I am not a nice man. I have no redeeming qualities to speak of. Nothing that would attract members of the opposite sex. I'm cruel, outspoken in my opinions, and have been known to be a downright bastard.
I shall never apologize for these attributes. I cannot help the way I am, nor do I wish to change myself.
But never once did I believe that someone would be attracted to me. I had resigned myself from a young age that I would never have a great love.
No epic romances in the future of Severus Snape.
So you can just imagine my surprise when one night a young, beautiful woman ambushed me and kissed my vitriol-spewing lips in a gloomy kitchen in the basement of an even more depressing house. A house, I might add, that was full of people who loathed me.
Even more surprising would be the moment I realized I was in love with her. No, it was not at the moment of The Kiss. It wasn't in the months that followed, when I discouraged her (quite vociferously, I might add). No, it was the least romantic moment of anyone's life.
It was the moment that I believed she had died. Right there in front of my eyes.
September 19th, 1997
I had no idea that I was about to walk into a party, least of all Hermione Granger's eighteenth birthday party. It was hard enough walking into Grimmauld Place and surrounding myself with those people when it was just a normal day, but I had information and I had to give it immediately. True, most of them did not trust me, and they had good reason.
After all, I only killed their leader a few months previously. It had taken some quick talking and even quicker wandwork before I'd gotten them to listen to me, to believe me when I said that I had only done it because Dumbledore had told me to. It had been Lupin, of all people, who had come around first. After that it had gotten easier. Not easy, surely. But easier. At least now I could walk through Headquarters without rival wands pointed between my eyes.
Sometimes I wondered if it was worth it. Then I would go to my other headquarters, sit and listen to the Dark Lord speak, and I would know that yes, it was worth it. The world needed to be rid of him and it never would unless I continued to work both sides, continue to be a spy. One good thing about the whole situation was that now that Dumbledore was dead, at my hand, the Dark Lord trusted me above all others. He told me things I would never have dreamed to know, things that were important to the Order, and things I never wanted to hear in my life. Things that gave me nightmares. Things no human should ever have to hear.
But I listened and I acted pleased. It was necessary.
Of course it had to be on one such evening where I had to sit and listen to the Dark Lord's vile fantasies about dominion and vengeance on innocent people when I walked into Grimmauld Place. My mood, always dark, had blackened to coal. Just the sight of colorful balloons and party streamers, the sounds of laughter and fun, made me want to destroy something.
"Severus," said a soft, mellow voice. I turned and glared at Lupin as he walked forward.
"A birthday party?" I growled. "Really?"
"Because these are dark times and we should take any pleasures, simple though they may be, where we can find them."
He was right. I didn't say so, but I knew he was. More than anything, I wanted a bright spot in my life. Something tangible to hold onto. Something to look forward to. Something besides fear and loathing of evil to fight for. I turned away from Lupin to steal another glance into the kitchen, where everyone was gathered around Granger and her birthday cake. No doubt Molly Weasley made it special just for her. I scowled as I took in the smiles, the hugs, the jokes. Ronald had his arm around Granger's shoulders and was grinning like a fool as she blew out her candles. Potter was guffawing over something. The three were no doubt a unit, clamped together even in the midst of the crowd. It had always been so. Where one was, the rest usually followed. What would it be like to need, and be needed, thus?
"Come along, Severus," Lupin said softly, cutting into my thoughts. "Let's get this over with. No doubt you have somewhere else you'd rather be."
We adjourned to the library. It did not take long. I relayed what I knew, a few people with targets on their backs who would need extra protection, a few raids that I knew were coming. Lupin took it all in without a word. When I had run out of things to relay, I simply sat in silence. I was exhausted, and angry, but I wasn't ready to leave. Lupin, though I'd deny it until my dying breath, was more intelligent than he let on.
"You look like hell, Severus," he said finally. I snorted, but said nothing. "You look as though you haven't slept in months."
"How observant you are, Lupin."
"You of all people should be able to brew a Dreamless Sleep."
Almost like a reflex I shut my eyes and turned my head away. Images that had haunted me for months, since the night Albus Dumbledore fell from the force of my curse, played behind my shut eyelids. As usual, I could only take so much before I had to open them once more just to be rid of my nightmares.
"There are some things," I said carefully, "that even magic cannot erase from the subconscious."
Silence reigned once more. Lupin probably did understand better than most, but his horrors were of a different nature than mine. Even so, I knew that he would never repeat a word I said. He was that sort of man and for once in my life, I had a need to speak.
"I'm so tired of it all, Lupin," I said. "I've never been so ready for it to be over."
"We're all to that point, Severus," he replied. He sounded as tired as I felt. "Harry, most of all. They're up to something, I can sense it."
"Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They lock themselves in the boy's room for hours on end. I know they couldn't go back to Hogwarts anyway, not with it being under Voldemort's thumb now, but they had already decided before the middle of summer that they weren't going back. Who does that? I can see Harry and Ron perhaps making that decision, but Hermione? And why are they secreted away all the time?"
"Lupin, they are teenagers."
"You don't think…? No. They wouldn't be doing… that."
I sighed and settled a little more comfortably in my chair. "I don't know. I don't care. As long as Potter can end this, and in a timely fashion, I will never care."
"I suppose you're right. I shouldn't care either. After all, like I said, we should take our small pleasures where we can. I've just begun to think of Harry as almost like a son and - "
"Lupin," I said warningly. "I don't want to hear about Potter. I don't want to think about Potter anymore. I'm in a bad enough mood already. What I want is a glass of brandy and book."
"You can find both here. You're welcome to stay as long as you like, of course."
"I have duties, Lupin."
"Of course, Headmaster."
I blanched. I hated being called that. I'd never felt like a headmaster. When the Dark Lord gave me the position, I'd actually considered saying no. After all, I was his favorite, was I not? Surely he could find someone else… but I couldn't do that to the students. Yet another responsibility I'd placed on my shoulders – making sure the students were well cared for.
"I'll stay for a little while," I said finally. "Away from all the frivolities, thank you very much."
"Of course," Lupin replied before taking his leave.
Looking back on it, I'm not sure how long I stayed in the library. I found the bottle of brandy and a book that was just ridiculous enough to take my mind off of reality. Summoning a glass from the kitchen, I settled in and ignored my surroundings. When I looked up at the clock, believing I'd only been there an hour, I was shocked to see that it was nearly midnight.
Putting the book aside, I got to my feet and headed for the kitchen to put away my glass. The house was silent. Everyone was in bed. The only light was from sporadically places candles that had been put much too far from each other. Shadows danced along the decaying walls. I could barely see my feet. Once in the kitchen, I didn't spare a glance for my surroundings, wanting only to get rid of the glass and get the hell out. And that was how she caught me, Severus Snape, master spy, by surprise.
I nearly leapt out of my skin. Instead I whirled about and pulled out my wand. Standing a few feet from me in her nightdress was Hermione Granger, looking at me with mingled fear and relief.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" I snarled. She shifted from one bare foot to the other.
"I was just… Wait. What am I doing here? I live here! What are you doing here?"
"I was just leaving," I said, setting my glass on the sink and turning toward the door.
I don't know why I stopped. Madness, surely. After all the trauma I'd endured I was finally losing my once-brilliant mind. But I stopped and turned, looking back at her with one eyebrow raised.
"What is it, Granger?"
She bit her lip and looked at the floor. I cannot explain what an odd sensation it was to be speaking with her while she was dressed for bed and barefoot. Her wild hair had been managed into a braid that had settled over her shoulder. I'd only ever seen her in her uniform. It was strange because she didn't look at all like a student. Now she just looked like a human. My students never looked like humans to me. They were simply… children. Students. People, surely, but not human beings. They all dressed alike and did all the same work (to varying degrees).
But there stood Granger, the most student-like student of them all, looking human. It was unnerving.
"I just wanted to say… sir… that I… I respect you. A great deal."
My eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What is this about, Granger?"
She looked slightly panicked but held her ground. "I just wanted to tell you because I don't think anyone else does. What you're doing is very… brave and I – we – appreciate it."
My eyes narrowed further. Something was afoot. Some sort of prank, or joke. I looked around quickly, trying to see if someone was hidden, or if there was a booby trap, or some other imbecilic something waiting for me. But I saw nothing. Just Granger.
"Also," she said, her voice higher than usual. "I wanted to tell you that I admire you. You're very smart, brilliant really. I just thought I'd tell you that too."
Now I knew something strange was occurring. No one ever said such things to me. No one ever took the time to tell me that they admired me. What was she doing?
At the moment, she was stepping closer. Because I was going mad, or simply because no one ever approached me, I didn't move. And before I knew what was happening, it was too late.
She wasn't pranking me. She wasn't trying to trick me. She was kissing me.
My mind went blank with shock. Even through my closed lips I could taste how sweet she was. She was so small that she had raise herself as high as the tips of her toes to even reach my face and she held onto my rigid arms for balance. I noticed all these things because the shock didn't last long. No, I was no longer stunned. So why had I not stepped back? Why had I not shoved her aside?
Because I was going mad.
For one moment I allowed her to kiss me. I allowed myself to be kissed. To have one bright spot of something other than war and fear. She was so sweet, so innocent, in her giving and I took it. I did not reciprocate, I did not kiss her back, but I memorized every millisecond. I hoarded the feel of her soft lips, of the gentle exhalations from her nose on my cheek, her small hands clutching the sleeves of my robes. I saved it in the corner of my mind that I kept hidden from everyone, even usually myself. I took it all in, as much as I could and not loathe myself, before I brutally shoved her back.
"Will you desist?" I snapped. She looked as if I'd slapped her. Perhaps, in a way, I had. Her brown eyes were huge in her pale face and for once in my life I felt like a total bastard. But I did not show it. No indeed. "Are you quite finished humiliating yourself?"
She swallowed and the squelching sound echoed in the dark, dank kitchen. And then, before I could say any number of the vile things in my mind to get to go away and never think of me again, she darted through the door and was gone.
To my everlasting shame, I scared her away and made her feel like a fool. But I had to. It was for her own safety, and mine. My master was the most powerful Legilimens known. I couldn't afford to have him see something that would ruin everything. So I humiliated her for her own safety. Better that she hate me and avoid me than have any sort of hope.
It didn't matter that suddenly I was seeing Granger-the-Student as Hermione Granger, powerful witch and legal adult who had the sweetest lips I'd ever encountered. I put it aside, locked it in my mind, and refused to think about it as I left Headquarters.