Disclaimer: I own nothing, except what I do.
A/N: This, for now, is an one-shot. I'm considering still whether to continue this, perhaps in another p.o.v. Thanks for reading, though.
She chose red, the color of shed blood and masked meetings in alley shadows. Holed up in one of her mother's gaudily decorated settees, tiny puffs of cotton between each toe and nail polish in hand, she watched the rain fall as the red paint slowly dried. He saw her and stared, chest unbearably tight and stomach coiled in a knot of unwanted tension and heat, as the soft whir of air from the overhead vent tickled at her cheeks.
She was only sixteen, and he, more than twice her age; that alone prevented him from voicing his presence.
Fickle providence granted him that cloak; since she never noticed his entrance, his parting was unnoticed as well.
The resentment he felt, however irrational, to have been so stricken, and yet her so unmoved, was not to be the last of the summer. And yet, he knew exactly who to blame for putting him in such a condition: the old man was most likely traipsing about with McGonagall in their airship, which, last he knew, was anchored a scant six feet above the Brackmahn's Fjord in Denmark.
The Headmaster saw the housing arrangements as a double-edged blessing. Not only did it promise security for the girl, her younger sister, and recently widowed mother, but it also promised to keep one of his more troublesome agents out from underfoot. The old wizard mentioned the prospect of a summer at the Granger house with his usual zest and lack of choice.
"Consider the alternative, Severus. There's only the Headquarters with Hogwarts closed, and I know how much you dislike living in the Black house."
A token sweet was offered, rejected, and the matter was considered closed.
Severus arrived a week after term, robes discarded for Muggle convenience and sole suitcase in grasp. The widowed Granger greeted him, a black lace handkerchief gripped dramatically, and a poised tear for the corner of her eye. The girl, her toes yet to be painted that grotesque scarlet, said nothing at all. But he did not mind. Silence and avoidance were two such communications that he knew well. Familiar and comfortable, and in a small way, an odd twitch of gratitude swelled that the girl should be so predictable.
If only the girl's mother did the same.
"Professor Snape! I hadn't expected you for another twenty minutes . . . do come in, come in." The handkerchief was used briefly to wipe at the expectant tear. "I'm afraid I've let the house go somewhat since . . . " A whimpered sob, muffled by the handkerchief. "...well, since Robert left us."
What he replied with must have sufficed, for the woman no longer felt the need for the blasted bit of lace and instead took his hand in what she considered a welcoming gesture. "Oh Professor, thank you for understanding! But, please, there's no need for formalities between lodger and host. Do call me Charlotte."
The woman smiled at his nod and presented the last of the family to him: a small creature, all pale skin and tangled hair, with equally pale blue eyes. "My younger daughter, Adjamina."
The girl finally spoke up when her sister said nothing. "She prefers Jamie, Professor."
He nodded again and introductions were finished. His room was shown to him, dinner served, and three days later, a tube of nail polish sent his mind into a spiral.
She was in the settee again, the day after the first event occurred, nail polish traded for a book with dog-eared pages and a worn cover. The book was familiar with what he knew of her, and he ignored the tension that coiled when she lifted her eyes from her held pages and greeted him.
"Professor? Was there something you needed?" The diffident politeness was familiar as well, and he focused on that: the familiar, the known, the tried and true.
"I have a letter that requires sending. Your study is locked, and with it the fire place." Her eyes watched him much as they did when he taught in class. Observant, guarded, and attentive.
"I'll fetch the key then." She closed the book and untucked her legs, displaying bare feet and the startling red flash of painted nails. She mistook his intake of breath as annoyance and explained hastily. "I'm sorry, sir. My mother forgot to tell you, I suppose. She's closed off my father's rooms. Her therapist said it's necessary for the 'grieving period.'"
Her intonation was not lost on him. It was better to focus on her voice and words, than to regard the carpeted floor and how it bent to each rise and fall of her feet.
"No, your mother neglected to mention this."
She paused and turned to face him, a hesitant smile trapped on her lips. "My mother doesn't know any better, Professor, so please don't, er, get too irritated with her."
"I assure you, Miss Granger, that no such remonstration is necessary. But should I require etiquette lessons on decent public behavior, I shall be sure to inquire with you for aid."
She flushed and was silent as she unlocked the study and flipped the electric switch by the wall. Several scattered lamps displayed the room for what it was: shelves heavy with books, a stained writing desk, and an ash free fire place- nothing he did not expect.
She shuffled her bare feet, the hesitancy from earlier once more painting her features into awkwardness and uncertainty. "Professor?"
"Yes, Miss Granger?"
"Please sir, if you do get annoyed, take it out on me. I'm used to it- and my mother, she won't understand that you don't really mean it, that it's just your way."
She was pleading- he recognized this, but his eyes were drawn back to the floor, to the small shuffling movements of her feet as they drew first one way and then another across the carpet. There- there it was! That unfamiliar, that unknown . . . reaction to her. This, this was his student, a mere creature he saw daily draped in school robes and wandering about with her partners in crime.
"It is not my intention to make your mother run crying to her room; your concerns, however well meant, are misplaced and unnecessary."
She replied with a brief duck of her head, plainly not placated. He found himself bothered by her lack of belief. He had said nothing, done nothing, to cause such worries. The sealed letter in his hand grew crumpled and wrinkled as his fist clenched and unclenched. But she noticed this, misread the reason, and took flight.
The fire place flared a brief spatter of green flame, and then he was left alone but for the slight imprint of her feet on the carpet and the stale odor of the room's disuse.
The mother, this Charlotte Granger, was all that her daughter warned she might be. The woman traded between the role of merry widow, devoted mother, and capricious female. She toted her youngest child like a small dog on a leash, occasionally rounding out with a brief pat on the head or proffered treat. Severus watched and observed, at times fascinated by the dramatics the woman liked to play and at others, disgusted by the acts.
He never interfered with Charlotte's displays until the second week of his stay, and even then, his reaction was spurred by something he knew not.
Charlotte's dinners needed no description. They were unremarkable, often tasteless, and involved entirely too many salads. The lettuce that evening waited limply in his plate, wilted and devoid of rich color. To his right, the girl sat, shifting about her fork and looking equally dissatisfied with her meal. The mother rambled on about something a patient of hers said that morning at work and how very funny it all was.
His mistake was in not replying with his usual noncommittal grunt or nod. The woman noticed where his attentions sat, and the persona of capricious female took center stage.
"Hermione. What did I tell you about playing with your food?"
The girl dropped her fork, startled and clearly not understanding the sudden attack. "I'm sorry, Mother. I suppose I'm not too hungry."
"Honestly, you're 16 years old. I shouldn't have to correct table manners at your age." Charlotte pointed to her own plate, neatly disposed of half its contents. "Besides, whether you're hungry or not doesn't matter, darling. In proper society, one always eats the meal given her."
The girl reclaimed her fork and took a tentative bite of the wilted mess. Her expression was not lost on him, and apparently not on her mother as well. The woman pounced.
"All right, that's enough. I'll have no more of this. Day in, day out, you mope around, reading sullenly in some dark corner or writing in that notebook of yours, always acting dissatisfied, acting as if your home isn't good enough anymore. I've had enough. I've had enough, do you hear?"
The girl did not raise her eyes from the table, instead lifting her fork again, this time her lips hidden by the fall of her hair. The younger child- Adjamina who preferred Jamie- winced ever so slightly, and Severus quickly understood when Charlotte turned to address him.
"I am so ashamed, Professor Snape. Really, I understand how hard you teachers work to ingrain some sense into your students and then to see my daughter behave so poorly . . . But please do understand; she is, of course, still only a girl and acts as such. I'm only thankful my poor Robert, doesn't have to see how badly we've failed as parents."
He saw the mother's eyes, gleaming and intense with a misplaced look of anticipation for a mother supposedly scolding her child. He recognized that twisted transport with an ever so subtle mental nudge- now, he understood. The woman saw herself in contest with her elder daughter- a contest of what he knew not, but now that he understood, he felt the unfamiliar need to speak.
"If you're seeking those responsible, Hogwarts is to blame here, Mrs. Granger. The staff rarely serves salad, and so it appears your daughter's tastes have been conditioned to a thicker sort of meal. If you wish to raise a complaint, I can deliver it to the Headmaster."
The response was immediate. A brief sputter of disavowal and then a barely polite suggestion to move along to dessert. Charlotte left for the kitchen and the liberated daughter lifted her eyes back to his face.
The girl was thankful, and the want to have such gratitude given to him again- voluntarily, constantly, and for him alone!- flooded his thoughts like an undammed river; the waters wild, uncontrolled, and caring nothing for what waited on their banks, caring only for the strength of unfettered release.
Beads of sweat gathered over the unlined skin of his brow, and his teeth clattered when he finally thought to close his lips from the heavy rush of unaccountable breath.
Charlotte returned, like a poorly planned exposition scene, dessert in tow: a decent assortment of tarts, picked up at a shop up the street. The lemon meringue the girl chose clung to her lips, the slight dart of a red tongue catching the air in his chest once more.
When the girl left the table, plates in hand to wash up, he resisted the urge to glance at her feet. Nevertheless, the disappointment when he saw, as she rounded to retrieve his utensils, that the red toes were hidden away under the encasing of cotton socks did not serve to relieve the knot of heat and pressure at the base of his lungs.
But she did not notice how his lips thinned and his pulse jumped. She noticed nothing at all, and for that, the inexplicable want grew violent; he excused himself and wished for his chambers at Hogwarts. There could be only one release for him that night, and fists did not break through stoned walls like they did through the thin plaster of his current room.
He was attacked in the most unexpected of ways two nights later. The woman, clad in a shimmering robe of gold material, sashayed into her dead husband's study with two glasses and a bottle of champagne. He had time to put down his quill and place a hand over the parchment before she chose to speak.
"Ah, there you are, Professor- oh, but really, we're past that now, aren't we? I can call you Severus, can't I? There . . . " Charlotte enisled herself firmly into the love seat next to him and patted the open spot cheerily. ". . .this'll be much more cozy wouldn't you agree? Severus?"
When he did not move to the love seat, she changed tactics and began with the glasses. "I was rummaging through the freezer and found this bottle of champagne- a name's day gift, you know- and I thought to myself, 'Why Charlotte, what a splendid discovery! But surely you can't drink this by your lonesome!' And so, I've decided to share my bit of guilty pleasure with yourself."
She uncorked the bottle, giggling a bit at the fizz that immediately began to pour out from the opening. "Oh my, I always do forget about that part, and look, now my dressing robe is wet. Couldn't you, that is, wouldn't you, er, 'magick' it up for me? Severus?"
"I'm not to use magic while in your house, Mrs. Granger."
She waved a half-filled glass, sloshing a bit more of the amber liquid onto her robe. "Oh, but I don't mind! After all, it's not like I'm a Muggle whatsit. My daughter's a witch, so there must be some of that magic in me as well."
"Your daughter is a Muggle-born, Mrs. Granger. Her magic is not inherited, but most likely due to a genetic mutation."
He used terms of science, presuming those to be the right sort of words for her to understand. He presumed incorrectly. It appeared the bottle of champagne was not Charlotte's first taste of alcohol that night.
"A genetic mutation? Ridiculous. Hermione's as normal as they come, minus that magic bit. And there's nothing special in that. After all, there are loads of you magic folk just here in the UK. You're making it sound as if my daughter's unique or the other!"
He did not reply and found an occupation for his tightening fists in the folding of parchment. The ink would have already dried, hopefully. The woman continued, tracking back to where she left off.
"Anyway Severus, here's your glass. Let's not discuss my children. Let's discuss something far more interesting . . . like yourself. Do tell me about these fascinating concoctions you make! They do sound so fascinating . . . er, what do you call them again?"
"Potions." The curtness was no longer from reflexive practise but rather because he was tiring of the woman and her need for socializing. He was not in her house to play husband substitute for the widow; he was here for her protection, and he supposed, his as well. There really was nothing like hiding something in plain sight. Stupidity is never considered when scrying out the opposition's schemes.
Charlotte gave up trying to tempt him with the champagne and returned to her love seat, bottle still grasped.
"Right, potions; it's such a scintillating term. Makes me think of Rasputin with his hooks and poisons, brewing about and chanting. Do you chant as well?"
He felt the insult despite knowing the woman was too ignorant to have meant it. He remembered the admonition from days earlier and disagreed with the girl's words. Charlotte Granger might not know any better, but she should at least know to keep her mouth shut.
"No. One does not chant when making a potion. It relies on the latent magic of its brewer."
"Ooh, that does sound exciting! Perhaps you'll let me watch in when you brew next?" She sipped from her third glass, the bottle nearing half empty, and gazed at him expectantly.
"As magic use is involved, I cannot."
She extended her lower lip in an attempt to pout. "I really don't understand this need for such secrecy. It's not as if the neighbors are going to come barreling in any second for a quick look-see about the house."
He finished folding the parchments and took to the blotter, finding reason to turn it over in his hands and keep his eyes fixed there rather than at the increasingly inebriated woman sprawled slovenly on the love seat.
"Has not your daughter apprised you of the . . . situation?"
Charlotte mumbled something as she took an unhealthy gulp from her glass. "A lord thingy, death diners or the other- a bunch of rubbish. Hermione's explained it to me again and again, but if it's really all that serious, why not call up the Yard? They'll round up the trouble in no time. She makes out as if this maniac's some sort of Hitler incarnate who traded in his Charlie Chaplin attire for a cape and mask."
The blotter slipped from his hands and he stood abruptly. "If you'll excuse me, it's grown late."
"Oh wait up a stitch, Severus! Don't run away just yet- I have a. . . a. . . confession to make."
He looked down to the hand on his arm with its perfectly manicured finger nails and white line of a formerly worn wedding ring. The bottle fell from her loose grip, the little left in it spilling out onto the carpet. As the stain spread, she spoke again.
"You see, Robert and I were married for such an awfully long time, and to be honest, we weren't too happy these past years. Of course I miss him, but I'm the sort of woman who prefers her men to have a bit of . . . mystery, if you understand. And you, Severus, are so very mysterious."
She pitched forward clumsily, and he made no move to catch her. She landed with a dull thud and giggled as she stared up at him.
"You've drunk too much of that champagne, Mrs. Granger. I'm certain come morning you will have regretted your words, and so I'll make no mention of them-"
Charlotte giggled again from her sprawl on the floor. "You're so very proper and formal. It's delightful really. Give me a hand up, will you Severus?"
A small gasp brought his attention to the study's door, and there the girl stood, dressed in a long sleeveless blue nightgown. Her feet strode forward past him, and those, like her pale arms, were bare and naked to his eyes.
"Mother, you promised! You promised me you wouldn't do this." The scolding was hissed as the girl struggled to right her mother to her feet.
"Oh hullo Hermione, you darling little goody-goody. A bit of alcohol between adults is nothing to make a fuss about. Go right on back to bed and Severus and I will finish up with our, ah, conversation. Yes, our conversation."
The girl's back stiffened but still she did not turn to face him. The irritation and annoyance at her mother foisted itself back into his breast, and he remembered the girl's request.
"I'll have a word with you, Miss Granger, once you've finished cleaning up your mother."
She turned then, brown eyes alarmed and slightly ashamed, but did not reply even as he re-seated himself at the desk. He watched as she efficiently picked up the spilled bottle and guided her mother out from the study and into the hall. She disappeared only to return with a sponge and bottle of cleaner.
She knelt to the stain and began to spray, talking as she went. "I'm sorry Professor, about my mother. She hasn't been herself since my father passed away last November."
The faint blush on her cheeks made him question how much she overhead of her mother's 'confession.' The rouge stain streaked across her cheeks made her throat appear so much the more white and her arms but frail lines of porcelain. She melted beneath her night gown, and if not for the dazzling of red dashed across her feet, he might think her still a child.
But a child did not cause what she did.
"Your mother seemed unaware of the factors leading to my stay in your home."
She lifted her shoulders from their lean toward the carpet and frowned in his direction. "I don't think she'll ever take it seriously. Professor Dumbledore even spoke with her, but my mother seems to think the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort are all part of a strange cult."
The urge to succumb to paranoia was immediate as it always was when the Dark Lord's name was used so freely and irresponsibly. The fear was not in the name, but in the memory of what the man with the name did. Much like the childhood nightmare of repeating 'Bloody Mary' at midnight before a mirror three times, the horror of it came from the half belief that the murderer might just appear.
That the Dark Lord was a powerful wizard and capable of simply 'appearing' did nothing to assuage his paranoia. When he spoke again, it was to be rid of her and her falsely intimate attire. Trusting and naive to be around him dressed in so little- and frightening that it affected him in the same way the whorish scarlet of her toes did.
"Your mother has entertained me enough for one night, and I do not require a second act, so if you will, Miss Granger, it would be best that you return to whatever scrap of paper you were memorizing."
Her mouth parted in a muted gasp of hurt and mixed indignation. Whether she wished to counter the assumption that she was constantly buried in a book or defend her mother, he did not know, nor did he care. He wanted only for her to leave and give the air time to cool and rest. The damp heat that swarmed his eyes and blanketed his senses at her nearness, even when she knelt before him almost as if cowering, was a volatile mixture.
Like any dangerous potion, he cared not to tempt its thickening.
She retrieved the sponge and cleaner and padded out from the room, her face hidden from his eyes by a curtain of unkempt hair, and he unfolded his parchment. His normally controlled hands gripped the quill too tightly, wrote unevenly, and his eyes-
His eyes, the traitorous organs, they watched the doorway, willing and wanting for her return.
It was dinner again, and through the walls of the Granger home hummed the faint bass of a neighbor's party. Salad was exchanged for a chilled cucumber soup, its sickly green killing all chance for his appetite that evening. Or so he told himself.
Because of course it was the soup and not the empty chair to his right that pinched his stomach into a tight bundle of knots.
"Are you certain that it's appropriate for your daughter to be unchaperoned?" The words cut their way into Charlotte's unceasing chatter like a razor across open flesh. And much like the blood that would flow from such a wound, the woman responded in kind.
"I'm certain that as Hermione's mother, I know best," she snapped back forcefully with a jab of her spoon in the air. Her eyes pierced him, calculating in the dimmed light. "Are you this protective of all your students, Severus? Or is my Hermione a special case?"
Mentally he reared back from the insinuation, feeling too much truth in the idea and instinctively loathing himself for it. Outwardly, he showed no reaction. "My purpose in your house this summer is to protect you and your daughters, Mrs. Granger. I only ask this to gauge whether or not my presence is necessary."
"If she's not back by eleven, then you can go break down every door over there. Although I imagine your sort of trouble and my sort of trouble are two very different things." Charlotte's spoon dipped back down toward her soup, her eyes hidden momentarily. "She is a healthy sixteen-year-old girl after all. Surely you remember how it was when you were that age."
Unbidden the very thing he hadn't thought of appeared before his eyes. Her arms bare once more, the flesh of her stomach as pale and untouched by sunlight as the skin the filled her feet and lined her cheeks. Her wide mouth, open and expectant; and that hair without neatness or order swept down over her eyes and across her breasts. In a blink the picture formed and in another, it vanished.
"You appear remarkably tolerant, Mrs. Granger."
She ladled another serving onto her youngest daughter's plate. "Daughters grow resentful if they're not allowed to do what their mothers do, Severus. My grandmother kept my mother locked up all during her teenage years; I was given freedom. My mother hated my grandmother until the day she died, while I have a rather great affection for my mother. The equation fits, don't you agree?"
Discomfited, he only nodded and finished the last of his soup, declining the offer of another helping. Dessert followed the main course: fresh fruit doused generously in a peach schnapps. He tasted the alcohol, tangy and rich, and hoped that there would not be another presentation of a drunk Charlotte Granger thrown over him tonight.
His eyes reached for the clock that stood on a shelf near the doorway: seven o'clock it read and the chime soon sounded. Four hours left then; he could wait. Or so he thought.
The tiny creature that made up the third Granger female retreated immediately after clearing the table. Her mother, in a similar hurry, grabbed her purse and car keys and called out something about bridge night at the woman's club. He was left to himself, the ticking of the three clocks he'd gathered beating in sync with his pulse.
Parchment waited him in the study, and so he bent to finish another missive on proposed third year study plans for the upcoming fall semester. He had found a new text to use for the lower forms, and so another letter was written describing that. He reached to dip his quill to start a third letter, perhaps to his uncle in Burma, when he glanced again to one of the clocks.
He was familiar with television. While he neither grew up with it nor currently lived with it, he was nevertheless aware of its function. There was little novelty for him though to sit and watch a horror film depicting disguised murderers stalking and stabbing defenseless girls, and irritatingly, the few channels seemed to all be in agreement on their content. He flicked through another set of shows before finally clicking it off.
The book detailed Krushmann's Theorem which stated that the potency of a potion was entirely dependent on the maker's concentration and latent magic casting. Krushmann's ideas disagreed entirely with most other potions experts of his day, the majority of them believing a potion was dependent on the ingredients. The man was laughed at and ridiculed until his abrupt suicide in 1927. Two years later, a first year student attending one of Oxford's summer seminars stumbled upon a new particle array that only appeared when using latent magic, primarily in potions. A decade later and Krushmann was finally given his ado.
Krushmann was discarded, television rejected, and letters finished. The dulled bass from one house over seemed to rise in volume, resounding in the back of his head as a beating, a pounding mallet of rhythm and hated expectancy. Without distraction to keep his thoughts on other things, pictures of all that could be occurring in that cacophony of teenage ritual played on through his mental landscape. The heady throb of mindless beat, steady and pulsing, pitching upward and then crashing in a deafening roar.
The vision appeared once more, coupled with motion and blazing technicolor. Endless pale skin, pliable and bruisable, unstained and untouched but for that stretch of red. The red was a stain, a stain that could spread until her skin was no longer the white of thick walls and unvisited grounds, but a brilliant crimson. On her cheeks, her throat, spilling from her mouth-
The door shut in a whisper, the sound barely heard yet echoing violently for his waiting ears. His eyes caught the clock: eleven thirty-eight.
He waited until her footfalls reached past the study before flying up at her, grabbing one of her naked arms and feeling that his fingers would leave their imprint on the pale flesh.
"You are late, Miss Granger."
She stared up at him, hair loose and unkempt in a perfection of disarray his imagination couldn't have ever dreamt up. Her lips parted, lips painted a blazing, stinging red. It was too much like the vision.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I hadn't realized you were waiting up-"
"What were you doing there? What was so vital that you should throw aside your mother's instructions?"
Her eyes grew, alarm stretching the brown irises into a distortion of fear and discomfort. He felt his hand tightening over her arm, memorizing the soft feel of the skin against his hard palm, memorizing the innate weakness of the limb within his grasp. The strength he felt was overpowering. He could do anything to her, and she would succumb. Her intelligence was no defense. In this moment, this second of time caught in a dimly lit hallway, there was but one truth: she was his.
"I didn't bring my watch, sir, so I lost track of time."
He lowered his face to her neck, breathed in the downy musk of her scent, and recoiled. The tang that was hers alone, a warm undertone of the soaps she used and the ink she used and the sheets she slept in- putrefied by the stench of another. It was all over her, the stale odor of another's unwashed body, sweat-mired and teaming with hormones. It coated her. Another male.
She cried out and wrenched free her arm. Three tiny indentations of blood seeped out from that bare skin, the stains mirrored on the tips of fingers. The blood gave him no shame; no, the shame came from the intense want that it proffered.
"Don't you dare touch me!"
His hand, unsolicited, had risen to grasp at her again, his fingers craving the delicate feel of her between their own hard pads of skin. He glowered down at her, daring her to finish that thought with a suggestion he knew as true, but she could never prove.
"You have no right." She massaged the bruised flesh with her free hand. The other held her thinly strapped shoes. Unbidden, his eyes found those ten marks of red, exposed entirely to his viewing.
"I am not playing the part of scolding mother, Miss Granger. I am here this summer to prevent a repeat of the Brocklehursts. That you would wish to flout this protection offered you to join in the frivolities of a party, only shows the level of your arrogance."
He watched as her ire slipped away and shame drenched her cheeks in a heavy rouge. She wilted before him, and he witnessed as the child- pretensions: foolish pretentious posturing!- bowed her head, contrition remaking her in entirety.
"I apologize, Professor, for having been so thoughtless. You're right, of course. I shouldn't have accepted the invitation in the first place."
She still rubbed her arm, and in the dimness of the hall, he saw the slight stain of the blood on her fingertips. He could feel her nearness now, having now felt her skin with his own. It was memorized, that brief touch, and his mind caught on the details of it.
"Is my mother home?"
And silence once more, yet she did not leave. She stayed before him, waiting, and for a brief second, he thought she knew. To have stayed with him in the darkness of the hallway, alone, utterly, completely alone, and knowing the strength his hands alone held. Oh yes, alone, alone- she was with him. Alone. His reasons, and hers; he knew them to be opposites. For he could see it now, in her calmer eyes, in the tired weaving of her hand at the base of her neck. She stayed because she trusted, and he knew that she knew naught. Hellish, damning, insufferable ignorance-
"Keep in mind your situation, Miss Granger, in the future, and behave appropriately."
She bowed her head and her dangling shoes knocked gently against her thigh. She was dressed in white, a white slip of a dress that hung loosely across her hips and rested sheer on her shoulders. It was the dress a child wears when attending Easter dinner, and he disliked her for it. Disliked her and yet his fingers remembered the supple fullness of her skin on his own, and the dress could be no other. Its wrongness made it right in the dimness of his vision.
"Good night, sir. I'm sorry again for having kept you up."
She left, and he watched, his hands grasping nothingness of air and remembering. Remembering and creating.
The lawn was unremarkable, a brief piece of suburban mundanity that held nothing of originality or difference from its many neighbors. The mother bent in the soil, pruning sheers brandished, and her roses the victim. The girl, for that was all that she was, was stretched out, legs bared to the sun and to his eyes, near the edge of the pool. The chaise lounge that cushioned her muttered rubbery obscenities with each of her movements, the largest of which entailed the turning of a page. Her eyes were guarded, hidden beneath the black ovals of a pair of sunglasses. She was dressed as youthfully as ever, and undeniably, his stomach coiled at the plaid of her shirt and the brevity of her denim shorts.
She acted as if he were not to notice, and there in was the madness of it. She taunted, and he felt the taunt, the cruel mockery of his gender with each slight movement of her leg against the chair, of her sockless feet against the grass beneath her. She read unobtrusively, oblivious, and the heat only darkened further. It swarmed upward and ground into his mind like a dying man's last words. Could not, would not be forgotten. Could not, would not become slightened memory. She was paved in his mind in solid concrete, and he was damned if he did not wish to touch the brittle stone and sand it to gloss.
His window was closable. There were shutters he could draw and blacken out the yard's viewing. He could leave the room for the front study, but that was on the first floor and far too close for his liking. To have something within reach made it all the more graspable. To be separated by distance gave solace. He could claim his clemency from his windowed room, and gaze down with the same foddering emotion that the bound all have.
Was he mad? It was probable. He was a man, first and foremost. Magnanimous man of malevolent mein. Neolithic nescience of neptunian nocturnes. Opulent orator of odious oddments. Palaving ponderer of portentous pantomime. Quixotic quagmire of quaking qualms. And she, the girl, turned yet another page.
He had stolen the bottle a week earlier. He found it on her dresser, by a wooden hand brush and lotion smelling of vanilla. He took it and drained it without regret down the sink. He scrubbed the bottle free of any of its former contents, and now took interest in watching as the color faded from her toes. Nearly half gone, and by the end of summer, surely then it would have vanished and so would his thoughts. Time, in its grace giving brevity, would reach the end of this stage, and he'd be freed from the reflexive heat that pooled, that coiled, that gathered and stirred and festered- festering, stirring, gathering, coiling, pooling heat that kept him enslaved.
Oh but he was a mockery of his self. To have been unhinged by the simplicity of disconnection: a startlement of color on the naked toes of a child he near reared for six years. Was there to be some sign of his depravity from youth? Had he glimpsed in that oedipal training of all male youths, his mother with such color on her skin? Had he tucked that first introduction to sex and lust in his ignorant mind, leaving it to be birthed in this sunshine present? Had he done the things a man does when a boy to bring him to such an end?
The mother mis-cut. The half budded rose fell, the yellow-pinked petals fettering in the wake. A curse was yelled, and the girl turned another page, blind and deaf to what went on around her.
What did he know of her then? Surely that which he knew could overcome this abhorrence of self and soul. She was quick to recite. Quick to beg praise. Quick to plead recognition. Quick, ever so quick. She had biased scruples. Free the house-elves, but feed the Umbridge to the centaurs. She clung to friendship. She-
But it mattered little. The less he knew, the less detail to her as a person, the less he could find to...to further propagate his abnormality. Still though, to the window he crept, carefully kept hidden from the gazes below. He stole sight through the parted white gauze and watched, mesmerized as her hand rose to remove those glasses from her eyes. He watched as she lifted her hair from the smooth line of her neck and her lips parted to call some insignificant to her mother. Her feet steadied on the grass, and she stood. Step, step, step. Mark finished page. Open door. And now-
He turned slowly, masking his features and putting a firm grasp on the window sill, anchoring him from movement.
"Yes, Miss Granger."
She twisted her hair, the unmanageable mess, in the palm of her hand, holding it up off her throat. Her eyes, still dazzled by the sunlight of the yard stirred brown unfocused irises as she stared at him. "Professor, may I go to 12- that is, the Headquarters?"
Sanctuary, sanctuary, the bells rang out in his suddenly mirthful mind. His clemency at last, and it was here in his grasp. She would leave, be gone, and he'd finish these last weeks free from this spoiling wound. She would be gone from his sight; he'd no longer hear the soft pad her bare feet on the carpet; he'd no longer smell that blistering mix of soap and page. He would be free. Free from the spell of summer and her false intimacy. Free from it.
"It is not possible."
Her lips turned in disappointment, and his chest throbbed. Damnable weakness.
It eclipsed, as it should, the night before he left. He refused dinner, locked himself in the room decorated in white lace, and watched as time impossibly slowed. At five the next morning, he would be freed from whatever strange spell had woven itself into his psyche. He- along with the girl- would return to the rightful path of things, to a habitat where their respective niches were so set in stone, he would see nothing more than another head clothed in robes. Her hair would lose the color he found in it now. Her eyes would lose the fine detail his own gaze so quickly noticed; they would return to the unnoticed, the unthought of.
It all would return to what it was, what it should be, what it never really was.
The window was drawn that night, opened to the strong evening winds that promised a late night thunderstorm. He sniffed at the air: the static humidity tasted languid in his nostrils. The darkened landscape of the back lawn stretched without moonlight, stripped into uneven margins by the criss-cross of a clothes line. His eyes clenched on the checkered shirt worn two days prior, chastely buttoned, and resembling a youthfulness he despised with strength. Beside it rested a modest brown skirt, worn a week before. She wore it the day he escorted them to the park; the mother, the small creature she claimed to be a daughter, and her, an odd accessory added to the bridge of her nose in the shape of spectacles.
She looked older with them; and he balked away from the thought with an innate sense of self preservation. But she walked along, beside him, her bare arms grazing his clothed ones, and he willed himself stationary by duty alone. His mind, mad thing that it was for the past summered weeks, accused irrationally of purposeful provocation. When Charlotte suddenly spoke about returning for an early dinner, equal parts gratitude and resentment rose from his breast. He remembered still though, the way her hand pressed against his elbow but for a brief second, a natural gesture requesting for a moment's pause. She bent to drink from one of the park's fountains, and he felt her hand still.
He felt it even now, shadowed by the night's window. It maddened him, angered him, shamed him, and again, he thought it all insanity. Severus Snape, undone by a brief moment's false intimacy. How the mighty powers who ruled his life would laugh, if they ever laughed. To survive megalomania, and then fall prey to the simplicities of a child.
A knock and-
It was her, of course. And why wouldn't it be? Of all the creatures sweet Lucifer thought to torment him with, why not the closest? He trapped his eyes on the checkered shirt as it swayed a story below, and ignored her as she neared.
"Sir, I'm sorry to bother you, only..." A brief pause and his eyes closed unwillingly. Her reflection was shown against the window's panes, and the wind stirred. The storm was nearing. "Only, we return to Hogwarts tomorrow, and I know that things will be different there."
Again, he chose silence, the coward's way by most, the wise man's path by him. The reflection showed a dipping of her head, a curving of her lips, and a plaintive turn of her eyes.
"I know that you do not like me." Her eyes shaded downward, and he watched, his gaze guarded. "I also know that you usually spend your summers on research. I wanted then, to thank you for giving that up to keep my family safe."
Predictably so, he concluded; ever so predictably came her gratitude. He could blame it on house designation or something equally trite, however, he preferred to lay it at her feet alone. A strange peculiarity of environment, parentage, self-determination, and knowledge made her say such things. She dreamt up wild schemes, grandiose gestures of retribution and redemption, and in such dreams he saw the child who built castles and dragons, and the woman who tore down those glass towers and carried a dragon hide in her purse. The two images superimposed, a swift layering that flashed over his vision and coated her reflection in a hazy hue.
She moved, her braided hair stiff with the gesture. His hand rose unfettered, and he forced it to grasp the open window sill.
"That was all, Professor. I'll leave you-" Lightening interrupted her, and in a flash of seeming impulse she pressed past his arm through the open window, her cheek within reach of his own. He breathed slowly, relishing in a hateful way that the air he breathed was shared with her own. Lightening split across the dark night sky again, and her lips parted to gasp with appreciation.
"A thunderstorm- how we need the rain. Mr. Patterson's garden will be thankful for this."
He had yet to speak, and he was loathe to break that resolve. The spell seemed easily managed when speech was left to her alone. He could sit by this window, the fresh scent that was hers so very near, and listen as she chattered in a way she would never again- not to him, not with him.
"I was never frightened by them as a girl. I used to think them great parties up in heaven, with the angels and saints playing a raucous game of billiards. When I learned what the storms really were, they only became all the more magical. Science is brilliant, really- more so than magic in some ways, I think."
Her chin came to rest on her palms, elbows braced hard on the wooden sill. His fingers stretched from their plied stay next to her, imperceptibly moving closer so that when she next shifted, he could once again feel the gentle warmth of her flesh on his own. The thunder finally sounded, and her elbow edged against his fingertips.
"I suppose it's because with science, there can be understanding. Magic is, well, magical. It's mysterious, alluring, and mystifying- but there's nothing to pinpoint down and call concrete. That's why I like potions so much, you know. It has a touch of the scientific to it."
Her arm had yet to move away, and slowly, he turned his hand so that his fingers splayed directly across the slightly wrinkled skin of her elbow, the ridged lines of it fitting perfectly against the calloused coarseness of his fingertips. The storm reminded the night sky of its presence with another resounding flash and cackle.
She moved at last, but only to be closer, her hands falling away from her throat to his left forearm, the purposefulness of her motion surprising him beyond action and beyond retort. The burnt flesh hidden beneath the dark sleeves that coated his arms rebelled against the touch, and angrily his eyes turned that heat against her. She pressed more firmly.
"I think you're very brave, sir. Especially now."
She left him then, whatever courage she had summoned finally fleeing from her, and leaving him once again alone with the wind and the incumbent storm. In a flurry of incomprehensible motion, he tore at the cuff of his sleeve, ripping the cloth up until his arm was bare to his eyes. The fury leaving him, he slowly turned his arm, his gaze prepared for the sight that regularly greeted him: a black pictorial of hate and foolishness. His eyes saw it from memory alone, and when the lightning flashed three seconds later, he recognized his arm for what it should be- naked of any mark or blemish.
He stared, worn weak by the realization that her touch had banished the vile thing beneath his skin once more. It would surface again- the scar never really ever left; but it was gone for now. A rhythmic hum reached his ears as another wave of thunder echoed: the rain had finally reached the house and its yard. The checkered shirt from below sagged under its new, rain-filled weight, and absently, he let his arm stretch out into the soft wetness.
Like a gentle caress, so soft as to be painful, the rain kissed his bare forearm. It felt excruciatingly sweet, and inexplicably, he no longer wished for morning; he wished for night, this night, to last ever so infinitely.
He watched as Charlotte kissed her eldest daughter good-bye, and the small creature clung to her sister in tearful abandon. He watched and made no farewells of his own. Charlotte was a beast well rid of, and the other one- he truthfully never thought of her. His eyes took an especially greed-ful care to capture what was left of his time before normality. Normality would return things to their rightful course; abnormality was rapidly reaching its end.
She turned to him then, confident smile in place, and a tilt to her head that promised of determination and something more fine. She outstretched her hand in a gesture the world over knew well. He took her hand loosely and allowed her the pleasure of the shake. Her smile broadened.
"I meant it, Professor. Thank you, again."
His lips drew back as normality required; abnormality's pull of silence or diffident manipulation was giving way as its strength ebbed into nonexistence. The sneer was at its usual force.
"Please keep your girlish sentiments under handle, Miss Granger. I'll remind you that I have far better things to do than listen to you prattle on about nonsense."
She wilted beneath his words, and her hand found a better place in the pocket of her jacket. Her chin gave a slight nod, and she waved once more to her mother and sister. She grabbed the cart that held her trunk and carrier, the orange beast she carried around growling ridiculously from its cage. She mustered up yet another smile, and he grimaced as per cue.
"Then, good-bye, Professor Snape. I'll see you at Hogwarts."
He said nothing in return and stood deathly still as she pushed her cart up toward the platform numbers. The strained voices of greetings being called echoed down from her wake, and reflexively, his hand went to the clean stretch of skin on his left forearm. When he saw the telltale back of her unruly hair disappear into the proper platform, he pivoted stiffly from the crowds. Charlotte Grange stared after him, disappointment gapping through her pouting lips; he took some small pleasure in that. It was the only pleasure he felt, despite having thought so desperately otherwise.
Resolutely, he thought of other things. The summer was but an aberration- an aberration triggered by the misuse of color. And now fall had arrived- fall with its predictability. Fall had arrived; and the sun does not rule as brightly as it does in the summer, color loses its vibrancy, and little girls become what they always were- children without promise of otherwise. Fall had arrived, and with it, normality.
The train whistled, and he turned. Involuntarily, his lips parted in cliched abandon.
"Farewell to you as well, Miss Granger."
He was a fool, a damnable fool.
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