The house was quiet this morning. Only the faint, domestic noises of an old house muttering to itself could be heard. They should be comforting in their familiarity, but Hermione found herself twitching nervously at the slightest sound.
She didn't think she'd feel safe for a very long time.
She hadn't been able to sleep; she'd been afraid to try really. Every time she closed her eyes, she could see him again, hear him again, taste him again, and she couldn't push him away. She'd tried to read for a while, but even the comfort of a familiar, childhood book had been denied her.
She'd given it up as a bad job and stumbled into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. It had taken two goes to fill the kettle, and she'd broken the same cup three times before she managed to get some scalding hot teak-coloured fluid into the cup, and herself sat at the table.
And then all she thought about was how hot the cup was, and how much it was burning her fingers, and when it would be cool enough to drink, and only the faintest tremor to indicate her state of mind.
A creak of a floorboard from behind startled her, and she turned and drew her wand in one swift movement, coming to rest pointed directly at the throat of Professor Snape.
She took a deep breath, and put her wand away, her hand only slightly shaking from the adrenalin rush.
"I apologise, Miss Granger. I should have given you more warning of my presence," he said quietly.
She snuffed up tears, determined not to cry, but undone by receiving sympathy from Professor Snape, of all people. She'd expected to be snarled at, and told not to be a silly girl, not concern. She hated the concerned looks that people gave her. She didn't know whether it was worse to have to talk to strangers about what had happened, and endure their false solicitude and their digging for the sordid details, or the way her friends bit back what they really wanted to say.
"After all, I wouldn't want to be hexed into oblivion just because you were feeling a little on edge," he said, more caustically. "I wouldn't put it past you to try and get your own back for some fancied slight over your marks, and pass it off as the after-effects of your ordeal."
That was better. That was more like normal Snape, and normal was good, because it made her think that things could be normal again. Maybe. Some time. She sat back down, and stared at her cup.
Her cup was deftly removed and another put in its place before she had a chance to object. "What's this?"
"Tea, Miss Granger," he said, with infinite patience. "I should think that was obvious to the meanest intellect."
She sniffed at it suspiciously. "Just tea?" The Mediwitches had wanted to stuff her full of potions, but she wasn't having any of it. She wanted her intellect unclouded, needed to be able to rationalise her way through the day. The last thing she needed was something that would make her feel all fuzzy and relaxed, when what was required was an iron grip because if she let go, just once, she wasn't sure she'd be able to pick things up again for a very long time.
She sipped it suspiciously; it was just tea.
"Thank you," she said.
"It's only a cup of tea," he replied.
"I don't mean just the tea," she said. "I meant, thank you for teaching us…me how to resist Imperio."
Snape stirred his tea slowly, and carefully placed the spoon on the table. "You did well."
"Perhaps." It had taken nearly ten years to receive praise from the Professor, and she couldn't imagine that he'd say something to be nice, no matter what the circumstances; he must mean it. She wasn't sure he was right, though. Sometimes she thought she'd done the best that she could, given the circumstances. At other times she thought that she should have seen it coming, that she should have anticipated trouble and planned accordingly. Though how you were supposed to guess that Lucius Malfoy would chose to celebrate his release from Azkaban like that? "I can't help feeling that I should have done things, I don't know, differently somehow."
"Better – and worse – people than you have gone up against Lucius, and not lived to worry about whether they could have done better."
That made sense, sort of. She was alive and relatively unharmed, and he was waiting in Azkaban for the Dementor's kiss once the formalities were concluded. There would be no second chances this time, no matter how much money or influence he tried to bring to bear.
He was probably looking forward to it, under the circumstances. She smiled, a faint, wintry smile holding little warmth.
"I take it you have no regrets then?" Snape said.
She shook her head. No, she wouldn't have done anything differently, had she her chance again. She'd survived, that was the important thing, with nothing more than a black eye and bruised knees where he'd forced her to the ground to pleasure him. "I don't, though some people seem to expect me to spend my time wringing my hands with guilt at the terrible thing I've done. And I don't feel guilty. They seem to think that it's the first step on the slippery slope to the Dark Arts, next stop wearing black robes, and torturing people for fun." She realised that wasn't very tactful. "No offence."
"I shouldn't think anyone will be taking offence at anything you say for a while, Miss Granger," he replied, though there was no real bite to it. "Just in case."
Molly bustling into the kitchen to make breakfast for the household shattered their comfortable silence. She eyed Snape suspiciously, but a quick glance at Hermione showed that he wasn't making her feel uncomfortable. "Oh, there you are," she said unnecessarily, making Hermione want to snap at her. "Is the tea fresh?"
"Several hours cold," Snape replied.
"Oh." There was that look again, wondering why Hermione was talking to Snape of all people. "I'll make a new pot then. And perhaps a little breakfast? Toast, perhaps?"
Hermione nodded. She couldn't face anything heavier, but she knew she had to eat something. She had a long day ahead of her, talking to Aurors and giving them a full statement about what had happened, and it was only sensible to face that on a meal.
The rest of the house began to stir. First Harry, who put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, as he went past her; probably the first person, other than a mediwitch to touch her since… since …it happened, and then Ron, who couldn't quite bring himself to touch her and aborted the gesture before it reached her.
She stifled the urge to tell him she wouldn't bite, and smiled weakly at him. He smiled back, a little uncertainly, and said, "Morning all. What's for breakfast mum? I'm starving."
"Oh, you! I've never known you when you weren't starving. I'm just making Hermione some toast, and then I'll see to you all. I expect you'd all like a cooked breakfast?"
"Yes, please," Harry said.
"If it's not too much trouble," Snape murmured.
"Right-o. Just leave it to me."
Another silence descended on the table, more awkward than the last. The boys didn't know what to say, and were worried that if they opened their mouths they would put their foot in it. So there was nothing more said than 'can you pass the milk?" and 'here's your toast' and 'would you like jam?' and the gentle sizzling of the frying pan.
Hermione buttered her toast carefully, and then applied a layer of jam, and couldn't put off eating it any longer. She winced as she opened her mouth; it was still bruised and sore, but she managed to take a bite of the toast, which tasted surprisingly good. She was prodding one of her teeth with her tongue to make sure that it wasn't loose from the backhanded blow he'd dealt her, when Molly put the heaped plates in front of Snape and the boys.
Snape hesitated, she saw, but Ron stuck his fork into the meal with enthusiasm, and brought the speared sausage up to his mouth. She watched, unable to turn away, as his teeth broke through the skin, and bit down on the sausage, tearing at it like a dog with a rat.
"For heaven's sake, Weasley," Snape hissed.
Hermione felt her gorge rising. She ran from the table, hand over her mouth, and barely made it to the sink in time. Someone held her hair back from her face and rubbed soothing circles on her back as she heaved and heaved, until she thought that her toenails would be coming up.
"Oh Christ, Hermione," came Ron's agonized voice from over her shoulder. "I'm sorry, I didn't think."
Finally the retching stopped. A hand reached over her with a tea towel, which was dampened under the tap. "Here, wipe your face," Snape said. It was cool against her skin. She could feel her eyes stinging, and pressed it against them to hide the tears. A couple of deep breaths later she felt she could trust her stomach enough to try standing up.
"It's alright, you daft prat," she managed to say. "Just, I think you'd be better off with scrambled eggs for breakfast for a while."
"No problem," he said. "It'll be good for me, you know. Giving up fat, that sort of thing. I should eat Muesli, and fresh fruit – you're always telling me that. So that's what I'll eat. No more saus… fry ups."
"That's good," she said, cutting off his babbling. He looked sheepish.
"Miss Granger is now going to go to her room and lie down," Snape said.
"You are. I don't want to hear any arguments; you'll need your wits about you this afternoon."
She allowed herself to be escorted to her room, and slipped into bed whilst Professor Snape fetched the Dreamless Sleep from his potions kit.
She swallowed, her throat suddenly tight, thinking about Ron's breakfast.
She'd done that: bitten down, bitten down until her teeth had met, and she'd severed flesh. She could remember what that tasted like, and the rush of blood down her throat and how he had screamed.
She took the potion quickly, grimacing at the bitter taste, and closed her eyes.
If she hadn't taken Dreamless Sleep, she would have thought she dreamed the hand that gently tucked her hair behind her ear and the voice that whispered, "You did well."