Author's Notes: Sorry for the wait. This didn't turn out the way I'd hoped, but I'm finally finished! It's all unbeta read, of course, but I'll get the entire story betaed up in no time. This chapter is longer than the others, but please forgive me for all of my OOC moments! But, without further adieu...

Update: Added the page dividers. Didn't even know they were missing!


Cinnamon and Coal

Part Three: Circumstances for a Duel


Being Head Girl had its advantages. It gave her the opportunity to enjoy the campus grounds long past the restrictions of curfew, and that's exactly what she'd been doing ten minutes before her robes had been soaked in blood.

Hermione Granger found it quite soothing to gaze up at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall, especially at night. What would normally be an expanse of wooden rafters in the Muggle world was and endless ocean of twinkling stars amongst the purple of the night sky. Except for the occasional wandering ghost (thank Merlin none of those ghosts was Peeves), she was alone in the Great Hall, and the solitude was something she craved in the midst of this bloody war.

She made it ritual to sit at the Gryffindor table. It just wouldn't seem right to sit at any of the other House's table, and the Gryffindor's table just seemed...right. She would make her way to the usual spot she would sit in every morning with Harry and Ron, but instead of sitting down, she would lie down on the bench to gaze up at the projection of the sky. Her curls spilled across the bench and hung over the sides, as well as her robes. She could even feel a soft, calming breeze, and she supposed to ceiling was responsible.

Usually, Hermione would begin to doze off with thoughts of Arithmancy and Voldemort plaguing her thoughts, but her internal clock would snap her awake before she could properly fall asleep. She would then drag herself to her rooms in Gryffindor tower, strangely feeling refreshed and exhausted at the same time, but tonight, she was startled awake long before her internal clock was set to go off.

The sound of the Great Hall's massive doors slammed open quite ungracefully caused her to nearly roll of the bench in surprise, but she caught herself before she made contact with the floor. Her heart was pounding rapidly from the sudden start, and once she was back up on her feet, Hermione's eyes searched for the source of the loud noise. What she discovered caused her breath to hitch in her throat.

Hermione's cinnamon hues made contact with the orbs of coal of her infamous Potions Master. Eyes that usually brimmed with enough intensity to send a first year fleeing in a storm of sobs were now glazed over with something she didn't quite recognize at first until she studied the rest of him. His body was shaking terribly, and his lanky hair was matted to the sides of his face with sweat. His robes were torn in several places, and long, thin fingers gripped into his stomach, clenching hard enough to draw blood...

Oh my, he's bleeding.

Thin trails of crimson blood trailed down her hand and dripped onto the floor, and the glazed look in his eyes was finally deciphered. He was in pain.

But why?

Hermione would've mentally slapped herself silly for the question if she weren't in such a state of shock. In his free hand, a white mask stained with crimson smears hung limply from his fingertips.

Death Eater meeting...

Yes, it was obvious now that he'd just returned from a Death Eater meeting. She knew he was double agent. Anyone associated with the Order knew of his status in this war, but she'd never imagined she would ever see him like this.

Her lungs began to burn from the lack of oxygen, but Hermione still couldn't find the strength to breathe. She watched him carefully as he began to stagger across the Great Hall, leaving a trail of his own blood behind him. He didn't seem to notice her as she watched him. His eyes were cast in another direction, and he seemed determined to make it somewhere beyond the Great Hall.

Headmistress McGonagall's office!

Severus Snape didn't make it very far before he collapsed.

Hermione finally exhaled, the burning in her lungs intensifying as she rushed over to her fallen professor. What was she to do? She practically skidded on her knees next to him, filled with the overwhelming sense to aid him, but trembling with the knowledge that she didn't know what to do. The situation before her was something completely different than Arithmancy or Charms class, and for a few brief seconds, Hermione's mind drew a blank.

Unconsciously, a hand drew out from underneath her robes to grab a hold of Snape's shoulder. His face was buried into the floor, and she made an attempt to turn him over onto his back. It took several tries, but after using both hands and her left foot, she managed to roll him into her lap. This mass of man in front of her was heavier than she'd expected, but as he lay in her lap, pale and bleeding, a sense of panic washed over her.

Hermione Granger, get yourself together!

Right, right. There was a professor in her lap, not to mention that he was the snarky Potions Master who seemed to hate her guts, but she needed to help him. He was bleeding and possibly lethally wounded.

Where was he heading again?

The Headmistress's office!

"Expecto Patronum!"

In a matter of seconds, the otter patronus was zooming through the Great Hall towards the Headmistress's office with message pleading for help.

A sharp intake of breath caught Hermione's attention, and her eyes shot down to the professor in her lap. She noticed how her robes were beginning to soak in his seeping blood, but that detail instantly became insignificant as she realized that Severus Snape's eyes were open and he was peering at her as he breathed heavily, most likely in pain.

"Granger girl..." There was no cynicism in his voice, only a soft acknowledgment of recognition. He didn't seem to be talking to her, but to himself. He inhaled sharply once more, wincing in pain and grasping the leaking wound on his stomach, before promptly passing out.

"Stupefy!"

Hermione twirled out of the way of the petrification hex sent her way, gripping her want tightly in her hand. She had to fight back the shiver that traveled down her spine as she heard that silky baritone voice echo throughout the clearing, realizing just in time that it was directed toward her.

It had really begun. She was really dueling him.

Her eyes met his, and her heart tightened as the incantation for the Jelly-Legs Jinx left her lips.


Two months passed.

Twice a week, Hermione watched as Severus Snape made his away across the Great Hall in order to report to the Headmistress. Sometimes he limped. Sometimes he bled. Sometimes he collapsed. But she was always there.

He tried to push her away during the first month. He would snarl at her, claiming he didn't need her help, and she was nothing but a "insufferable chit." She wouldn't let his words get to her, no matter how much they stung, and in the end she was always the one to escort him to McGonagall's office.

After the first two weeks, she'd learned to bring Blood Replenishing potions she'd managed to convince Madam Pomfrey into giving her, informing her that they were used in Professor Snape's aid.

When he collapsed, blood pooling around his trembling frame, she held him in her lap, coaxing the Blood-Replenishing potion down his throat and running her fingers through his oily hair, cooing at him softly while her patronus fetched Madam Pomfrey or the Headmistress. Sometimes, he would mutter in his semi-unconscious state.

Sometimes, he would call her Lily.

During the second month, he seemed to warm up to her. His harsh words ceased, and there were no objections to accepting the potions she kept on hand every night or to her company as she escorted him to the Headmistress's office. Sometimes, she would catch him watching her, and she could feel her cheeks grow hot from his peering gaze. His eyes would avert from their position once he saw her flushed cheeks, and she could feel the corners of her lips turn upward into the slightest of smiles.

One night, as she peered up at the enchanted ceiling from her lying position on the bench at the Gryffindor table, fingering a Blood-Replenishing potion in her robes, she felt the presence of someone sitting down right above her head.

Cinnamon met coal.

Hermione Granger and a very unharmed Severus Snape conversed until dawn.

A quarter of an hour later, and Severus Snape was lying in a heap of snow. Blood trickled from his bottom lip, and coal colored hues gazed up at the wand pointed at his throat.

He was proud. His plan was not an utter failure, and it seemed that she would pass his test after all.

Her clothes were soaked with snow and torn in several places, along with nicks and cuts scattered across her body. She was panting heavily, her chest heaving with each breath. The duel had reached a full half-hour, and it wasn't until this very moment that he'd seen what he'd wanted to see.

"Sectumsem–!"

"Expelliarmus!"

Her wand flew out of her hand.

"Levicorpus!"

With a shriek, she was dangling upside down by her ankles.

With his wand pointed at the dangling girl, Severus picked himself up from the ground, a smirk forming on his busted lip. He met her wide, frightened eyes before closing the gap between them. With a flick of his wand, she levitated higher in the air until their faces were level with each other. She was flailing, screaming at him to put her down, but when she finally recognized the amused expression on his face, her body came to a standstill despite her hovering position in the air.

"This duel is over, Miss Granger."

She gazed at him in confusion for a few brief moments before understanding dawned on her features. She smiled, and he fought back the urge to chuckle at how ridiculous she looked, beaming at him while suspended in the air.

"Happy birthday, Sev-"

He promptly cut her off with his lips.


She remembered the night he told her about Lily.

She remembered the day she felt him calling out to her in the middle of Potions, and the resulting explosion from her neglected cauldron.

She remembered the hotness in her cheeks the night she realized she was developing something deeper than a mutual understanding for her Potions professor.

She remembered all the nights she held him in her lap as he bled all over her robes.

She remembered the first time he let her into his private laboratory, claiming that Madam Pomfrey was getting sick of giving her all of the Blood Replenishing and Dreamless Sleep potions, so she might as well brew them herself.

She remembered the terrible aching in her heart when she'd finally gathered up the courage to tell him her feelings, only to flee from him as tears poured down her cheeks.

She remembered all of this the night he cast Legilimens on her.

He was panting when he finally retreated from her mind, and she found that she was once again crying in front of him. The look in his eyes caused the breath to hitch in her throat. Did he finally understand?

She reached out for him, and she could see the look of contemplation on his face. She mentally begged him to take her hand. She saw his memories, too. She knew he sought her out every night. She knew he had called out to her that day in Potions. She knew he thought of her, and then cursed himself for such thoughts. She knew it all, and all he needed to do was take her hand...

"Get out, Hermione..."

An Order meeting during the Christmas holidays was the next time she was able to meet his eyes for more than five seconds.

He'd promptly ignored her for three weeks, ever since the night he'd used Legilimency on her.

After the meeting concluded and all of the Order members began to file out, no one seemed to notice the Potions Master and "insufferable know-it-all" linger behind.

He sat at one end of the table, and she sat at the other. Her eyes didn't meet his, but she could feel him watching her. She was afraid to meet his gaze and see nothing but ridicule and disgust on his features.

Perhaps I had been wrong about his feelings...

She heard his chair scrape against the wooden floor and he rose from his seat, and his dragonskin boots thudded loudly as he made his way in her direction. She bowed her head, letting her hair fall in front of her face to hide her flushing cheeks as he stopped, directly besides her.

Seconds ticked by, and she could feel the warmth radiating from his body. Her vision was filled with nothing but table in front of her before she felt a thin, pale finger hook underneath her jaw. She gasped lightly as her head was forcefully, yet gently, turned upward, and she found herself gazing into two matching eyes of coal.

But there was no ridicule, and there was no disgust. Only longing.

If you would've told her six months ago that she'd see longing in her Potions Master's eyes, she would've laughed your pants off.

But there it was. Her eyes never left his as his large hand cupped her cheek, and then ran through her hair. She knew her confusion shown visibly on her face, but internally she made a decision.

Both of her hands came up to grasp the hand that tangled in her hair. She stood up, closing the gap between them, but he did not back away. She felt her heart pounding heavily she brought his palm to her lips.

His hand twitched ever so slightly.

Then her lips met his wrist. His position didn't falter.

It took her several seconds to build the courage to stand on the tips of her toes and lightly graze his jaw in a featherlight kiss. He sucked in a small breath of air, and just as she was about to take advantage of the situation...

"You will report to my laboratory at seven-thirty, sharp, on January third. You have Blood Replenishing and Dreamless Sleep potions to brew."

There was no cynicism in his voice as he wished her a happy holiday.

On January 9th, Hermione woke up to find an owl staring at her.

She took the parchment from it's talons and unraveled it to find a note written in spidery letters. When she was done reading it, the events of the night before flooded her memories.


"What have you done to me, Hermione?"

Dreamless Sleep potion forgotten, Hermione turned around to see Snape staring at her from across the laboratory. She'd barely heard his words, but she knew he'd uttered them.

His footsteps echoed as he stepped toward her, and she could feel her stomach churn with anxiety.

"Foolish girl, what have you done?"

He was so close to her now, her cheeks were hot with a fierce blush.

Calloused fingertips brushed against her cheek, and she gasped in surprise. Before her lips could fall shut, those fingertips were grazing her bottom lip. She breathed through her parted lips, trembling slightly from the contact.

"You're so warm..."

He embraced her, holding her affectionately as she basked in his scent.

She fell asleep that night with his last words echoing in her head.

"You'll be the end of me, Hermione."

Hermione,

I will never push you away again if you can prove one thing to me.

Meet me outside of the Forbidden Forest at noon. We will duel, and you will prove to me that if you truly harbor any feelings you have shown me over the last few months, then you will harm me.

In this war, I am stuck in the middle of two sides. There will come a time where you will face me while I wear Death Eater robes, and I need to know that when that time comes, your feelings won't prohibit you from striking me and protecting yourself, because I cannot guarantee that I can keep you safe.

I hope to be staring at the end of your wand sometime after twelve-thirty.

SS


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