A/N: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling.
'One month... it was one month ago,' Hermione realized as she lay staring up at the ceiling in her darkened room at 12 Grimmauld Place. She lay tossing and turning, wishing sleep would come. But in the back of her mind she knew that with sleep came dreams—dreams of waking up on the weekend to the smell of pancakes and bacon, the ski trips over Christmas break, and that proud look both her parents got the day she received her Hogwart's letter. She didn't mind those dreams. She welcomed them; it was the others they eventually led to—dreams of men in masks, a green shadow, and a realization that no matter how fast she ran she would never make it in time to save them.
'This is ridiculous,' she thought as she got out of bed. Slipping on her robe and slippers, she crept downstairs. Once in the kitchen, she set about making a pot of tea. It was becoming her nightly ritual in these last four weeks. She went to bed with everyone else, laid there until she could stand it no longer before she finally gave in and came downstairs for tea. Here, she would sit by the fire, sip her chamomile tea, and read one of the many volumes from the Black library. Most nights she would fall asleep in that chair, only to awaken an hour or two before dawn, when she would return to bed. A few times, however, Harry had come across her in the morning still asleep in her chair, her book open in her lap. He would chuck her on the shoulder and give her a hard time about reading too much. She tried to ignore his patronizing comments and the worried look in his eye, there was nothing he could do for her anyway. All she wanted was to be left alone, alone with her tea and her books.
Tonight she hummed a soft tune while she waited for the water to boil, and then stopped when she realized it was the same lullaby her father used to sing to her as a child. She wiped away a stray tear with her sleeve, and forced herself to hum 'God Save the Queen' instead.
"How very patriotic of you, Miss Granger," she heard the familiar sneer from behind her. She wheeled around to face him.
"Professor Snape, I didn't hear you," she said, immensely glad that he hadn't come in sooner. She didn't want to think about what he might say about finding her crying into the tea kettle.
"That much was obvious. What are you doing out of bed?" he demanded, glaring down at her. Hermione quickly tried to piece together an excuse that sounded plausible but suddenly realized it was completely unnecessary. She was not in school; he had no authority over her here. Although to be sure, she still didn't want to anger him, he was an unpleasant man after all. In the end she decided to go with the truth.
"I couldn't sleep, so I decided to make some tea," she said gesturing to the whistling kettle behind her. "What are you doing here?" she asked. If she had to justify her being there, then so did he, she decided. He never came to Grimmauld Place except for Order meetings and even then he never stayed a minute more than he needed to. His eyes narrowed as he surveyed her, taking on the glare she had grown accustomed to after seven years in potions classes.
"That, Miss Granger is none of your business."
"It never is," she said. She moved to pour the boiling water into a cup, then added a teabag and a sugar cube, "I was only wondering because you seem to come here only when strictly necessary."
Snape continued to glare.
"I'm looking for Bill Weasley," he finally conceded.
"It must be important if you're looking for him in the middle of the night," she said more to herself than to him.
He didn't deign to answer but fixed his gaze more pointedly at her, waiting.
"I think he left earlier...I heard him mention something about visiting Fleur," she offered, wishing he would leave. Her teacup was burning her fingers and she was anxious to pick up the copy of Transfiguration in the Twentieth Century that she had started reading the night before. He seemed to consider this for a moment, then turned to leave.
"Goodnight sir," she called after his retreating figure. A soft grunt was all the answer she received as he passed through the door. She shuddered and flopped into her chair by the fire. 'That could have gone worse I suppose," she thought before she immersed herself in recent transfiguration theory.
The next night, Hermione found herself jumping at every little noise as she sat in the kitchen by herself. She kept expecting the Potions master to stride in and interrupt her peace again.
'Stop being silly,' she had chided herself. He didn't return and by the second night she had settled back into her nightly routine, so she was surprised when a week later she heard Snape snarl once more from behind her.
"Out of bed again I see Miss Granger." She started at his voice, spilling some of her scalding tea onto herself and her book. Setting her cup down, she turned to fix on him a glare of her own.
"You really shouldn't sneak up on people like that Professor."
"You should take better care of your books," he said, motioning to the tea stains dotting her open page.
"Oh no," she cried. Rushing to the sink for a towel, she gingerly dabbed at the wet spots but only succeeded in making things worse.
"For Merlin's sake child," Professor Snape scoffed. He pushed her aside, pulled out his wand and cast a cleaning charm, "One might think you forgot you were a witch."
"I...I...," she stuttered. He was right, the blasted man, she in her panic over the book had forgotten the simple charm. Not that her reasoning skills were at their sharpest, she had barely slept in over a month.
"Thank you," she finally said begrudgingly. "I would ask you why you were here but I'm certain it's none of my business, so would you like some tea?"
"I'm waiting for Shacklebolt this time." She took this to mean yes and began pouring another cup. Handing it to him, she moved back to her place by the fire. Summoning a chair from the table, he sat opposite her. They sat, both entranced by the flickering flames for several minutes before he broke the silence.
"Do you have any theories as to the cause of your persisting insomnia? Have you had some sort of lover's quarrel with Mr. Weasley or are you just anxious over your NEWT results?"
"I'm tempted to tell you it's none of your business, sir," she replied icily. She was irritated that once again her quiet night had been interrupted by this unpleasant man. She had been sitting, wondering why she had offered him tea in the first place when he had spoken.
"I was merely attempting small talk, Miss Granger," he said with an air of condescension.
"Most people start with the weather, not the personal health problems of the other person, Professor."
"Hmmph, the weather," he grunted in return.
"That blessing to society," she replied. They passed several more minutes in silence, the only sounds the crackling of the fire and the clinking of tea cups on saucers.
"It has been rather hot lately. I believe it was nearly ninety the other day. It makes you thankful for personal cooling charms," she rattled on in an attempt to dispel the awkward silence.
"Muggles have air conditioning for indoors, but nothing beats a good cooling charm when you're out and about, although..."
"Miss Granger, if you are determined to continue this inane babbling I will be forced to do something drastic." He turned and glared at her again. The silence descended on them once more until it was more than Hermione could stand.
"It's my dreams," she stated flatly.
"Pardon?" he looked up from his teacup with a bewildered look.
"I can't sleep because I don't want to dream about my family. They start out nice enough but it always ends with me running to save them and never making it in time." She didn't know why she was telling Snape of all people this, it just rushed out once she opened her mouth, but she felt a little better now that the thing was said.
"You would not have been able to save them. You would have only succeeded in getting yourself killed as well," he pointed out blandly.
She should have known better than to expect any sort of sympathy or comfort from him. Perhaps it was the way he said it, so matter of factly, with little feeling, that incensed her. Or perhaps, simply because it was the truth.
"I know that!" she protested vehemently, "But in the dream I'm determined to try." She willed back the tears collecting at the edge of her brown eyes.
"I see." It was all he said. She wondered if he really did. A few more moments passed before Hermione once more felt compelled to talk.
"I barely saw them these last few years, being away at Hogwarts. And then I convinced them to let me spend holidays away as well. I was trying so hard to fit in here in the wizarding world that I drifted away. And now I'll never see them again." She paused, taking a sip of tea, and then continued.
"I suppose I forgot the charm tonight because lately I have been wishing I wasn't a witch. Me being a witch, that's what got them killed. If I wasn't a member of the Order or so close to Harry...," she trailed off.
Unbidden, the tears ran down her cheeks, dropping into her tea cup. She glanced over at Snape, nervously awaiting his reaction. But he didn't move. He remained a dark silhouette against the bright warmth of the fire, slumped over his cup of tea.
"I suppose you wish we would have stuck to the weather now," she half laughed, half sniffled.
He turned to her abruptly. "The sooner you stop blaming yourself, the Order, Potter, and whoever else, the sooner you will start to heal, Miss Granger. No one but the Dark Lord and his death eaters are responsible for the death of your parents. By persisting to wallow in your own self-pity you allow them power over you," his voice softened somewhat, "and you are better than that Hermione."
She sat back in her chair, absolutely stunned. She didn't know what to say. Then anger washed over her as his words sunk in. How dare he speak to her like that about her parents? He had no right. He couldn't possibly know how she was feeling.
"And what do you propose I do then?" she asked angrily, her cheeks flushed and her eyes narrowed.
"Fight back," he stated simply. She stared at him, her fists clenching at her sides.
"By fighting back and winning, you ensure that your parents did not die in vain. Their deaths become more than just entertainment for dark wizards or a warning to the Order," he continued on. "You're hardly an asset to the Order in your current condition. Look at you," he said snidely, surveying her appearance, "You look awful. You could fit your school trunk alone in the bags under your eyes."
It was true, Harry had just mentioned the other day that she was looking paler and Molly Weasley had practically force fed her a large dinner the last time she saw her. 'You're too thin!' she had exclaimed. She had been irritated at the time, but she knew they said those things out of concern for her. But the blunt scrutiny of the Potions master was too much for her to handle.
"I don't have to listen to this, not from you," she spat. Her cup and saucer clinked together as she shakily set them aside and moved to get up.
"Yes, go run to your precious Potter. He is quite well known for being able to control his emotions," he taunted, derision dripping from his voice, "or why not Ron Weasley? He has the emotional depth of the Atlantic Ocean."
He rose from his chair, rising to his full height to tower over her. She stood in front of him shaking with fury, if it had been anyone else she would have already hit him or hexed him into the other room, but even though he was no longer her professor, he still inspired respect for authority in her, if not fear. They stood facing each other like that, she looking daggers and he scowling, when Shacklebolt arrived moments later.
"Am I interrupting something?" he asked suspiciously.
"No," Hermione answered, turning from Snape, "I couldn't sleep so I made some tea, but now I'm going back to bed. Goodnight." And with that she fled the room. Snape had seen her cry, she didn't want to add Shacklebolt to the list as well.
"What was that about?" Kingsley's deep voice carried up from the kitchen to where she stood on the stairs.
"Nothing," she heard Snape snap.
Over the next few days, Hermione replayed the late night conversation in the kitchen. She finally decided that once the sarcasm and insults were removed, Professor Snape's advice did make some sense. She began to make a concerted effort to finish her meals and come out of the library on occasion. She spent one afternoon doing nothing but playing Exploding Snap with Ron and Harry, smiling at their comments about how they were glad to see her laugh again. And she counted it a victory that she had only been mildly upset when Fred and George decided to test their new line of toothpaste on her. The results had been too reminiscent of her fourth year when she had caught Malfoy's stray hex for her to be truly amused.
But she still couldn't sleep, not most nights anyway. Several nights a week, she found herself back in the kitchen poring over a book and sipping tea. Although, now she was sure to stay only an hour or so and then head back to bed rather than spending the night by the fire. She nervously anticipated Snape's appearance every night, and the thought of him berating her once more was enough to send her back to bed to try and sleep rather than face him. But he hadn't shown up again, his midnight business apparently done from Hogwarts like before.
She didn't see him again until over a week later at an Order meeting. Now that she, Harry, and Ron had finished school they were allowed to attend. He had made his report, names of people to be targeted, and the other movements of the death eaters. She briefly wondered why he hadn't known that her parents would be targeted. If only he had said something maybe they could have gotten them to safety. She clenched her fists at her sides and glared in his direction. Meeting her narrowed eyes, he raised an eyebrow. She turned away quickly.
'No one but the Dark Lord and his death eaters are responsible for the death of your parents,' she heard his deep voice echoing in her head. No, she couldn't blame him, just like she couldn't blame herself. She relaxed her hands, folding them in her lap. Hadn't she told Harry two years ago that Snape wasn't responsible for Sirius' death when he had so longed for a scapegoat? Intolerable man that he was, he practically begged people to hate and despise him, but she couldn't blame him, not for this anyway. Comments about her being a know-it-all, his ill treatment of Harry, or his abominable teaching methods—those were things for which she felt perfectly justified in disliking him, but not her present pain. She glanced his direction again, he was still looking at her. Boldly, she met his gaze and gave a small nod, then forced herself to turn her attention to Mundungus Fletcher who was speaking to the group.
The meeting ended soon after and the room dissolved into a scurry of chairs being put up and the noise of casual conversations. She stood half-listening to Remus and Ron debate the likely outcome of some Quidditch match that was coming up, when Professor Snape approached her.
"Miss Granger, I do hope this persistent rain will end soon," he said, handing her something. She looked up at him in surprise and then down at the small bottle in her hand. It was marked 'Dreamless Sleep.' She smiled and put it in her pocket. Ron and Remus halted their conversation, enthralled by the exchange before them.
"I believe it's supposed to be sunny tomorrow, sir."
"Good," he said curtly but the corners of his mouth quirked in what Hermione guessed was the closest he ever came to smiling. She felt respect starting to mingle with her feelings of dislike and misunderstanding regarding the man. His normal sneer returned, however, as he rounded about onto Ron.
"Close your mouth, Weasley. I am capable of polite inanities when I so choose." He turned and stalked out of the room. Hermione giggled softly as Ron stayed standing aghast at what he had just witnessed.
"You have to admit, that was odd," Remus said, "for Severus anyway." The three of them stood staring after the door Snape had left through.
"And besides, it hasn't rained in days Hermione," Ron said finally.
"I know," she said, smiling, her hand cradling the vial in her pocket, "But it's best not to argue with Professor Snape."