Title: Who Needs a Hug?
Author: cathedral carver
Spoilers: Up through Deathly Hallows
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Summary: Snape does.
How did it begin?
She was all knobby knees (with neon pink Muggle band aids!) and flyaway hair, socks that never quite stayed up and a voice and manner that swung aggravatingly between obnoxiously officious and girlishly screechy.
She was insufferable.
June and the last day of school, too bright sunshine and a blessed retreat to the familiarity of his dungeons, dark and close and comforting.
"I just came to say good-bye!" she announced from the doorway, satchel slung across her shoulder. She staggered a bit under its considerable weight. He was standing behind his desk having just finished emptying the drawers of confiscated Zonko's paraphernalia. His head snapped up at her voice and he frowned. She grinned. He blinked at her and then closed his eyes for longer than a blink. When he looked again she was still there, still grinning. She'd arranged her hair into something resembling a water fountain, and he found himself mesmerized by its sheer volume and frizz.
Perhaps he had misunderstood. Was she leaving the school permanently? He'd heard nothing of the sort from Minerva or Dumbledore. What sort of ruse then? Was Potter lurking behind her, ready to strike? Students never came to say "good-bye" to him. He didn't know quite what to make of her.
"Don't you have anything to say?" she inquired politely.
Was this a trick question? He blinked again.
"Good-bye…?" he said slowly. She nodded enthusiastically like a teacher with a dim-witted student and fairly skipped into the room, invading his carefully maintained personal space.
"I hope you have a brilliant summer," she said. "I've always hated summer holidays. Can't bear to be away from school too long, you know. But," she sighed and patted her overstuffed bag. "I'll have my books. And in two months I'll be back."
"Is that a threat?"
He stared. "Shouldn't you be on the train?" Moving away from me?
"I had a little extra time. I'm making the rounds and you're the last on my list."
"Save the best for last. My mum says that."
Then, horror of horrors, she stuck out her small hand and let it hover close to his clenched one. He shifted his steely gaze from her face to the proffered appendage, and made no move to grasp it.
Finally she reached down and grabbed his fist firmly, pumped it up and down once, twice, then let go. Still she wouldn't leave. Snape exhaled loudly through his nose. She was watching him and he could almost hear the cogs turning as she deliberated…something. Then she took two quick steps forward, threw her arms around his chest and hugged him.
He'd managed to get his arms free just in time and lifted them up, above her head. He made absolutely no move to touch her but only stared down in repulsion at the top of her tangled hair.
"What are you doing?" he hissed.
She muttered something indecipherable into his robes.
She pulled back.
"A hug is a handshake from the heart," she said. "My mum says that, too." She smiled up at him, open, toothy, heartrending.
And that was how it began.
Because he found it nearly impossible to believe ianything/i could render her motionless or, Merlin forbid, speechless, he went to see her for himself. Late at night, silent as a long black ghost, he glided through the infirmary, past Pomfrey as she nodded in her chair, past the other occupied beds until her found the one he sought.
The sight of her, small and stiff and oh so pale in the moonlight caught him by surprise. He stopped short, a foot from her bed, his eyes raking in her appearance. He'd seen Petrification before, of course, but for some reason this particular case startled him more than he ever expected. He looked to make sure Pomfrey was still dozing and moved closer still. He bent towards her, until his face was mere inches from her wide, sightless eyes. Her hands and arms were awkwardly arranged and he remembered, unbidden, when they had been wrapped tightly around his midsection.
"Severus?" At the sound of Poppy's quiet, curious voice behind him, his head snapped up and he turned on his heel.
"No change, then?" he said, avoiding her eyes.
"No, poor dears," she sighed. "How much longer 'til it's ready?"
"I'm just going to check now," he said in a rather strangled voice.
He cast one more glance at the girl before he bolted.
Then he caught sight of her, walking down a hallway right towards him with another urchin and he stopped, his breath caught slightly in his throat. She was upright, she was clutching her books, she was talking nonstop.
"Making up for lost time are we, Miss Granger?" He couldn't help himself.
She stopped in mid-sentence, dropped her books and hurled herself at him. Snape locked eyes with her classmate, whose mouth was open in a perfect, astonished O-shape.
Breathe one single word of this and you will pay dearly.
"Thank you, thank you, sir," Hermione babbled.
"Again I ask, Miss Granger, what are you doing?" He tried to pull away to no avail. Her arms appeared to be petrified around him.
"Madam Pomfrey said you were up every night working on the potion so you must be simply exhausted, sir, and well, my mum says hugs are the universal medicine."
"Indeed," he drawled. "I'll have to remember that next time I have to tend to a gaggle of Petrified children in the infirmary."
She laughed loud and long at that one.
Later, much later, Poppy confided to him that she'd never had a batch of Mandrake Potion work so effectively.
"You must have put your heart and soul into it," she teased.
"Would that I had either," was his reply.
His head ached for days after he was slammed into the wall of the Shrieking Shack, but it was his pride that was sorely, almost irreparably wounded.
And to think that she was part of the entire debacle, that she had taken their side, that she had heard and possibly believed whatever horrible slurs had been uttered about him after he'd been rendered incapacitated, hurt more than he would ever admit.
He was throwing books rather savagely into a satchel when he sensed her nervous and teary presence in the doorway of his office.
"What do you want?" he snarled.
"I came to apologize," she whispered. "I'm so very sorry, sir. What we did—"
"Should have gotten you and your miserable miscreant cronies expelled," Snape spat.
"I know, I know!" She wrung her hands. "We— I didn't think, sir. We never meant to do it and we didn't know who Sirius truly was at the time—"
Snape seethed at the name and slammed a book down on his desk. Hermione flinched and began to cry in earnest.
" —and I know you were only trying to protect us—"
Snape sneered inwardly at this.
"—and I hope your head is all right and I hope that you—"
"What? What? Don't lodge a formal appeal to have the three of you thrown out of Hogwarts?"
She gasped and hung her head. "I wouldn't blame you if you did."
He exhaled sharply, his anger ebbing infinitesimally.
"Remove yourself from my line of sight, Miss Granger. I have much work to finish and you're a very sorry distraction indeed."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her nod and drag her sleeve across her eyes and her rather snotty nose. iAny minute now/i, he thought. He put down the book, readied his arms. Any…minute…
"I hope you can forgive me, sir," she gasped into his robes. "I feel just horrible about everything and I hope you don't mind this but my mum says you can't give a hug without getting a hug."
"Your mother," he hissed, "was sadly mistaken."
She turned then and fled and he could hear her muffled sobs echo in the hallway and he felt her phantom arms around him and he hurled a particularly heavy tome across the room and thought:
Why is she picking on me?
He always hated January.
The students returned and the deepest, darkest cold settled into the castle and, this year, into his very bones. This year he couldn't seem to get warm, no matter how many Charms he performed.
And there was Miss Granger, lollygagging around at the back of his classroom, idly sorting and resorting her textbooks in her gigantic satchel, waiting for everyone else to scurry away. It was amazing how slowly the students filed into his room and how swiftly they fled.
He sighed, resigned, as she approached his desk.
"If you're here to get help with Potter's latest Triwizard puzzle you are sorely misguided," he warned.
"I'm not!" she said, genuine surprise colouring her voice. She bounced on the balls of her feet and bit her lip.
"Then what? Spit it out!"
She was fairly bursting with…something. He glared at her, growing more irritated by the minute.
"Out with it! I have better things to do with my time—"
"Like celebrate?" she asked.
"I can assure you 'celebrating' is not high on my To-Do List today, unless, of course, I can convince you to leave within the next 10 seconds."
"But it's your birthday!" she crowed jubilantly. Any minute she'd start jumping up and down and clapping her hands.
He froze. Another reason to hate January. January ninth. Dear Merlin, it was. He exhaled dangerously.
"And how," he drawled, "did you happen to become privy to that piece of information?"
She was biting back a giggle. He could hear it lurking there, just behind her newly refurbished teeth.
"Oh, Professor McGonagall let it slip sir. I think she's planning a little surprise for you in Dumbledore's office at lunchtime."
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his considerable nose. Yes. Of course. Minerva's lovely time-honoured tradition of Birthday Cake and Mead that he'd managed to mercifully avoid for the past five years.
"Don't worry, sir," she leaned forward conspiratorially. "Your secret's safe with me. I didn't tell anyone, not even Harry or Ron."
"Yes, thank you, because I'm sure they would have all stampeded down here to dispense presents."
Hermione bit back a laugh.
"No, sorry, just me, sir."
"Pardon?" he said icily.
"Well, not a present, exactly, because…well, I would have imade/i you something, but I didn't have enough time, you see—"
Here we go.
He readied himself, checked the doorway to make sure no errant students appeared.
She hugged him. He let her.
"Mum says, you can't wrap love in a box, but you can wrap a person in a hug."
"Oh," she stammered, her face going a particularly unattractive shade of crimson. "Not that kind of love, sir. It's…it's just a saying, you know?"
"Happy Birthday, sir," she said as she ran away.
Strange, he noted later, how he never felt quite as cold after that.
What a horrible, horrifying year.
Between having to endure the almost unendurable atrocity that was Umbridge and having the "honour" of teaching Potter Occlumency bestowed upon him, Snape wrote not one but two scathing letters of resignation. He ended up burning both of them but the very act of composition soothed him during his worst moments.
Then the unmitigated disaster at the Ministry. Then finding himself at her bedside once again.
In the infirmary she was delirious with pain of course, but once he'd administered a fairly complicated potion and counter spell, she settled somewhat and looked about. At one point her hazy eyes focused, he was sure, completely and cogently on him.
"Professor Snape," she murmured. He nodded curtly. "You look terrible, sir."
"As do you."
She studied him.
"Who needs a hug?" she slurred, reaching up her arms to grab him.
"Miss Granger," he hissed, looking around hurriedly to see if anyone had noticed. Fortunately, the room was filled with enough badly injured students and panicked teachers that no one had seen the spasmodic limbs of one grievously delusional girl.
"Lie back and do not move," he ordered. "You've been wounded, as have most of your moronic friends and you've given us all more work than we can handle."
"Oh, I'm sure you can handle it," she murmured as she drifted into unconsciousness again. "You're the smartest man I know."
He didn't see her face to face again until weeks after she'd been released from the infirmary, though he'd watched her from afar, when he could do so unnoticed. She carried herself tenderly, gingerly, as though something ached deep within.
It was at 12 Grimmauld Place that she confronted him, alone, as he was about to depart after a particularly volatile meeting.
"Miss Granger," he said as distastefully as possible.
"You saved my life, again," she began. "Madam Pomfrey—"
"Would do better to keep her overly dramatic opinions to herself."
"Did my job, nothing more."
"Silence, Miss Granger, for once in your life. iPlease/i."
She nodded, sighed, and turned, as if she was going to walk away. Snape was astounded. Astounded to find he was…disappointed.
Isn't she going to hug me?
She turned back and to his horror her eyes had filled with tears. Fortunately he was prepared when she flung herself at him, raising his arms expertly so as not to willingly touch any part of her.
"If you won't let me thank you, then, here," she said against his chest. "A hug is worth a thousand words. If I hug you I won't have to talk so much, that's what my—"
"A motto you'd do very well to live by."
"The not talking so much."
Very late a night, when he had the most difficult time falling or staying asleep and his mind with filled with images even Occlumency wouldn't clear, one singular voice often rose above the others, softly repeating the same line over and over.
Who needs a hug?
To which there was but one reply, he realized.
Then there was the glorious year he received not one but two hugs.
The first was purely accidental, granted, but it happened nonetheless and later, much later, when he replayed life's strange and dark events over in his mind, he grasped at every scrap of human kindness he could.
Hermione Granger provided the bulk of them, he realized.
She literally ran into him as she rounded a corner, head down, and this time he grabbed her, if only to steady the two of them.
"Oh," she said, startled, looking up. She'd been crying, he realized, and was running from something. Or, someone. He didn't ask. "Sorry, sir."
He let go of her and moved to pass when she clutched him without warning. He didn't even manage to get his arms free and he stood there, pinned, helpless.
"Just in case I can't give you one later," she whispered, to which he had absolutely no reply.
What did that mean?
Then, much later, when the inevitable conclusion was drawing near, she found him again. But this Granger was greatly changed from the previous years. This young woman was subdued and quiet. There was a stillness about her, and beneath the stillness a great unrest that he could not read, even with Legilimency.
They were alone in the hallway just outside his class — how she had tracked him down he didn't know as he was studiously avoiding everyone possible — but there she was, watching him with those eyes.
He watched her in return and waited for the inevitable.
"Miss Granger," he said dryly as she put her arms around him more tightly than he ever remembered. For some reason his heart hurt. "I don't recall having saved your life recently."
She didn't speak, a fact that in itself ratcheted up his unease exponentially. She simply stood there, her face pressed to his robes and he noticed how tall she'd grown, how her hair had finally tamed itself, how she smelled like parchment and something flowery. Jasmine. He allowed one hand to lower until it almost touched the top of her head. Then she pulled away, slowly, reluctantly.
"Are you quite done?" he drawled through the buzzing in his ears.
She nodded, her eyes on his face, as if studying him. No, memorizing him.
"What was that for?" he asked, his heart thudding uncomfortably against his ribs. She was beginning to unsettle him, more than usual even.
She took a breath, her face not even inching towards a smile. "I just felt like you needed one."
She nodded again.
He paused. He felt the need for sarcasm, snarkiness, mockery, wash over him. Anything to quell his rising panic. "What? No heartfelt platitudes? Nothing to share from dear old mum?"
She swallowed, then nodded once more. "A silent hug means a thousands words to the unhappy heart."
He blinked back sudden tears. He blinked hard and she never saw them, or maybe she did, because when he said "Thank you," very quietly, she nodded for the last time and looked like she wanted to hug him again before she walked away.
He wished with all his heart that she had.
Because when he wept bitter tears over the dark path that lay before him, when he thought about what needed to be done and who had to do it, and when it was all over and done with he was quite sure he'd never receive another hug ever again.
How did it end?
On the dirty, cold floor of the Shrieking Shack with his life's blood draining inexorably away. With idiot Potter of all people kneeling over him staring down with an appalling mixture of loathing and pity on his ravaged face.
Potter duly received and finally, blessedly pulled back and revealed the face Snape truly desired to see.
He'd never seen anything so beautiful and so full of sorrow. Her face, usually so full of light and life and energy was desolate, broken beyond repair. She stared at him helplessly, then buried her face in her hands and cried. He knew then, as he hadn't known before, that he, too, was broken beyond repair. And here was the one person, the one person in the world, who might care that Severus Snape would soon cease to be. She lowered her hands. He smiled up at her.
"Oh sir," she breathed. He felt her fingers push against his neck. He felt her eyes on him. He felt her tears on his face. She smiled down at him, angelic, redeeming, heartmending.
With agonizing effort he lifted his arms and reached for her. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him.
She was miraculous.
She didn't close her eyes once. She leaned over him. He felt her arms around his shoulders and her face against the undamaged part of his neck. He felt his blood seeping steadily but it didn't worry him as much as before.
As long as you hold me, I am safe from all harm. Who said that? He wasn't sure, but he supposed it might have been Granger's Mum. Wise, wise woman, that one.
And then he felt a loosening, a lightening and something that might have been love as he drifted away towards whatever place or fate awaited him.
He just wished he could have hung on a little longer. Granger really looked like she needed a hug.
And that was how it ended.