Disclaimer: © 2006 harmony bites. This is an amateur non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by J.K.Rowling or any other lawful holder.
Thanks to Djinn, SouthernWitch69, and Bambu345 for their betas.
"Yes, Severus does seem the type, doesn't he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell?"
– Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
"Where do you think I would have been all these years, if I had not known how to act?"
– Snape, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
First Year: The Philosopher's Stone
Hermione Granger crept down the stairs to the dungeons, feeling as if each step was shutting her away from the summer above—maybe forever. She'd left Harry and Ron at the top of the stairs shaking their heads. They'd told her she was mental for thinking they should apologise to the "disgusting bat" for having suspected him. Ron had said forgiving, let alone apologising to, Snape "went against Weasley tradition." Harry had been especially adamant; he'd told her that discovering Snape had only been trying to protect him from Quirrell changed nothing between them.
The door to the dungeons lay open, and through it she saw vials and books packing themselves into cases courtesy of a nonchalant sweep of Snape's wand. He didn't look up as, with his other hand, he stirred a cauldron from which wafted a pungent stink. In a strange way, the nasty smell made it easier. It was hard to find surroundings sinister when you only wanted to pinch your nose and go "pee eww."
She swallowed hard. Ron, having grown up among wizards, saw just a "bat," but to Hermione, Snape was so much worse. He had long, black, greasy hair, a hooked nose, yellowish skin, and teeth almost as yellow and so crooked they would have been quite the challenge for her dentist parents to straighten. Add to that the black frock coat, which was now clothing his scarecrow body, the fathomless, beetle-black eyes … Honestly, the man lacked only a wart at the end of his nose to look the very picture of a stereotypical witch. He looked the part far more than McGonagall, really.
And Hermione was still scared of witches of a certain kind. She could only think of the Wizard of Oz. There were good witches and bad witches. And while McGonagall wasn't exactly Glinda, Snape would make a splendid Wicked Witch of the West.
"S-Sir," she said from just inside the doorway.
"Yes, Miss Granger?" Snape said—still without looking up—as if he neither needed outer sight to know who she was, nor considered her presence worthy of further acknowledgement from him.
She took her hand from the stone wall she'd leaned against and suppressed an urge to wipe it on her robe. It wasn't sweat coating her palm; even the walls inside his classroom were as slimy as he was. "I … I," she said, barely above a whisper.
"I … I." His tone was savage.
That was a mistake—instead of causing her to be intimidated, it quenched her fears in a wave of anger. She straightened her back, jutted her chin out, and glared at him as she said, "I wanted to apologise for setting you on fire. I thought it was you hexing Harry."
She spun on her heel and wasn't two metres from the door when she stopped in astonishment. She thought she'd heard a sputtering sound that turned into a rich laughter.
But that warm, liquid sound couldn't possibly come from Snape.
Hermione Granger crept through the Forbidden Forest, trying to keep Snape and Harry in sight. Even with dappled sunlight warming her skin and rich, floral scents rising all around, the dense woods still felt threatening. The chirping birds didn't make her feel more cheerful either.
She frowned. Though Harry idolised the Potions master, she never could bring herself to warm to him, even after it had been Quirrell who had been revealed as You-Know-Who's minion. Besides, they'd never found the Philosopher's Stone, and when she'd questioned that, Harry had gone really quiet—Harry was hiding something.
At least the jewel-bright silks Snape favoured made it easy to keep them in sight. Despite his robes being green, the garish chartreuse shade didn't blend in well. As she got closer, she crouched lower, finally almost crawling to get as close as possible to hear what they were saying. She winced as a twig under her broke with a loud snap, but it didn't catch their attention, so intent were they on each other.
She peered carefully around an immense oak and started at how close they were. She could see the flash of Snape's white, even teeth framed by his neatly trimmed beard as he grinned and tousled Harry's hair. Snape smiled so easily, but Hermione noticed the smiles never reached his shuttered eyes. She gasped when she saw the blood-red stone Harry took out of a pocket and shyly offered to Snape. It couldn't be …
Snape and Harry parted then, and without thinking, when Harry passed her hiding place, she called out and ran to meet him. At the glint of his green eyes, she stopped short, taken a bit aback.
"Harry, what did you just give to Snape?" she asked, her tone sharp.
"God, Hermione, after all that's happened, you still suspect him? Don't you trust me?"
"—is happy to leave me at the Dursleys. Severus would take me if he could. You know he knew Mum?" Harry's voice grew excited; his eyes shone as he spoke about what Snape had told him of his mother, then narrowed and grew hard at her stiff expression. "You can't possibly understand!" he shouted. "You have a family that loves you."
She thought she did understand. She'd overheard Dumbledore talking to McGonagall. "Harry," he'd said, "would be drawn to anyone who offered him a home or presented himself as a father figure, no matter how insincerely meant."
Somehow she knew they had been talking about Snape, whom they both evidently distrusted. Hagrid didn't trust the Potions master either, and he had good instincts. But Harry made it known he resented their attitudes all the more bitterly since he'd felt tricked into picking Gryffindor over Slytherin.
She knew Ron also felt uneasy even if he wasn't willing to argue with Harry about it. What could they say about everyone's favourite teacher? Except, however Snape might act, things always seemingly turned out to his advantage with others always paying the price.
to be continued