Hermione returned a few hours later with nothing but the small, beaded bag she always kept with her and a thin coat. Severus poked his head out of the hallway off the kitchen for a moment.
"Did you get everything you need?" he asked, glancing at the bag. "I don't see any clothes or furniture. You did understand that you are to move in here?"
"Of course. I have what I need. I'm certain I'll have to go back later, but I should be fine for at least a few days."
"Good. Here. I'll show you around so you can get settled immediately and come make yourself helpful." He stood up, dusting his hands off on his black pants. He met her at the end of the couch which faced the fireplace.
As he walked over to her, she noticed he had removed his robes and she saw him in shirtsleeves and trousers for the first time. He wore a clean, white, button-up shirt tucked into the waist-line of his black trousers. His rolled-up sleeves showed off muscular forearms and the slacks fit his strong thighs perfectly. Hermione watched as he approached, struck by how elegant he was, even without the flowing robes.
She mentally shook her head and refocused on his face. He stopped in the doorway of the kitchen.
"You know the door to your left leads straight out into the corridor. I'll show you how to find the door when it's warded later so you can get back in. And we had better set the wards for you, too." He gestured to his right to the two doors between the living room and kitchen. "The room on the left is the bedroom; the one on the right is the bathroom. Albus told me I could put a second bed and lamp in the bedroom for you. If you don't like them, you can always charm them."
"Thank you, Severus. That was very kind of you. I'm sure they're perfectly fine."
Snape plowed on. "Back there is the kitchen. Sometimes in the morning, you must run the tap for a minute to get hot water. And be careful of this dining stool. If it gets angry, it'll kick you off. Literally." Hermione wasn't sure if he was joking or not. Either way, she best avoid it.
"This door in the kitchen leads to the hallway that enters into the storeroom, which you're familiar with. The classroom is on the other side of the storeroom, of course."
Hermione sighed and stepped closer to him. "Thank you for being so accommodating. I understand that having another person invade your personal space can be a difficult transition."
"I spend most of my time in the classroom. I imagine having a roommate won't make a big difference." As he turned to the kitchen, he stopped. "Oh, and we'll have to add another desk in here, I suppose. We could move this bookshelf into the bedroom to make space."
Hermione's eyebrows practically rose to her hairline. She was surprised he was being so helpful and considerate. Maybe he had changed more than she thought.
A clock on the wall above the kitchen table boomed twice and then sat silent.
"Two o'clock already?" Hermione's stomach growled as she thought that she hadn't eaten in quite a few hours.
"Time for lunch. If you'd like, I could help you unpack before we leave," he offered.
"No, it's alright, Severus. I'll just do it when we get back. Wouldn't want to miss the elves' food."
They walked in silence to the Great Hall. Hermione pondered why he had been so helpful. It practically went against his nature. Maybe he thought he could benefit from his actions. He wouldn't get much out of being nice. Maybe Dumbledore had given him orders to be pleasant while she'd been at Grimmauld Place. She doubted it. He'd been nice before that, too. She was still thinking of possibilities when they reached the tall doors.
In the Great Hall, all the teachers were sitting at a round table sat in the middle of the room. Hermione and Severus sat together in the seats closest the door. Minerva, who was sitting on Hermione's right, leaned over.
"How's it been so far?" she whispered.
"Pretty good. He's been surprisingly nice. He set up a second bed for me and offered to find a desk as well."
"He's been that way all week. It's a little unnerving, is it not?" The two laughed and caught a curious look from Severus. They focused on their meal for a moment.
Minerva leaned toward Hermione again. "What would you say the time-frame is?" she whispered.
"About a month. Give or take. It must be before the date I saw. Of course, I have no context and the future changes constantly. Besides, it was only a moment before I realized what was happening and went back in time. There's always the chance that it was an isolated incident and—"
Minerva stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Hermione, it will happen. Just give it time. Severus moves slow as molasses. It took him years to even compliment me on my work. I can't imagine how much effort it takes for him to open up enough to let someone su—"
"Minerva! He's right there!" Hermione's face burst into a blush so intense, she felt like a beacon, especially after Snape glanced over, eyebrow raised in curiosity. She raised her hands to her cheeks to cover her flaming red skin as he turned away.
"Of course, I hope it's sooner rather than later. We all think he needs someone he can at least confide in."
"We? Who else feels this way?" Hermione stared at her old teacher in horror.
"Oh, just Dumbledore, myself, and a few other colleges. I'm sure you can figure it out. They're all staring at you."
Hermione raised her eyes to her tablemates. Sure enough, about four other professors were watching Snape's every move and sending her secret smiles when she wasn't looking.
"I hope you aren't upset," Minerva said. "We don't get a lot of drama in our faculty members. And your secret is too big to actually be kept secret." Hermione shook her head.
"Ridiculously nervous and embarrassed, but not upset. I don't think I'll be able to eat. Please excuse me." She stood and placed her napkin next to her empty plate. Severus looked after her for a moment before he stood as well, excusing himself and following her out of the room.
She sat on the stairs right next to the front doors and placed her head in her hands. Severus stood in front of her, not sure what to do, but feeling responsible. She was his colleague after all and Dumbledore was expecting him to make sure she stayed through the year.
"What's wrong?" he finally asked, awkwardly. She gave a little laugh and sighed, looking up at him.
He had his hair tucked behind his ears and his head was tilted to the side a bit. It was very obvious that he was very uncomfortable from the way he was shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Something about him was just humorous.
Hermione had just opened her mouth to respond when a voice to her left stopped her.
"Severus Snape worried about someone else? My, isn't this a splendid surprise?" Both of them turned in shock to find Rita Skeeter standing there, quill and notebook hovering near her head.
Severus was quick to glare and step forward, blocking Hermione from view and letting her compose herself before the reporter could get a good look at her face.
"I thought you were banned from the school grounds," he said, looming over her.
"The ban was repealed when I quit working for The Daily Profit," she said, smugly.
"I see you still have the quill. As I understand it, you aren't allowed to use it anymore."
"It's actually a different one now. No paraphrasing." Her fake smiled stayed plastered to her face.
"Still harassing my friends? Miss the glass jar already?" Hermione asked from behind Severus. He glanced over his shoulder to see she had stood and now faced Skeeter with a determined expression. Rita ignored her and turned to Snape.
"I was wondering if I could talk to you alone," she said, eyeing Severus as if he were a candy treat, plastic smile still in place.
Snape's eyes narrowed. "What for?"
Skeeter shrugged and flipped what little hair she had behind her shoulder. "Just some—preliminary questions. For another interview, you know."
"I'm not interested." He motioned to Hermione with a flick of his head and began to stalk down the hallway toward their rooms. Hermione followed him quickly, Skeeter close behind.
"But our last interview went so well. I was hoping to get a continuation."
"I hadn't noticed an article about you, Severus," Hermione said as she struggled to keep up with his long strides.
"It never went to print," was his short reply.
"It would have gotten wonderful reviews. He was delightfully charming." Rita Skeeter was struggling after them on her spiked heels, her breath coming in shorts gasps.
Snape stopped in the middle of the hallway, rounding on her. "Okay, let me put this as plainly as I can and maybe it will stick in your little tiny brain. I am not interested in you or your newspaper and I never shall."
Skeeter gave a light laugh and flipped her hair again. "Not interested in me? It's not as if you have any more options, Severuss."
Hermione's nose scrunched at the way the woman tried to seductively hiss his name. Skeeter smirked and put her hand on her hip, believing she had the upperhand.
"You are not the only woman out there, you tart. There are always other options." Severus turned around to look at Hermione in frustration. "Do you want to wait in the office while I sort her out?"
"Yes, some privacy, please," Rita pleaded, batting her eyelashes. Hermione rolled her eyes and smirked at Severus. His eyes softened as they shared a moment of bemusement.
"Sure, but I'll be waiting for you," she said. "We still have to sort out our bedroom and move my stuff in."
He nodded and promised he wouldn't be long. The moment she had turned the corner, Rita Skeeter turned on him, her face suddenly a strange shade of magenta. Snape almost took a step back in surprise.
"Are you seeing that Mudblood behind my back?" Skeeter demanded, her voice shrill.
Severus immediately glowered. "Never call Hermione that again," he warned. "Or I shall curse you to your grave and back." He stared her down with a hardened gaze. His hand rested on his wand.
Skeeter flipped her hair. "So, how's your relationship really going? Are you just in it for the power and status? Or is it the sex?" Her eyes flashed and her quill danced. Severus's glare hardened and cooled.
"I said 'get out'. I do not want to see you again! You will stay away from Hermione and me. I shall make you suffer if you don't, I promise you that," he growled.
"Threats don't scare me, Severus," Rita said, but her legs seemed a bit more wobbly than before and she took a small step back.
"Mine should. And it's Professor Snape to you." With that, he stomped the rest of the way to his storeroom and slammed the door behind himself. He began to blindly open boxes, cursing Skeeter under his breath.
After just a few minutes, the door to the kitchen opened. "Severus?" he heard Hermione say.
"What?" he grunted. She didn't say anything for a moment. He looked up at her.
"I just wanted to say thank you for what you did. I heard you tell her not to call me…well, you know. You didn't have to and I'm sure your public image just decreased tenfold, especially in your old circles."
He slowly put the glass bottle in his hand back into the box and straightened. "Yelling at Rita Skeeter is child's play for someone who reprimands children every day and is known as an overgrown bat. If anything, I should be thanking you for making your bedroom comment. She may actually get the hint now."
Hermione stepped forward, hands clasped in front of her. "You aren't an overgrown bat."
"And you aren't a Mudblood."
"Touché." There was silence for a minute as they looked at each other before Severus hung his head.
"Thank you. Again. She just…doesn't have a good grasp of reality," he said softly, trying to portray the emotions he felt. He really wasn't very good at it, but she understood.
"Oh, you're welcome. I didn't do much, though. In fact, I think I only made it worse."
His head snapped up. "What do you mean? Worse?"
"She's going to run off and print something about us sleeping together and then we'll have to make a public statement saying we're not and it's just going to get out of hand very quickly."
Snape thought about it for a second and nodded. "Ah, yes, well, let us hope that day doesn't come."
"Yes, please." After a moment of thought, Hermione stepped forward quickly and wrapped her arms around his neck in what she thought was going to be a quick hug.
She had expected Severus to freeze for a moment, but she hadn't foreseen the tentative arm he placed at her waist or his other hand coming up between her shoulder blades. While it was true that it was quite possibly the most awkward hug she'd ever gotten, the meaning behind it touched her.
Hermione's stomach growled and they pulled away from each other quickly.
"I forgot we missed lunch," she laughed.
"You missed lunch. I was able to manage a few mouthfuls of food before you bolted from the room. However, I do need to bathe. I feel horrendously contaminated after dealing with that woman."
"You shower; I'll get food and make a list of everything we're going to need to do before the start of term."
"Fine. We'll compare lists when I get out." And with that, he swept away to the bathroom. Hermione could hear the lock click into place as she turned to the kitchen, wondering what kind of food Snape would have.