Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to JK.
A/N: It occurred to me, rather belatedly, that this should have been connected with the original two pieces from the get-go. I'm fixing that now; a huge thanks to all of the original readers and reviewers. You are, as always, the best.
a full circle
a full circle
He lifted his gaze from the parchments that decorated his desk and proffered a frown. "Headmaster."
Dumbledore paused by a bookcase, his attention seemingly focused on its contents, but those who knew, knew better. "Headmaster?"
"We need you for another task, at the end of this year. It'll only be for the-"
"Who?" he interrupted.
Dumbledore continued, unhindered. "From the end of term until mid August most likely, although, it may drag up to the new year. I've arranged for a small cottage, it will have plenty of space-"
"Who?" he repeated, already knowing the answer, already dreading it- and still, anticipating it. Longing for it. "Who?"
He breathed deeply; he wouldn't. Wouldn't.
"Hermione Granger and Harry Potter."
He exhaled. Never. Not a chance-
But then: "Yes, Headmaster."
Cottage was the noun, and small the adjective. Abject misery followed his observation, and he struggled for composure. This was but a last step. All should have ended: protective details, fidelis-protected shelters, wands carried at attention- all should have ended during the spring, when all had ended. Promised fortunes, destined battles; they met and it ended.
Except for this.
"Professor, how far does the protection carry?" she asked him, her hands gesturing to the empty field that surrounded the cottage.
"To the trees."
She closed her eyes and he heard the sound of her exhalation. "This won't be too bad then. Plenty of room to roam; we might hardly see each other the whole summer."
He turned away from her. "If fortune allows it."
"Hermione! Come here." The girl bounded after the call, and he felt the first flicker of warmth- a sensation he had thought long since tempered and bound. He fell against the door frame, unable to turn his eyes away and unable to stem the envy from watching Potter touch her shoulder so easily and she return the touch so generously. Her laughter carried to him with the scent of rosemary; the field was littered with it.
He had survived the two years by memory loss- memory encapsulated and stored away, hidden under a bed or packed behind a skeleton in the closet. He survived and existed in the mental void of Student and Teacher, no names, no identities. There was the grey of one and the darker grey of the other. Eyes and ears and noses and mouths, and he survived by thinking of no specific, of no marker that might show a difference from one to another. He survived, and he hated her for it.
The afternoon in November, a question she had claimed needed explanation after class. The students left too quickly, no Ravenclaw lingering to gain pasty points, no Hufflepuff clumsily stowing away a potions kit- there was only her, with her quill and parchment, asking- no, demanding that he provide her with attention.
"See, Professor, I was curious about this part- yes, this part here." A point with her finger, a gesture with her hand, and he survived by banishing all notice of it. Not the ink stain on the thumb. Not the fallen lash on the check. Not the patch of dust on the throat. He was immune, an island, and never, not once, for all that time, a man of any cause or form.
"Go on. I'm busy and you have books for your questions." Or another excuse to avoid her nearness, her approach. "I don't have the desire to play mother to your whining." He relished the pained expressions his words caused her; he bathed in the hurt that skipped through her eyes when he snapped, viciously and pointedly at her each and every attempt. It was just, he assured himself, that she should feel pain. It was right, he convinced himself, that she should be punished.
Because she lived, and he only survived.
And now, he was here, nearer to her than before, and there were no restrictions. No social borders or blocks, nothing that should prevent him from lounging in the stirrings she inspired- the intemperate coil in his breast that tensed even as he watched her play and run, her actions still that of a child. There was no reason not to let himself simply be. No reason to-
He hated the word and turned away, ignoring her words. She caught up to him on the stairwell. "Professor," she panted. "Harry found an old garden plot. Do you think we could get Remus to bring up some seeds when he comes later on?"
She took the jerk of his jaw as an affirmative and left him with a laugh. He continued up the stair; there was no reason except one. A window gave a glimpse of her, still running, hair unkempt. There was no reason except that it was her.
Hermione hummed as she worked, enjoying the feel of the soil beneath her hands. Hours had been effortlessly lost that morning through the breaking of the grass patched ground. Harry worked beside her, his expression serious, and the two of them silent in the travail. She felt good, for the first time in a long while. She felt human again and she felt free, despite being bound for another summer. She knew they were only worried; threats still came in against Harry and against her.
Informants supplied stories of failed plots, dreams of kidnapping, and Hermione was happy to get away from that constant worry. Even if it was a false security, she could pretend that the war was really over and she was simply spending a summer with her dearest friend. A chaperoned summer. She wiped at her forehead with her wrist and glanced over her shoulder toward the cottage. The professor kept to his rooms and to the study, and she couldn't help but feel déjà vu over the whole affair. It reminded her of that summer and the strangeness then.
Her overly precocious mind had once hazarded a guess behind the strangeness, once upon a time. But those thoughts had been overpowered by two years of verbal abuse and dislike. There was no doubt in her mind that her professor felt nothing but loathing for her. "Hermione?"
"Hm?" She tossed a rock into a growing pile of them to her left.
"Why do you think Ron didn't come with us?" Despite the light tones to his voice, she could sense his disquiet. She closed her eyes and considered the question.
"I would think it has to do with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley; Ron really didn't start getting better until two weeks ago. They probably wanted to keep him close to home until he was fully better."
He nodded, apparently reassured. "Then why did Dumbledore choose Snape to be our guardian? We would have been fine on our own."
This question she wasn't as prepared for. "That one I'm not too sure on, but I have a theory." She stood up briefly, stretching her legs from their crouch. "I think we may be here for much the same purpose he is. Um. . .not so much that he's protecting us, but that we're protecting him. That sort of thing."
"It's been two years; he didn't even participate in the end." Harry's spade tore violently into the ground, the action belying his anger. "What does he need protection for?"
She sighed and knelt back down. "He was the one who gave up all their names; he was the one who testified before the Wizengamot that Riddle had come back. It's probably still good old fashioned revenge."
"And about that," she added a moment later. "Why are you still so angry at him? If anyone should be mad, it should be me. Somewhere along the way, he traded you in for me as most hated."
"That's why I'm angry. You've never been anything other than polite with him and he treats you terribly." Harry lifted his gaze from the ground, his eyes curious. "It started after that summer he spent at your house. I've always wondered: Did something happen?"
Hermione sighed. "I don't know. Maybe. My mum got drunk one night and made a pass at him. That would be a bit obsessive, though, don't you think? To still hold that against me two years later?"
"I still hate him, and it's been seven years."
"Harry," she said, her voice reproaching. "You don't hate him."
Harry didn't respond, and she left it at that.
"Come on, eat your beans," Hermione reminded teasingly. "Don't want you to waste away because of my cooking."
Harry took a bite pointedly. "Your cooking is fine; I just don't like green beans."
"Fine, fine. I'll eat them. Take the rest of my chicken." She quickly did the trade, scooping off his beans and letting him stab the remainder of her chicken breast.
Harry laughed. "Compromising even when it comes to food." He made quick work of the chicken, plainly enjoying each bite. "I like meat; you can feel free to hoard all the vegetables in the future."
Hermione pulled a face and pushed away her finished plate with an affectionate sigh. "You're incorrigible."
She stopped him from rising as she began to clear the table. Satisfied, he settled into his chair comfortably. "You're a star, you know that, Hermione? A real star."
She paused from her clean-up, an eyebrow quirked. "Really? You just notice this?"
His mouth twitched. "You know what I mean. Staying with me. I know Dumbledore gave you the option of going to Australia with your mother and sister." She shrugged off his words, turning to the kitchen sink and letting the warm water fill. "Thanks, really. Thanks."
She dried her hands on her t-shirt and leaned over to drop a small kiss on his forehead. "You're welcome, but I have to be honest. You're the one doing me the favor. It's bad of me deserting Jamie to a summer with Mum abroad, but lord knows, I'd take Professor Snape and this cottage any day over that."
Harry stood up from his chair and brushed a few stray crumbs from his jeans. He gestured to his broom in the corner. "I'm going to head out for a bit. Want to get in a few drills before the light goes."
She nodded and turned her attention back to the dishes. She had taken to making the evening meals since their arrival, a decision entirely hers. Harry was by far the better cook, unsurprisingly. He had probably been forced into cook detail with his relatives for years. But she liked it, the routine of it. The kitchen was stocked with several recipe books, and she wanted to make a point of trying a different thing every evening. It surprised her, this domestic part of herself. Perhaps it was her talents in academia that had led her to believe that housewifery would be something she would fail in.
Perhaps she was merely guilty to having fallen prey to years of being labeled unfeminine and lacking in womanly abilities.
She even took a quiet enjoyment in the clean-up afterwards. She set aside her wand; ordinarily it would only take a quick movement of her wrist and the entire affair would be finished. It was like when she worked in the garden. She liked the physicality of it. Her hands and shoulders hunched, her fingers tired and lower back sore. She relished it-
Snape's entrance surprised her into dropping her grasped plate, and with a small cry, she watched as it smashed into the sink, cracking and then breaking apart into slivers of enamel. "You surprised me, Professor," she said as she picked up the pieces, setting them aside on the counter.
"If you'll allow me?" he said by way of apology, lifting his wand toward the broken remains of the plate.
"Actually, I prefer if you didn't. I'll save the pieces." She finally turned to face him.
He was dressed in evening casual, or so that's what Hermione's mind decided to label his clothing: a dark shade of khaki slacks, a collared shirt, and some sort of sweater creation, a myriad of interwoven blues. Probably wool. He wore slippers, and the oddness of it struck her as eerily heart-warming. His right hand held a pair of spectacles that were slowly being put away into a pocket, and with this motion, she realized she was staring.
"Was there something you need, sir?" she asked, turning back to her dishes.
"I seem to have worked my way past your dinner hour." Snape's words landed uncomfortably on her ears, even as he continued in what must have been an awkward attempt at asking for a meal. She smiled to herself and dried her hands.
"I did knock earlier; you must have been very involved indeed."
"I was doing some research," Snape explained stiffly.
"Of course." She began to fill one of the cleaned plates with leftovers from the dinner. Mindful of Snape's constantly thinned state, she made sure to pile on a generous portions of the chicken, potatoes, and beans that made up the meal. "Caldero," she said, warming the plate instantly. "Here you are, sir."
She handed him the plate on a tray, much expecting that he would disappear back up to the second floor, much like he had done every night before. He surprised her, however, by taking a seat at the still cluttered table. Snape meticulously cut into the tender breast, dipping the meat into the gravy before it finished its journey in his mouth. Another oddity, she decided as she turned back to the task of straightening the kitchen. Another oddity to add onto the list containing: short-haired Snape, glasses-wearing Snape, robe-less Snape, and now, eating Snape. An enjoying-his-food Snape. Food that Hermione had prepared. Surely, he must not realize it then, otherwise there would have been the usual commentary that came on any endeavor she undertook.
She remembered how he had fought against her sixth year project: an anthology of interviews taken of survivors of Voldemort's pogrom-like killings during the first war. He fought against her doing the interviews, against her leaving the castle to gather the proper invoices, even against her compiling the transcripts. He voted against her entry in the Order, and she imagined he had probably tried to argue for her incompetence for fighting in the final battle. That he had failed in his measures against her made little difference. She remembered them all.
It made her back stiffen to feel the glare of his eyes as she cleaned and straightened. His gaze centered on her face as she gathered the platters from the table, and she felt his shudder of revulsion when she brushed against his shoulder while passing. The judgment being passed was clearly evident, and she longed to break the silence with an indictment or two of her own. She was no longer his student; she could now speak to him as one adult to another. She could think of a few things to say, a few faults that he bore.
"Why do you not use your wand?"
Hermione paused near the counter, a container in her hands for the left over potatoes. "I like the ritual. Cleaning up by hand has a soothing effect on me," she said at last, wondering at his asking the question.
"I was referring to the plate. Why do you not repair it?" Now Snape chose to keep his eyes elsewhere, and indeed, they were focused on the broken ceramic pieces piled neatly on the counter. She picked up a sliver and held in it in her palm, explaining as she ran a finger over the chipped groove.
"It's for a table top. My dad and I started it the summer before I left for Hogwarts the first time. Whenever a plate or cup or whichever is broken, we put the pieces together on the table. It's a mosaic of sorts, and it was our project. . ." Her voice trailed off as she thought of the table and how, not too terribly long ago, she and her father would have taken the broken shards and added them to the ongoing rainbow of colors and shapes. Her throat thickened as she put the piece back down. "I do it with Jamie now. Not very exciting, I'm sure."
"You have an interest in art, then."
Surprise of surprises, but it was almost as if Snape wanted conversation. Perhaps, she considered idly, the man was simply tired of having only himself and walls to speak with. If words were what he wanted, civil ones at that, then that she would surely grant. "Only the usual amounts, I imagine. I prefer Bosch to Brueghel; Vermeer to Titian. Impressionism never made it usual mark on me, but I always took more to sculpture than paintings as it was."
"I remember at your house, there was a sculpture there, of a hand, in your father's study. Whose work is it?" Snape's voice sounded closer, and she bent over the sink, scrubbing at the already clean pot in her hands, if only to ignore his nearness. He remember her house then. . .and that sculpture. She didn't know what to make of it.
"The Hand of God," she said. "An imitation plaster of Rodin's original. Harry had given it to me as a Christmas present that year."
Snape's body lurched away, and his plate clattered down on the counter next to her.
"What does Potter know of Rodin?" he said in a tone inexplicably angry.
"Enough to realize that I would love it," Hermione rounded out peevishly.
"And yes, you would, wouldn't you?" he sneered. "I have to admit, that choice is preferable to another of his works. I imagine the Gates of Hell would hardly have the same effect as a touch of deity. Rather typical of Potter to choose the divine in his gift giving."
This was the Snape she knew and disliked. The bully who kicked and beat down on anyone who tried normal conversation. She was foolish to have been tricked into such openness. Obviously, the man only wanted more material to throw back at her. Her cheeks burned with humiliation at the realization that adult or not, she still wouldn't respond in kind.
"Yes, I do," she responded dully, still scrubbing at the pot and wishing he would shove off now that he was finished eating.
"Potter gave you a two bit piece of plaster, and you're enraptured. Typical blighted female." He paced, his words rang out hurtfully. "It's worthless, you know. Utterly worthless."
"It's a gift from a dear friend, and for me that's the true value of it. Not that the statue was made in some unknown factory, but that someone I love-"
"Oh yes, I had nearly forgotten: love. Potter loves you and you love Potter. Rather quick to drop Weasley, weren't you? You're even playing house to Potter now. I'm only thankful I'm retiring in time to escape the rabble of brats you'd be sure to send my way in a decade's time."
Hermione struggled to keep her temper in check. There was no call for this. "If you're finished insulting me and my friend, perhaps you could excuse yourself. I'm not finished cleaning and I'd rather continue in silence than hear myself berated."
Snape stilled and turned to her, his cheeks strangely colored by his fit of anger. She saw that his hands were fisted, clenching and unclenching in rhythm with his breathing. She saw the moment his hands uncoiled and his shoulders relaxed. The anger dissipated, and she wondered at it ever existing. But hadn't it always been this way? Unreasonable anger at her, normally after a few moments of civility, was the Snape way of communication.
He took a step forward and instinctively, she backed away, bumping into the corner of the hearth. He stopped moving at her retreat, and suddenly, she had a strange longing for the return of his hair length. How she disliked to have his features so open to her viewing, how she could see the sudden recalcitrance in his lips, and the very unknown glimmer of something unvoicable in his eyes.
"Miss Granger. . .I," he spoke haltingly, his voice tempered with a foreign heaviness that she could not recognize. "I-"
A snap announced the sudden breaking of the cottage's wards- a sound that signaled the arrival of a guest. A quick glance at the microwave named the hour: 1957. Early enough for it to only be a handful of people. Hermione stepped past Snape hurriedly and nearly crashed head first into the worn robes of Remis Lupin. He grinned down at her, his features all apology.
"Hermione, I have your seeds, and Harry says you have pudding." Remus caught sight of Snape from beyond the kitchen frame and his good humor dipped momentarily. "Severus. I figured you'd be holed away in your study."
Hermione made a quick job of fetching the pudding from the refrigerator, distributed two servings, and then escaped to the outdoors. She felt unduly warm, even with the early evening humidity. She let herself fall backwards into the knee high brush and pressed a cool, slightly damp hand against her eyes. A strange emotion clung to her shoulders and it took her until full nightfall before she could identify it with a name.
He fought against the continued and frequently increased rise of weakness. He barred himself daily behind his locked doors, pretending focus on a book or pamphlet of choice. He rationalized that his approach to the window was only to seek out a change in view for a few moments. He argued that it was only natural for his gaze to fall on the actions of the two other lodgers. It was only natural that his eyes stayed with the more interesting of the two; how could anyone not notice the way her cheeks reddened from the heat and work. How could anyone not grip the window pane as she moved below, in the grasses, flush against the sun.
He pretended normality. He spoke with her, one evening, in the kitchen, watching as she moved gracelessly from the sink to the table and back again. For a few moments, he spoke and she answered, and it was a conversation between equals. Or so he pretended. But then she reminded him of her artlessness. Of her naïveté and childishness.
He punished himself afterwards. Reminded himself that she was a regrettable infatuation. An outlet his mind had latched on due to loneliness, perchance. Once the summer had finished itself, they would part ways, and there would need never be another reunion. He could leave, say the proper farewells their status required, and she would disappear into a future of schooling, the Ministry, and saving the world or whatever it was she aspired to.
And here he was, another evening, and in the process of falling prey to that damnable weakness once more. His hand clenched; it remembered, still, the feel of her skin against it. He had greeted his long time acquaintance by way of a stiff nod. The girl smiled as she did every time Lupin graced them with a visit and news.
"I'm glad you decided to stop by after all. I made a cake this time, your favorite: chocolate." She beamed, and set a kettle to boil on the stove top. "Would you like some tea as well, Professor?"
He grimaced at the title, hating that still she refused to use his name, and hating that it affected him so. His jaw tightened and purposely, he took the seat opposite Lupin at the table. Potter was off doing whatever it was the idiot did after meals. "Yes, with-"
She interrupted curtly. "Without milk, I know. Remus, tea?"
Lupin shot a questioning look at him while replying. "Thank you, yes. Same as always."
"Milk and honey." Her voice echoed fondly, and he watched as her hands deftly opened the cabinet and sought out the required cups and saucers.
"Manna from heaven," Lupin quoted and with a slight puff of breath, changed his position to better speak with Severus. "It's good of you, Severus, to have volunteered to stay here like this. I had thought you planned to retire after this year."
The girl's shoulders stiffened, and he watched, curious at the response. "It's difficult to refuse the Headmaster-"
The tea cup clattered down heavily on its saucer, and again, his eyes focused on her, observing as she mechanically stilled it with her fingers. Lupin looked on worriedly. "Hermione, is something the matter?"
"A bit clumsy, is all," she said weakly, and Lupin nodded, apparently mollified.
"Still though, Severus," the man said, returning to the his subject of choice. "It's good of you."
"Like I stated, it is difficult to refuse Albus anything. This also gives me the time to work on a few private projects I had put aside." The girl managed to distribute her charge without any further displays of clumsiness. The liquid's warm taste was welcome. . .however, he still regretted his decision to linger over tea. He had had his few words with her, managed to stem away his anger that, once again, she mentioned Potter. The chit couldn't go five minutes without saying that boy's name.
"Well now, I wouldn't worry too much, Severus," Lupin begin in a light tone; Severus jerked in reflex- the words were too controlled. "I have no doubt as to your motive in staying here to watch over Hermione and Harry."
Severus pushed up from the table, his motions unnaturally hurried. He couldn't control the sudden need to escape the shared knowledge that Lupin held in his eyes. Surely the man didn't know what he spoke of; Severus hid it too well, managed it too well. "I'll finish this in my rooms. Good night."
He fled up the stair and surrendered to the fit of shudders that struck him the moment his door closed behind him. Lupin knew! He closed his eyes; there was no doubt. He felt the loathing creep back into him.
"Severus," Lupin began, having followed after him.
He grasped the window sill, drawing strength from the wood that had sat there, aging for years older than him. "I gave you no such permission."
He cringed at the hand that landed on his shoulder, and pulled away from the contact. He paced across the room, his gaze intent on the carpet beneath his feet. He tried to think of a time before, of a time when he lusted after women his age, when it was a beautiful woman who engaged his affections. He tried to remember a time when his body was his to control, and when the slightest of movements from a child did not send his heart crashing and his stomach heaving.
"She's not your student anymore."
"She's a child!" he protested, hating the weakness that made him reply as if understanding the insinuation.
"Not anymore." Lupin steadied him with both hands and forced his gaze up to eye level. "She is no longer your student, and she is no longer a child."
"I don't want it," he admitted, sick and light headed. "I don't need it. Don't need her."
He pushed Lupin's hands away and dove for the adjoining bathroom. He fell against the toilet, his stomach tightening to empty itself from dinner's contents. Again, his mind reeled against the truth of Lupin's acknowledgement. But it could not be denied. She was not his student, not now, not ever again. The law saw her as an adult, as a woman. Why should he suppress this reactions? Repress his inclination toward her?
A knock at his bedroom door, and Lupin responded. Still, he could hear her from beyond it. "Is Professor Snape all right? Does he need something for his stomach?"
Professor. He closed his eyes; she might not be his student any longer, but he was still her professor. And it didn't matter, he insisted. That summer had been an abnormality, a break, in the life that was his. She was not a creature to crave, a body to hunger after. He hated her, he insisted.
He hated her.
He found the bottle a week later, to the eye of the same shade from so long ago. He found it uncapped and left on the living room floor. He found her beside it, an arm's length higher. She slept, shirt rumpled, book opened and spread over her stomach. Her toes stretched beyond, their nails painted in matching lines of red. He crouched beside her, his hand clenching the bottle to his breast like a man stabbed.
His eyes traced over her face, released and lineless in repose. Her hair was flattened against one cheek, her lips slightly pursed from the angle. He lifted a hand, saw his fingers tremble, and still, he felt the softness of her skin against his. She turned slightly into his hand, and with greater purpose, he pressed his palm to her cheek and closed his eyes. Unbidden, the memories and sensations from that time, two years before, flowed into him.
Her arm in his grasp, clawed and bruised. That white dress and her lips red from lipstick and plumped from kissing. Her hand on his arm, the pain and then the cleansing. The rain as it fell and thunder as it sounded. Her hair and scent caught in his nose; his hand trembled and she moved again, her mouth falling flush against his skin. December in her sixth year, caught in the hallway, Weasley's hand in her blouse. April of her seventh year, reading and sobbing silently in the library. That moment she leaned over him, insistent on a passage in the text. Always moving, always still. Laughing, crying, smiling, frowning; brown eyes that wept in compassion for anyone, for him. That morning, when she tripped, and he moved without thinking, and still that scent and feel of her, latching into his nostrils, memory and clothes.
He moved his hand, wanting to strike at her, force a reaction with predictable results. Her lips moved and soundless words exhaled from her breath. He shuddered and pulled her gently against his chest, knowing without logic or reason that she wouldn't wake, that he could grant himself this one brief reprieve and not worry about discovery. Foolish child, so trusting to sleep as she did, when there were those like himself so near.
The wildness in him calmed with her cradled against him, his hand still taught on her cheek, his thumb a tender touch on her lips. The wildness struck him at night, knowing that she was two doors from his, knowing that she was at her most vulnerable, and knowing that he could get to her, silence her, and do as he wished without interruption. That knowledge created a panic in him that only dulled to a mild boil during the daylight hours.
And to think, it started with her toes and that red. He inhaled the scent of her hair and skin, and applied the perfume to memory, before easing her back into her former position. His hand lingered, reluctant to leave. Foolish, foolish child, he reproached, his heart having tendered into something far more mild. He stood up and pocketed the nail polish. He knew now, that even when that wildness would strike him that night, he could withstand it. Somehow, this child had. . .she had.
He did not hate her.
"Miss Granger." She stirred awake at his words, a reaction not achieved by his earlier touch.
He hated the word.
She sat up, rubbing at her eyes and displacing the book. "Sir?"
"Tomorrow, we are required before the Wizengamot."
Hermione knew the testimony would be required, and she was only thankful that it had happened sooner rather than later. She had no knowledge of how Snape felt regarding the matter. Harry, she knew however, was not as grateful. His prior experiences had produced a less than favorable opinion, and when he left the court room, passing her in the hall way, his face was etched with frustration and anger. By the time of her fifth question, she understood why.
"No," she clarified for the second time. "It was after Harry went in the cave that Peter Pettigrew followed. I don't understand why you're so concerned about him; the man was a murderer-"
"Miss Granger, I'll remind you that your purpose here is to answer questions, not ask them." The lead interrogator frowned at her from over his notes, and more than a few of the Wizengamot regarded her with disapproval. She struggled to remain composed. So far the questions had only dealt with the death of Pettigrew and circumstances surrounding it.
"You wrote a series of letters to one Adrian Pucey during the fall of your sixth year, did you not?"
Hermione nodded, again confused by the thread of the questions The interrogator sighed and pinched his nose. "Please speak your answers aloud, Miss Granger, for the record."
"Yes," she stammered. "I did."
"And in your letters, did you not discuss the activities of a vigilante group you were part of?"
"Come again?" Vigilante group? The only things she wrote to Adrian about had been school and her efforts in the DA. "Are you talking about our Defense Club?"
"It was more commonly known as-" The man shuffled through a few of papers before finding a small scrap that he held up and read from. "- as Dumbledore's Army, was it not?"
Hermione frowned, openly annoyed. "Is that was this is about? That again? Hasn't this already been resolved once before? The nickname was a joke, sir; and we certainly were not a vigilante group."
A member from the Wizengamot held up a hand for recognition, a witch Hermione recognized from an editorial in the Daily Prophet. "Wasn't this the group responsible for the assault against Madam Rosmerta, in Hogsmeade?"
Hermione could only stare for a moment, unable to understand the lack of rationale behind her questioning. Hadn't she been one of the good guys? What was going on? "First of all, we were a club that worked on defensive spells as an extracurricular. Second, Rosmerta was under the Imperius and attacked us. We had no choice but to defend ourselves. This was no assault."
"Miss Granger, if you will for a moment?" Another member called for the limelight, this time a younger squinty-eyed wizard. "About your club, as you called it. Hadn't there been another incident in which you engaged in somewhat unsavory tactics under the guise of self-defense?"
In her lap, her hands clasped painfully. A pain was beginning, near her eyes, and suddenly, she longed for something cool. "I'm afraid I can't know how to answer unless you're a bit more specific," she replied, coolly.
"I'm referring to the matter with your then Headmistress, Dolores Umbridge. Is it not true that you lured her to an ambush by a herd of crazed centaurs?"
"That had nothing to do with my club; we had reasonable cause to believe someone was in grave danger, and that woman threatened to use the Cruciatus on Harry, so I was the one responsible for Umbridge having gone into the Forbidden Forest that night, however, the circumstances, as you can see, were such that-"
The lead interrogator cut her off neatly. "Thank you, Miss Granger, you have answered that sufficiently."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Finch," she addressed the interrogator by name, at last having reached the end of her patience. "I need a clarification on the purpose of this questioning. I had understood that I was here to answer questions regarding certain actions taken by Death Eaters during the final battle. Is there another reason for my presence here?"
Finch adjusted his glasses. "Surely, Miss Granger, you must realize that in order to ensure the quality of your testimony, we must judge first the merit of having you as a witness."
"Are you saying that you doubt my ability to tell the truth?" Hermione asked, shocked.
Finch only stared. "Miss Granger, every witness comes under the same scrutiny. Let's discuss your actions during your second year in Hogwarts. Severus Snape, your former professor, testified earlier this morning that you aided your classmates Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley in making a potion consisting of stolen ingredients- ingredients taken from his supplies- is this not so?"
Hermione realized for the first time that Snape was in the room as well, seated to the rear, and back in his black robes. His expression was intent, and she jerked away from his gaze. "To be exact, Mr. Finch," she said his name pointedly, taking a childish enjoyment in the annoyance it caused the man. "I was the one who took the ingredients, and I was the one who made the potion. We were endeavoring to discover the culprit behind opening the Chamber of Secrets."
"So you're admitting to stealing from a professor?" Finch stressed.
"I'm admitting to, at that time under limited abilities and resources, to having made a decision that while well intentioned involved some poor judgment."
Finch paused for a moment, seeming to reconsider a prior decision. With a slight frown, he continued. "In your letters to Adrian Pucey, you discussed your 'Club's' numerous actions, did you not?"
"I'm sure some details of my school life were contained in them, so probably, yes." She stayed purposely vague. She couldn't under the Wizengamot's motivations in the least. It was as if they were looking for something, someone to blame. . .it hit her like a slap in the face. So that's what this was.
She interrupted whatever further questions Finch might have for her. "I politely request the presence of representation, to ensure that my best interests are protected."
"You're not under trial here, Miss Granger, the Minister is not in attendance, surely such measures are not-"
"I'll act as her representative."
Hermione started at the sound of his voice. Snape? She hid her surprise and nodded. "I have no problem with Professor Snape doing so."
Finch turned to the Wizengamot. "Any dissenters?" he inquired and when silence answered, he moved on. "Fine then, Professor Snape, you may interject when necessary."
Snape replied in the affirmative from his new stand at the neighboring lectern. Finch regarded his papers again. "At the time of your letters, you were not yet a formal member of the Order of the Phoenix, correct?'
"And whatever information you might have of their activities would have been gained through less than upfront actions, is that fair to say?"
"Yes, I would presume so," she answered slowly.
"So when you discussed in your letter dated October 12th, 19-- that you had been put under specific directives, was this in reference to the Order or to your 'Club'?"
She was beginning to hate the way he said that word, 'club.' "Without seeing that specific item in context, I'm afraid I really don't remember."
"It was the letter in which you were describing your summer, a summer which, coincidentally, you spent with Professor Snape here in your company." Finch almost appeared to be smiling, if one could translate that slight uplifting of his lips as such.
She reared back from the insinuation in his voice and unwillingly, her eyes caught on to the gaze of Snape's. His cheeks seemed unnaturally colored in the court room's dim light, and she shied away from the reason. "Thank you, I can answer. It was in regards to neither."
Finch waited, obviously expecting her to expand. "Then what orders were you referring to in that letter?"
She sighed. "Honestly, I don't know what you're going after! I was asked by Professor McGonagall to keep a close eye on Harry and report back to her any changes that I noticed."
"So it was at that time that you first started noticing the mental instabilities of your friend, Harry Potter, was it?" Hermione noted, almost absently, that Finch had finally given his game away.
"So that's what this is about then." She stood up, and turned accusingly toward the Wizengamot members. "I can't believe you would do this to him. Harry's the reason why Voldemort's dead- don't you understand? He saved you. He's only seventeen years old, and he's the reason why you don't have to worry about some madman sending his cronies to murder you in your sleep."
"Miss Granger, you can stop there." Snape was out from behind his lectern, approaching her. She held a hand up, as if to stop him through sheer mental force.
"No, Professor, you can keep quiet. You're not necessary now." She hated that her eyes always watered when angry, and she hated, almost blindingly, how these ignorant people could only look at Harry, see his power, and be afraid. "You should be thankful; you should be spending your time trying to find ways to make his life better. You disgust me."
She began to climb down from the witness chair; Finch seemed to have regained his voice. "Miss Granger, we're not finished here. I have more questions-"
"We are finished, for good. You'll leave Harry alone from now or I'll be sure to run to every paper and magazine that'll have me and let them know how the Ministry is going about honoring its heroes. I'm sure that'll go over well with public favor and their votes come this fall."
Finch offered no reply, and she took this for permission to continue with her departure. She paused by Snape, touching his shoulder briefly. "I'm going to find Harry. I'll bring dinner home with me."
He was silent as well in his reply, but she felt the anger from his gaze on her back even as she pushed through the doors and all but ran down the hallway. She needed the first drink of her life, and badly.
The kitchen was all shadows and darkness when Hermione arrived with her ears ringing and forehead pounding. The agony of her hour on the stand- was it truly only sixty minutes of time? She had thought it so much longer, an eternity even- the events from that afternoon weighed down on her thoughts and heart, and she longed only to find a sleeping draught and collapse on her bed.
She reached for the light switch and one of the more formed shadows stirred and half rose from its seat at the dining table.
"Leave the lights alone," she heard Snape order gruffly, and she was too weary to do anything other than obey.
"I'm afraid I forgot to bring dinner," Hermione apologized, pushing back the ache of her forehead as she stepped into the uncomplicated role of domesticity. "If you're hungry, there's still the ham from last night in the-"
"I'm not hungry," Snape responded curtly and the slightly less dense patch of grey that was his arm seemed to sweep at the table's surface in a motion of perhaps impatience, perhaps anger. She found that she didn't much care either way.
"All right, I'll leave you alone then. Good-night, Pro-"
He cut her off again. "Where your heroic Potter?"
She swung her head sharply, instantly regretting the motion and finding her patience quickly evaporating. "He's staying at Grimmauld Place for the night; Lupin said it would be all right."
"And you, where were you?"
She struggled to stay upright, and opted for the quicker escape in humoring him, for the time being. "I sat in on the conservatory recital my sister normally participates in during the summer."
"A conservatory. . .your sister plays then."
Hermione wondered at the strangeness of the conversation's turn. Snape was in turns perplexing and maddening. She longed at times to speak with him as one equal to another, to share with him ideas that struck her, that she felt he might really appreciate. At other times, which were most times, she retreated, having been stung by his acrid, hateful tongue. In this present moment, pressed to the wall in support against the failure of the day and crying for sleep's sweet ignorance, she wanted only that he would leave her alone.
"Jamie plays the violin. She's quite good. Perhaps, if you ask nicely enough, I'll invite you to one of her recitals. I don't rightly care though. I only want to sleep and forget this awful day, if only for a few hours."
She turned to leave and crossed half the kitchen before he spoke again. His tone froze her legs from all further motion.
"I was entertaining the notion that you might explain your rudeness, Miss Granger, when you so gracefully stumbled in."
He spoke as he often did in her younger days, with that intemperate fury laced into controlled patches of words and syllables. She was terrified of that voice when twelve and all these years later, her courage still balked.
"Rudeness? What do you mean?"
"I mean," he stood now and his dark clump of shadow began to gather into shape and form. "I mean that I wish you to explain your rudeness from this morning, in the court room-"
"Do you mean when I left? Well, I apologize if I did not pay proper attention to your delicate feelings, but my concerns were otherwise engaged," she snapped, her palm pressed heavily against her eyes, the pain ever increasing.
"Interesting, wasn't it, how they were so interested in your prior criminal acts?"
"Criminal acts? I'm sorry, but I just don't have the energy for this. Can we please discuss this in the morning?"
Snape was closer now. Hermione could part the white of his eyes from the gloom of the unlighted room, and all at once the pain beneath her forehead decided to surge to its full potency. She could not think; she could not move; and yet, he still chose to strike with that anger leashed voice of his, the words nearly animate in their chained hostility.
"Was it merely your patented form of ignorance that compelled you to keep silent about your thievery from me? Or perhaps," the bitter laughter softened his words yet drove them all the deeper. "Or perhaps you thought me too scrupulous a man to say anything other than the truth when under testimony?"
She shook her head, confused, opened her lips, and yet nothing came.
"Were you so enamored by your precious Potter's popularity that you thought yourself invincible? You left me unprepared, and I so easily vouched for your integrity and honesty. Ridiculous words, I said to them- and then you entered that room, and left me damned a fool."
He was dangerously close, and she nearly wept when at last her voice returned. "No, no, believe me, it wasn't like that at all! I simply hadn't thought-"
"Oh Miss Granger, I assure you, that much was most evident," he hissed.
The pain was unbearable and the tears came as an unwanted weakness even as she cried out back at him. "How was I to know that something I did over five years ago would be important? These were things I did to help Harry- I thought it was for the best. I just. . .did what I could."
Snape's near trembling pacing around her stilled, and she went on, not caring if it mattered to him and not caring if he would throw her naïve words and thoughts back in her face.
"It was a simple dynamic: Harry was the leader, he gave us direction and a motivation. I did the planning, the preparation. And Ron- he was an admittedly excellent back-up. So I crossed the line in the past; I don't regret it. Harry was in danger, or he needed help, and it was my job to be there and do what was necessary."
The existence of her kitchen, of the slightly dripping faucet, of the smooth counters, of even the light cotton of her blouse on her skin- these truths minimized into small intangibles. There was only the memories of the near past. Snape, even with his shadowed presence at her elbow, was forgotten with all the other unimportants.
"I remember the few moments afterwards, as I walked through the fallen bodies, undoing curses on faces, trying to locate the one face that I needed so desperately to find. I stopped counting after it hit the fifties. I knew no one expected him to survive- not Ron, not Remus, and not even Dumbledore. They felt it impossible for him to survive. After all, Harry was the final link, wasn't he? Wasn't that the information you gave to Dumbledore all those long years ago? Harry had to die so that Riddle could as well."
Her grip on the counter tightened, and she gave in and closed her eyes, that day's final moments reappearing from behind her eyelids. "I was the only one with any faith; I told myself that if everything wrong or grey or black that I might have done meant that Harry lived, then I would never apologize for it. Throwing Umbridge to the centaurs? Cursing Malfoy the night before the battle? What did it matter when lined up next to Harry not dying? It wouldn't matter in the least, I had decided."
She laughed painfully and the ache in her brow retreated only slightly. "And so when Neville found Harry, at long last, unconscious next to a pile of ash, with his wand broken and his scar gone, I could only feel justified. I had done nothing deserving regret."
A streak of rainless lightening flashed beyond the window's blinds, and Hermione remembered her place in the kitchen again. She turned to face her darkened companion. "Do you see then? Do you understand then? I could never imagine- my stupid, naïve mind as you are so fond of calling it, could never fathom anything other than equal joy that I had made my decisions as I did. It was inconceivable and perhaps impossible for me to think Harry's survival could be compared to anything and not win out."
Her words died, and the gloom seemed unwillingly to allow them a brief echo. Her fatigue resettled itself once more, and Hermione again made for the doorway.
"Is that your apology for the humiliation caused today?"
She halted briefly at the question, disbelieving. "It was my explanation, Professor. I'm sorry if your ego was bruised. I'd have hoped you'd have more pressing concerns than whether or not some stranger thought less of you."
"So you're to remain stubborn and ignore your responsibility?" Snape countered.
She flung away her still gripped purse and faced him, arms open wide. "What do you want from me? Shall I go on my knees, Professor? Will that appease you? I'm sorry I caused your embarrassment, but I'm more sorry that because of my lack of forethought Harry might face more trouble. So do forgive me for not showing more consideration to your precious ego, Professor!"
She bent to reclaim her purse and found her wrists suddenly seized and pinned to her side. Snape pushed her against the wall, his breath heavy and thick on her cheek. It was with a small tremor of fear that she smelled the liquor on his breath.
"Have you been drinking, Professor?" she asked carefully. He did not answer, but his breathing grew more labored and the pressure on her wrists tightened. "Professor-"
"I am not your teacher anymore; I am not your superior or your mentor. We stand on equal footing. You are a grown woman, and I- I am a man!"
The desperation intermingled with the slight slur of his words frightened her into a passivity she never would have adopted in such a situation. Even as he said it, Hermione was more than aware that indeed, Snape was a man, a man with all the strength that came with being of that stronger sex, and indeed, she was nothing more than a woman.
"Let me go. You've been drinking. You'd not have behaved this way otherwise-" she tried to reason, but he would have none of that.
"Always talking. Always moving that mouth of yours. You speak with no consciousness of what you say- of the consequences of what you say. But despite all that- I crave your words!"
He allowed her hands to fall more comfortable to her back, but did not release them. He went on as if some great dam had been broken and at long last the water was given room to run and flood and even destroy- oh, but what glorious and joyful destruction!
"It began as it never should have, as I hated that it should have. It was weakness incarnate that the stupid, bumbling ways of a self righteous sixteen year old should have struck me so. That summer, that damnable summer, with your words: I think you're very brave, sir. Especially now."
Hermione stiffened in shock. She remembered when she gave that particularly audacious speech- that summer night when it stormed and rained as it hadn't all summer. She had felt brave herself then, touching his arm where it bore the mark, and then putting to voice her feelings from then. That Snape had put those words way- that he still remembered. . .oh, but what did it mean? Was this the root of his hatred for her? Did he think she pitied him? Did he think she meant it be a mockery?
But he was speaking again, in the same unfamiliar roll of heated speech he'd been using since first grabbing her arms and shoving her to the wall.
"But before that, before you touched my arm and spoke- the red drove me mad. No longer a student, a friend of Potter, but a woman who could impact and aggravate and madden. Term began and I spent each of those nights with those damned words keeping me awake. It drove me mad wondering what your intentions were; by what motivation you so felt the need to speak. Had you noticed my watching? Had you sensed my turmoil?" He laughed, and she thought she could hear more of that desperation that unnerved her. "Months stretched and I could not rid you from my thoughts, from my mind, from my every waking minute. It disgusted me that I should be so down trodden by the addles of a pretentious sixteen year old."
"Summer arrived and still you would not give me rest. You were around every corner at the headquarters, your scent all but ingrained into the walls and carpet. I could not escape you, so I sought to catalogue your every fault that summer. I made a list of them and found myself then crossing each defect off as I pointed out the value of its opposing side. That you were bossy- no, it was that you were effectively managing. That you were emotional- no, it was that you had that requisite and so feminine tout of senility."
He leaned in and Hermione felt the tremble of his lips on her skin as he continued to speak. Once again his breathing changed, and his chest fell into a staccato against her own. "You invaded my sleep then. I loathed that I had stooped so low as to lust over an inexperienced student. I made it my campaign to share my misery with you. It was only fair, as you were the cause of mine. There was nothing attractive in you. There was nothing that I could pinpoint as an enticement. You had none of the bone structure or manners that I prize when it comes to women. And yet-"
He broke off, and it seemed that Snape suddenly became cognizant of his lips on her skin. The contact had only been the fluttering of mouthed vowels and consonants, and yet no tangible press of all that constituted a kiss. His breathing grew more labored and Hermione felt him struggle to regain control. It was that recognition that drove her to speech.
"Please let me go, Pro-"
She winced even as she began to say the word; he reacted forcefully.
"I am not your professor! I have a name and you will use it. Say my name, you stupid girl- say it!"
"Severus," she said and it calmed him as nothing else had. Blood returned to her palms in painful pinpricks, and his body hung lax against her own. His lips, however, stayed close to her skin.
"It would be an easy thing to do as I want with you," he began in a shallow whisper. 'There will be no one to disturb us for hours yet. But-"
Snape's lips stopped their velvet soft whisper on her cheek. The meaning of his words barely registered in her hackled mind, but he kept his next words simple.
"But I find that it would bring me no satisfaction to force you to anything. You've corrupted me too deeply. Say my name again and then you may go."
"Please," her voice sounded so much steadier than she felt. Inside, she quaked and trembled- for reasons she could not understand. "Enough of this, Pro- that is, Severus. I promise I won't say-"
Her wrists were released and his hand rose to cup her cheek in his palm. He smoothed a finger over her lips, silencing her. "Quiet now, Hermione. It's your fault, this."
She saw the raising of his wand hand, and knew in that instant of precognition what the spell would be. Her body reacted before he could move and immediately she called out to him from her crouch on the floor. "Don't! Don't."
His arm lowered, and he knelt before her, pushing her chin up to meet his eyes. "Don't what?"
There was a thrilled hum at her spine, and she spoke hurriedly, her words not matching the mixed emotions in her stomach- the inescapable sense of loss that hit her hard when he released her. Fear and something else, some unnamed and unknown tilled at the base of her mind. "Soon, Harry'll be home, and that is, I should- we should. Harry will-"
He was on her and jarringly, she felt the dim pain of her head slammed against the wall from behind the heat of his lips. They pushed against hers, demanding and hard, but with a soft desperation that she fell into. She realized belatedly that her eyes were closed, the darkness of sight giving his touch an electricity. She tried to speak, and he was there as well, tasting her and murmuring untranslatable words of his own. An untouched part of her mind flew forward, whispering that this was long since coming, that she needn't fight it, that it was known since long, long ago.
The first slight motion of her lips, the briefest of encouragement from her part, put a pause to his. She opened her eyes and immediately turned away from the expression in his own. Still what, what did this mean? Did he love her? Was this possible? She leaned into his palm, and unbidden, his name came to her lips. "Severus."
His eyes closed. "Severus." She felt his hand begin to tremble. "Severus," she said again, finding a joy in his reaction, a power in her ability to cause it so. "Sever-"
He palm was on her lips. "You- don't talk. Don't speak, or it'll only be you to blame."
"Severus," she breathed against the rough skin of his palm, and too late did she see his wand once again raise to her cheek. Too late did she realize that he didn't want her to keep this; didn't trust himself to grant her a night's sleep to consider. Cruel, she cried out to him, silently, even as he mouthed the words in the dark.
First there was pain; and then he woke. The night's events flooded him, and his stomach released itself half way to the toilet. Weakly, he vanished the mess, and then laid, spent, on the carpeted floor. His skin remembered; his fingers twitched. Unbidden, his eyes remembered as well; beneath his stomach, beneath the sickness, a temper stirred, and he knew with a shock of blaring honesty that if he left that floor, if he saw her beyond that door way, then no amount of mental stamina or power would prevent last night's action from repeating themselves.
He had felt her respond, toward the end, had felt her excitement from him, from his touch. The way in which her lips moved when saying his name. . . It did not pacify; it did not ease his current reality.
He pushed himself up from the floor, a hand pressed to his eyes in supplication. He refused the urge to find something to relieve the hangover. The pain served as a reminder of his inability to control. Light struggled through the window, the strands patched by cloud cover beyond. His eyes caught only the paned view of grass and wood. It was nearly midday; she would be out there, bathed in the full light, bare legged and laughing. That prat would be beside her, his touches a daily happenstance, his indulgences freely given and taken. And she would remember nothing of last night, of his touches, of his words, and how her lips had parted, her hands had clutched, and her skin had burned.
He opted on self-torture and stood up, unbalanced. The sunlight scorched but he kept his eyes steady. And there she was, not at the garden plot but below his window, lying on her back, and her arm upraised toward the sky. Her brown eyes were troubled and unbidden, his hand pressed against the glass. It was still there, his want.
Where was his intelligence? His ability to reason? Had he been so undone, so completely unwoven that the mere sight of her pained him? He hated what he had become; he hated that he should desire so completely, long for so desperately- and yet, yet! She had responded, he argued. She had touched back, felt back- this was his doing now. He was the one to impose this on himself.
"Stupid, foolish girl," he whispered to her, trusting his only audience to the walls. "Get away while you can. Run far, travel wide, but stay away. I am, by nature, a selfish man."
There were only two weeks left.
"Go away, Potter," he ordered. The parchment he had been working on laid unwound on the desk before him.
"I have something to ask you," the boy responded stubbornly. "I'll go when I'm done."
"Then ask your question and leave me." He blotted his quill with careful direction, the mundane action reminding him to keep to the necessary civility.
"Why are you always watching her?"
The ink spilled. He watched the liquid pool over the center of his paragraph, the words quickly drowned and lost. His dark eyes darted from the paper to the lanky youth standing in the door frame. "Be specific. I don't like playing guessing games." But no specifics were needed; he hadn't been careful enough, controlled enough.
"You watch her from your window; you stare at her when she sits in the kitchen reading. You're always looking, peering from behind your hand or whatever it is you're doing- did you think I wouldn't notice? She's my best friend; I notice everything." The boy took a step forward, his lips parted in grim determination. "The question is: why?"
"You're mistaken," was his sole answer. He should take care of the spilled ink; he reached for his wand and remembered it forgotten in his bedroom. That realization stopped him. Had he ever gone anywhere without his wand in the past twenty years? Had that girl so addled his thoughts that he was being so reckless. . .so distracted?
"Yes, Potter, you are." He stood up and made a pointed move toward the exit. Potter moved to block him. "Move yourself."
"I have a theory, Snape." The boy's eyes watched, dangerously controlled. "I think there's a reason why you changed your favorite object for bullying from me to Hermione. I think it has to do with that summer you spent at her house. I think something happened- and it's still happening."
"Paranoia, how unsurprising- Albus will be interested in this development. There has been such concern, after all, regarding your mental state." He bit his words briskly, knowing Potter's sensitivity in that area.
Potter failed to react. "Leave her alone, Snape. Whatever vile motivation you have for your," the boy's face wrinkled in disgust, "feelings, you leave her alone. She's not for you."
"Get away," he snapped, feeling a tightness pulling on his chest. He didn't need this arrogant upstart moralizing to him. Potter surprisingly acquiesced.
"Leave Hermione alone, Snape."
He felt dizzy and sick again. What did that boy know about self control? About his. . .'vile feelings'? He tried to exit, tried to leave, but his way was blocked once again, and there she was, absent from her post outside. Her knees were dirtied by time spent in the garden, her cheeks reddened by the sun, and her eyes were clouded by confusion. He swayed, rocked by sudden desperation. Let her not have heard- let her not have heard!
"Harry? What are you doing?" she asked.
The boy stared, uncomfortable. "How long were you listening?"
"Long enough to know you're being silly." She moved past him, pausing only to give an apologetic smile. "Professor Snape, I'm sorry about Harry. He doesn't know what he's talking ab-"
And then something gave in him, something dangerous and selfish. "Doesn't he, though? You- stand away!" He pushed back at Potter, knocking the boy to his feet. His hands move to clasp her shoulders. "Where's your intelligence, girl? Don't you have eyes as well? How could you not see!"
She pulled back from him, her eyes, those brown eyes that showed every expression of joy or hurt in flashing seconds of heart beat- her eyes fought to avoid him. "It's not true, it's not true," she repeated.
"Am I not a human, too? Can I not also be affected, be bothered- be ruined by the likes of you?" His hands crept, ignoring his attempts at control, to her throat, to her cheeks. These second touches, made in complete sobriety, were like lashes against his back. Pained and euphoric; he felt a shuddering in his spine, and the room was forgotten. His voice gentled, "Am I not a man?"
Her lips parted in a gasp and violently she pulled free, her head a frenzied motion of denial and emotion. "You're my teacher, this isn't true. Harry's confused, and besides, I don't love-"
He wouldn't let her finish the words, couldn't, because he too refused them. That word wasn't for him, wasn't for this stirring and obsession that inflicted him. She offered no fight to his lips on her, to his hand in her hair, clenched and taught in its control. He could feel the push of her breath against his skin, the slight part as he invaded more fully. The dizziness returned, a drowsy exhilarated light-headedness that she didn't push away, and when he took the step back and looked down at her, he understood why.
Her hand rose to her forehead, her eyes filled once more with confusion. "This happened already, didn't it? But when. . .I can't remember. Why can't I remember. . ." And then realization. She faced him, full of accusation. "How could you? How could you steal my memory? Is this the second time? The third? What else have you done to me that I can't remember?"
Potter realized what she was going for before he did. "No, Hermione, wait!"
But she said the words, her soft features twisted in anger and hurt. "Legilimens!"
Her spell was uncontrolled, unorganized, but he found himself unable to defend against her. He stood, stricken, feeling each memory and thought from the past two years summoned and rifled through- the red toes; spilled Champagne and her kneeling in her nightgown; his hand's imprint on her arm; the ache of her lips unmoving beneath his; the obliviate; sixth year and her sleeping in the library; the victory ball with her blue dress and naked back; the morning he awoke, that morning after, and his first thoughts, his realization of what drove him, what pushed him-
She was the one to stop it. Her wand fell from her hand, and once again, she looked at him, disbelieving. "It's not true; tell me it's not true," she whispered. "It doesn't make sense- none of it. I'm, but, you hate me. You must hate me. I stole from you; I talk too much. I'm Harry's best friend- how, how is it possible?"
Denial; he remembered that emotion, fought with it, and he had no answers for the questions he had asked himself as well. He could only stand, voiceless; in the back of his mind was a waking realization that the moment she left this room, he would not see her again. She would disappear from his life, and he would have to forget it, forget her. This house, with their enforced intimacy, was always intended to be a passing thing. It was he who had been too weak to remember that, to not forget that it would end- that none of what he wanted or desired could actually happen.
"You must be confused, or lonely. It's a mistake." Her voice spoke evenly now, her thoughts having finally moved on to rationalize. "I don't think of you in that way, and you," a momentary hitch in her breath, "you can't actually feel that way- love me."
He blinded himself to her then; deafened his ears so that even after the boy ushered her away from his sight, he saw nothing of it. This. . .episode was ending. Relief, regret, the two met within his breast, and he fell to the ground, unable to control the weight of his thoughts. There was a pain, unlike that of the physical, caught there. . .and there. His eyes- there, a dampness, and his chest, heaviness. He let himself stretch there, his back flat and hard against the unfeeling floorboards. His black eyes watched the ceiling, and the numbness spread until he felt nothing and thought nothing.
"I don't love-"
"You can't actually feel that way-"
But there it was, he realized beneath the numbness. Somehow, his mind had moved from infatuation, obsession, to something meaner, to something far more cruel. Somehow, she had become something of distinction, something of specificity. And now, he wanted. . .that is, he needed. . .
"I don't love-"
What he could not have.
An hour later, and he had left.
He left that day, and no one can find him. Or wants to. Harry's told no one, but Remus didn't seem surprised by the departure. I can't help but worry, and it's a selfish one. I have questions: When he kissed me, I- I felt! It was like discovering taste for the first time, but without any sort of flavor. It was as if emotions were given a physical touch, and I can't forget that.
Why did I have to learn this now, I wonder paper. My feelings tilt me one way, but my mind knows better. I can't have felt for him. He's bullied and mistreated me for seven years; and I find out now that he's been fixated on me for two years since- that a single instance of accidental observation caused his obsession.
I want to find him.
Dearest paper, I want to kiss him again, feel his hand on my skin- I need to know if it's just coincidence my reaction. I need to know if those images I saw in his mind are lasting; am I selfish? I find I don't care. I'll be selfish and ignore the consequences. Should I see him again- should I bump into him on a street or pass him on a tram- should I see him again, I must know.
Is my heart beat coincidence? Is my confusion coincidence? Is this thrill in my blood only coincidence?
Dearest paper, someday, I'll tell you my answers. Someday, I'll force a second opportunity on us both, and then we'll see. Was it merely coincidence. . .or something more.
Her hand fell from the paper, her writing there for the first time in two years. She had abandoned the journal for unknown reasons the beginning of her sixth year; and for the first time since, she reread that summer's worth of entries. Paragraphs of smug wonderings, adolescent worries, and innocent considerations- he had first noticed her that summer. She wondered what his version of that summer had been like? Had he translated her simple words and actions into something else?
At what point had that changed? At what point did he begin to feel as his kiss told her he did?
Her fingers touched her lips and her eyes closed in memory. He had disappeared, and she would leave him unfound for now. Until that day came, when she was older, smarter, and maybe ready for whatever it is he had offered her in his hands, with his eyes and light touches, until that day, she would wait. And perhaps, that day, too, would come on a summer, a summer with cloud spotted skies and heavy heat.
Purposely, she closed her journal and removed a small bottle from her purse. She stretched down on the floor, and spun open the jar's lid, easing the liquid from the tiny brush. With careful strokes, she bent and passed the brush over its first object. A full minute devoted to each, and ten minutes later, she laid down on her back, leaving the air to do its drying. She would wait, and until then, she would use only one shade of color; the color that started it all.
a full circle
E N D
A/N: So, I had considered for a brief while about dividing this up, seeing as it is rather long. However, there was never really any part to it that felt like a breaking point. There were a lot of details put into this, fragments from other ideas that I had once considered that sort of mutated into this. As you can feel from the end, an epilogue is very much a possibility, and should I do so, it will not be a one-shot, but another actual story. Maybe. No promises, but thanks for reading. It is always appreciated. /grins/