By Distinct Vagueness
(This chapter is for Helen AKA Stokes who helped with the tweaking of this chapter and has been repeatedly prodding me to return to the world of fanfiction. Thank you.)
Far from restful slumber, Draco had spent the day drifting in and out of wakefulness and tormented sleep. This instance, the sound of the bedroom door softly clicking closed alerted him to somebody else's presence and brought him to wakefulness. He was about to tell Snape what to do with any words he had for him this time, when he felt the touch of a cool hand on his forehead. He blinked in confusion and opened his eyes, trying to clear away any bleariness.
"You're very warm," said a soft voice. "Just hang on a second."
He heard the springs of the bed creak slightly as the speaker got to their feet and walked across the room. Another door, to the bathroom he supposed, was opened gently.
"Is this the…ah, thought so," said the voice. With some whispered words, light sprung from the small room and the sound of water from a tap sprung to Draco's ears.
The water stopped some seconds later and he heard the person cross the room. The next thing he was aware of was the feel of a damp cloth being carefully placed over his heated forehead.
"Hopefully that'll help keep your temperature down a bit," said the voice, noticeably female now. In confusion, Draco lurched upwards, the cloth falling from his face and onto his lap.
Hermione sat beside him, watching in concern, but making no effort to tell him to lie down.
"What're you doing here?" he asked sharply.
She gave him a tiny, humourless smile. "To take care of you."
"Don't be ridiculous," he snapped, before slumping down again and turning on his side. With a fresh bout of pain, he realised that he had lay down on the wrong arm. Withholding his harsh intake of breath, he remained there. "Hermione…please. Go away. I don't want you involved with this. Go back to Potter and Weasley and forget about me."
Hermione sighed. "Now you're the one being ridiculous. I've been trying to see you since yesterday. Do you really think that I'm going to just leave you alone?"
"No, Malfoy. I want to see your arm."
Draco froze for a second before his expression, unseen to Hermione, turned bitter. "Why? Do you get a thrill out of seeing the Dark Mark?"
"If you count feeling ill at the sight of it as a thrill, then yes." She stood up again and moved to the other side of the four-poster. She knelt down by him, ignoring the chill the grey stone beneath her knees sent to her bones. Hesitance took her at first, but then she reached out a hand to touch his face.
"Don't hide it from me. Please. I'm not going to look without your permission, but just don't…hide from me." She looked into his grey eyes before slipping her warm touch from his cheek. When it seemed that his unresponsive gaze was unyielding, Hermione began to rise from the ground in silent resignation. Draco suddenly grasped her arm and she sank back down again, watching him expectantly.
Very slowly, Draco sat up again. Keeping his eyes trained on Hermione's, he slowly pulled up the left sleeve of the robes he was wearing.
She tried not to wince, but wasn't very successful in her efforts. Emotionlessly, Draco began to pull the sleeve back down, but she quickly put her hand out again to stop him.
"I'm sorry, I just didn't expect it to be so…"
"So what?" snapped Draco. "Repulsive? Permanent?"
Instead of answering, Hermione tentatively touched the burnt skin. The strangest chill ran down her spine as she stared at the unresponsive eyes of the inked snake.
A sudden sickly taste in his mouth and the lurching in his stomach made Draco shudder. "Don't-"
The faintest stir of fizzling began at Hermione's fingertips. Before she had a chance to question what it was, an abrupt sensation of burning shot through her hand and up her arm, paralysing her momentarily before she jerked and fell hard upon the ground, her face screwed up in an expression of hurt. Draco was out of the bed in an instant, mentally pushing away all the pain in his arm.
She wasn't unconscious, he realised with relief; the shock from his Dark Mark had temporarily stunned her and she'd fallen heavily. Arm around her shoulders, he helped her up. Hermione was staring between both of their arms and then bit her lips as she examined her afflicted left hand. The skin was scorched red, blistering as she watched. Seeing that she didn't need his support, Draco backed off.
Hermione looked up at him, her head shaking almost imperceptibly. "Amazing, really," she said softly. "How anyone is able to infuse a person's skin with so much…pure hatred."
"Sick, more like," Draco muttered. His brow furrowed as he took in the condition of her hand. "Look, I'll just get some water for your-"
He stopped when he saw the way she was looking at him. Not sympathy, somehow she sensed he wasn't a fan of that, but a kind of mutual sadness.
"It's funny," she said quietly. "Everyone knows how much Harry suffers and what he has to go through…but…"
She looked at him in question.
"I don't need to be reminded how much Potter has that I don't. It's funny really…he's seen as some poor, orphaned, lone hero…there's just the fact that's he's not alone. Not really. Gods know I wouldn't want Weasel as a best friend, but he has you, the rest of your House…hell, everyone knows Dumbledore would adopt him if he had the chance…not that the Weasley's haven't already taken care of that…"
"You take more notice of these things than you let on, don't you?" Hermione asked.
Draco didn't reply. When neither spoke for a few moments, the pale Slytherin allowed himself to slump back against the bed frame slightly. He closed his eyes. There was no sound to open them, until he, inexplicably, found that a pair of warm arms had crept around him. When they opened, his grey eyes found themselves staring into a mass of brown curls. He was motionless. It wasn't like he'd never been held in a girl's embrace before…but not like this. There were no implications, or complications. It was just a hug, but without explanation, he felt somewhat reassured. Just as his hand stole around to touch her back in kind, he felt her warmth draw back and a tiny smile was stowed upon him, not just from her lips but from her dark eyes too. She released him, looking a little bit embarrassed, and got to her feet.
"I need to put some water on this- it's just a burn, I'll be fine. You shouldn't be up…this is my fault. Get back into bed."
She turned but he suddenly found he had nothing to say. She nodded, understanding. "I'm okay, honestly." She went into the bathroom again.
Draco slipped in between the sheets and laid his head upon the pillow. Though his brow was furrowed at first, it gradually softened and his eyes began to close.
Hermione ran the tap with her free hand, and while she winced as the icy stream trickled across the scarlet coloured burn marks, she didn't make a sound, biting her lip to stifle it. She wasn't sure why she had just hugged him; all she knew was that it had felt as natural as hugging Harry, Ginny or Ron, when he wasn't being a prat. It was an impulse to carry out towards them, and it had suddenly become an impulse towards him too. Though her doubts about Draco's character had disappeared in her heart some time ago…they had now been completely erased from her mind.
Having done all she could, Hermione turned of the tap and patted her throbbing hand gently with the green hand towel she had found hung neatly by the sink. She left the darkened bathroom and stopped in the doorway at the sight of a dark figure leant over the bed. Professor Snape had returned from his meeting with Dumbledore, she realised. She remained silent and watched as concern passed over the Potions Master's face as he observed the sleeping young man. His jaw tightened.
Not feeling right about watching him so silently, Hermione cleared her throat, but took care to curl her injured hand into an unnoticed fist first. He turned abruptly, looking wary at first. When he saw her, his countenance relaxed slightly.
He took a glance at the now peaceful boy nearby. "Has he been awake?"
"Briefly," she said quietly. "I think he may have caught a cold, though, his temperature was quite high before."
Snape nodded. "I'll give him something for it."
Hermione bit her lip. "Would you mind if I went back now, Professor? It's just that I'm a little tired."
He shook his head. "No, of course not. Gods knows you should have been there well before now."
Hermione hid a small smile. "Goodnight, Professor." Her small gratification at his would-be concern temporarily made her forget the sting in her left hand. She reached out for the door handle and immediately regretted it, biting her lip as the touch of cold steel to her skin only served to aggravate the pain. Suppressing it, she managed to twist the handle and made her way outside.
Severus studied the closed door with some curiosity. He had noticed the odd expression on her face as she had made the exit and he had also noticed the tiny smile that she had hidden from him. It wasn't possible to hide the shine that had lit up her warm eyes as she smiled.
A smile appeared on his own face before he sought to push it down, irritated with his thoughts. This was not the first time they'd taken that turn. He'd started to notice certain things about Miss Granger that a Professor should never notice. And though her intelligence was never forgotten by him, that was not the only asset of hers that trespassed through his mind.
As she emerged from the darkness of the dungeon corridor, Hermione blinked in the brighter light of the entrance hall, its flickering candlelight foreign to her eyes. On her way up the main steps, she paused, taking in the redness of her hand. Choosing to ignore it, she sped up and made her way to Gryffindor Tower.
At some time in the early hours of the next morning, Hermione awoke –rather thankfully- from a vivid dream of intense flames, malicious laughter and a heart-chilling scream. She easily realised what had caused the heat in her dream, as she muttered the incantation to light the candle by her bed to study her hand. The redness hadn't subsided and the skin which had blistered was beginning to peel. She touched it gently, to find that it had become tender and sorer.
She glanced around in the dim light. Her roommates were sleeping peacefully. Hermione wished she could join them as she stifled a yawn, but then an idea came to her.
Slipping on thin robes over her oversized t-shirt and stripy pyjama pants, Hermione grasped the candle, quickly pulled on her slippers and made her way down the stairs, through the common room and out of the portrait hole.
For her peace of mind, as she walked along the hushed corridors, she cast a silencing spell on her footfalls. She wouldn't be in trouble if someone saw her out, she knew, as Head Girl she was given that privilege, but it would be easier to avoid that issue altogether. Speeding up, she traversed the steps leading to the infirmary. As she reached the door, she hesitated. She didn't think Madam Pomfrey would be awake at this hour, unless she had a patient to treat at this time, but she doubted it. Touching the tip of her wand to the door handle, she whispered a spell so that the door would open silently and neither creak nor scrape against the floor.
The infirmary held its usual clean, hygienic smell that clung to its every corner, but it was not lit and bustling as usual. A serene calm hung over every empty bed. The door to Madam Pomfrey's personal rooms was closed, with no light resonating from under it. Feeling safe, Hermione stole towards the main cupboard where she knew the medi-witch kept her general stock of medicines. She was surprised to find it unlocked, but realised that, since the items inside were not particularly dangerous in any case for the students, it wasn't completely necessary.
As she pulled the door open, Hermione blinked sleep away and yawned again, wishing that she was still asleep and ignorant of her injured hand. Through barely open eyes she ran a finger along the various bottles and containers she found inside.
"Pepper-up Potions…acne treatment…ah…"
She pulled out a small, blue-coloured bottle. A small label on one side, written in concise, spidery handwriting described it as a 'Lotion for mild to extreme burns. Apply a small amount three times daily to the afflicted area until skin has healed.'
She smiled; this was what she needed. Closing the cupboard gently, she slipped the bottle into her pocket and silently made her way from the room, completely unnoticed.
Ten minutes later she had crawled tiredly back into bed. The lotion had lent a comfortably numb sensation to her hand and allowed her the opportunity she need to drift back to sleep.
Ginny paused in her eating as she felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up. Hermione stood behind her with a small apologetic smile on her face.
"I'm sorry I was…well, like I was, last night. It's just…it's really important I focus on my work right now, and I guess I forgot about you and the others…I wouldn't mind having a couple of games tonight…that is, if you're not busy…"
Ginny grinned and Hermione felt some weight drop from her mind.
"Of course…but be prepared for me to destroy you in Exploding Snape."
Hermione smiled back as she dropped down onto the bench. "I wouldn't expect any less."
Eating his own breakfast, Severus watched the Gryffindor table with discretion. Over the years, he had learnt to tune out the buzz and chatter that wasn't necessary to hear, and could instead focus on the conversation between the Weasley girl and Her- Miss Granger. Nothing of particular significance; just some small talk about a homework problem Miss. Weasley was having.
"…it's just that however much water I pour into the pot, the Talloweed sucks it up straight away, and Professor Sprout tells me off for being negligent…"
"-You'll need to put some common Muggle weeds in with it too- it gives balance to the soil. Some extra nutrients could help as well…"
Severus's attention was diverted momentarily by the appearance of Potter and Weasley as they came into the Great Hall and sat amongst the other Gryffindors. Potter said something as he helped himself to pumpkin juice and the rest laughed. While not laughing, Hermione had an appreciative grin on her face. In her humour, she glanced up and caught him watching her.
The grin stilled on her face and seemed to die but her eyes remained locked upon his for a few moments more. She seemed to come back to herself suddenly and joined in with the rest of the conversation, though looking slightly preoccupied.
Severus noticed that as soon as their eyes broke apart, she moved her left hand closer to the edge of the table, pulling it closer to herself. To anyone else it would have seemed an unconscious motion, but to him it seemed strange. Come to think of it…on past observations, he'd never seen her eat a meal without using both a knife and fork. This morning she simply held a fork in her right hand. He frowned and then shook his head. What difference did it make? He put all his concentration into staring at his plate; he was paying far more attention to the girl than he should.
He glanced round. Madam Pomfrey stood beside him.
"I know it's short notice, but would it be possible for you to brew some of your burn healing lotion soon? I was certain I had a bottle of it left, but when I checked some of my inventory this morning, it was gone."
"Gone?" Severus repeated.
"Well, it's entirely possible I used it and forgot it was my last bottle….but still…I could have sworn-"
"I understand," Severus cut in quickly. "I have some free time later, I should be able to make some then. About seven?"
Pomfrey nodded. "Thank you, Severus."
She was about to turn when Severus suddenly caught the Headmaster's eye. Dumbledore spoke up.
"Poppy, it would be very helpful if I could speak to you this evening, perhaps before you collect the potion from Severus?"
The medi-witch looked a little surprised. "Of course, Albus."
As students and teachers alike drifted from the room, Severus looked up once more to the Gryffindor table. Potter and the two Weasleys were saying something about 'Quidditch practice', while they stretched and began to get up from the table. Miss Granger gave them a vague smile and a wave as she took another sip from her cup, and continued to leaf through a book she had got out of her bag a little while ago. Quite absorbed in the text she was reading, she reached out with her left hand to pick up her drink again. She immediately winced, glanced at her hand somewhat critically and chose to use her right hand for all other actions.
"I think it would be prudent if you were to make an appearance tomorrow. The least of your problems right now should be taken care of tonight."
Draco looked at his godfather. "What do you mean?"
"Madam Pomfrey will be coming down tonight, with Dumbledore. She'll take a look at you, treat what she can, I expect."
Draco looked panicked. "Pomfrey? But she-"
"Experience tells me she is completely trustworthy, Draco."
The younger Slytherin looked uneasy, but was silent. Severus placed the book he had been holding on the bedside table. "It would do you good to learn a few things while you're still in here."
The young man looked sceptical, but reached for the book anyway. It was a standard seventh year Transfiguration textbook.
Severus was about to leave him to it when something occurred to him. "Draco…did anything happen last night with Miss Granger?"
A pale eyebrow rose, reminding the darker man eerily of his father. But something unrecognisable passed across Draco's face.
"I may not have joined the Death Eater support rally, but that doesn't mean I'm lusting after Gryffindors, thank you very much."
His sarcastic comment startled Severus inwardly; he wasn't sure why.
"That wasn't what I meant."
Draco frowned slightly before looking more serious. "She said she was fine, after that, I fell asleep…"
"What do you mean, 'she said she was fine'?" asked Severus suspiciously. "Why would you think she wouldn't be?"
He didn't fail to notice how the young man's grey eyes pulled away from him and the low tone of his voice. "She touched the…mark."
"Then wh-" Severus stopped, recognition flooding his features. "I see." He shook his head, looking troubled. "You should have told me."
Draco still wasn't looking at him. "How did you know something had happened?"
His godfather had already gone towards the door. "Just a hunch," he replied.
"Hi, Neville," said Hermione warmly as the young man sat next to her at the desk.
Neville gave her a smile. "Homework?" he asked.
"Not really, just some extra research for Potions."
Neville held up the Herbology book he was studying. "Professor Sprout asked me to do some reading up on root infections. Some of the flowers in Greenhouse 2 aren't looking so good."
"I guess you're still helping her out some nights during the week, then?"
Neville nodded. "Professor Sprout has offered me a, erm…apprenticeship."
The girl sitting next to him beamed. "Really? That's great. Are you going to take it?"
"I'm pretty sure I will. I mean, it's one of the only subjects I'm not terrible at...so I might as well."
"You're not terrible at any subject," Hermione admonished. "And you've been more confident the last few years. Don't hold yourself back. It's considered an honour for students to be asked to stay on after seventh year. It proves that you really have a natural talent for the subject."
Neville had gone a little red. "Thanks, Hermione."
"He won't be able to leave the library should you continue to give him such a swelled head, Miss Granger. Do desist."
Neville froze, as usual, while Hermione whirled around in her seat.
"My office, Miss Granger."
He was no longer listening, having already made his way to the door. Madam Pomfrey peered at her suspiciously from behind her desk as she followed him, book in hand.
Neither spoke a word as he swept along before her, heading in the direction of his office. Hermione offered tentatively-
The look the dark Potions professor gave her as he turned sharply, silenced her. She immediately felt like an idiot for almost bringing the subject up where anyone could hear it.
When they neared his office, Snape murmured something under his breath, allowing the door to open. He stepped inside and then held the door open as she also entered.
"Strange thing this morning, Miss Granger. Madam Pomfrey asked me to make up a new batch of burn healing potion, since her last bottle, curiously enough, seems to have disappeared."
Hermione froze for a second, but wasn't sure why. It wasn't as if she had to hide it from him as she did the others.
"Then…Draco tells me you left here in a somewhat injured state last night."
"That's a bit exaggerated, it was just-"
"A burn of which I believe you received if not to be taken lightly. Surely you know certain curse scars can lead to lasting consequences if touched by someone other than the bearer."
There was a sober expression on Hermione's face. "The lotion took down the inflammation, Professor…I believe it's eased the pain too…"
She jumped a little as Snape suddenly grabbed her injured hand. She felt awkward as his eyes examined her palm critically. He dropped it and crossed over to a cabinet. After looking through hits content for a few moments, he pulled out a small glass jar, containing a yellow balm.
"Give me your hand, Miss Granger."
Somewhat hesitantly, she allowed him to take it again. He had unscrewed the lid of the jar and had scooped a generous amount onto his finger. She expected it to twinge as he began to apply it, and looked away. Instead, all she felt was a pleasant sensation in her skin. She looked down to see what he was doing.
Very gently, the Potions Master was running his index finger in small circles in the centre of her palm, which made for a smooth application of the healing balm, but it also soothed her slightly. She was abruptly very aware of how small her hand was, placed in his large, pale one with its long fingers. She was also aware of how neatly they seemed to fit together.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
He looked up from his task, brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"For making you go to this trouble. I should have realised…"
"Don't be ridiculous. I would have warned you that the Dark Mark is volatile and resistant for several days after it is placed…especially to M-…"
"Mudbloods?" she said, not looking at him
"Muggleborns," he answered firmly. "I didn't see the need to…I didn't think you would actually touch it…or that he would let you…obviously an oversight on my part. I apologise."
"It was my fault. I should have known better. I'm sorry."
Snape sighed. "Must you persist, woman?"
Hermione giggled beside herself, and he quirked an eyebrow at her. He'd stopped with the treatment by now and was simply just holding her hand between his two but neither seemed to notice. She was smiling for a few moments, but then, unexpectedly, her eyes began to glisten. She blinked and a solitary tear slipped down her cheek. Embarrassed, she wiped it away with her free hand and then glanced back at her professor. To her surprise, he was watching with concern.
"You hand still hurts? Maybe I should use something stronger…"
"No...I," Hermione attempted to shrug it off. "I don't know, it…" She broke off, and breathed in deeply, trying to push back her tears. But as she exhaled, she suddenly burst into tears. At first she was mortified at such a display, and went to pull away from his hold on her hand. He didn't let go, but instead, pulled her towards his chest. It was an awkward embrace but she responded to it. It felt warm, safe…but most of all…she felt a sense of belonging. These robes scented with sandalwood and sage, this strong chest…this…
Startled, Hermione pulled back a little, her sobs subsiding. If that realisation was a mistake, then so was her glance upwards. He was watching her expression and she shivered at the intensity that shone in those charcoal eyes. Fearful of moving, she remained locked in his gaze, not daring to stray from it.
Warning signals screaming in her head, Hermione could only watch, paralysed, as his eyes softened and his face came closer to her own. But as she unconsciously tilted her head upwards slightly, she knew there was no true paralysis.
Severus could only seem to watch from a distance as his body took an action that his mind would never allow inordinary circumstances. Time seemed to stagnate in that small room, as everything he deemed to be 'right' fled from his thoughts. These were notordinary circumstances, and suddenly, irrevocably, to him, she was not an ordinary girl.
As their lips came into contact with a feather-light touch, Hermione was rapidly drowned in unexplored territory. Tentatively, she began to kiss him back.
A knock at the door threw them apart as if they'd been touched by electricity.
"Professor Snape! Sir, someone's been hexed in the common room! He's gone purple! Professor!"
The breath taken out of her, Hermione could only sink into the nearest chair.
He didn't make eye contact, but looked suitably shell-shocked himself as he issued the command;
"Stay here. I'll be back soon."
A/N: This chapter is a little longer than the previous ones; consider it a present for being absent for so long. You may notice an amusing error somewhere above. I realised when I typed it, but decided to leave it in for humour's sake. Well, I've nothing much else to say…I just hope you like the ending. I didn't plan for that to happen here, but I didn't feel like pushing it into the next chapter either. Ah well, tell me what you make of it. I actually like most of it myself...but, heh...anyway, moving on...
Oh also- I'm issuing a warning to all authors. Do not engage in wrongful neglect of SS/HG shipping. Multitudes of plot bunnies know where you live. They will find you...
WinterSolstice- Yes, I think you're right…somehow this chapter was easier to write after I let it come naturally rather than forcing it. How's everything with you? When I get a chance, I'll send you an e-mail. Thanks for the lovely review, as always.
Quill in Hand- Please don't explode…looks nervous Thank you for the review and I'm glad you like it so far. I love you too
MrsAliciaWeasley- We'll convert you yet amused Thank you for the review!
Myredreis- I sympathise with finding good stories to read sometimes, but if that happens, I usually traipse over to Ashwinder and try their random fic generator, since all fics there are moderated and quality-checked. Go have a look if you haven't been there yet! Thank for your review.
Munching Munchkin Management- Whatever you're on, I want some of it…that's meant in the nicest way possible. grin Thanks for stopping by and reviewing.
Kerichi- 'The other half of Kerichi writes the Inuyasha fics and told me, 'Hey, isn't DV that Losing Sleep chick who hasn't posted in forever?' and I said 'Yes! She's alive, she's ALIVE!'
Thanks for your, as always, entertaining review D Made me laugh. I promise I will definitely get back on the reading as soon as I have a nice free time slot to enjoy them without rushing.
Oya- I think Sev was a little preoccupied to notice that night. And if he wasn't then, he'll certainly be now snickers
Magicalwonder- Don't worry, this is definitely a SS/HG fic, through and through, though I might conflict that a little as you'll see.
Fire-icecat- Ron will eventually come to his senses, I think. I don't actually hate good ol' Ron, as some of my stuff would lead you to think…I just have fun making him the antagonist.