do whilst sober).

As he was beginning to drift off to sleep (something that was also nearly impossible for him to accomplish whilst sober), a thin, filmy thought realized itself upon his thin, dry lips: "For the child of two dentists, the girl has such enormous teeth…"

A muffled giggle escaped him, and then he was gone into blissful oblivion.