Disclaimer: I don't own anything from Harry Potter; it is all J.K. Rowling's. But I am so glad we're allowed to play with her wonderful characters. Especially Snape!
Author's Note: I know I'm rusty… so I would love some constructive criticism… but not flames! Or just nice reviews would be pleasant. Thanks for reading, and enjoy.
Hermione worriedly eyed Neville's cauldron. Gases were swiftly rising, and the boiling mass inside was threatening to spill over onto the table. The mixture was not a good sign. She could hear her voice screaming in her mind for Neville to get back, but it was if the words wouldn't leave her brain and come out of her mouth. They'd gone for so long in Potions without getting points taken away; Neville had actually been okay this last school year. N.E.W.T.s were in three weeks, they had almost survived…
"Longbottom! Control that potion at once!" Snape was swooping down from his desk like the big overgrown bat he was, and Hermione let out a little "eep" as she hurried toward Neville to help him find the right ingredient to smooth the potion over.
She stared at the scattered contents on the table hurriedly.
"Where is your rat tail, Neville?" she asked urgently, still searching in the unorganized mass of ingredients.
"I… I forgot it!" Neville's face was bright red; the fact that Snape was approaching angrily was not helping.
The bubbling increased so that popping sounds began. Hermione's eyes widened.
"Neville, get down!" She was sure he didn't hear her at first, his eyes moving rapidly from Professor Snape to the gone-awry potion.
"Step aside, Miss Granger," ordered the Potion Master's baritone voice from behind her.
The potion before her started to shake the cauldron. Her eyes widened to the point that she thought they might pop out of her skull.
She turned and yelled, "Get back, Professor!"
She ran for it, pushing Snape with her, just as the cauldron and whatever damnable concoction it held exploded; it sent the scorching contents flying all over the room, bits of melting cauldron in the mix. The sound, meanwhile, was so loud it sounded as if twenty sawed-off shotguns had gone off at once.
Students huddled under desks close to one another, watching with startled eyes, gasps and screams filling the dungeons.
When there was nothing but smoke, Hermione lifted her head and pushed away, realizing with a sudden frog in her throat that she had been pressed rather intimately right up against the Potions Master.
Her hands were up against his chest, her smaller feet in between his. His hands were around her upper back, and she could remember during the commotion that one of those sinfully talented hands had been on her head, as if to shield her from the explosion. He was looking at her with an unreadable expression in his black eyes, his brow furrowed, hardly even breathing. She didn't dare break the eye contact, for she knew as soon as she did, there would be a detonation even worse than the horrible bomb Neville had inadvertently created.
Not even the students moved.
Snape eyed Hermione for a few more seconds, before his expression darkened, and he stepped around her to head straight for Neville and the half-blown-to-hell table he was hiding under.
"Mister Longbottom," he snapped, and Hermione almost wanted to go and shield Neville. "I should never have accepted you into this level of Potions. You have caused me to regret ever accepting Professor Sprout's pleas to allow you into my classroom."
Hermione could see Neville was shaking horribly, holding onto one of the legs of the crumbling table. The other students were beginning to stick their heads out from under the desks, and slowly standing up to survey the damage.
"As much as I'd like to make you clean this considerable mess up with no magical help whatsoever, I rather prefer to have what's left of this classroom. Leave, now." He glared around at all the other students, who were wide-eyed with gaping mouths. "All of you." He swooped around and headed straight for his storeroom.
Hermione hurried over to Neville and pried him out from under the table with a sympathetic look. "It's okay, Neville," she said softly. "Let's go." She grabbed her bag, placed the handle of his into his still-shaking hands, and with an arm around his back, started leading him out of the room.
"Miss Granger," she heard Snape bellow, making both she and Neville jump.
She turned, and saw him holding several bottles of some unknown clear liquid.
"I require your assistance," was all he said, and after that declarative statement, he started back toward the area where the disaster had taken place.
Neville grabbed her wrist. "Hermione… I'm sorry… Please forgive… I…" He was pale now, his lower lip trembling. She was reminded of the timid, first-year Neville who'd lost his toad before they'd even reached Hogwarts for the first time.
"Go, Neville," she murmured gently, and pushed him in between the shoulder blades to get him moving. "I'll see you at dinner." Giving him one more prod, she turned and approached Snape cautiously.
He was pouring the clear liquids onto the spots the explosion had burned. She took one of the empty bottles he handed her and examined it curiously before putting it up on his desk.
"Sir?" Her voice was inquisitive, as was her expression. Snape glanced at her, then looked away, still emptying the full bottles.
"You will help me clean this room." His voice brooked no argument, and Hermione wasn't about to present any protest. She simply dropped her bag near his desk, removed her robes, rolled up her sleeves, and knelt near his feet where the damage on the floor was immense.
At that moment he turned, while she was looking up at him waiting for his instructions, and she found herself face-to-crotch with him. Something hard bumped her nose before she heard a yelp and realized he had leapt back in indignation.
"What the ruddy hell, Miss Granger…"
"I-I'm sorry, Sir! I… you wanted me to help clean!" She knew her face was flushed, and she avoided his eyes at all costs, even while her mind lingered on the interesting position she'd just been in. Had that been his…?
"Get up, Miss Granger! Magic is how we clean in the Wizarding world, you silly chit." His voice was almost back to its usual sneering tone, but he also sounded embarrassed.
"Of course," she mumbled, rising and brushing her knees off. She waited for his instructions with her head down.
"Take out your wand," he commanded, and she did so immediately, holding it at her side. "The simple potion I just poured on the damaged areas should vastly help your cleaning charm. I'm going to survey the surrounding area."
He moved around her, cleaning as he went, and she cast a few well-placed "Scourgify!" spells, setting the area right, except for the half-blown away table. Snape came back to her side, and at his whispered spells, the table renewed itself, and the room looked as clean as it had when she had walked into it that afternoon.
She took a deep breath, put her wand into the waistband of her skirt, and walked over to get her robes and bookbag. She hesitantly glanced up at Snape for just a moment, but it was enough to find him staring at her with that same bemused expression he'd had after the explosion.
She nodded to him and made her away around him, headed for the door.
"Miss Granger…" His voice spoke, echoing slightly in the vast dungeon.
She turned for the second time upon attempting leaving, and Snape approached her while he put his wand away in some secret place within his black robes.
"Twenty points to Gryffindor, for your… help today." His eyes glittered, and she was unsure if it was with menace or something else.
Hermione couldn't help it as her mood brightened. "It's no problem, Professor. It was only a cleaning charm. I should've been quicker to solve Neville's situation…"
"For Merlin's sake, stop babbling. I wasn't referring to your help in cleaning. And Longbottom needs to learn to solve his own situations." His hands were crossed over his chest now, and he did, indeed, look menacing. Hermione felt her shoulders drop as the happiness of his generous point-giving wore off.
"I was referring to you… saving me, from that dunderhead's disastrous potion-making." He said this bitterly, his brows furrowed so low that she almost couldn't see his eyes. His lips were in a tight frown.
Hermione couldn't believe her ears. And she didn't want to ask him to repeat it, for he clearly abhorred doing so. Snape was actually thanking her? She held back a smile as she said, "Well, thank you… for protecting me." She knew he realized, just as she had, that even though her body had been shielding him from the danger, his hands had pulled her close, sheltering her as much as he could from the blast.
Snape was no longer frowning. His arms dropped to his sides, fists clenching and unclenching as if he didn't know how to take the sentiments.
"And thank you," she continued, and his eyes snapped to hers once more, his frown returning as she prepared to make the conversation even more uncomfortable, "for not taking points from Gryffindor for that incident. Neville's been doing okay, he just… Well, I don't think he has the knack for it, but…" She saw him beginning to sneer and hastened to finish, "Just… thank you."
Snape folded his robes around himself, crossing his arms again, and it was with a half-sneer, half-smirk (that only the Potions Master could possibly express) that he said, "I supposed that if I took them from him, I would only have to return them for your actions."
Hermione smiled, even though she felt ridiculous.
"Off you go then," Snape muttered awkwardly, his gaze set somewhere over her shoulder now. "Dinner awaits."
Hermione nodded and twirled around, holding onto the strap of her bag as she strolled to the door. At the entrance, she fixed her eyes on him.
"Are you coming?" She asked in a sing-song voice, her hand coming to rest on the wooden panel of the door.
He blinked a few times, then his form relaxed, and he strode toward her purposefully. Together, they exited the dungeons, not speaking a word.
"It was terrible," Neville told Harry, Ron, and Ginny in between bites off a chicken leg. "I'm not even quite sure how it happened! It just exploded, all over the dungeon." He shivered and reached for a dinner roll after taking a swig of pumpkin juice. "Professor Sprout isn't happy with me at all, but what did she expect? What did all of you expect? I've never done well in Potions."
Harry and Ron exchanged looks, but didn't expound for Neville.
"And poor Hermione!" Neville went on, and this time, Harry and Ron were very interested in his words. "He held her back, and I think it's because she pushed him away when he tried to right it. But if she hadn't, he'd have been covered in whatever it was I cooked up…"
The doors to the Great Hall opened slowly, and Hermione slipped through them with a small, secretive smile on her face. Harry and Ron raised their hands in greeting, but they were only halfway up when they saw Snape walking in behind her, wearing his usual scowl; his eyes were set firmly on Hermione's bum, which so happened to be placing itself at the Gryffindor table.
When he passed them, his scowl deepened to a sneer at Harry and Ron, whose mouths were slightly open at the entrance of their best friend with the greasy old git.
Hermione, meanwhile, raised a brow at Snape as he went by, a smirk upon her face. She held his eyes until he passed to proceed to the High Table, then started giggling softly, pressing her head into Ginny's shoulder as her face flushed red.
Snape seated himself in between a chattering Minerva McGonagall and a dour-faced Pomona Sprout. The latter passed him a severe look as he poured himself some pumpkin juice in silence.
"Severus," she started hesitantly, her voice grave. "I really do apologize for Neville's actions. He's worked very hard, and he's very proficient in Herbology…"
Snape held up a hand to quiet her. Placing his goblet on the table, he started filling up his plate. "It's been handled, Pomona. He can't stay in there and endanger my students."
"Of course not," the Head of Hufflepuff agreed immediately, demurely. "I trust Miss Granger was able to help restore the room? Why, with help from the brightest witch of her age, I don't doubt that dungeon was cleaner than it has ever been!"
Snape raised a brow as he watched said witch, who was still blushing while her friends asked her questions.
"More helpful than you know, that one." The corner of his mouth twitched up just in the slightest, and at that moment, Hermione looked up at the High Table and beamed at him.