Author's Notes: This was written for opaljade on the sshg_exchange 2010. Unfortunately, there is no sex scene. :( A great big thank you to Tevildo from Perfect Imagination for Britpicking, canon corrections, and beta reading above and beyond the call of duty, and for making this so much better than it otherwise would have been!

Original Prompt: 3) Hermione (or you can make it Snape if you wish!) is stuck on a cloud. I don't know why she can't Apparate elsewhere. Others can go visit her, but she can't come down. Ron and Harry enlist Snape to get her back on solid ground. I would love a slightly exhibitionist sex scene on the cloud! :D

Disclaimer:This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Sometimes That's What It Takes

Chapter 1

I pushed the door open to the old two-up two-down. As usual, the sitting room was gloomy, the only light filtering in through the dingy curtain covering the small front window. He knew I was coming; couldn't he do me the courtesy of receiving me? The old grump. Well, at least he'd given me the password so I could let myself in. Although I was fairly certain that was more for his convenience than mine.

"Lights!" I called as I took off my cloak. It was damp from the incessant drizzle, so I hung it on the coat rack right inside the door. Overhead, the candle-filled lamp flared to life, revealing the threadbare floral sofa and scratched, Bakelite coffee table. All his mother's. He hadn't touched a thing in the house since she'd died. Sad, really.

The house always smelled like overcooked macaroni and wet wool, but today there was an additional layer of chemical tang. Bulbadox, maybe. He must be making a batch of Boil Cure Potion. I pulled out my wand and twirled it toward the window, to let in a bit of fresh air. Honestly, one of these days he was going to asphyxiate himself.

My eye fell on the coffee table, where one of his special compartmentalised transport boxes was sitting. I flipped up the catch and opened the lid. Three dozen stoppered and sealed glass vials nestled in individual padded slots, all ready to go. Well, at least he'd been busy. Merlin only knew what he got up to most of the time, holed up in this place time left behind. Spinner's End indeed. It might truly end up being the end of the Spinner, in the German sense of 'the lunatic'. If only... but I'd been over it a million times. He'd never open up, never let anyone get close to him. He'd been too damaged. It was a miracle he let me do as much as he did.

Speaking of having things to do... I tapped my wand against one of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases lining the walls. It swung open, allowing me to pass through into the kitchen. I made sure my sensible, low-heeled boots clacked loudly on the wooden floorboards. Hello, Professor! Come out, come out, wherever you are! He didn't like me to shout, and there was no other way to announce my presence. I knew he'd materialise eventually, if I poked around long enough.

The kitchen was spotless, as usual. Cosy, though. I'd never had an intimate relationship with our kitchen, growing up. My mother, the career woman, hardly used it. I'd practically grown up on those shrink-wrapped instant meals from M&S. My first real taste of kitchen life came from the Weasleys. But even though Molly was a good housekeeper, with all the men of the house tramping in and out all the time, and the amount of food needing to be prepared and consumed, I don't think the Burrow's kitchen ever truly got clean. The dishes from one meal were barely dry before someone would come in complaining they needed a snack.

The Professor, on the other hand... well, he was a man of fastidious habits. I didn't know if he'd been born that way, or if he'd had to learn to clean up after himself over the years. It wasn't merely a matter of sweeping and doing the washing-up, either. I was thinking of removing evidence. Merlin, the things he must have seen. He never wanted to talk about any of it. I'd the impression he was ashamed. Even though we all knew - well, the Order, anyway, and those with half a brain and half a heart - we all knew what side he'd been on after all, what he'd been put through, made to endure. I wished he'd accept there were people who valued him, people who appreciated him, people who... liked him. Or more.

Never mind. I was just going to wind myself up again. Ron thought I was mad anyway, coming over and helping him out like I did. Harry understood, or at least I thought he did. At any rate, he always made a point of inquiring after the Professor and listened to me rattle on about him. And he'd given me a shoulder to cry on, on more than one occasion.

It might sound like I was pitying him, mothering him, like I wanted to fix him, but it wasn't like that at all. I would never have wanted to change him. He was just about all the clich├ęs you could think of: tall, dark and handsome; the strong, silent type; walks softly and carries a big... wand. Oh, dear. Well, the truth had to come out sometime. It's true, I fancied Professor Snape. There was nothing unsavoury about it; it didn't start until after I'd left school. I'd never thought of him as anything other than a teacher while I was there.

But afterwards, when I saw him at St. Mungo's, out of those awful black robes, how he fought to recover from the snake bite, how he comported himself during his trials - all three of them. And how, despite the overwhelming public vilification (even though he was cleared of all charges - three times), he undertook to remain independent, never accepted any charity, and paid back every Knut Harry'd spent on his legal bills. Well, he was still working on paying it back, and he would in full, I had every confidence of that.

I could see how someone might find this whole thing a bit like my old crusade for the house-elves. I had a very tender spot in my heart for house-elves. I admired them for working so hard, and I'd never wanted to take that away from them or change their character. Some of my best friends were house-elves. It was everyone else who had the problem, taking them for granted and not compensating them fairly, making them work under the most cruel and base conditions. They had no protections under the law, no rights...

But getting back to the Professor. There was so much to admire about him. He was truly a genius. And strong, both physically and emotionally. His limp shouldn't fool anyone. A lesser man would have been permanently paralyzed by the venom. I only wanted to create an environment where he could achieve his potential, and be happy. If he even knew what happiness was anymore. And, well, where there might be fringe benefits for myself.

I stuck my nose into the pantry, to make sure he'd been eating, and noted with satisfaction that nearly everything was gone. Half a sack of potatoes and a couple of tins of fish and beans were all that remained. Tea was nearly out, too. Might as well finish it off. Maybe the scent would lure him out. I filled the kettle and set a Heating Charm to work. In the meantime, I fetched a piece of paper and a Dicta-Quill from the front room, then came back and started on the shopping list.

I'd barely had time to write 'pasta' and 'carrots' when I heard the tell-tale thump-draaag thump-draaag. My heart leapt. I concentrated on not looking at the doorway and getting my breathing under control. Let's see... tomato sauce... butter...

"Must you gallop about?" he said disapprovingly. "It is well for you that I haven't anything delicate brewing. And what are you doing going through my cupboards?"

"There's nothing to go through," I corrected him crisply. "I'm making a list to send to the grocer's." I felt sufficiently in control to send him a sidelong glance.

He was standing just inside the kitchen, leaning casually against the counter, his arms crossed over his chest, pulling the white cotton material taut over his shapely pectoral- Oh, dear - dangerous territory! I tore my gaze up to his face. Hardly any better. His dark eyes were smouldering, as they usually did in my presence; he seemed to be in a constant state of irritation whenever I was around. I always hoped it was his natural attitude, and not solely reserved for me. Still, I could lose myself in those eyes. They were a promise of passion and fire, never fulfilled.

Don't gawk! I reminded myself. The shopping list! With difficulty and an apologetic smile, I refocused on the empty shelves, willing myself to recall what was usually stocked there. I came up empty. Blast my hormones! At that moment, a shrill piping rescued me. It was the water coming to a boil.

With relief, I set the list aside and went to retrieve the kettle.

"I see you're helping yourself to my tea as well," he remarked.

"It's polite, when one has visitors, to offer them a cup of tea," I said simply, avoiding looking at him as I got out the rest of the tea things. I didn't want him to think I was being too cheeky.

"You're not a visitor," he said in a deep voice that sent shivers into all sorts of delicious places. It almost sounded warm, intimate, like... but no, it was nothing more than his irritation at me invading his personal space. As usual.

I tilted my head in acknowledgement. I did, after all, feel nearly as at home in his kitchen as I did in mine. Sometimes more so. "No, I suppose not. Still, I felt like a cup, after coming all the way out here in this weather."

He stiffened and his voice became cold again. "No one asked you to come."

Damn. I always ended up pushing the wrong buttons with him. It was a wonder he didn't change the password and lock me out altogether. But then I knew why he kept letting me in: he needed me, and for some reason, I was the only one he trusted, other than Harry. And Harry was too busy being an Auror and trying to start a family to play messenger to Professor Snape. I measured out the tea leaves into the teapot and poured the hot water over them.

Better to move on, rather than address his retort. "Will you join me?" I asked with what I hoped was a friendly smile, as I sat down at the table.

"It is my tea," he said gruffly, and set his body down heavily on the chair opposite me. Not that he was heavy; in fact, he was as lean now as he probably had been at my age. Could most likely eat whatever he wanted and not gain an ounce. Sexy bastard.

"I saw the batch on the table in the front room. Is that everything?" I asked, wishing the tea would steep faster. I needed a cup to hold up in front of me, like a shield. I didn't know what to do with my hands, so I stuffed them down into my lap.

"Isn't that enough?" he scoffed.

"It's never enough, you know that. Your potions are very much sought-after." And they were. Even something as simple as a Pepperup Potion became nectar when brewed by his talented hands. His very strong, very agile, talented fingers, which were resting right there, on the table. All I had to do was reach out and- It was a good thing I'd already exiled my hands from sight. He couldn't see them twitch.

"As long as no one knows they were made by me," he said bitterly, apparently oblivious to the physical and emotional turmoil his presence put me through. There was more than a grain of truth in that statement, and yet...

"I think you do yourself a disservice," I said resolutely.

"It is not I-"

"I know, I know, I remember the scene at the Ministry. That was ugly, but they were wrong! And time has passed! It's been four years. People will have-"

"Forgotten?" he shot at me, incredulous.

"-moved on. They have other concerns, new worries."

"You mean the goblins." Ah, so he wasn't as much of a recluse as he liked to pretend he was.

"Yes, among other things," I agreed

Surely the tea was ready now. I poured him a cup, then myself. He took his black, but I helped myself to two lumps from the sugar bowl. It was still nearly full, I noted smugly. I was the only reason he even kept sugar in the house. Small victories.

"You can't live out the rest of your life hiding here," I said, although I knew it was futile. How many times had we had this argument? "You have too much-"

He slammed his cup down, sloshing the tea onto the table and practically causing my poor, overexcited heart to leap out of my chest.

"Don't you dare tell me I have too much to live for!"

I cringed. It was so hard to see his pain and anger, and not be able to soothe it!

"I have nothing," he shot at me. "Everything I have ever cared about has been destroyed, and all of it by my own hands!"

Yes, those hands! So much destruction wrought, true, yet so much created. And so much more that could be created, that could be experienced.

I rallied. "I was going to say you have too much talent to waste it, hiding in your cellar and brewing the same potions over and over, things you could do in your sleep!"

"I rarely sleep," he muttered, as he surreptitiously tried to clean up the tea he'd spilled.

I allowed myself to take a good, long look at him while he was distracted. His colour was pallid... but then it always was. His long, angled nose, his most prominent feature, flared slightly, indicating a heightened respiratory rate. Was he angry at me, or at himself, for spilling the tea? Probably both. His eyes, now lowered, were safe to examine. The skin beneath them was shadowed. And his cheeks hung more slackly than usual. Was he thinner? I saw him nearly every week, so subtle changes like that were difficult to notice. Maybe I should bring Harry along sometime, get his opinion. Although Harry would be as useless as all men on such a subject.

"I wish you'd get out at least. The fresh air would do you a world of good." I sounded like a broken record. I should shut up while I was ahead, because I knew what his answer would be:

"I can't. Get. Out," he gritted out between clenched teeth. "Or have you forgotten about this-" He indicated his leg, the one which had never fully recovered from the venom being in his system for so long. If only we'd sent someone back for him immediately, instead of letting him lie there all those hours... He'd never said a word in reproach.

"You seem to get around here well enough, including those infernal stairs." I had nightmares of him stumbling and falling down the narrow staircase leading into the attic, where he had his lab, and lying there, undiscovered, until I came by to pick up his weekly batch. By which time... no, it was too awful to even think about. I took a big gulp of tea to cover my discomfort, and only ended up burning my tongue. I sucked in a mouthful of cool air to ease the sting and said, deftly changing the subject, "I guess the physical therapy did some good after all."

He had fought tooth and nail against it, and only agreed to it when we found someone who would come to his house. A jolly Jamaican witch, an older woman with arms the size of hams. We'd been certain he'd kill her, but she had a resilient, no-nonsense attitude even Professor Snape hadn't been able to dent. With her, he'd first learned to use his hands again, to feed himself, take care of personal hygiene, dress himself, write, and finally, to take up his passion again, preparing his beloved potions.

His legs had been slower to respond - 'They too far away from you brain,' Madam Raffles had announced - and he hadn't walked on his own until two years after the Battle. Even then it had been halting, laborious. It had now been nearly four years, and he was living independently, could do everything he had been able to before. Except maybe run down an unfortunate student caught out after curfew (not that he'd gone anywhere near any students in all that time). I shamefacedly admit I'd had occasion to wonder if everything - other than the one leg - was in full working order. I supposed I'd never find out.

Regrettably, Madam Raffles had recently contracted a rare, Wizarding disease that necessitated her moving to a drier climate to recover, but we (Harry, myself, Professor McGonagall, Molly, Shacklebolt... all the people who cared about Professor Snape and managed his care and his affairs when he was unable to) felt it was important for him to continue; it was vital for his confidence to regain full use of both legs, if that were still possible. He was using it as an excuse to hide, to shun the public. Well, that and the fact someone always ended up saying something nasty, or refusing to serve him. That time he'd had to go down to the Ministry to re-take his Apparition licence had been the last straw.

"Speaking of which, how's the new P.T. working out?" I hadn't seen her yet; all I knew was she'd just completed her training at St. Mungo's. It was probably Molly who'd organised her. Admittedly, I was a little bit jealous. Getting to work with Professor Snape on a close and intimate basis... massaging his firm, supple legs... supporting his long, hard body against hers... Or something. I'd never actually been privy to one of his sessions. I could only imagine what went on. All strictly professional, of course.

Professor Snape drew his eyebrows together. Here comes Mr. Grump. "I wish you would give up this idea of further improvement." I knew he didn't mean me personally, but the inclusive 'you' encompassing all the meddlers involved in his life. "I am a cripple," he said, with a surprising amount of dignity. "It is only just." I was about to jump in with a reproval when he continued: "At any rate, I find this new girl..." He seemed to be searching for an appropriate word, and I held my tongue. I was very interested in hearing how he found the new 'girl'. "...cheerful," he finally said, in a manner which indicated the very word left a bitter aftertaste on his tongue. I relaxed and took a sip of my tea.

"Cheerful is good, Professor," I said, looking over the rim of my cup at him. He narrowed his eyes, as if to say he'd expected I would say something like that. "It's good for the morale," I went on.

"I don't need morale. I need something to put me out of my misery."

I giggled. "That's precisely what cheer does, Professor." I set my cup down. Much as I enjoyed doing nothing more than sitting here with him, I did have work waiting for me back in my office, even if it was the weekend. "I need to get this list off to the grocer's," I said, pocketing the shopping list I'd started earlier. I'd finish it on my way. I'd be able to think better without his presence there to distract me. "I'll have them leave the delivery on the doorstep. Do make sure you bring it in before the foxes get to it. Oh yes, before I forget, here's your money." I took a small, clinking pouch out of the depths of my robes and set it on the table. Professor Snape didn't trust the goblins, and always insisted on cash. He also didn't trust anyone else to handle his financial transactions, but for some reason agreed to allow me to do it. He let the money sit there, untouched. I couldn't help but feel it was a personal slight.

"Is there anything else you need, Professor?" I had fantasies where, at this point, he would say, 'Yes, I need you,' but so far they had remained fantasies. This time, he didn't answer right away, and my stomach did a flip-flop as we held each other's gaze. I tried not to look away, while also trying not to blush or start grinning like an idiot. I probably ended up looking like a cross-eyed kneazle.

Finally, though, he said, in what seemed to me a very dark and disturbed manner, "You seem to know my needs better than I."

I didn't know what to say to that, nor how he meant it, so I thought it best not to say anything at all. It was so difficult picking one's way through an interaction with him. Like a minefield. I started to clear away the tea things, but he stopped me with a gruff "Leave it. I'd like to finish my tea in peace," as if the quiet interlude we had just enjoyed had been tantamount to a battle skirmish. I supposed it had.

My disappointment thick in my throat, I walked out of the kitchen as calmly as I could. Only when I reached the front door did I realise I'd been holding my breath, and it came out all shaky and shuddering. I had the urge to curl up somewhere under a quilt and have a good cry. He didn't often get to me like this anymore, but something had been different today. As if something were churning around inside of him, and it had somehow spilled over onto me. I took a deep breath to clear my mind, took my cloak off the hook and the box from the table, closed the front window again, and opened the door. It was still raining.