Author's note: Well, here is the last chapter of this ficlet. I have set up a cliche-ridden situation here, to see if I could emerge with dignity intact... This chapter is mainly from Hermione's PoV (finally).
LOST PERSPECTIVE 4
CHAPTER 7 : WISHFUL THINKING
Friday 13th November
Quig met them as they staggered out of the grate, heads still spinning, clutching each other for support. He signed something: urgent, emphatic gestures that meant about as much to Hermione as Dobby's ludicrous pantomime, but Harry nodded, and then pounded up the dark staircase, taking the steps three at a time.
Watching anxiously from the unlit hallway, Hermione saw his shadowy outline pause before one of the closed doors and gently push it open. She heard a brief murmur of low voices. Only seconds later, Harry came back downstairs. He slumped heavily into an armchair, his head in his hands, stabbing his fingers through his hair - it was growing long again - in tense, angry jabs. Hermione was moving towards him, to console him, when he leaped to his feet, a manic gleam in his eyes.
"I'm going to kill that fucking snake!"
"Harry!" she pleaded, barring his exit. She couldn't bear not knowing. "Is Snape all right?"
She could see it was an effort for him to stay calm. He drew in several stormy breaths, but when he spoke the anger had drained to a manageable level. "Quig got him the antidote, just in time. He's still groggy, but the fever's broken now. He'll be OK by tomorrow. I told him we were here."
Hermione choked on her disbelief: "Is that it? You're just going to leave him up there on his own? Isn't he in pain? Aren't you going to stay with him - sit with him? Just be there for him? Is there anything he needs? Did you even ask? Harry, what do you think you're doing? Why did you bother to come at all?"
"He needs to sleep it off," Harry replied hollowly. "And I'm going to talk to Eamon."
Side-stepping, he manoeuvred past her and stalked towards the basement.
Now that the immediate crisis was over, Harry seemed reluctant to be close to Snape. He was keeping a protective distance, from Snape and from his emotions. He never knew how to handle either of them. It enabled him to cope, outwardly, much better than Hermione who was feeling - she knew it was silly - shaky and rather tearful. At first, she found his reaction hurtful, callous even. Yet, as she stared after him, she picked up on the signals that he had failed to mask - the lifeless tone of voice, the sag of his shoulders, the void in his eyes - and she realised that he was not coping well at all. The prospect of losing Snape - losing another person that he cared about - had left him desolate. He was not unfeeling: he was merely surviving the only way he knew.
All this time Hermione had been making an attempt to subdue her own feelings. For over a week she had been resisting the impulse to ask after Snape, to pester Harry, Dumbledore, Remus - anyone - for news. The look on Snape's face as she and Harry had said goodbye that day, and her complete inability to respond, had haunted her. She knew he was troubled and she hated not being able to help. It went against her nature to be unduly secretive, but she was very aware that she needed to be cautious about expressing anything beyond a friendly concern. There were so many reasons not to get involved; so many ways in which any hint of affection might be misconstrued.
Affection? She had told herself repeatedly - logically and sensibly - that her recent feelings for Snape could only be a crush, and a pretty silly one at that. This was Professor Snape she was talking about - the 'sallow faced, hook-nosed, greasy git' - not some hunky Quidditch player or that drop-dead gorgeous lead singer of the 'Wanton Warlocks'. A stupid crush. Anything else would be ridiculous. She had been trying for weeks to convince herself. A schoolgirl with a crush on her teacher - well, full marks for originality there, Hermione! It had to be a pathetic infatuation: yes, she had been swept along by the dark romance of Harry's history; she had cast Snape in the role of tragic hero: in this fiction she could be the heroine, and he would sweep her off her feet and they would fly away together on his broomstick into a happy-ever-after sunset. Even the serious, intellectually focussed Hermione Granger was not immune to the occasional fluffy daydream. But with Snape? Come on.
The trouble was, it didn't feel like that. She had no romantic, soft-focus illusions. That would have been a fantasy. What Hermione felt was far more mundane - ordinary, prosaic really - but it felt real.
It had all started when Harry confided in her that day by the lake. She'd been horrified, at first, to discover that their bête noir, the man they had all come to regard as the personification of all that was heartless, cruel and sadistic, was Harry's biological father. But she had hidden her shock. For Harry's sake, she had tried to put a positive gloss on the situation, made every attempt to be supportive. It wasn't that she expected Snape to claim Harry's affections straightaway, or to fill the dreadful vacuum left by Sirius, but it seemed the only rational thing to do - to make the best out of an unexpectedly bad job. So she had done everything possible to muzzle her doubts and prejudices and focus on Snape's qualities - she assumed that she would find some eventually if she looked hard enough. Then she would point them out to Harry, try to convince him that having Snape genes was not such an unmitigated disaster after all. Wasn't that what friends were for?
And Harry had been in such a turmoil: sometimes she'd caught him staring at Snape - in Hall, perhaps, or in Potions - with a wistful expression, as though he were simply longing for the Professor to assume his role and behave like a real dad. At other times, she had been startled to see a look of vicious hatred, barely concealed, as though Harry detested the man. She hadn't understood the need for all the secrecy; she hadn't then realised that Harry was plotting to kill his father.
It sickened her when she discovered that; when she learned about Harry's treachery. How could anybody do that to anyone, least of all their own flesh and blood? Even if they were cursed? Harry seemed to think that being under the Obligatus gave him a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card, that he was off the hook. Even the staff had been remarkably lenient - Harry hadn't exactly got into a whole heap of trouble, had he? So he'd been banned from Quidditch? Big Deal - it was a nasty, cold game to play in the winter anyway; it gave him extra time to catch up on all the study he'd missed. And what if he'd had to talk to a psychologist? Hermione couldn't help feeling that that might, actually, have been rather interesting… purely as an objective exploration into one's psychological processes, of course.
She'd tried, tactfully she thought, to winkle out of Harry details of what had gone on during that week at Snape's home; by all accounts Harry had made a complete botch of it. So typical. Instead of using the opportunity to get to know his father, it sounded as though he had done the exact opposite. Instead of taking care of him - Hermione hadn't appreciated until lately how badly injured Snape had been in that awful dungeon (the mere thought now crippled her with tremors of retrospective concern ) - Harry had, from what she could make out, spent the week applying emotional thumb-screws. His relationship with Snape, judging by the few times Hermione had seen them together, had become even more precarious than it had been before. It was hard to tell though; there was more going on between those two than met the eye, she was sure.
The more she'd learned about Snape this term - and that wasn't much: Harry was so protective about his father's privacy - the more she'd found herself liking him. Was 'liking' too strong a term? She had never 'hated' Snape as such - not in the same way that Ron and Harry did - but, yes, she had disliked him and resented the way he belittled her efforts in class; she'd thought his teaching methods unfair, partial and patronising. No, it was more that her antagonism had been replaced by curiosity, an ambivalence, a wider tolerance: she would now, if the occasion warranted, give Snape the benefit of the doubt. That, she decided, was only fair. From where she was standing, Snape's good points were coming to the fore, while Harry's were receding into a decidedly murky background.
She had always respected Snape's skill and his encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject, even if she hadn't appreciated the way he demonstrated it. Looking back, she cringed to think how cruelly they had misjudged him in their first few years at Hogwarts. Harry had even thought he was trying to poison Lupin! But no, she argued, he had been mean and vindictive on occasions; he was continually carping and sarcastic. He definitely got some kick out of intimidating the students - sometimes she wondered if that were the only part of his job that gave him any satisfaction whatsoever, he seemed to dislike it and his pupils so much. Oh, apart from Draco. Talk about favouritism! No, she was far from blind to his faults. At one time they had all been terrified of the man - Neville still was! Yet now she was beginning to see that he may have had reasons for his harsh behaviour, even if they did not necessarily excuse it.
It was impossible to say at what point the scales had tipped towards 'liking'. She found Snape interesting, certainly. As she had gleaned more information about his personal life, she had warmed to him as an individual. She began to open her mind to the possibility that Snape had a life behind and beyond the professorial persona.
His secret paintings and quiet good taste (Harry had, grudgingly, described the Cottage and its contents); why, even the fact that he chose to live in the Cottage at all, rather than in ostentatious splendour at the Manor; his loyalty to Quig and, above all, the honourable way in which he had accepted his responsibility for Harry, all denoted an integrity which held immense appeal for Hermione.
She found herself wanting to talk to him - about Potions, about teaching, about himself, his family, poisons, tuatara, anything, everything. She pictured herself engaging him in discussion of Elf rights, or Giant appeasement, or even, controversially, the Pureblood question. He'd make mincemeat of her, of course, but she held some strong opinions of her own and she was prepared to defend them in a debate. It would be fascinating. If only she could get him to stop and listen. To talk instead of 'lecture'. Perhaps, if he would just start responding like a human being, he could be a friend, like Remus? That was all she wanted; that would be enough. She could learn such a lot from him; she was sure he could be really informative.
She had not forgotten that he had been a Death Eater. Nor had it escaped her attention - how could it, with the lurid exposé dominating several editions of the Daily Prophet- that he had a dark, disreputable past. She couldn't imagine the straight-laced, puritanically proper Potions master getting involved in anything so scandalous. Or rather, she could imagine it… That was the problem. And it fanned a risqué flicker of interest… But she believed that he had reformed, renounced his Death Eater affiliations. She really did. Dumbledore trusted him; that was good enough for her. And as for the other thing, it all came back to integrity. Snape was a professional. He was - and even to Hermione it seemed an odd word to use when describing Snape - a gentleman.
So, she had been urging Harry for weeks now to make more effort to get to know his father. She thought it would be good for him, for both of them - for all of them. She had wanted to get to know him too. That was all. That was all.
Then, over the past fortnight, observing Snape's distress and seeing him increasingly worn down, exhausted and racked with anxiety about Harry, she had found herself wanting to help him, to share his pain. If anyone needed a friend right now, he did, and she was willing to volunteer. It was funny, he didn't repel her any more. The piquancy of his loss had cut through the grease and made him palatable. He looked ... well, he looked like a man in need of a hug and she could give it. Where was the harm in that?
OK. OK. He was old enough to be her father. He was her teacher. She knew that. What the hell was she thinking?
x x x
Left alone in the sitting room - Quig had unobtrusively absented himself - Hermione looked around. She half recognised it from Harry's descriptions: the low chairs by the fireplace, the beautiful, polished wood, the simple, deep blue fabric, the white walls. She moved idly towards the bookcase, but then stopped herself with a sigh of impatience. She couldn't go on pretending any longer. She had to see him.
The hallway was still gloomy.
"Lumos!" Hermione flicked her wand - she didn't want to be blundering around a strange house in the dark. She fetched a glass of water - she had to have some pretext for visiting him - from the kitchen, then she tip-toed up the stairs.
On the landing she paused, her knuckles only a scruple away from the door, as a lurking doubt grappled her from behind, felling her compassion in a sneaky tackle. Snape was always so unassailably self-contained; he demanded of himself inhumanly high standards of endurance and fortitude; he would hate to be an object of pity. He would not want her - anyone - to see him hurt. In conceding weakness, he would be diminished.
Hermione understood that; she respected him for it. But she couldn't turn back now - not go meekly downstairs and sip tea as though this were a social call; waiting for the antidote to work its magic so that everyone could go on as normal and pretend that nothing had happened. Pretend that the very possibility of Snape's death had not left both her and Harry turned inside out like squid in a creel: entrails exposed, organs pumping for the world to see.
No, she needed to go to him: her heart required the visual reassurance of seeing Snape alive before it could perform that contorted back-flip into her chest.
In the stillness of the landing, her hand still poised to knock, suspended in time, Hermione was swept along in the march of a nervous ticker-tape parade. Her heart was now an oompah-band, marking time, booming in her ears, while all around her was a flutter of torn emotions: pale scraps of anxiety, alarm, dread, relief, raining down; and, here and there, glinting silver shreds of excitement and desire…
Hermione had seen enough soapy TV at her parents' house to recognise that she was straying dangerously towards the borders of Fantasy land. You know, the place where the quiet, hometown girl smoothes a cool hand over the fevered brow of the injured, enigmatic stranger… Now who's being ridiculous? she told herself firmly. It's not like that.
The problem was, she didn't know a great deal about poisons; she didn't know what to expect. Potions lessons, she now realised, had tended to concentrate on the more theoretical side of the reactions. In any case, they had never dealt directly with the truly lethal poisons, tempting though it may have been for Snape to let them experiment. A snatch of conversation with Remus popped into her mind: Harry had been moaning about how dull the 'poisons' lessons were:
"And I thought that section of the course would be really, sort of exciting - and it's totally lame. We haven't poisoned anything bigger than a Flobberworm yet. Even Snape finds it boring," he'd complained.
Lupin had laughed. "You should see him when he gets going on his DIABolicals and LUCs - he's like a man possessed!"
"Death in a Bottle and Liquid Unforgivable Curses," Remus had clarified. "That's the heavy stuff - to Severus everything else is just pumpkin juice…"
Even Hermione, to whom all knowledge was sacred, had to own up to taking more notice of the dramatic, magical poisons than of the less exotic, animal ones. She could almost recite the lesson on Purpuramors - the potion that turned your blood into bright purple fizzing acid, which melted your veins and erupted in explosive, blackcurrant blisters… or the aging draughts such as Accelerage, or the cannibaliant Choxifixion (which turned your body into a chocolate so compulsively more-ish that you devoured your own flesh)… but she couldn't, for the life of her, remember how to distinguish the effects of one snake bite from another. Snape had never dwelt on symptoms - perhaps he was unwilling to share his first hand experience. (Hermione was assuming that this was not the only time he had needed to test out the efficacy of one of his antidotes.)
In Hermione's mind, organic poisons were unpleasantly associated with food-poisoning: diarrhoea and vomiting and an urgent dash to Madam Pomfrey for a dose of Settling Tonic. Snake bites, she knew, could trigger convulsions or seizures; a distant snippet of information reminded her that Python venom - No, she corrected herself, viper venom; pythons were the ones that strangled you to death. Weren't they? - paralysed the diaphragm, causing death by suffocation. None of this was any help to her now. She couldn't imagine Snape so stricken, nor how she might react if he were.
For another moment she vacillated, not squeamish, but sensitive to Snape's dignity. Then, knocking very softly, so as not to wake him if he were asleep, she opened the door. After the brightness of the landing, the room was dim; she was silhouetted in the doorway. From the far side of the room, two dark eyes flickered open.
"Lily?" Snape whispered.
The single word pierced Hermione like a poisoned arrow. She entered the room and put the glass on the bedside table, which was empty apart from his wand and a small book which lay open.
"No, Sir, it's me, Hermione. I've brought you some water. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you."
In the dim light there was a sickly pallor about his face, but his drawn features relaxed on recognising Hermione. He was lying stiffly, still fully clothed, on the bed. His right arm lay useless at his side, the hand inexpertly bandaged, and with some kind of a poultice. Catching the direction of her gaze, he grimaced.
"Quig is no nurse," he muttered, "but…"
…but he saved my life. He didn't need to say it.
Hermione thought she should probably go now, but she couldn't bring herself to leave him so soon. She wanted to be near him. She wished that there was something that needed doing, so she could bustle about being useful. Madam Pomfrey never had this problem.
"How are you, Sir?"
He looked terrible.
He sounded strained and faint. There was a shade of irony, bordering on bitterness there which she didn't quite understand. Was it meant to be a wry comment? Perhaps what they had taken for sarcasm all these years was just a very dry, very black sense of humour. Perhaps it was the pain talking.
"Is it very painful, Sir?"
She didn't know why she asked that. Just from the way his whole body was tensed, rigid, held absolutely still, she could tell that it hurt like hell. Even his breathing was shallow, cautiously controlled, as though the mere flow of air into his lungs might jar a raw nerve. But she had to ask: there was something dangerously taboo about asking Snape a personal question: the frisson of intimacy thrilled her. On seeing him like that an entire nest of Billywigs had hatched in her stomach.
"It will pass."
Hermione felt a flush of indignation. She wasn't fooled. He was so brave, so stoical! He shouldn't have to endure this, not even for an hour! "But Harry said you'd had the antidote! Isn't it working? Can't you take some more?" she exclaimed, forgetting to be impersonal. She hadn't anticipated that his suffering would upset her so much; she hoped her concern wasn't too transparent.
"As I said- I am alive," he said, clipping the sentence into a series of broken phrases. "The antidote - has already fulfilled its function. - Some toxins - are metabolised - for longer than others- even when - neutralised."
"Is there anything I can do, Sir? Is there anything you want?"
The barest shake of his head. "No. It is only - a matter of time."
Talking was clearly an effort. She was surprised that he had bothered to speak to her at all. Surely he should have yelled at her by now to get out? Dismissed her with some insult? He didn't usually spare his students' feelings. Did that mean he wanted her to stay? It flattered her to think so. In your dreams, Hermione! But she allowed herself to believe it anyway. Snape closed his eyes, panting slightly; tried to moisten his dry lips.
"Would you like a drink, Sir?" She cringed as she heard herself saying it - how corny could she get? Any minute now she'd be offering to 'plump' his pillows. "Here…"
Bending nearer to him, Hermione brought the glass up to his lips, at the same time shyly sliding her hand behind his head to help him sit up a little. His skin felt unnaturally hot; he was trembling with the exertion of raising himself up. After a couple of sips, he slumped back against the pillow. Never in her wildest dreams (and, recently, she'd had some quite racy ones, which, sadly, she could not fully remember…) had she imagined getting so close to him in real life. So close she could smell him - a scent of acrid herbs and sweat and something medicinal, the poultice probably. She sensed a quiver of something inside her that was definitely not sympathy.
"You need to get some sleep, Sir," she said, blushing, turning away to hide her embarrassment, and putting the glass back down on the table.
It was impossible not to see the open book there: she guessed it was the one that Lily had given him. The temptation to look at it was irresistible. Ever since Luna had mentioned the book, Hermione had been using 'Linguascio' and secretly practising her French.
A verse had been copied out by hand, at the end of a page of quilled writing. The poem was so short that Hermione could read it at one glance:
'C'est toi, mon rêve;
je t'évoque à volonté
en respirant, je trace …'
(You are my dream:
I will you into existence
as I breathe,
and trace the outline of your lips.
You are my dream:
I will you into existence…
You hold me, and your touch
fills the emptiness.
You see me:
in your eyes I am alive.
For that alone, my dream
is more precious
than my life.)
'…plus spécial que la vie.' Hermione felt a noose of hopelessness tightening on her throat: how could she ever compete with a love like that? What could she offer to compare with the intensity and perfection of that idealised, untested passion?
Then she turned back to Snape. Caring transcended petty jealousies especially, Hermione reasoned, when one's rival was a ghost. What memory was going to look after him every time he was bitten by one of his poisonous pets?
The temperature in the room was arctic.
"You should get into bed, Sir. You'll get cold," she said, trying to sound practical, scolding away the throng of more tender thoughts threatening to hijack her mind.
But how could he get into bed? He could hardly move. No wonder he was still dressed, lying on top of the covers. He would need help… Hermione was shocked to find herself contemplating the buttons on his shirt. Oh Merlin! What was she thinking now? She just prayed that he was not reading her mind at that moment.
"I'll fetch Harry," she muttered, needing to escape fast.
In the doorway, though, she stopped. Somebody had to do this. If she didn't say something to Snape now, she might never get another chance: "Harry does love you, Sir," she said nobly into the darkness. "He just doesn't know how to tell you."
We both do, she thought.
X X X
Harry was coming up from the basement. He was surprised to find Hermione sitting at the bottom of the stairs, leaning against the wall.
"Eamon thinks he may have an abscess under his fang," he said, conversationally, as though that excused everything. "He got this massive twinge just when Snape was about to take the venom. Says he's sorry."
"Oh, God! Harry, if Quig hadn't been there…" she whispered.
"Hermione? You OK?"
"You'd better go up to him," she replied. "He needs help getting his jacket off. You may have to cut the sleeve to get it over his arm. Or, better, try using 'Suturasolvo' - then it'll be easier to mend the seam. Harry… Please don't hurt him."
A whole palette of clashing emotions suffused her voice. It didn't sound like Hermione at all.
"Budge up." Harry sat next to her on the stair, trying to figure her out. It took him a while. "But you told me… You told me you didn't like him… You said…" Harry was too wrung out to be angry, now; for the moment he was just bewildered and betrayed.
"I know what I said." She hung her head, not wanting to face him.
"But, God! Hermione, that's… gross!"
"For Merlin's sake, he's my father!"
"He's old enough to be…"
"It's not on, Hermione. What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Her answer was a sober shade of bitterness, resignation and common-sense: "What does it matter? It'll never happen anyway. He's still in love with your mother."
Harry sat with Snape until he fell asleep. When he came downstairs again, Hermione had gone. She had Floo-ed back to Hogwarts.
END OF STORY.
And that's a cop-out ending if ever there was one! Yes, yes, I can't leave them like that... So what should happen next to Hermione and Snape? What do you think? (OK, I know I've already written LP/5, but I'm interested to know what you think anyway...)
Thank you to everybody who has read and reviewed this story. I love getting your comments.