Well, it was one of those great stories that you can't put down at night.
The hero knew what he had to do, and he wasn't afraid to fight.
The villain goes to jail, while the hero goes free;
I wish it were that simple for me.
Miss Granger had looked quite weary when he finally saw her the next afternoon, but she was all right. Albus had assured him that the Forest pack had not caught her, that she had flown — flown! — straight to his office ...
She was almost a joke among the Quidditch players and referees for her reticence — okay, terror — when it came to flying. All the more so, because she excelled at everything else. Snape himself gloated many times; it seemed that her fabled Gryffindor courage failed her, for she hadn't mounted a broom since the conclusion of flying lessons, her first year. But he'd been shocked speechless when Albus had arrived in the hut, broom in hand. Severus knew exactly what its presence, and the old goat's smug expression, meant.
Hermione Granger was not a Cowardly Lion after all.
Poppy had administered a potion to help with the shakes, and then conjured a stretcher. Snape had protested about being seen like this, until Albus pulled a silvery Cloak out from his voluminous robes. He and Poppy got Severus up to a private room in the infirmary with no one the wiser.
By mid-afternoon, he felt almost human again.
He saw her in a corridor, laughing about something with Weasley. Sudden fear clutched at him. Did she tell? Are they laughing at me? Even as he thought it, he knew it was unlikely. Damn near impossible; she had promised. Even now, he trusted her to keep her mouth shut.
He ducked into an alcove as they approached, followed her, and assigned a detention. He had overheard her muttered comment about him, and wanted to prove her wrong, but it had to be done in a manner that wouldn't make her believe he'd gone insane ...
Snape knew full well that he was contrary as a cat. The more Miss Granger tried to prove her intellect in her first four years, the less impressed he was. Her drive to be at the summit of the Hogwarts heap of hellions seemed to be an ignoble goal, if she truly believed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was still to be permanently defeated. Even after her fourth year, as a friend of Potter's and soon to be a member of the Order of the Phoenix, she — of all people — should be beating Albus' door down, trying to help with matters that would make a difference in the war. She kept working on that ridiculous pet project of hers, called Hurl or Puke … something like that.
It was some time in her fifth year that he began to notice a change in her.
If he asked the class a question, she would raise her hand as she always did. But she no longer seemed so frustrated when he refused to call on her. Her essays used to be at least double the required length, but since she began her N.E.W.T.-level classes, she had shortened her papers to a more manageable length by increasing the potency of her words. The first time she displayed evidence of performing outside research, Snape had been furious, believing her to be plagiarising someone else's work — until he found a footnote that credited the journal article and author properly. It was not a journal to which Hogwarts subscribed, either; she'd found it somewhere else. Flourish and Blotts, probably, though it was a rather esoteric publication. Frankly, he had no idea how a sixth-year Muggle-born student even knew of this journal's existence.
Snape originally believed that Miss Granger showed off because she was incapable of much independent thought. She was very good at regurgitating facts properly, after all. But by the time she had reached her seventh year, her essays and ideas belied that theory. Not only had she shown evidence of being capable of thinking creatively, she had made him think. It was a new experience for him, to be led down a new path by one of his students, but he adapted, albeit grudgingly at first.
He made it a regular practice now to find her essays and set them aside. He would read Miss Granger's papers last, so he could end his marking in a decent frame of mind.
She had so much potential. Too much to risk her life and her safety for the likes of him, no matter how valuable to the Order he was. Detention tonight would teach her not to undervalue herself. Then he would allow her to learn of his respect for her. He owed her that after last night, and Severus Snape paid his debts.
Four hours after his run-in with Miss Granger in the corridor, Severus waited in his classroom. She rushed in with twenty seconds to spare. "Good evening, sir," she panted.
"You will scrub those cauldrons," he said without preamble, gesturing to the pile his first-years had left behind that afternoon, "without magic."
She frowned, and he knew exactly why. This was only the fourth time she had earned detention in her entire seven years here. Each of the last two times, he'd requested that she work with him; it was rare that he had the chance to have such competent help, and he took advantage of it. But scrubbing cauldrons was dunderheads' work, and she knew it. "Is there a problem?" he asked.
"Sir, isn't there something I can be doing that would be of better use to you?" Work that I'd enjoy more?
He folded his hands on his desk and spoke slowly, as if she was six years old. "Miss Granger, last night could easily have ended in disaster for you, me, and Professor Dumbledore's crowd. The Forest pack could have seen its number increase by one last night. You were careless and irresponsible. I think that this is appropriate work for you, based on your recent behaviour." That should teach her to value her own life so cheaply.
Agitation fairly blasted off her, but she turned and did as she was told. He noticed that she stood with her back to him. She remained silent as she worked, except for the times that she blew her nose.
She finished quickly, though she hadn't skimped on her work at all. Good girl. He'd been watching, but he didn't look up when she approached the desk. "Sir, I've finished the cauldrons." He harrumphed, and noticed from his peripheral vision that she shook and twisted her arm a little, apparently trying to ease an ache. "Is there anything else I can do before I go?"
His hand froze over the essay he was grading, and he looked up in surprise. Sixteen years of teaching, sixteen years of miserable students in detention, and not a single one had ever offered to do more work before leaving. She was insane.
And quite remarkable.
It was already after curfew, so he had to make this quick. After last night's events, he'd given a lot of thought to what he was about to do. Irresponsible and careless she may have been, but Hermione had also eased his suffering considerably. She had braved the horrors that the Forest under a full moon held, to help him. She had flown to help him. "Come with me," he ordered. Severus led the way through his storeroom, office, and into his private quarters. When he entered his sitting room, he turned to face his student.
Her eyes were huge as she looked at the shelves that lined every available inch of wall space. He had no expenses, living here, and he spent much of his salary on his book collection. "Breathe, Hermione," he ordered.
She inhaled raggedly. "Oh, glory," she muttered. Thousands of volumes.
He suppressed a smile. Here was a woman after his own heart. He'd spent two hours this afternoon, pondering which book to give her, but she didn't need to know that. Severus casually pulled the volume from a shelf, trying to make it look like it was a random choice, and handed it to her. "In thanks," he muttered.
She opened the book reverently. She read the front and back of the title page.
Her reaction was priceless. "O ... oh," was all Hermione Granger was able to stutter out before she sat down hard on the stone floor.
He was pleased by her reaction; he'd seen her reading a flimsily-bound copy of this same book many times, over the past few years. Jane Eyre was one of his favourites, but he was willing to part with this item, as he knew it would pass into hands that cared as much as he did. It was a first edition, passed down through his family, and his old maiden Aunt Morgana had given it to him.
"You ..." she squeaked, looking up at him. "But you hate me," she said in disbelief.
He let himself smile slightly. It was a tool, just like his glares and frowns were. Her jaw dropped in shock as he crouched down in front of her. "Diamonds are created through crushing pressure. My students go into the world as well-crafted as I can make them." She raised a sceptical eyebrow; she apparently couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I have never hated you, Hermione. I have come to respect you, despite the fact that you are a first-rate pain in the posterior."
She snorted, then began to laugh. This was not the reaction he was expecting. "Would you mind telling me what you find amusing?" he growled.
She guffawed quietly for a moment longer. "With all due respect, Severus, you have just described yourself perfectly."
Circe, she was brave; not just the comment she'd lobbed back at him, but her use of his given name. Severus decided to humour her. "So we understand each other," he prompted. He held a hand out, and they stood together.
"I don't understand you at all," she confessed, straightening her jumper and skirt. "But I like you anyway."
That was a surprise. He could see that she was as surprised by her own words as he was. He was taken aback even more when he saw how her face coloured, and it hit him.
Hermione Granger did not just like him. She liked him.
He'd had no clue. Several girls and one boy that he knew of had suffered silly infatuations for him over the years, and not quite knowing how to handle them, he had been more severe than usual upon his hapless students.
Before he could think of what to say, she extended her right hand. Her left arm protectively curled around her new treasure. "Thank you for the book, sir; it's one of my favourites. And I would appreciate it if, erm ..." Her blush deepened.
For once, he knew what to say. She was handling this like an adult, not like some tittering teenager. He grasped her hand warmly, though his features remained impassive. "I will exchange my silence in this matter for your own about last night."
She smiled crookedly. "You already had that, Severus."
He liked the way she said his name. The middle syllable almost disappeared, making it sound like "Sev'rus." It was five weeks to the end of term; he didn't mind her using his given name, as this was a private conversation. Just for tonight, as the circumstances were certainly unusual.
"Though it was unwise of you to leave Hagrid's. What if the pack had caught you?" he murmured, allowing a hint of last night's fear for her show on his face.
She worried her lip a little, begging him to understand and believe her. "I was scared," she admitted. "But I was more scared for you. You needed help; you were still shaking, even after you fell asleep."
Snape frowned. "How much longer did you stay?"
Blushing furiously, Hermione muttered, "I'm not sure. Maybe fifteen, twenty minutes."
He puzzled over her unease, but decided not to pursue it now. "You were helpful last night, Hermione, and I am grateful."
Hermione beamed, squeezing his hand. "Do you have any idea how long I have wanted to hear a kind word from you? To hear you say something ... anything like that?"
Without the smile and the warm tone of her voice to gentle her words, he would have taken what she said for criticism, and armed himself with a harsh retort. But her words sounded like thanks. He had finally done something right.
He had always thought that power laid in making others feel smaller, and he would be better by comparison. But now that he'd told Hermione this one thing, and it wasn't even that significant, he felt ten feet tall. He didn't understand, and if there was one thing Severus Snape loathed, besides Gryffindors in general and Potters specifically, it was not understanding something. But he liked the way he made her feel. "You have always deserved it."
She beamed at him for a moment, and then her expression turned thoughtful. "But Malfoy wouldn't like it one bit," she murmured. "Neither would his father, or V ... er, You-Know-Who."
She did understand him, though she professed not to. Severus suddenly felt quite tired and sad. He was truly a git, and he usually enjoyed being intimidating. It encouraged his students to keep their distance, instead of coming to him with problems that he didn't know how to handle. But it took so much out of him.
Just once he wanted to be compassionate. To accept that he was not alone in the world, that there was someone else out here like him; someone with a similar mind. Someone who knew him a little, and liked him anyway. To have a friend, someone he respected and even liked in some capacity, in his arms ...
Severus stepped forward, using her hand to draw her near. She didn't recoil, though her face registered mild surprise. He closed his eyes as he gingerly put his arms around Hermione Granger. If she objected, he'd know immediately.
Her free arm wound around his torso, holding him firmly.
She accepted him.
Her forehead rested against his jaw, it was so ... heartening. Even Severus hadn't been sure that there was a soul under all those buttons and robes. One of his Muggle-born students, a few years back, had called Snape the world's only living heart donor.
It was wonderful and dead depressing, that he knew he could still feel.
He lost himself in a cycle of hopes and regrets. Her hair smelled good, like lilacs, and his right hand drifted up to finger one of the wild, mousy locks. Severus wasn't sure how long they stood there; it was probably only a few minutes, but then Hermione's brow moved against his cheek. She was tilting her face up. He pulled away, just far enough to look at her face.
He saw a kiss in her eyes. She would have let him, if he tried, but he knew better. Albus seemed to have eyes on his arse, the way he knew damn near everything that happened in this castle. Looking into Hermione's eyes, Severus was shocked to find that he did want to kiss her. He settled for running his thumb over her lips, which parted under the caress. "You know I can't," he murmured. Then he winced. Brilliant, Snape. You just admitted to the girl that you want to kiss her.
She looked down and nodded. "I'd better go." Her skin grew warm under his fingers, and he released her.
"Hermione, if you tell a soul, including those precious friends of yours, I will hunt you down, do you understand me?" He smiled to gentle the threat, though he meant it.
She smiled. "I thought we already agreed on that," she said.
Even as he wanted her to care for him, he knew he had to be honest. "I am not a nice man, Hermione. I cannot be pleasant, even for you."
"We both work and fight for what we believe in. I don't know what your motives were, or are, for that matter. But I believe in you, and I like you the way you are."
Why? he wondered.
She didn't seem to notice his confusion. "I don't know what you think of me, Severus, but I hope it won't be affected by what I've let slip here. But, as I will also be working with the Or ... er, for Professor Dumbledore after graduation, I hope that we can be friends. Eventually."
He thought about it. How many girls would have put this differently, said something designed to seduce, or to drive him away? He still didn't understand it; he was the greasy bat of the dungeons, after all. Still, Severus Snape was a patient man, when the occasion called for it. She just said that she was patient, as well. This question would keep. "Perhaps." She smiled, and he glanced at the clock. "It is after curfew. I will see you to Gryffindor Tower, Miss Granger."
She took her cue from him, shifting into her role as his student again. "Thank you, Professor."
They walked the staircases in silence, a respectful distance from each other. She couldn't stop looking at the book as they walked. They were passing the first floor entrance to the library when he noticed that he didn't hear her footsteps any more. Severus turned and saw that she stood still, several feet behind him. "Miss Granger?"
She looked at him with wide eyes. "I … sir, I can't take this."
He retraced his steps and saw what she was looking at. The inside cover had four names scrawled on it in four different hands:
Jolie E. Prewitt
Diana Bernice Black
Morgana Yseult Snape
Severus Jason Snape
"It belongs in your family," Hermione protested.
Damned Gryffindor pride. He chose his words carefully. "I have another copy of Jane Eyre. My aunt Morgana received this from her mother," he said, pointing to the appropriate names, "and she from hers." He closed the book and curled Hermione's fingers around the cover. His gaze bored into her own, adding weight to his next declaration. "This book truly belongs in an appreciative and intelligent woman's hands, Miss Granger. I am confident that you will value and take care of it in a way that I have not."
Hermione was rendered speechless. She seemed to be quite touched by the gesture, and her eyes said what she couldn't say out loud. Severus gestured to the stairs, and they resumed their trek in silence.
A murmured good night, another exchange of thanks, another handshake under the Fat Lady's disbelieving gaze, and Miss Granger slipped into her common room. He returned to the dungeons, closed the door to his quarters, and smiled.
He had someone to fight for now.
Thanks, everyone; it's been fun. I'm working on a sequel, but I don't know where the story is taking me yet, so it isn't near finished.
Harry and Co. are not mine, though I'd loooooove to borrow Severus or Remus for an hour or three in the Room of Requirement. But they belong to Jo the Great. I am not making a single Galleon, Sickle, or Knut off this story.
Many thanks to Janinka, Emily X, and Lis for their help at various stages of writing.
I wish I'd thought of using the term "Cowardly Lion" for a certain Gryffindor who hates to fly, but I didn't. I don't remember whose fanfic I read it in, but it was not my idea.
The "world's only living heart donor" line is from Sabrina, the Harrison Ford version.
The hug was inspired by the picture of Severus and Hermione that used to be on the WIKTT Yahoo group's main page. Kudos and gratitude to the brilliant artist who created it, Maja Anderssen.
And, of course, the song lyrics are from Hero, sung by David Crosby© 1991 Hidden Pun Music Inc. / Stay Straight Music (BMI). I improvised on the punctuation. It isn't the tightest fit between song lyrics and fanfic, but that's because I was halfway through the writing when I thought, Hey, the song would fit!
And, to my lovely reviewers: Thanks so much for your feedback! I do appreciate it. If I can ferret out your e-mail addresses from your profiles, then I'll respond to any comments you have on this final chapter that way. Otherwise, if you choose to review chapter six, thanks in advance for taking the time and effort!
azulkan2: Sorry it took so long. Here you go, hope it satisfies!
AngelApple70x7: Yeah, this final chapter went on for eight pages on my computer. Things just go as they flow, and the dénouement just had to be this long.
duj: I've never made a good decision at three o'clock in the morning. In this case, Hermione didn't either. Hope this chapter clears things up. She is nineteen, after all her use of the Time-Turner, so she is of age, but as she is still a student, Snape knows better. The summary, if you recall, reads "Pre-HG/SS." No suck-face yet. Wink Yet.
sLyThErIn ApPLe: Hope detention was to your liking! I guess I'm a Slytherin at heart; Hermione made a possibly disastrous decision, and needed to be chastised for it, but as she did him a kindness … well … I like to think that Snape occasionally has a sense of justice.
Gwen Drailemac: Thank you! This is the last chapter, but like I said, one of my betas demanded a sequel, so I'm a-workin' on that. And thanks for the compliment about the Latin; I don't know the language, but I figured I couldn't go too wrong with three- and four-word phrases.
strega-in-progress: Dumbledore is headmaster of a school with hundreds of hormonal teenagers. He needs to do what he can to prevent student-teacher liaisons.
BloodyNails: Thanks for the review!