Chapter 9: Reflections

"She - she's coming round!"

Hermione tried to respond to Neville's excited squeak, but her eyelids felt so heavy.

"Hermione?" Snape picked up her left hand and tapped it gently. "Can you hear me?"

"Grmm-mmd!" she croaked, before clearing her throat and attempting to sit up. She felt a heavy hand pushing her back down again. "Gerrof!" She finally managed to wrench open her eyes, only to be confronted by Neville's beaming face.

"You're awake!"

Ignoring Neville's helpful observation, Hermione raised herself up gingerly. She appeared to be in some sort of study, the walls were surrounded by empty bookshelves and there was a large desk at the other end of the room, covered in sheaves of documents.

"How are you feeling?"

Truth be told, she didn't know how she felt. She swung her legs down to the floor, and sat up on the chaise longue she had been stretched across. Putting a hand tentatively to her head, she was surprised to find that her hair was wet and sticky.

"We didn't want to scourgify it," Neville explained, "in case it reacted."

"Wha - what?"

"You got doused with the Phoenix Potion when it was wrested from Terry." Snape spoke for the first time since Hermione had opened her eyes, but she could only bring herself to look at his feet. "Unfortunately it broke over your head," he finished brusquely.

Hermione reached another hand up to her head, and felt a tender bump on the left side just above her ear. Then she lowered her hand to her face and felt the same stickiness, before moving her fingers searchingly to her other cheek. A painful throbbing greeted her touch, and she could feel the crusty hardness of a recently formed scab.

"Percy. Where is he?" she growled.

Snape raised an eyebrow in surprise; he had expected her discovery to be greeted by a bout of tears, or at least a vain request for a mirror. He had certainly not expected such steely anger.

"Septimus and Draco are currently flying Percy and Terry to the Ministry of Magic. I believe the relevant authorities will deal with them on arrival."

"Good. I hope they rot in hell!" She spat vehemently. "All this time I was working with him, I thought I was doing something really worthwhile. No, you can't rely on anyone but yourself. All that crap about wanting to be with me as well. I - I just don't understand people."

"The best lesson you can ever learn is that you don't have to," Snape spoke quietly. "You don't need to understand anyone else. And. you can't."

"Well I don't understand what you two are talking about, but I think we should get back to Hogwarts so Madame Pomfrey can see to Hermione." Neville wandered across the room to the stone fireplace. "I think it's safe enough to use floo travel now, don't you?"

Hermione tried to get to her feet to join Neville by the large grate, but collapsed back down immediately.

"Just - just give me a minute," she wheezed, breathing deeply as she tried to get rid of the bright spots swimming in front of her eyes.

"Here," Snape had walked over to Hermione and placed one arm gently underneath her legs, whilst the other slid round to support her back. "Put your arm around my neck."

She did so obediently, as Snape lifted her off the chaise lounge effortlessly, as though she weighed no more than a feather. She hadn't expected him to be so strong, so solid, after his repeated tirades again physical activities like Quidditch and flying. She leaned her head sleepily against his shoulder, suddenly feeling very tired and hazy again.

"Severus, do you believe that 'no man is an island, entire of itself'?" she murmured quietly, so that only he could hear.

"I believe that landlocked nations crumble. That they are always the weakest, forced into dependency on their stronger neighbours. That they stifle," he answered without hesitation, as he stepped into the fire Neville had just sprinkled floo powder into.

"Headmasters Office, Hogwarts!" he shouted.

As they spun round and round Hermione gripped tighter onto Snape, feeling that if she could just cling to him forever then maybe she could try to be an island too. But that didn't make any sense. but then neither did most things at the moment. she gave up, succumbing to fatigue, she closed her eyes and shut her mind off.

* * *

"Ah, Severus," Dumbledore greeted Snape jovially, as the sour looking man took a seat next to him at the High Table. "I have just received some good news from Poppy. I believe your old dining companion will soon be back to provide you with more sparkling conversation."

"Jubilations," he replied expressionlessly.

"She will of course be permanently scarred. But I believe that she is strong enough to overcome such things."

"I dare say she will," Snape replied tiredly, wondering why Dumbledore was telling him all this. If he had really cared about Miss Granger, and her current medical state, then he would have gone to visit her in the infirmary. But he hadn't.

"Anyway, I suppose it's not something you need worry about," Dumbledore said breezily, a twinkle in his eye.

Snape had tried to think about Hermione as little as possible during the last few days that had elapsed since. since he'd had to take that Location Potion. The intensity of such feelings of need and yearning had scared him more than he cared to examine right now. He couldn't expect such strong emotions to leave his mind and body unscathed. He was looking forward to the time when they could return to their barely contained hostility - at least everyone knew where they stood then.

"Ah, sooner than expected."

Snape looked up at Dumbledore's exclamation, to find Hermione walking down the Great Hall toward the High Table, dressed in a long purple travelling cloak. She greeted Professors Flitwick and Vector cordially, if not a little curtly, as she passed behind them, but didn't so much as glance in Snape's direction as she sidled up to the Headmaster.

"Professor Dumbledore. I trust you received my Owl?"

"Ah, this you mean?" and he reached into his robes and pulled out a neatly folded piece of parchment, formally addressed to the Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Hermione nodded in recognition.

"And I uh, suppose you want my answer?" he inquired politely.

"Well it wasn't really a question, more a statement of intent. I only came to inform you now, that I will be leaving immediately. I hope Professor McGonagall's health does not deteriorate again."

"I'm afraid that I cannot accept your resignation Miss Granger."

Beside Dumbledore, Snape raised an eyebrow in surprise. Hogwarts minus its resident Granger - well it wouldn't really be Hogwarts would it? She was practically part of the furniture now. Okay, so maybe not a piece of furniture he would choose to decorate his room with, but a functional piece of furniture all the same.

"Oh?" Hermione folded her arms confrontationally, and stared down at the seated Dumbledore.

"I do not agree with the reasons you have given. While here, you have done marvellous work for the school and its pupils. Do not let the Machiavellian machinations of one maddened megalomaniac diminish the good work that you have done."

"It's time I got a proper job. I was fooling myself that this was something I could do, that my research was important. I apologise for wasting your time Professor Dumbledore, but I've been offered a Muggle Relations job in France, which seems more suited to my mediocrity." She grimaced, and looked at Snape for the first time, catching his eye defiantly.

He returned her steady gaze, unsure exactly what the unspoken words they were communicating to one another were. She sneered derisively, a gesture he was more used to giving than receiving, then returned her attentions back to Dumbledore.

Snape pushed his half-empty plate away and rose from the table, wordlessly sweeping out of the hall without explanation. Dumbledore watched the scene with dawning comprehension.

"You know Hermione, some people are very difficult to understand. As a Gryffindor, you may surely find this hard to believe, but some people go out of their way to make themselves misunderstood."

"That just means they don't possess tact, it doesn't mean that they don't speak the truth."

"Not always. Some people find their guise proves too effective, they have difficulty dropping it when they realise it is no longer needed. Rare is the man who truly says what he means, rarer still is the man who truly means what he says. I believe you may have recently made acquaintance with a man who struggles with this concept."

"Professor Dumbledore, I - "

He held a hand up to silence her.

"First impressions are rarely correct. Perhaps it was your first impression that your work here, and in the wider accademic field, was not appreciated. I ask you to remain and form a true impression."

Despite herself, Hermione found herself nodding and taking her resignation letter back from Dumbledore's outstretched hand.

* * *

Hermione returned to her room and slowly unpacked her bags, wondering how a seemingly old and docile man had managed to change her strong resolve with only a few well-chosen words.

She sent Glod to the Owlery with a note for Harry and Ron, informing them that she wouldn't be coming back to the flat tonight after all. For some reason he had decided to take up residence underneath her window ledge during her absence and, in true Gargoyle fashion, had proved impossible to shift. Of course, you couldn't usually expect to trust a Gargoyle as far as you could throw it, but provided you offered adaquate incentive, she found Glod made quite a useful courier.

So she was surprised when he flew back with a letter still clamped in his scaly hand.

"I thought I told you to deliver that to the Owlery Glod? You don't get payment if you don't deliver." she scowled, disproportionately annoyed over the minor irritance.

"Oh misssus, I have, I have. This is letter for you. From him," he paused as he landed heavily on the mantelpiece, "The black-haired one with the hooky nose."

Hermione reached out a shaking hand slowly and took the letter from Glod's steely grasp. She wanted to delay this moment as long as possible, the moment before she knew what was written in that letter.

She slit open the black wax seal, stamped with the Snape crest, and opened the crisp parchment.

It was a letter from Septimus, inviting her for drinks in his uncle's chambers, by way of a send off, before his return for the start of term at Durmstrang.

Hermione smiled to herself, a part of her touched by the friendly tone of the letter, the other, silent half annoyed that it had to be from that Snape. Not that she expected anything from him, or wanted to expect anything from him for that matter, she told herself. But she hadn't even seen him since they had returned to Hogwarts, much less thanked him. She cringed as she remembered the inane babble she had muttered to him, as he had carried her in his arms. However, he had washed his hands of her quickly enough.

"What does Hooky Nose want?" Glod regarded Hermione carefully out of cold black eyes.

This was the downside of having a personal courier at her beck and call - he seemed to think his role encompassed that of agony aunt also.

"Nothing you need concern yourself with."

"Ooh! Is it a lovey dovey lurrrrrrve letter? Sealed with a loving kiss?" he cackled gleefully.

"Piss off, Glod." She threw a shoe at him and he cackled even louder. "Nearly gots me that time, your aim's getting better."

And to think; she had complained about the doorknob and knocker - they were positively cheerful additions to the d├ęcor in comparison.

"Are you going to Hooky's little soiree then?"

"How did you? I can't believe you read my letter!"

She threw the other shoe at him, this time hitting her target with a painful clunk, and rewarded herself with a satisfying cackle of her own.

* * *

Hermione glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece as she settled down in her armchair to read. She couldn't seem to concentrate though, the words kept bouncing up and down so that she was forced to read each muddled sentence three times before they started to make any sense. It was half past eight. She wondered what was happening in Severus' room, whether. no she didn't! She was quite happy sitting here, enjoying a glass of wine by herself, thank you very much.

There was a knock at the door. She considered just leaving it and pretending she was out, but the caller had already begun to open the door.

"Ah, Hermione." Neville poked his head around the door. "I told them you were just being a typical woman, trying to be fashionably late."

Hermione sighed resignedly. She supposed it would be rather rude not to say goodbye to Septimus, after all he had done for her, as well. She could just pop in; show her face for half an hour. She didn't have to talk to Snape. In fact she would ignore him. If that's what he wanted.

"Yes I'm coming now, just let me find my shoes," she sighed.

* * *

As Septimus's 'small gathering' turned out to encompass half the adult population of Hogwarts, Hermione found that she was quite able to blend herself into the background. She sipped her wine quietly as the conversation flowed around her, watching Neville animatedly narrate an extremely disturbing anecdote, involving his misadventures with a jar of peanut butter and a weasel, out of the corner of her eye. He had been hiding out at Hogwarts for the past couple of days, after his miraculous re- appearance in the Wizarding World had been extensively reported. Away from the media circus he seemed more conformable in his own skin, and had even been seen skulking around the greenhouses in an old frayed gardening robe.

Hermione was not supposed to be drinking so soon after her head trauma, but as Neville's tentative suggestion of a glass of orange juice had resulted in an impressive explosion of blue language, she found that her glass was regularly topped up. Good wine too. Better than the plonk she usually brought. Mind you, since her selection process usually consisted of 'does it have a pretty picture of a vine-yard on the label?', and 'does it cost less than two galleons?', that didn't really say much. She sighed to herself. It was just another area of the Wizarding world where her Muggle parentage provided further exclusion.

As the small crowd around Neville parted, Hermione spotted Snape for the first time, lounging sourly against a bookshelf, shrewd black eyes scanning the room, as Septimus and Draco conversed freely in front of him. They momentarily caught each other's eye. Hermione looked away quickly, colour rising to her cheeks.

"Excuse me." She turned from the loosely assembled knot of people around her, and crossed the room to the sideboard, pouring herself a large shot of whisky. She needed to feel the burning sensation, something physical that would lasso through her body, and tingle her nerve endings in just the right way. She had long ago found that the bottom of a glass could create many ersatz emotions when in need.

Without needing to turn around, she knew that Snape was watching her. No doubt clucking in disapproval, she thought to herself. She hoped she was drinking his best scotch - hah!

She wandered over to the window, set into the cliff like her own. It was dark, and the room was well lit, so she watched covertly as Septimus clapped Draco on the back, laughing like an old sea dog.

Her gaze lowered, and her eyes focused onto her own face, a sharp reflection of defiant brown eyes framed by loose wild curls, staring back challengingly. It was her face, but it was not the face she had always known. It was different, unreadable, completely changed in definition and character by the long angry looking cut slashed across her cheek. She smiled to herself at the effect. She looked dark, evil. Her face told people to go away and leave her alone. And that was what she wanted right now.

She drained the tumbler with one heroic swig, reeling only slightly as she placed the empty glass down on the sideboard with a heavy thunk. Picking up two ready poured glass of wine for herself, she wandered lazily back across the room, meandering unseeingly through the scattered groupings. She couldn't cope with people at the moment, couldn't force sparkling conversation and self-deprecating jokes, when all she wanted to do was hold a mirror up to her life and smash it with her fist.

With a sigh of relief, as though shrugging off a heavy cloak, she opened the door and stepped out into the green corridor, the corridor so like her own. She was just in the middle of examining a rather gruesome portrait of a gaunt young man, when she noticed a wisp of white smoke curling up from behind one of the suits of armour, at the far end of the corridor.

Piqued by curiosity - a result of too many years spent in the company of Harry and Ron - she strode sedately down the deep green carpet, toward the source of the smoke.

"Oh!"

Snape was leaning laconically against the wall, one leg straight out, the other bent at the knee supporting his weight. She was surprised to find him smoking a cigarette, and his black eyes regarded her coolly.

"I just wondered what the smoke was." Hermione found herself finishing lamely.

"Well, now you know." he growled, evidently displeased at the disturbance. But he carried on casually smoking, the butt glowing like a fierce red eye in contrast to his deathly pale skin.

Hermione countered his stare, waiting for the explanation, refusing to be made to feel stupid because she had caught him sneaking out for a crafty fag like a rebel schoolboy.

"Why don't you just smoke in your rooms?"

"I would have thought that should be blatantly obvious to someone who claims to be an accomplished archivist."

She took a deep breath.

"Severus, I think you are by far the rudest person I have ever met," she said, not unkindly, but in the tone of voice one uses for universally held truths.

"Judging by your choice of companions, I consider that quite a compliment."

"Here." She wasn't sure why, but she reached out and offered him the other glass of wine. Maybe she didn't want to appear rude, maybe she didn't want to look like an alcoholic, or maybe she thought he looked as though he needed it - even if she did secretly believe that the sign of a well- balanced person was a drink in either hand. "If you're going to insist on killing yourself, you may as well accelerate the process."

"Why not?" he smirked and took the proffered glass, his fingers briefly closing around hers. "It is, after all, rather a nice bottle."

"I suppose you'll miss Septimus when he's gone?" she said quickly, trying to make light conversation.

"On the contrary. I shall enjoy having my quarters back to myself. My books replaced back in their categorised order, my shoes unborrowed and unmuddied, and my wine undrunk."

"Is that a hint?" Hermione giggled, taking a large swig of wine.

"Would you take it if it was?" he shot back, taking a last drag of his cigarette before stubbing it out on the side of his glass.

"I don't think I'd have a choice about it. Professor Snape is not the sort of man who delicately drops subtle hints."

"That's where we differ, you and I." He fixed his dark eyes on her, an unreadable expression flashing across his face. "Neither of us suffers fools gladly. Perhaps I am merely more vocal in my displeasure. You should try it some time Miss Granger."

"Perhaps I will. Perhaps I won't. It can be awfully hard changing the habit of a lifetime."

"It depends whether you merely want to change, or whether you need to change."

"Aren't they the same thing? Who truly changes out of choice? The evolution of the self is not something we can guide, it's something that guides us." she took a deep breath, "It's the things about us that we can't change."

He watched her with an intense fascination, watched as she dropped her head down sadly, subconsciously reaching a small hand up to her face. He followed her gesture with puzzlement, until he noticed for the first time what she was touching; the raw edges of a slowly forming scar.

"Hermione?" He put his glass down and reached toward her, gently peeling her fingers away from her right cheek. "That doesn't matter. None of this matters." He wished he could think of something to say, something that would make sense to her, but he found words deserting him at the moment he was most in need of his usual cool articulacy.

"Of course it matters! I'm only twenty-five years old, but I'm a wreck of a woman. Redemption is so hard to find these days." She had never been able to rely on her looks to get what she wanted, that had been the role of her mind, but she had never had to justify them before now, when she suddenly found her face disfigured and disgusting.

"You're talking to the wrong person. I know nothing of this redemption. You speak as though looking for justification, justification for your very existence. You don't need an unblemished face to provide that, and you never did Hermione." His voice broke slightly as reached down to her unprotected face again, and cupped her chin in his hand, gently brushing her cheek with his thumb. Hermione stood frozen, eyes widening as he slowly, carefully traced his thumb down the ridge of the scar. She was not yet accustomed to her new and hyper-sensitised skin, unaware that anothers touch would release such a prickly shiver of painful pleasure through her body.

"Severus. I. that time in the kitchen at Malfoy Manor, I really did want to understand you, you know. And. I don't know why," she faltered, unable to look Snape back in the eye.

"What you said to Terry, about the isolation of a powerful mind. you really meant it didn't you?"

"Perhaps I was being rhetorical."

"No, I don't think so." His hand was still cradling her face, and Hermione was unable to look away as his grip tightened slightly, forcing her gaze into his. "But you could have been saying it to me."

"Maybe I was," she whispered hoarsely.

"Me and you. we know the score don't we?"

She nodded dumbly, unsure quite what she was agreeing to, but enjoying the feeling as Snape's hand was dislodged slightly by the movement and dropped to her throat. His touch lightened in response, and he began tracing delicate circles on the side of her neck with his rough ringers, sending shivers shooting through her body, as her face flushed with colour.

"You're." He bent down towards her, face within reach, and she could just begin to feel his bottom lip brushing against her own, when he pulled up suddenly. ".Much too bright for this." And he withdrew his touch completely, stepping back awkwardly and clattering into the suit of armour, before turning round and walking away quickly.

"Wait! Severus!"

Hermione ran after him, grabbing him by the arm and forcefully pulling him around to face her.

"That's bollocks! This has all been bollocks!" she cried, "I don't care what you say!"

Snape started in surprise as Hermione Granger grabbed his face and pulled it down to her own, kissing him viciously, victoriously, voraciously, as she forced his lips apart with her tongue and delved adventurously into his mouth, in a gesture that took both of them by surprise. He took a moment to respond, then made up for lost time by returning her kiss hungrily, as though he had been waiting a long time for this, wrapping his arms around her possessively.

Together they stumbled into the suit of armour again, ignoring the clatter as it crashed to the ground, completely wrapped up in each other. He pushed her hard against the wall, and she groaned in pleasure, needing to feel only the cold power of their mutual lust.

His hands were exploring, travelling rapidly and deftly over her body. She leaned back submissively against the wall, allowing him to continue his hungry attack of her body, his mouth on her throat, until suddenly she pushed back, propelling him into the sharp edge of a cabinet, that shook with the impact. Her hands were all over his body, enjoying the hardness of his tense body, the strong muscles in his grasping arms, and the rigidness of his chest. He had been surprised, knocked off guard, by her sudden assault, but he liked it, oh yes, he liked it very much as her mouth locked onto his own, and her hand. by God in the middle of the corridor!

"Hermione." he murmured, reluctantly pulling away. She carried on her gleeful exploration of his. stamp collection, until he was forced to grab her by the shoulder and push her roughly away. "Maybe we should go somewhere a bit more. private," he gasped.

She grabbed him by the hand and virtually dragged him along his corridor and into her own, stopping only for a brief but memorable grope in the darkened wardrobe. Even the doorknob let her into her rooms without quibble.

Then her lips were back on his, her hands reaching down again.

"This way." Familiar with the identical layout, he took her by the hand and led her into the bedroom.

"My, my, we are Mr. Conventional aren't we?" she smirked.

But it was evidently not a complaint, for she immediately pushed him onto the large bed and pounced on top of him, till he rolled over, forcing her underneath him as he hitched up her robe with his hand, reaching for the softness between her thighs. She struggled against him, trying to push him off her and get on top again, but he seemed to have taken her earlier comment to heart for he kept his body pressed firmly on top of her own.

She continued her frantic writhing as Snape tried to renegotiate a way in - well, she was not going to make this easy for him, he could work for his pleasure. But she had to feel more of him, more of his body in her hot hands, his heat, his hardness. She pushed her hips forwards and smiled slyly as he immediately responded with a delicious grinding motion.

She tugged at his robes, his pressure on top of her lifting slightly as he helped her pull them over his head, revealing his nakedness. She reached a hand to his chest and trailed it down the thin line of black hair, tantalisingly down to his navel, and then further still, stroking around his groin until finally she grasped him in her small hand.

He gasped, then groaned as she began moving her hand rhythmically up and down, adjusting her pressure and speed until he could feel the heat welling up inside him, waiting to be released by one more deft movement of those hot little hands. God he needed this.

Spotting this moment of weakness as an opportunity, she released him cruelly and rolled over on top of him, straddling him as she pulled her own robes off over her head to reveal creamy white skin, waiting to be touched, despoiled. Snape set about the task with relish, raising himself up into a sitting position as he hungrily explored her neck, her shoulders, and then her small soft breasts with his mouth, both of them groaning in contentment.

She reached down and took him in her hand again, guiding him toward her so he slipped against her wetness. She was just about to plunge herself onto him, when Snape raised his mouth from her breast.

"No. not yet."

He pushed her off him and onto her back, slipping a pillow underneath her hips with one deft movement, then slowly lowered his head deliciously down, lower and lower. Then he flicked out the tip of his tongue gently, experimentally. Her reaction was instant, as she groaned in pleasure and thrust her hips up, revelling in the ecstasy provided by her deliciously experienced lover. Obligingly, he began slowly lapping at her wetness, tracing small circles and figures of eight before applying the pressure of his wet tongue on her swollen nub. She groaned louder, which he took it as a signal to continue, flicking across faster and harder as her back arched appreciatively and her fingers gripped into his hair painfully.

"Don't stop. don't stop."

Well, two could play at her game. Just as she felt her orgasm bubbling to the surface, about to rip through and tear down the walls, he lifted his head and slowly snaked small kisses up her navel to her taut breasts, as she ground against him in frustration.

Before she could protest however, he pushed himself inside her, forcing her apart, as her eyes opened in a kaleidoscope of shock, pleasure, ecstasy. He thrust inside deeper, feeling as though his soul had descended to a higher plane and God, he could die happy now! He could feel it building up inside him, and he thrust deeper and faster, barely noticing Hermione's escalating screams of pleasure or her sharp fingernails scratching down his back and her teeth biting down on his shoulder hard. She didn't stop to ask gently whether she was hurting him, or try to subdue her animal instincts but thrust back viciously, mercilessly even as her legs wrapped around his waist tightened their hold and squeezed the breath out of his lungs. And he liked it. By God he liked it, it excited him even more, and he willed her to scratch deeper, bite harder.

He was drenched in sweat now, they both were, clinging together like two drowning souls, as finally he felt her insides convulse and tighten around him, as Hermione's orgasm forced a scream through her lips, and he could let go, let her draw out his juices as he came right inside her. He panted, throbbing painfully inside as his hot seed continued to shoot out. And he looked at her, black eyes boring into deep brown ones, and he felt himself burnt by her defiant stare, a stare that looked oddly misplaced on such a fresh, rosy face.

He withdrew and rolled off her, staring up at the ceiling. Knowing that she would hate him forever.

It was just sex.

His own redemption lay elsewhere.

***********************************

~ thanks as always to beta Azazello ~

A/N: This is the end of Redemption. Part II, Repossession, is in development, and will conclude this story. I hope that some people have enjoyed reading this fic. Emails and feedback are always welcome. __