Chapter 14: Making Sacrifices
A/N: 'Lost and Found', which I am cowriting with Whitehound under the ffn penname 'Borolin' has also been updated for Christmas. :)
Hermione rolled up her Arithmancy homework and looked at the clock. Half an hour until she had to be at the door of Professor Snape's office.
Her new room was very comfortable... smaller than the shared dormitory, of course, but there were bookshelves that she didn't have to share, a desk to do her homework at, and a bathroom with a deep bath and a rail to help pull herself out with. It was, apparently, one of the rooms usually reserved for particularly elderly O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. examiners. The house-elves had even located a cradle, which currently stood in a corner. It looked old enough to have been constructed in the time of the Founders - and 'constructed' was the right word. It was crafted of solid oak and was almost too heavy for her to move.
She patted it rather affectionately as she waddled (the right word again, curse it) past and into the bathroom. If she went now, and again right before she left, she should be all right. Whatever it was Professor Snape wanted to teach her, she didn't want to have to ask for a toilet break in the middle of it.
Call of nature taken care of, she examined herself in the mirror. The student robes didn't flatter anyone, but they looked particularly awful over a pregnancy bulge. And she flatly refused to wear makeup. She never had, except for one or two formal occasions, and even if she tried, she'd probably do it wrong. But she wanted to do something to show him that she was an adult. A responsible potential mother, not a sentimental idiot.
There was nothing she could do with her clothes, and nothing she could do with her face. That left her hair. Normally she just ignored it, but it was sort of childish hanging loose like that. Frowning, she reached for her hairbrush.
Twenty-eight minutes later, she tapped on the heavy door to Professor Snape's office.
The door opened almost immediately, and she looked up at him. He frowned at her for a moment, then turned abruptly. "Come in and close the door."
She did so, watching him covertly. He looked... unsettled. "I'm sorry if I'm late, Professor. I don't move as fast as I used to."
"You are precisely on time." He gestured. "Sit down."
For the first time, Hermione looked around the office. In the middle of the small patch of clear floor, there were two chairs flanking a tiny table with... a chess set. Good Heavens. He actually was going to teach her to play chess.
He'd left the choice of black or white to her. She opted for black - if he started, she'd at least have somethingto go on. She lowered herself carefully into the chair and looked up at him nervously. "I'm really no good at this."
"And simply insisting that you cannot do something is so much easier than trying to learn," he said, sneering at her as he sat down opposite her. He, damn him, was as fluidly graceful as ever, while she lurched around like a hippo on its hind legs.
"I have tried to learn. I've been trying for years to learn, ever since the first time I saw that chessboard. I've tried learning out of books, memorizing strategies, Ron and Ginny have both tried to teach me..." She bit her lip, looking down at the chessboard, where the pieces were slouching and looking generally bored. "I thought if I could just get good enough, I'd be able to beat it in the nightmares."
"I see." He sounded less nasty, if no pleasanter than usual. "The difficulty being, of course, that in your nightmares, you are playing against your own mind and thus cannot defeat it. Nobody can win a game of chess played against themselves without cheating to favour one side or the other."
She nodded, swallowing hard. "I know. I... what is the point of this, then?"
"For now, for you to play as well as you are able against me." She nodded, biting her lip nervously, and after a moment he spoke again, dropping into his usual dry, lecturing tone. "This game is an assessment of your current ability. Chess is a game, which can be played to a reasonable standard by the rote memorization of standard ploys and gambits combined with a step-by-step assessment of the board's possibilities. Your lack of applied creativity should not hamper your ability to play chess. Something else is, therefore, holding you back. Play as you would normally play, and I will observe."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, sir," she said, relaxing a little. An assessment of her baseline competence. Well, it would be embarrassing, but he wasn't expecting more from her than she could do, at least.
He gave her another inscrutable look, and then nodded. "Very well. Then we will begin."
The first game lasted barely three minutes before he trapped her in a checkmate that seemed to come from nowhere. After that he seemed to deliberately hold back, moving slowly and waiting patiently while she deliberated her own moves. She lost, naturally, but she managed to take three of his pieces. She was certain he'd let her.
"Well. I do see at least one difficulty." He shooed the pieces back to their places with a flick of his fingers. "You are not playing to win. You are playing not to lose pieces. You even hesitate to strike at my own pieces. Your nightmares have made you anthropomorphize the chess men and you will not make the necessary sacrifices."
"I hate seeing them get hit," she said, watching the black pawns straggle back to their places. "I know they're only chess men, but..."
"But having been in their place, you empathize with them. Sentimental, foolish, but understandable." She looked up to see him watching her thoughtfully. "Next time we will use a Muggle chess set. That may be easier."
"One lesson is hardly going to rectify your tactical failings." He leaned back in his chair. "You play chess the way you fight, Miss Granger. Your instincts are adequate, but you allow your heart to overrule them. You indulge your allies and try to shield them even when doing so will do you harm and them no good. Something I could have deduced from your continually hissed instructions to Longbottom despite your certain knowledge that I would deduct points for it."
"Better a few lost points than an explosion in a Potions classroom," Hermione said, careful not to challenge him with tone or expression. "Neville makes mistakes when he's nervous. For everyone's safety, I had to watch him."
"And you understood my role as a teacher to be purely decorative?" He raised an eyebrow, clearly daring her to answer that with something he couldn't twist into an offence.
"Of course not, but there were twenty of us. You couldn't watch Neville every moment, because you had to watch everyone." She shrugged, reaching out to straighten up a slouching knight. He shook a tiny fist at her but assumed a suitably upright posture. "So I kept an eye on him and on Ron and Harry, just like Draco watched Crabbe and Goyle. You told us in our first lesson ever that we shouldn't let the people near us make mistakes."
He blinked once, clearly startled. "I did no such thing."
"Yes you did. You took a point from Harry because he hadn't kept Neville from adding his quills too early. You said it was because he wanted to make himself look good, which was a bit unfair because it was the first time Harry had ever seen a potion, let alone tried to make one, and I don't think he realised that it would matter if it went a bit wrong. Anyway, if we could lose points for not helping someone, then it followed logically that we were supposed to."
"And the fact that I kept deducting points from you for doing so did not logically indicate that your original assumption was inaccurate?" he asked, less sharply than usual.
"Well, no, not really. You never took points off anyone else for doing it, just me. I rather assumed it was part of your ongoing campaign to stop me from being such an insufferable know-it-all." Hermione kept her voice carefully casual, not wanting him to know how much that campaign had hurt. She'd wanted to impress him so badly, and he'd flatly refused to give her even a 'well done'.
"You did make a very convenient target upon which to demonstrate the requisite anti-Gryffindor bias," he said matter-of-factly as she stared at him in surprise. "It was not always... a personal criticism. You were simply the noisiest Gryffindor in the room."
Hermione blushed, trying not to look too pleased. "Really?"
"Make no mistake, Miss Granger, my bias against your House may have been slightly exaggerated, but it was not feigned. As a rule, Gryffindors are arrogant, lazy and self-absorbed. They bully the members of Slytherin House unmercifully and completely disregard Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw - who, if they were ever to work together, could probably obliterate every member of both the other houses with a patient attention to detail which would leave no evidence whatsoever to incriminate them. You are, I will concede, neither lazy nor particularly self-absorbed, but you have always been arrogant. Proud of your intellect and your talent, content to rely on your exceptional memory for the written and spoken word rather than making the effort to think for yourself."
Hermione hung her head. The criticism hurt, but the buried compliments took a lot of the sting out of it. An intellect and talent to be proud of, an exceptional memory... neither self-absorbed nor lazy, he had noticed how hard she worked... "I've been trying to do better with that. Uhm. I remember quite a lot of what you wrote in your Potions book, and I took a lot of notes. I've been trying to trace your conclusions back to the source - to work out why you made the changes you did, I mean. It's been fascinating, although Madam Pince is really getting annoyed about all the books I've been taking from the Potions section."
"Indeed." He quirked an eyebrow, actually looking interested. "Reverse engineering is not precisely creativity, Miss Granger, but it is a beginning. Have you been able to learn why I made the changes I did?"
"Some of them. And I'm sort of embarrassed that I didn't think of them myself. I did know better. I do have a good memory, and I should have remembered what we learned about fluxweed in third year and realised that there was no possible way that six Ashwinder eggs would be enough to counter it, just for example. But I was so used to just doing what the book said..."
"That, Miss Granger, is why so few students do more than scrape by in N.E.W.T. level Potions." He looked almost pleased, now, and gave her a tiny nod of approval. "Although they have the technical ability to brew the requisite Potions, most have simply not retained enough herb-lore and so on to see the pitfalls in the text. True skill at potion-making requires not only an excellent memory, but its application - otherwise, the first time that you 'forget' that Bubotubor pus is explosive when mixed with citrus in any form tends to be your last."
Hermione nodded. It made perfect sense. You only needed so much skill to follow a clearly written set of instructions. But to experiment, or even to adapt an existing potion, you needed an absolutely encyclopaedic knowledge of all the ingredients, as well as being able to remember how each one interacted with each of the others, how they mixed in groups, what could not be mixed without a third mitigating factor, what would nullify the mitigating ingredient and make the potion dangerous again... "It seems so obvious when I think about it," she said, making a rueful face. "I feel incredibly stupid for not seeing it earlier." "Good. Incredibly stupid is a fairly accurate assessment." He didn't say it nearly as nastily as usual, though. "Even so, realizing said stupidity is further than most students ever progress even at the N.E.W.T. level." He paused, and then gave her another thoughtful look. "Merely performing the written work - a minor part of N.E.W.T. level Potions at best - will not be enough. Since you are actually applying yourself to research in your spare time, it might as well be made useful. Next time you may bring your work with you. I will examine it and see if there is anything useful enough to be turned into an extra-credit essay."
Hermione stared at him. No horrible remark or sudden yanking away of the proffered treat seemed forthcoming. "Really? You wouldn't mind?"
"If I did, I wouldn't have offered." He gave her a familiar you-utter-idiot look. "That will be all for this evening, Miss Granger. I will expect you back here promptly at seven on Saturday evening, with your research." He paused and gave her stomach the exact same suspicious, nervous look that it routinely got from elderly teachers and teenaged boys alike. "For now, you may return to your room. I understand you require... ah... plenty of rest."
Nervous suspicion was an improvement on utter indifference or outright hostility, and Hermione couldn't help beaming as she awkwardly got to her feet. "I do get tired easily," she said, resting a hand absently on her back. Ow. "But it's not too bad yet. And... thank you for this. You were right... it is a weakness I need to address."
He snorted, but he nodded and watched her with an unreadable expression as she straightened up and smoothed her robes over her stomach. "I have spent the last six and a half years trying to convince you that you do not know everything and that you need to learn to think for yourself. I certainly do not intend to give up now that success is at last in sight."
She smiled at him. "As painful as it has been at times, I do appreciate it. Thank you, and goodnight."
Severus ploughed through his marking, having even more difficulty than usual focusing on the mindless drivel routinely produced by first-years. It was difficult enough even without something more interesting to think about.
Like Hermione Granger's hair. He'd never seen it in anything but an untouched and untamed mass. (Had she worn it differently at the Yule Ball? He didn't recall seeing her, and surely he would have if it had been its usual eye-catching mop.) He hadn't been prepared for it to be up. It had actually looked quite attractive, pinned into a fluffy knot on the top of her head. And it had, it seemed, been hiding one of her most striking features entirely.
Hermione Granger's colouring was not up to the standard of the pure-blooded by any means - light brown hair and pinkish-fair skin simply wasn't dramatic enough, although her large brown eyes were passable. She had other features, however, that more than compensated for that by wizarding standards. Robes tended to conceal the finer details of body-shape, and most pure-bloods - or persons like himself, who had spent all their adult lives amongst wizardkind - had developed a rather more refined means of assessing personal beauty than the size and heft of bosom and backside. (After all, anyone with a rudimentary grasp of Charms could have big knockers and a perky arse, at least for a while.) A pretty hand, a dainty ankle, a pair of melting eyes or a slim neck were the features that drew the eye in robes, showing that a girl was something out of the common way.
And Hermione Granger had possibly the loveliest neck he had ever seen. Slender, gracefully proportioned, framed by little strands of wavy hair caressing flawless pale skin... when she had passed him and sat down he had spent an embarrassing moment simply staring at it. Did the girl have any idea that she'd been hiding under all that dreadful hair a feature that would have had boys fighting to sit behind her so they could look at it?
Her hands were almost as perfectly proportioned as her neck. A little swollen, perhaps, thanks to her pregnancy, but only the slightest bit. Her fingers were still slender and neither spiderishly long nor stubbily short. Her palms were soft and pink and the backs of her hands smooth. He'd had to drag his eyes away before his mental catalogue got as far as her wrists, but they were very attractive from what he'd seen out of the corner of his eye.
Severus frowned, dropping the last of the essays onto the pile to be returned, having scrawled a particularly vindictive comment at the bottom to the effect that the student's brain was composed entirely of lard and air. Seeing Hermione as a grown woman was bad enough. Seeing her as a very attractive grown woman was even worse. Especially now she was finally beginning to think for herself. Knowing she had been following up his own early research, beginning to finally understand the true complexity of the art of potion-making... that only made her even more appealing.
Akilah climbed onto his lap, and he lowered a hand to stroke her absently. "Next time, perhaps I ought to introduce you to Miss Granger," he said, looking down at her as she circled in his lap, sharp claws digging into his thighs. "I would certainly be interested to know what you think of her."
Akilah mewed, then stopped her circling to wrestle his hand into submission. "Ouch!" He yanked his hand away from her sharp claws and sharper teeth, wincing. She was careful not to draw blood, but it still hurt. "If you keep that up, I won't give you any milk at bedtime."
The Kneazle gave him a look that conveyed 'you wouldn't dare' as clearly as any words and curled up to sleep in his lap. Just as he was ready to leave his desk. Kneazles really were astonishingly catlike in some ways.
When Hermione opened her door, (her own, unshared door!) she found a house-elf fussing with her pillows. "Hello, Miss Granger!" the house-elf piped, beaming up at her. "I is Dilly, and the Headmistress is assigning me to look after you." She frowned suddenly. "The Headmistress promises that you is not leaving hats around anymore."
"Er... no. No more hats." Hermione blushed. "I'm sorry about that."
"Miss was very young," Dilly said, seeming somewhat mollified by the apology. "Miss is to ask Dilly for anything she needs, anything at all - if Dilly is not here, just call and I is coming at once. Miss is not to be running about the castle in her condition."
"Thank you, Dilly. I'll try to keep the... er... running around to a minimum." Hermione set her bag on a chair and looked around. There was a loaded tea tray on a small table and steam wreathing invitingly out of the bathroom. "Thank you, Dilly... did you run a bath?"
"Yes, Miss. Dilly understands that hot baths help rest Miss's back." Dilly looked pleased with herself. "Miss is to have a hot bath and some tea, and then an early night. Miss requires plenty of rest."
Hermione stared at her. This was definitely a bossier house-elf than the usual kind. "Well, maybe a short bath, but I don't really need any tea."
Dilly frowned. For someone two feet tall, with a nose like a button mushroom and round blue eyes as large as saucers, she did an amazing imitation of Mrs Weasley. "Miss needs to keep up her strength," she said sternly. "Miss must think of the baby."
"Yes, I suppose Miss must." Hermione couldn't help giggling at the house-elf's resolute expression. "I'll go have that bath, then."
The bath had been lightly scented with rose and sandalwood, and Hermione didn't leave it until the water had cooled noticeably. Dilly was gone when she peeked out of the bathroom, but she went and had a cup of tea and a biscuit anyway, just in case the house-elf was still watching. Dilly was clearly very anxious to look after her, and she didn't want the little elf to feel unappreciated.
She was contemplating a second biscuit (surely it wouldn't do the baby any harm if she violated her strict healthy-and-nourishing-food-only diet with just one custard cream?) when someone knocked on the door. "Who is it?" Hermione called. Even before Harry's would-be assassin had started lurking about, she'd known better than to say 'come in' before knowing who it was.
"It's Ginny. Can I come in and see your new room?"
"Of course, come in!" Hermione didn't bother to hoist herself to her feet, settling instead for giving Ginny a little wave as she peeked around the door. "Want some tea? And I have biscuits."
Ginny looked around the room as she headed over to the nice little tea table and the two comfortable chairs that had appeared while Hermione was learning about chess. "Wow. If I'd known getting knocked up would get me my own room, my own fireplace, my own bathroom and my own house-elf, I'd've put a bit more effort into getting Harry alone the night of the victory celebration," she said, shaking her head and grinning at Hermione with good-natured envy. "Mum'd have a fit, of course."
"Of course. Unless he made an honest woman of you, and then she'd be thrilled." Hermione grinned. "And he would, probably, but I wouldn't recommend it. Harry's very sweet, but..."
"But he's a little more mature than Ron, which is to say more so than the average twelve-year-old." Ginny grinned. "I'm not in any hurry, either. It is an awfully nice room, though."
"It is. And delightfully Lavender-free," Hermione said, taking that second biscuit. "If I'd heard one more mutter from her on the subject of my loose morals and nonexistent marriage-prospects..."
"Is she still doing that?" Ginny shook her head. "Daft. I can't believe anyone would hold a grudge like that over Ron."
"He used her to make me jealous and then ditched her when he got tired of her. I don't blame her for still being angry." Hermione sipped her tea and sighed. "I just wish she'd take it out on him. None of it was my idea."
"No." Ginny leaned over and patted her arm. "Honestly, I was quite glad when you two split up. He doesn't deserve you, the great freckled pillock."
Hermione giggled. Ginny didn't think much of most of her brothers, with Charlie being the only exception now that Bill's judgement had lapsed so horribly as to let him marry Fleur. "He's really not that bad, we're just... not very compatible. At all."
Ginny nodded. "I've always wondered... how exactly did you break it off?" she asked, taking a biscuit. "I know you must have - he wouldn't have had the nerve. He won't talk about it, though."
Hermione grinned suddenly. "It was all very civilized, in a weird way. It was after the victory celebrations, about mid-morning when people were starting to wake up. I found him in the kitchen of Malfoy Manor clutching a cup of tea and whimpering. And... well, I knew about Cynthia, and I'd just gotten knocked up, although I didn't know that yet. So I said hello, and he said hello, and I said I thought we were really better off as friends, and he said he thought so too, and... that was it, more or less."
Ginny stared at her. "That was it?"
"That was it. We were both horribly hung-over and not at all inclined to make any sort of scene, which helped, but... well. We'd come close before, this just sort of formalized it." Hermione grinned ruefully. "I gave him a hangover potion, he gave me a cup of tea, and we've been friends again ever since."
"Wow." Ginny nibbled her biscuit with a thoughtful expression on her face. "I thought breaking up was supposed to involve fighting and stuff."
"Well, we'd done that the night before. We've done it quite a lot over the years, actually." Hermione sipped her tea. It tasted a little odd, and she suspected that something herbal had been done to it. She'd never liked herbal teas much... a nice English Breakfast was more her thing. "I didn't really feel any need to do it again."
"I suppose I can see why." Ginny shrugged. "Not that I ever knew what you saw in him."
"You're his sister, you're not supposed to." Hermione smiled at her rather affectionately. "I feel the same way about Harry, really... I'm very fond of him, but I really don't see any appeal there, you know, as such."
"I know, and I like it that way." Ginny took another biscuit, having disposed of the first one at speed. "Did you know there's a rumour that Harry's the baby's dad?"
"I think there's a rumour like that about nearly every male I know, including Colin Creevey," Hermione said sourly. "And no, it was not Colin."
"'Course not. What girl in her right mind would get her kit off in front of Colin? He'd take a picture as soon as look at it."
Hermione nearly choked on her tea, the laugh was so sudden. Ginny had definitely inherited Mrs Weasley's earthy sense of humour. "That too. Besides, he's too... enthusiastic. I'm sure it'd be off-putting."
"Oh, definitely. At least Dennis can talk quietly. Colin enthuses about everything at the top of his voice." Ginny shook her head, snickering quietly. "Anyway, Colin's involved in a passionate and exclusive love-affair with his camera."
"Cameras. Plural. He has a whole harem of them."
"Oh, Hermione, that's awful!" Ginny was laughing and making a disgusted face both at once. "Anyway, I know it can't have been Harry, because if it'd been possible to get him away from the crowd for more than thirty seconds I'd have done it, which I've been telling people whenever they bring it up. Shuts them up quite fast."
"Good. Now if you can just give similarly solid alibis to Professor Lupin, all of your brothers except Percy, Mad-Eye Moody - "
"Oh, yuck, not Mad-Eye!"
"I'd rather seduce a Knarl, yes, but I have heard that theory. Also Kingsley Shacklebolt - "
"His boyfriend'd be damn surprised about that one."
"So would Kingsley. And then there's Justin Finch-Fletchley, Neville Longbottom, Terry Boot - "
"Anything with trousers, then?"
"Except for your dad, yes. And anyone else really seriously married - the ones that wouldn't stray even if I offered."
Ginny shuddered. "So you know there's a betting pool, then?"
"Neville told me. He was very indignant. It was quite sweet." Hermione had taken some satisfaction in the knowledge that of the seventy-two guesses, not one was accurate.
"None of them are right, are they?" Ginny asked, and then smirked when Hermione gave her a startled look. "I know that expression, Hermione Granger, that's your 'I know the answer and you don't, ha ha' look. Of course, if none of them are right, that narrows the field down quite a lot..."
"Ginny!" Ginny wasn't stupid. She might work it out. And Ginny, like all the other Weasleys, simply could not keep her mouth shut when she was angry.
"Don't worry, I still haven't been able to work it out. The trouble is that everyone kept moving around so much that nobody really knows who was there, where, and for how long. For all I know you had it off with Professor Flitwick, Seamus Finnegan and a Venomous Tentacula in the middle of the ballroom."
"Ginny, that's disgusting." But, thankfully, nowhere near accurate. "Go away, before you give me nightmares. I've been ordered to have an early night, anyway."
"Really? By who? Professor Snape?"
"Him and the house-elf who's been assigned to look after me. And by 'look after me' I mean the way your mum does it." Hermione grinned. "She flat out ordered me to take a long hot bath, have a cup of tea and then get an early night. In a polite and servile way, but it was still an order."
"Weird." Ginny shook her head, snagging another biscuit as she headed for the door. "I almost forgot to ask... what did Snape want, anyway?"
Hermione shrugged. "He's teaching me to play chess. Better, I mean."
"What... chess? Really?"
"As a means of improving my tactics and so on, yes."
Ginny shook her head. "He's finally cracked. Poor man. All those years of strain."
"Actually, I think it's going to be very helpful." Hermione realised she was beaming a little sentimentally and covered for it hastily. "He's letting me do some extra-credit work to keep my Potions marks up, too."
"Oh, I see." Ginny snickered. "Well, I wouldn't dream of coming between you and your one true love, Hermione. If it were possible for homework to father offspring, I know where I'd put my Sickle."