Severus Snape sighed heavily and rolled over onto his back, his black eyes searching out the roof of the tent. He clasped his hands together over his chest and squeezed shut his eyes, trying to force sleep upon himself, but it was no use. The cold from the ground seeped through the thin roll-matt on which he lay, and his back ached from the hard and unyielding surface. He drummed his fingers impatiently against his chest before sitting up and running his long fingers through his hair.
Turning to his left, he could make out the figure of the young girl lying on the old camp bed next to him. Her back was turned to him but he watched as her shadow rose and fell with each deep breath she took as she slept soundly. Snape listened to this breath over the whistle of the wind as it battered around the tent, and the creak of the trees just outside, and he drew comfort from it. He found it...comforting, a strange notion to the normally reclusive man.
Quietly, Snape rose from his uncomfortable sleeping position, slipped on his boots and pulled open the flap of the tent, ducking outside to meet the crisp snow that was lazily drifting down from the grey clouds overhead. It was cold and he pulled his cloak tightly around himself and watched for a short while as the white flakes landed on the black material, finding a sort of fascination in the stark contrast which diminished with a gentle sigh as the snowflake melted against him.
Severus ignored the goodbye of the server girl and the gentle chime of the shops bell, his attention transfixed on his recently purchased book. Stepping out into the snow covered street he continued to ignore the bustle as witches pushed past him with their large cauldrons full of random supplies, of children who darted through the crowd on invisible broomsticks, and from the loud cries of delight as a new snowfall was kicked and tossed by children and adults alike. No, this was a special moment. Too special to waste on the frivolities of a new snow fall.
All of his life Severus had loved books. The knowledge contained in just one astounded him, let alone being surrounded by countless theories and ideas from men who he could only dream to aspire to. He loved the way that they looked, stacked together in a haphazard fashion, crammed into whatever space was left, or organised in need rows like regimented soldiers. He loved their smell of old parchment and dried ink and weathered leather. He loved the feel of them as he ran his finger down the spine of each and every one and felt a shiver of anticipation at exploring what hidden truths laid inside.
But Severus had never owned a book before he came to Hogwarts. In fact, the only book that had been in his house was the 'Holy Bible'. It had been bound in blue leather, with a golden metal cross fixed to its cover. Severus remembered it well. The irony of its preachings, compared to the mark the metal cross left on skin as his father used it as a weapon against him and his mother. He still had a small white scar just above his hairline to prove it.
At Hogwarts, his passion had grown, and he had relished long hours in the library, pulling down countless books that he could never even hope to read in one sitting, but not being able to choose between one. They were like his friends and he surrounded himself with them.
But this, this was something special. Severus's long hands gripped his new book ferociously and his knuckles were white. No body has opened this book ever before, he though to himself. Nobody but me. The crackle of the unturned page was like a rush for Severus and he ducked into a dark alleyway to relinquish the moment as he narrowly avoided being hit with a passing snowball.
He did not know how long he stayed there, time passed by so quickly. His long body lent against a cold wall, and his fingers felt frozen solid, but Severus did not care. For the first time in his life he was holding something that was truly his, and which he truly savoured. It was only when a voice floated to him in the wind did he lift up his head and stop reading. It was hers.
They had not spoken since he had asked her out to the school ball and he had vowed to himself never speak to her again, but the sound of her voice was like honey, like a clear note on a harp, and Snape could not help himself but to lower his book and edge around the corner to catch a glimpse of her.
"I'll see you later!", Lilly called out, raising a gloved hand above her head to wave goodbye to a group of friends.
"Common' Lil!", they yelled back, "just get it later, come back with us!". Lilly laughed and made a shooing motion with her hands.
"I can't, I have to get a new one now, seeing as you blew my last one up!", she shouted, laughing again to her friends. Severus could only see the backs of their heads but he knew well enough that it was the loathsome Griffindors that she now hung around with and he shuddered with disgust at the thought.
Still watching, a figure stepped away from the group and made its way towards Lilly. James Potter grasped her in a tight hug and planted a kiss on her forehead. Lilly giggled and tried to push him away but he held her tighter and lifted her off the floor. Lilly laughed again, struggling away from his grasp but finally giving him a delicate peck on the lips. James put her down, tucked a stray strand of red hair behind her ear and rejoined the group of friends who were now starting to walk away. She smiled again and turned to walked into Flourish & Blotts.
Severus thought that he might be sick. It was as if someone was crushing his windpipe and he couldn't breath. The pain was almost unbearable and he turned and laid his forehead against the rough brick wall. His fist was clenched tightly and he resisted the urge to punch said wall. His breathing was ragged, but he told himself that he did not care. He would no longer care about anyone if this was what it felt like, like somebody ripping out his heart and leaving him empty.
I don't care about her.
I don't care about anyone.
Snape shivered and wrapped his cloak more tightly around him. He remembered the feeling like a distant echo or a faint shadow. The memory of the hurt had consumed him, long after he had stopped feeling it on his chest anymore and he had vowed that he could never, would never, care for anyone ever again. And he had kept that vow.
How could he not care about her? About Hermione? He could no longer deny it, that he felt something for the girl. Yes, she is your student but she is no longer the bushy haired eleven year old who demanded your attention, he told himself. She is a beautiful young woman, soon to graduate from school and start her own life. No longer a student, no longer his student, but simply a young adult free to make her own choices.
Snape kicked at the ground below his feet, clearing away snow with his boot to reveal the grass underneath. She had looked at him earlier with a look that he had never seen on her. Almost embarrassment and shame, but one that still looked glad to see him. He could see it not just in her face, but in the way her body had relaxed as she saw him. But what did it mean? Did it mean anything?
Snape shook his head and mentally chided himself. She is a seventeen year old girl who you left alone in a strange place, with no word of where you were going. She was probably just scared. But he could not help it when a small part of his brain answered back. This is Hermione Granger, not some pre-pubescent little girl who is scared of the dark. This is the brains of the Golden Trio, her, scared? I hardly think so. "Argh!" Snape yelled, and sent a puff of snow flying with another kick of his boot.
Snape froze. Despite the wind, he could still make out her quiet voice coming from inside the tent. Shaking his head and trying to clear his mind he ducked back in, performing a quick drying spell on his robes and hair.
With a flick of his wand a small light flared in an old camping lantern, casting a homely glow around. Turning to face Hermione he expected to see her sitting up in bed, that annoying but endearing questioning look plastered onto her face, but instead Snape found himself facing a still sleeping girl. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was deep and measured. She now faced him, and a hand hung limply over the side of the bed.
Had he mistaken her call for him? Perhaps it had just been the wind.
He turned back to extinguish the lantern when the small voice again came from behind him and made him spin around.
He eyed her curiously. Was she...sleep talking? Snape frowned and tried to diminish the ever growing thought in his head that she must be dreaming about him. He eased off his boots and cloak and slowly sank back down to the floor. With a small motion he extinguished the lamp, eventually drifting off to sleep whilst waiting for her to say his name once more.
I would like to apologise to a few reviewers who quite rightly pointed out that the rating of this story was incorrect. When I first started writing this it was aimed at being a one-shot which was supposed to be set between a young Hermione and Snape, however it has matured into a more M rated fiction which I did not get round to changing. I am sorry for anyone that this might have offended and the problem has now been rectified.
On a happier note, I hope you all like this chapter :) I'm sorry it's short and for the long delay but hopefully you'll enjoy it anyway!