[Author's note: This story contains aspects of books five, six, and seven, but is not based upon or totally compliant with any one of them. There was no Dumbledore-killing at the end of their sixth year, for example, and many of the Order members either lived at 12 Grimmauld Place or popped in there very frequently.

Disclaimer: I am not profiting by the writing of this work of fiction based upon characters created by J.K. Rowling.

Hermione became friends with Professor Snape with hardly any words spoken between them.

It started the summer before their seventh year. Harry was staying with his hated relatives, bemoaning the lack of news. As it happened, Hermione was staying at 12 Grimmauld Place, doing the exact same thing.

No one told her and the other youngsters anything about what the Order's plans were, and time wore heavy on their hands. Ron and the twins kept themselves occupied with mischief, Quidditch talk, and endless games of chess; Ginny with dungbombs, eavesdropping on the meetings, and avoiding her mother who always assigned kitchen chores every time she saw her.

Hermione, not being a great one for Quidditch talk, mischief, or kitchen chores, had little to do and ended up spending a lot of time upstairs in the room she shared with Ginny.

Voldemort's return had scared her out of her wits. She listened to the stories the older Order members told, when they thought she was immersed in her book, and her blood ran cold. The fact that so few people called him by name frightened her most of all. There was no muggle in history who had been so evil that his enemies were afraid to so much as name him! Even Hitler had been called by his name, and he had killed millions! So, subconsciously, she kept thinking of Voldemort as enough worse than Hitler that people wouldn't even say his name.

Consciously, she knew that names had more power in the magical community and that it made sense not to speak the name of one's enemy so as not to attract his attention.

But subconsciously, the fact simply terrified her. Knowing, too, that as one of Harry Potter's friends and a muggleborn, she was at high risk of harm from Voldemort and his followers, did not help to ease her fear. Hearing others tell exactly what was in store for her if she were ever captured was the stuff of nightmares.

For a muggleborn to go against Voldemort was like converting to Judaism and giving Hitler and all his followers magical powers. She read a lot of muggle history that summer, and began to understand the patterns of war and power that the advocates of "pure blood" followed. Pureblood, Aryan race—it was all the same.

No one else living at Grimmauld Place could understand her dread; there was no one she could confide in, so she kept her terror locked up inside during the day. She was never alone, so she was never able to relax and come to terms with her fears.

And at night, she found it hard to sleep. Instead of tossing and turning and waking Ginny, she began sneaking down to the kitchen late at night. She would fix herself a cup of tea in privacy, and enjoy the rare time of solitude that her insomnia provided her with.

That is, until Snape came in.

The first night she saw him there, the kettle had just come to a boil, and she was pouring herself a cup of tea when the door opened. In swept Professor Snape, long black cloak flapping like the wings of a predacious bird. He glared at her.

"Where's Arthur?" he demanded.

"Sleeping, sir," Hermione replied. She finished pouring her tea and then, on a whim, got down another cup. So what if he hated her? A nice cuppa never hurt anyone.

With this thought in mind, she ignored his response of scowl-and-pace-the-room while she filled his cup, and set it down on the opposite end of the table from where she usually sat. "Tea, Professor?" she offered, scooting back to her own end and sitting down.

He gave a surprised grunt, took off his cloak, and sat down.

Hermione found that Snape did not, in fact, intrude on her privacy. He was so lost in his own thoughts it was as if she was alone. She idly noted how he took his tea, and then they proceeded to sip in silence.

The next night began the same way, except for Snape's coming in and asking, "Where's the headmaster?" and nipping off to the library for a late-night chat with Dumbledore while the kettle came to a boil.

Hermione shrugged and made his tea the way he'd made it for himself the night before. She barely got it onto a saucer and set down at the far end of the table before he came back in to get his cloak.

"Tea, sir?" Hermione invited, gesturing toward his cup as she sat down at the other end of the long table with her own.

This time he actually nodded at her before sitting down.

After that, it became almost a game to her, timing her late-night forays into the kitchen to correspond with Snape's visits, and preparing his tea the way he liked it hoping that one of these days she would be thanked.

It never happened, all summer long. Every second or third night Snape would show up around eleven or half eleven at night, demand to see one or the other of the Order members, and almost absently reach for his tea when he returned for his cloak. On a good night he would actually give her a nod as he sat down at his end of the long table, but frequently he would just ignore her entirely. His sigh of contentment, though, as he reached for his teacup, always made her smile into her own.

As the summer wore on, Snape began looking increasingly haggard. His frown, already perpetual, deepened. His hair, always lank and greasy-looking, began to look more and more unkempt, and his spare figure became even leaner.

Moved to compassion for the nasty Potions professor, Hermione began adding a small plate of biscuits to his tea service. The first night she did that, he darted a suspicious look at her.

She returned him an innocently blank one, picking up a biscuit from her own plate as she nodded to him neutrally as if to reassure him that she'd been about to have some anyway.

Apparently that was enough, and although he glared at each biscuit before eating it, as if it had personally offended him, he polished off the entire plateful.

Since the biscuits passed muster, Hermione waited another week before trying a sandwich. She made it thick, with plenty of lettuce, good, crusty bread, and the roast beef sliced thin and tender. She made a half-sandwich for herself; enough to show him that she'd been making one for herself anyway, but not enough to fill her up before bed.

She got the suspicious scowl again that night, but when she innocently bit into her own, he simply shrugged and started eating.

Still, there were no thanks forthcoming.

Hermione came to understand, though, that the level of trust he showed by consuming what she prepared was, in itself, an acknowledgment of gratitude … of sorts.

Certainly he continued to be just as nasty-tempered as ever, barely even glancing her way on those rare occasions when they met during the day. Whenever he did catch her eye he simply looked away as if she were of no more importance than a piece of furniture.

But his demeanor began to relax so much during their silent late-night kitchen encounters that Hermione began to wonder how much of his carefully cultivated nastiness was actually genuine, and how much was simply a result of his being overtaxed.

For overtaxed he certainly was. Hermione could see his slow but steady decline as the weeks passed. His sallow face grew more drawn, and his cheekbones more pronounced. She tried to fill his sandwiches with the best meat and salad she could find, and started experimenting with different blends of tea to try and find one that was both strengthening and soothing.

It didn't seem to do any good. He no longer bothered trying to hide his fatigue as he slumped in his chair, one hand supporting his forehead while the other lifted the teacup to his lips, shadowed by his lank, black hair.

Hermione wasn't sure whether to feel honored that he trusted her enough to let his guard down around her, or insulted that he thought of her as part of the furniture. In any case, his obvious exhaustion and stress began to engage her sympathies. She started to feel almost possessive of him, and further resolved to do everything in her (admittedly limited) power to ease his load.

They continued in this vein for most of the summer, until the night when Hermione went down to the kitchen to put the kettle on and discovered Snape already there.

He was not in his usual spot on the far end of the table, but rather in the place directly across from where she usually sat. He was slumped in the chair with his face resting on his arms on the table.

Hermione put on the kettle as usual, spooned in the tea, scalded the teapot – she did everything as usual, trying to ignore his obtrusive presence at her end of the table. Then she looked closer at him and clapped a hand to her mouth, stunned.

He was crying.

Ordinarily she would have backed out from the kitchen to give him his privacy, but the kettle was steaming and she realized that deviating from her usual course of action would only point out the abnormality of his actions … and would definitely annoy him. So she continued making the tea as usual, and when his cup was ready she set it down in front of him on the table.

"Pro-Professor?" she spoke gently. "Here's your tea. Would you like me to leave?"

He said nothing, but lifted his head just enough to take a sip of tea before setting the cup back down. Hermione nodded to herself, picked up her own cup and turned to go.

A pale, bony hand snaked out and grabbed hers, clutching it with a somewhat painful intensity. Mutely he shook his head without looking at her.

Hermione sat down in her usual spot across from him, her hand patiently resting in his, and sipped her tea. There seemed to be nothing else he required of her at the moment, other than clenching her hand in his almost convulsive grip. She gave a mental shrug and settled in.

She had no idea how long they sat there. He buried his face in his arms again, and the hitch of his breath told her that he was still crying a little. He only surfaced long enough to take the occasional sip of tea, but he hid behind his hair when he did so, so that she wouldn't see his face. Once or twice she noticed tears glistening on the sides of his nose, and she held a long and heated internal debate over whether or not she should conjure a handkerchief for him. All this time, he kept his grip on her hand.

They were still sitting like that when Dumbledore came in. The old wizard took one look at his wounded soldier and at the anxious expression in Hermione's brown eyes, and he hurried over to pull out the chair next to Snape. "What happened, son?" he asked, with such a tender tone in his voice that Hermione felt slightly embarrassed to be there.

"Uh, excuse me… I'll just… go," she finished lamely.

Snape glanced up quickly, not bothering to hide his distress. "Miss Granger, I wish… that is to say…" A dull, mottled reddish colour washed up into his cheeks, and he shook his head slightly. "I hope I can trust you to be discreet about… this," he said uncomfortably.

"Yes, of course, sir," Hermione said in a rush. "Good night, professors." She left the room, but lingered a moment to make sure the door closed quietly instead of its usual slam.

Just before it closed, she heard Snape say quietly, "I'm sorry, Headmaster; I'm aware that holding a student's hand isn't exactly appropriate. I just needed a moment to remember what it was like to touch another human being without hurting them."

Hermione flexed her hand where he had clenched it so tightly, and smiled ruefully. Well, as long as he thought so, she thought. She'd never, ever let on that his desperate grip had caused her even the slightest discomfort.

Quietly, Dumbledore replied, "Oh, Severus, the things we ask of you!"