A/N: As usual I own nothing and make no money from this. Thanks again to my wonderful beta Grnkrystle and Tbird1965 for her discerning eye!
"Severus, have you heard from Miss Granger?" McGonagall asked, nervously pacing back and forth in his office.
"No. Since when did I become her keeper?" Severus replied without missing a beat. "Perhaps she's preoccupied with those halfwit friends of hers."
"Severus! The girl's mother died. And besides, I've sent an owl to Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter, and they've both said that they haven't seen her since the funeral."
The dour headmaster turned around in a whirl of black robes. "What would you like me to do, Minerva?" he asked sounding irritated. "Maybe the girl just needs some time to herself - understandably so."
"That might be the case, but at the very least Miss Granger responds whenever I owl her. Her last few messages weren't very concise which is strange for her. Also, I've sent Fionna with a letter over two hours ago and she still hasn't returned."
"Why not send one of the Golden Trio to check up on her? Or the young Miss Weasley? Aren't they chums?"
"Now you listen, Severus Snape!" McGonagall snapped, the feather on her hat wavering with her each movement. "You may be headmaster, but remember I've known you since you came up to my knee," She continued, puffed up with indignation. "It won't kill you to take a few minutes out of your hectic schedule to make sure everything is alright with the lass."
"I still don't understand why I need go," Snape replied.
"Because you're the headmaster!" McGonagall snapped exasperatedly, looking down at the man over her spectacles.
Sneering at the older woman, Severus barely blinked as he Apparated out of the school.
Nighttime had nearly befallen when the headmaster found himself standing in front of the Granger residence. He immediately felt a slight spark as he made his way up the path. Snape found himself slightly impressed at the advance wards that had been placed on the house. Of course, he had no problems breaking through them.
Wand withdrawn, he walked into the house, not sure what to expect. Hearing what sounded like low cooing, Snape cautiously walked through the dimly lit, yet immaculate, brightly furnished living room. A light was on around the bend, and he edged towards it, wand in front of him.
For the first time in a long time, Snape was thoroughly flummoxed at the sight before him.
Hermione Granger was perched over the kitchen island, her wand at her elbow and McGonagall's white owl standing in the middle, with the witch daintily feeding it what appeared to be crumbled up bread. She was barefoot, clad in tatty sweatpants and a rumpled grey tank top, her curls looking limp and hanging fluffily around her head like a broken halo.
"Oh, hello professor," she greeted offhandedly, barely casting a second glance at the irate man.
"Miss Granger," he said slowly. "Would you care to explain this?"
Hermione's dull amber eyes were still focused on the bright, white owl. Pushing more crumbs toward the bird, she seemed enthralled with its eating habits. "Professor McGonagall's owl is quite lovely, isn't she? She has such a lovely temperament…for an owl."
"That's not what I meant!" he growled, shoving his wand back into his inner pocket. "But I am curious to know why you're here feeding it instead of writing back to Minerva as she's expecting!"
Only part of his sentence seemed to make Hermione focus a bit more. "I'm feeding her because clearly she was hungry. I miss my cat, Crookshanks. Do you remember him?"
"Yes, the feline from hell. For the love of Circe girl, what's happened to you?"
"What do you mean, professor?"
"Miss Granger I-will you stop feeding the damn bird?" Grabbing the parchment with McGonagall's note that Fionna brought, Severus hastily scribbled a reply before bellowing "Out!" to the owl.
The pure white owl turned her head, and seemingly gave the man a reproachful look before spreading her wings and flying out the back window. Hermione cast a forlorn glance towards the dwindling bird, looking as if someone had just taken away her favorite toy.
"Was that necessary?"
"Miss Granger, do I look like some sort of nanny? McGonagall sent me to find out why the hell you haven't replied to her letters, or why your two golden boys haven't even heard from you."
"Ron and Harry claim they haven't heard from me? That's odd because I've barely gotten a letter from them. Even a Howler would shock me at this point."
Snape barely raised an eyebrow, almost curious enough to ask if they were on the outs with one another.
"They came for my mum's funeral, but even before then they've been too busy for me. I suppose Auror training doesn't afford them a lot of free time," Hermione continued. "Besides, I like being alone. There's no one to bother me, or take the mickey at me for wanting to read all day."
"I told Minerva that you were most likely taking some, much needed, personal time, but she insisted-"
"Of course, sitting here alone day in and day out, my mind tends to wander," Hermione droned on, unaware that she just cut Snape off mid-sentence. "I was so worried for my mother that I stayed away. I'd only just given her back her memories when I found out she was sick, can you believe it? And then the last few bloody weeks I have with her - she dies."
Severus stood silently in the doorway, listening to the usually articulate young woman prattle off sounding as if she had gone round the bend. Overly emotional people always made him uncomfortable, the sensation multiplied because he had no way to escape.
"It's ironic, isn't it?" Hermione said, distractedly brushing the crumb remnants from the counter and crossing the kitchen to dump them in the bin. "When I came back to Hogwarts, I wondered why you always hid in your office - although you were never actually social to begin with. But after having neighbors and everyone else traipsing in and out of this house, I thought I would go mad. They can't look me straight in the eye or talk to me without that pitying tone. As if I'm some milksop maiden that's going to break down every time I hear my mum's name."
Still quiet, Severus wondered if the babbling witch was going to need subduing. Brevity had never been Hermione's strong point, but she truly sounded like a raving lunatic even if he was in agreement with many of her sentiments.
"Miss Granger, enough," Severus cut in. "First, don't interrupt me. Second, you're going to be sick if you keep going like that, and believe me, I will not attempt to play Healer."
"What difference does it make?" Hermione all but shrieked, her eyes now brimming over with tears. "And why did you send the owl away? I could have used the company!"
Watching as the young witch become more hysterical by the minute, Severus crossed over to her in three strides. "You're a walking contradiction; didn't you just say that you wanted to be left alone?"
"An owl is different; you were horrid to send her away!"
"Either control yourself, or I'm going to pour a Calming Draught down your throat."
"I don't care!" she screamed. "Once it wears off I'm going to be right back to square one; missing my mum and blaming myself. It's my fault! I wasn't there for her when she needed me because I was too damn scared, and now I'll never see her again!"
Standing in the middle of the kitchen, Hermione proceeded to cry great, ugly sobs that shook her petite frame. Knowing that it was futile to tell the girl to stop crying, Severus conjured up a small vial. Firmly grasping Hermione's jaw, he tipped the contents into her already open mouth. Keeping one hand over her face, he made sure that she swallowed the potion before stepping back.
Almost immediately her tears ceased, lethargy soon replacing the wild look in her eyes. Severus had given her twice the normal dosage and noticed that her legs were about to collapse beneath her. Unflinchingly catching Hermione round the cuff of both arms, he nearly dragged her out of the kitchen and into the living room.
Dazed by the effects of the strong potion, Hermione fell gracelessly onto the sofa. Her head tipped back on the cushions, her chest heaving slightly.
Snape was unable to move his eyes from her torso, noticing that her ribcage was protruding more than usual.
"What the devil have you been doing to yourself?" he icily queried.
Hermione's amber eyes rolled around a bit before focusing in on his face. "Hmph?" she asked dumbly.
Hissing in annoyance, Snape barely uttered 'Legilimens' before Hermione's thoughts came rushing like water through his head.
He watched as she aimlessly prowled her house day to day, only going out briefly to purchase the barest of groceries or to collect the post. She'd barely consumed more than a few cups of tea and toast, and spoke to no one. When she wasn't half-heartedly reading she spent time in what he guessed was her bedroom, crying.
Once he came back to the present, Severus saw Hermione's watery brown eyes focused on his dark ones. She had stopped whimpering but the tears still ran down her cheeks.
Sitting down next to Hermione, Severus withdrew a handkerchief from his inner pocket and handed it to her. When she made no moves to take it from him, he scoffed and hastily wiped the moisture off her cheeks and nose.
Hermione's head then lolled to the side, her breathing growing steady. Looking over, Severus realized that she'd finally fallen asleep.
'About time,' he muttered inwardly. A show-off, spouting everything she knew, Hermione, was one thing to deal with; but one that blubbered and was unable to form a coherent thought? To say that it made Snape become unnerved was an understatement.
The house was eerily quiet with Hermione now in a deep sleep. Looking around the living room, Snape saw picture frames scattered throughout. Growing up in a Muggle household he remembered that the pictures didn't move. However, having been in the Wizarding world for so long with animated images he still found the non-moving ones odd.
There were a slew of her baby pictures, leading up to school age and beyond. Seeing the older man and woman in many of the photographs, Snape assumed they were her parents as he noticed the strong resemblance they bore.
Hermione's body suddenly tipped sideways on the sofa, falling onto Severus with her head smacking flush against his shoulder. Grumbling to himself, he wasn't comfortable being in such an intimate position with his former student and now Hogwarts Potion's Apprentice. The young witch was more than half his age and on top of that he could nearly look down her shirt and see the swells of her breasts if he was so inclined.
Severus knew he'd have to touch her to move her and the idea was discomforting. Keeping absolutely still he heaved a sigh, wondering how he'd gotten himself into this situation.
After the war had ended, Professor Slughorn made it known that he wished to go back into retirement, going on that he was too old for the excitement. Severus had no wish to reclaim his post as Potions' Master yet hit a snag; there was no one else that was available to take his place.
Explaining this to Slughorn, the elderly professor promised that he would stay on for another year to train a new apprentice if needed. McGongall suggested that they owl Hermione, asking her if she'd consider the apprenticeship.
His face had instantly wrinkled up in distaste when he thought about the bushy haired know-it-all, but he had to concede that the girl had matured slightly from the loud mouth child that once graced his classroom.
Severus knew that Hermione would most likely prove easy to train, as she always felt the need to over achieve in whatever task that had been handed to her. She wouldn't be able to go to Slughorn if needed as he'd caught the man stealing some kip in his office whenever he was supposed to be grading homework and exams. Severus felt confident that even under the lackadaisical man's tutelage Hermione would succeed, as he had no wish to leave his office every five minutes to offer succor.
Severus would have never admitted it but choosing Hermione as the Potion's apprentice had been a wise choice. She brewed everything with minimum difficulty, opting on her own to try her hand at more advanced potions. The few times she'd sought out the headmaster's advice he'd given it, grateful that the girl had turned away after finding out what she needed instead of leaving him with bleeding and protesting eardrums.
Slughorn of course had taken the credit for Hermione's fast learning but that was to be expected.
One day shortly after she'd made an error in the laboratory that nearly cost her a burned and withered arm.
Severus had been on his way past the laboratory when he noticed the young witch reading a letter with tears pouring down her face. Mildly curious as to why she was crying, his attention had been captured by the rattling cauldron.
Hermione had been standing close to it, and although her hair had been pulled back her sleeve was dangerously close to the volatile contents.
Able to recognize the potion by its pungent scent, Severus knew that she had added too much knotgrass. Hermione had been completely oblivious of the now murky glowing green contents, which meant that it was about to explode.
He'd taken three steps and knocked the unaware girl out of the way, simultaneously pointing his wand at the cauldron, emptying its contents and putting out the flame beneath it.
Hermione stood completely still as the headmaster soundly berated her for her foolishness, demanding to know where the devil her head was.
She'd showed Severus the letter she'd been reading, he found that her mother was in a Muggle hospital near her home, sick and not expected to live long. After stalking over to the Potion's office, he wasn't shocked when he found a lightly snoring Slughorn with his feet propped up on his desk.
Severus called out to the man in a booming baritone, taking pleasure when he jumped and nearly fell out of the chair. He'd explained that Slughorn would have to make do without his apprentice for an undeterminable amount of time, offering nothing further to the elderly professor who'd began to question him incessantly.
Escorting the still silent Hermione to his office, Severus then sent for McGonagall. After the elderly witch came to his office, Severus proceeded to explain the situation.
McGonagall had immediately begun to console Hermione, the headmaster standing by with a tight look on his face. Hasty arrangements were made for the young witch, and after she left that afternoon neither Snape nor McGonagall had spoken to her.
McGonagall had gone on worrying about Hermione's absence, expressing her concerns to Severus at every given chance. The last straw had been when the professor sent her personal owl, Fionna to the young woman, with a brief note asking how things were. When she'd gotten nary a response she'd sought out Severus, nagging at him until he'd Apparated out of his office and found himself at Hermione's home.
Hermione sighed deeply in her sleep, causing Severus to turn his head and look at her. He preferred this silent witch compared to the sobbing, inconsolable one.
'At least she's able to sleep,' he thought to himself, closing his eyes and resting his head against the back of the sofa.
There were but so many vials of Dreamless Sleep that he could take before becoming immune to the effects. Severus was unable to remember the last time he'd slept properly and continuously throughout the night. Even before the war, images of the people that had been tortured and killed at the hands of the Dark Lord before his eyes continued to haunt him.
Whenever he attempted to rest, all he could see was their frightened, pleading eyes. He'd been forced to kill some himself, doing so quickly and without looking at them, knowing he'd never get the image out of his head.
Severus was anything but daft; he knew the names he'd been called by his peers and even students, most often occurring behind his back. If the little miscreants had known the reason for his perpetually dark mood they'd most likely soil themselves.
Since he began teaching the students he'd encountered on a daily basis were always whinging about the most trivial things; a sought after young witch or wizard not returning their affections, or their parents not sending enough money to spend on excursions to Hogsmead.
Severus would have given his eyeteeth to have had the mundane worries of his students when he was their age. However, even as a small child, he'd had to suffer at the hands of an abusive father. The occurrences had become further spaced apart once he'd gone away to school, and then he was tormented by his own peers.
Once he was an adult and began leading a double life, Severus wondered if he was destined to ever find a moment's peace. Admittedly, things had died down once the war had ended. The truth had come out about his role as a spy, yet he abhorred the unwelcome attention as a war hero. As headmaster at Hogwarts he was able to ensconce himself in his office at will, but his solitude nearly always became short lived as he was always being summoned by one of his colleagues.
Severus had just reached a hand up to rub against his temple when Hermione shifted her head against him. Her curls brushed against his chin, and he was able to catch the remnants of a floral shampoo that she'd most likely used a few days ago.
Good lord, the girl then began nuzzling her face into his shoulder.
Severus thought it ironic; the young witch that he'd always spoken to with a biting tongue, now curling up against him in the throes of slumber.
The silence in the room was deafening, although Severus realized it was the first time in awhile that he'd been in a place that was completely at a standstill. The only sound in the room was the ticking of a clock and Hermione's light breathing.
Figuring that he might as well take advantage of the quiet room, Severus attempted to clear his mind and fell into a light sleep.
A sudden outcry made Hermione jump out of her sleep. Turning her head, she felt her nose brush against soft wool with a minty herbal scent embedded in the fibers. Dazedly sitting up, she began to rub the sleep from her eyes. Her throat felt dry and her head heavy, and her clothes were clinging uncomfortably to sweat dampened skin.
Feeling a bit more lucid, Hermione's amber eyes grew wide when they settled onto Severus, whom was fast asleep with his head thrown back on her couch. He was still clad in his voluminous teaching robes and proverbial black suit.
Although he was asleep, it was still a bit daunting to sit so closely to the exceptionally cantankerous man. Hermione couldn't help but notice that the deeply etched lines of stress that had forever marred his face seemed to have slightly disappeared. If not for his austere appearance, Severus would have appeared almost serene while sleeping.
Gingerly standing up from the sofa, Hermione walked to the kitchen and retrieved her wand from the counter. Returning to the living room she found that Severus hadn't budged, although the angle of his head looked highly uncomfortable.
Using her wand to Accio a pillow, Hermione charmed it into place at the end of the sofa. She then utilized two more spells; one to remove Severus' flowing black teaching robes and another to place him horizontally on the couch, his head coming down on the pillow.
Hermione then curled up in an armchair across from the sofa, her eyes still trained on Severus. It was almost surreal that he was in her house, sprawled across her living room sofa. His dark appearance against the light furnishings made her think of yin meeting yang.
She'd never been this close to the professor without him looking at her as if in displeasure or uttering an acerbic laced comment. Hermione nearly felt as she was in the presence of a living, breathing and cantankerous deity. Still, she was unable to muster up the energy to move from her spot, unknowingly worried that if she did he would be gone.
Severus inhaled deeply, turning his head slightly to feel his face brush against something soft. Whatever he was lying on smelled sweet and floral, a scent he was wholly unused to.
Without opening his eyes he remembered he was in Hermione Granger's house, and that she was most likely sitting across from him. He could feel her eyes nearly boring a hole into his skull.
"Have you nothing more sporting to do with yourself than to watch me sleep?" he rasped.
Hermione gasped sharply, realizing that she'd been caught.
Severus opened his eyes when he realized that he was much too comfortable. He'd been lying down on the couch and had fallen asleep for who knew how long. The little do-gooder had even managed to shove what was most like the pillow from her bed beneath his head.
After groaning and sitting up, Severus swept his hair back away from his eyes, speculatively eyeing the lackluster young woman curled up in a chair across from him. "I should thank you for not waking me up with the dulcet tones that you were previously fond of utilizing."
"I'm sorry about that," Hermione apologized. She then noticed Severus looking at the pillow, his eyes then moving to his teaching robes that had been neatly draped across the loveseat. "You looked uncomfortable…" she trailed off noticing his gaze.
"No need for an explanation, Miss Granger. I'm used to your incessant meddling."
If his bluntness shocked her, Hermione didn't show it. Severus had to admit that he was slightly impressed with her moxie, but then again whenever he'd attempted to cut her down with words she took them in stride. Countless time he'd made students cry just by looking at them; Hermione never batted so much as an eyelash at his vinegary remarks.
"Now that you appear lucid and more reasonable, you should know that I was not pleased to be ejected from my office by McGonagall. As it were she was worried that something happened to you when you never returned her owl."
"I-I didn't mean to worry anyone," Hermione answered, her forehead furrowing.
"Be that as it may, you've managed to do a fine job of doing so," Severus continued. "You're not some fledgling witch anymore than I'm a bleeding nursemaid. But Minerva insisted that I come and it's just as well. You're a god awful sight."
Hermione finally bore some semblance of a reaction. "I apologize professor, but perhaps you are unaware that I just lost my mother," she snapped. "So you'll forgive me if tarting myself up is not a priority."
"You simple girl, at least humor me and act like you're astute. Surely you cannot believe that I mean your hair and face."
Hermione still glared at Severus, whom appeared glowered right back at her.
"Where is your room?" he demanded.
Trudging slowly as if her feet were weighed down, Hermione could barely hear Severus walking behind her. Once she turned into her bedroom, Severus grabbed her by the cuff of her arm and hustled her in front of the full length mirror hanging in front of the closet door.
"Your ribcage is showing and there are dark circles beneath your eyes," he pointed out. "I know you haven't been eating properly and believe me, you cannot afford to lose any weight."
Hermione stared straight ahead at her messy appearance, slightly unnerved at Severus' reflection behind hers. She had to concede; Severus was correct in his observations. She had grown thinner and the pajamas that once fit her comfortably were now loose.
"You have ten minutes to shower, wash your hair and change. Then I want to see you back downstairs," he continued.
"Miss Granger? Do try and change into something…more appropriate."
"What's wrong with what I have on?" she bristled.
"Your shirt is loose at the neckline and nearly transparent. Utilize your powers of deduction." The dour man then turned and stalked out of her bedroom.
Hermione nearly shouted indignantly behind Severus, wanting to know who he thought he was. However her past experiences with the man warned her to refrain from anymore hysterical outbursts. Before today she thought it would have been rich that he was telling her to wash her hair. Yet when she'd woken up from her nap, her hand brushed against his head and found that he had soft, wispy hair that wasn't greasy in the least bit.
After ridding herself of the rumpled and stale clothing, Hermione stepped into her shower. The hot water proved to be slightly invigorating, and she sighed when it cascaded over her body.
Once she was done bathing, Hermione wrapped a fluffy white towel around her body and walked to her room. She changed into fresh underwear and sweatpants, and was now perched on the edge of her bed, tackling her hair with a comb.
"Damn," she swore underneath her breath. Her unending days of tossing about in bed and not running so much as her fingers through her hair had left an unsightly amount of snarl and tangles. Still cursing Hermione knew that not even a potion would undo the little knots scattered throughout.
Suddenly her bedroom door flung open, revealing a mildly disgusted looking Severus.
"What in bloody hell?" she swore, nearly jumping out of her skin. He'd frightened her so badly Hermione nearly forgot that her upper body was only covered by her bra.
"Miss Granger, I don't have all day. Now I told you to come downstairs in exactly ten minutes."
"And you said to tend to my hair, which I'm doing! So unless you have a better way of me getting this comb through it-"
Her words were cut short when Severus stalked over to her, lazily withdrawing his wand and flicking it at her head. Her curls looked the same but the knots had seemingly all fallen out. He then walked over to her dresser and yanked open the top drawer, pulling out the first thing his hand touched.
"Put this on and come downstairs," he snapped, handing her a long sleeve dark pink pullover.
Her face still turned up, Hermione watched as Severus walked away without another word. Not wanting to be chastised again, she hurriedly pulled the shirt over her head and stood up.
In her rush downstairs Hermione forgot her slippers, and padded on bare feet back down to the living room. Frowning slightly when she saw the empty room, she continued around the corner.
Severus was sitting at the dining room table, and hadn't bothered to look up when Hermione cautiously walked over. He'd picked up the newspaper from the stack she'd kept at the back door and now had his head buried in it. Before him on the table was a large spread consisting of a hearty looking stew, fresh baked bread and butter, pumpkin juice and three different types of pudding.
"Where did?-" she began.
"House elves," he answered in clipped tones, flipping to the next page of the newspaper.
Hermione was a bit disbelieving that house elves from Hogwarts visited her house, but reasoned that Snape was headmaster and was able to summon them at will.
"Miss Granger, I didn't have them bring dinner for you to stand dithering about whilst gawking."
Dutifully pulling back a chair, Hermione sat down at the table. Furtively eyeing Severus whom was still hidden behind his newspaper, she pulled the bowl of stew in front of her.
Hermione hadn't purposely avoided eating; she had just been unable to work up much of an appetite. Usually a cup of strongly brewed tea had been enough to keep her going, and if she was a little hungry a handful of crackers sufficed.
She had to admit that the stew was delicious and eagerly began spooning it into her mouth. After her insides felt marginally warmer, Hermione picked up some bread. Spreading a copious amount of butter on it, she devoured one piece and eagerly worked on another.
"You have no sense of self-preservation," Severus muttered, breaking the silence.
Hermione raised an eyebrow, rushing to chew and swallow the mouthful of food. "How do you mean?"
"It means just what it sounds like, silly girl," he replied evenly, the pages of the newspaper shuffling as he turned another page. "Countless times you've dashed off with those dunderhead friends of yours, trying to save the world. Yet I get here and find you withering away because you're simple enough to not even remember to eat."
"Professor, I know that witty repartee is part of your charm, but honestly do you think you could give me a break just this once?" Hermione broke in.
"Despite being a Gryffindor, I remember you being able to control your emotions better than you are doing now," Severus said. "Subjectively speaking at least; to me you've always worn your heart on your sleeve, always the sentimental one."
"My mum died!" Hermione all but shrieked, tossing her spoon into her bowl and splashing stew onto the table. "And all you can do is go on insulting me. Do you really hate me that much?"
Severus wanted to laugh bitterly; hate had been the furthest thing from his mind especially after he'd walked in on the young witch only clad in a bra and sweatpants. Despite the age difference and her being his former student, Severus was still a man, one whom hadn't been with a woman in longer than he cared to remember.
Despite Hermione's frail looking upper body, he'd been unable to ignore a perfect set of breasts that were neither too big nor small atop her chest, and her smooth, flat stomach. He'd actually felt a bit out of sorts when he realized that he'd felt a stirring of arousal from looking at the young witch.
"I'm not above using the Imperious Curse to force you to eat, so I advise that you finish that," Severus drawled, putting down the newspaper. His obsidian eyes turned to drill into flashing amber orbs. "If you're expecting me to mollycoddle you, then you're dafter than I'd realized. I'm here merely because my Potions apprentice has nearly gone off her rocker. It's my job as headmaster to ensure the welfare of the students as well as staff at Hogwarts."
Hermione fell silent but picked her spoon back up knowing that Severus had no qualms about carrying out this threat.
"Although, rest assured Miss Granger,despite your steadfast need of spouting the first thing that comes to your mind, I harbor no feelings of hatred towards you."
With that Severus picked the newspaper back up, reading where he'd last left off.
"Professor…may I ask you a question?"
"What, you're already eager for me to retract my previous statement?"
"Do you know that you talk in your sleep?"
"Is that so?" he asked coolly, although he was inwardly annoyed at himself for doing so in front of Hermione, and for her pointing it out.
"Just a little," Hermione said. What she omitted was the method he was silenced with. The effects of the Calming Draught that he'd poured down her throat had worn off and Hermione hadn't been in a complete deep slumber. A most distressing sound issued from the man next to her had startled her. Looking at his face through sleep hazed eyes; she realized that Severus had been talking in his sleep.
His words had been indistinguishable but the look on his face plainly showed that he was most likely in the throes of a nightmare. Hermione considered waking Severus but didn't know if he was the type that woke easily or would behave like a troll being disrupted.
She'd felt a tugging in her chest that left her off kilter, and before realizing it had grazed her hand over Severus' sleeve, slowly moving until it was grazing over his fingers. Hermione didn't know what had possessed her to touch the man in his sleep but it worked as he'd immediately quieted down.
"Do you have nightmares about…you know," she asked, skimming her spoon across the surface of the stew. When Severus kept his head behind the paper refusing to respond Hermione continued. "I thought I was the only one that had them, although they've become less frequent as of late…"
"I advise you to tread lightly, witch," he snapped. "My sleeping habits are of no concern to you."
"You aren't the only one," Hermione said, unable to help herself. "We've all had them before and after the war. Although, I've found that being alone makes them worse."
"Fine words coming from someone that's been hiding in her house for the past month."
"I wasn't hiding," Hermione retorted snappishly.
Severus was grateful when she became riled up, distracting her from asking him anymore personal questions. "Close your mouth, you look like a fish. Better yet, here." He put down the paper long enough to shove one of the dessert platters in Hermione's direction.
Scowling at the professor, Hermione saw a flash of white in the corner of her eye. McGonagall's owl had returned, bearing a small note tied to its right leg. It stood dutifully in front of Severus, patiently allowing him to remove the scrap of parchment.
Hermione immediately tried to offer Fionna remnants of her bread, only for Severus to snap at her and the owl, causing it to fly hastily away. He ignored the scowl that Hermione threw his way, his eyes scanning over the note.
"As if I'm some bleeding nanny," he muttered under his breath, tapping the parchment with his wand and lighting it.
Hermione slowly chewed on her dessert, watching as he evanesco'd the fallen ashes away.
"What is it?" she asked after swallowing.
"Just McGonagall making more work for me," he growled. "She told me not to rush back to the school. She thinks you might have it in your mind to off yourself and apparently somehow it's my job to make sure that you don't."
Hermione was in the middle of bringing another bite to her mouth when she paused. "Why would she think that?" she asked aghast, her fork midway in the air.
Severus looked plaintively at her for awhile before answering. "When I arrived here I found you feeding an owl, looking and behaving as if you'd just escaped the mental ward of St. Mungo's. Are you really that shocked?"
Hermione shoved the fork in her mouth more roughly than was necessary. "I might have been a bit touched, but I'd never do something that drastic," she mumbled around her food. "I don't think I'm ready to return to Hogwarts just yet," she admitted.
"That much is evident," Severus intoned. "I believe Minerva means for me to stay here with you until you regain your senses."
"I don't think that will be necessary," Hermione replied. It had been strange enough with the headmaster in her house; she was unable to fathom him staying for an even longer period of time.
"I agree," he answered curtly. "This is why I'm giving you until this Monday. The weekend should be enough for you to sort yourself out; otherwise someone else will have to resume my post as your au pair."
"I think I can deal with that," she offered.
"You don't have a choice, Miss Granger."
Forcing herself to ignore the fact that she was being treated like a wayward child, Hermione finished the last bit of dessert. The dishes disappeared with a pop and she folded her hands, placing them down on the now empty space.
Furtively glancing across the table, she saw that Severus was still reading the newspaper and pointedly ignoring her. Opening her mouth to speak, she decided against it and began drumming her fingers on the tabletop.
"I merely need to be in the same house with you, not glued to your side," he drawled in a bored voice. "If you wish to leave then go. I trust that you won't do anything foolish."
"Okay," Hermione said, slowly pushing herself back in the chair and standing up. Making her way out of the dining room, she turned her head slightly to look over her shoulder, finding that Severus had his head still buried in the paper and was making no notice of her.
Needing something to occupy herself with, Hermione went upstairs and went to the linen closet. She still hadn't wrapped her head around the idea of the headmaster staying in her house for the weekend. Perfunctorily moving about, she took out clean sheets and towels and set up the rarely used guest bedroom.
After the bed was neatly made she placed the folded matching towel and washcloth on the dresser. She thought about going back downstairs to let Severus know that she'd readied everything for him but thought against it.
Going to her own bedroom, Hermione stretched across her bed, burying her head in her folded arms. Unsettling thoughts kept running through her head. What was she supposed to do with the professor in her house for the next two days? Was she supposed to entertain him? What was he going to sleep in?
She didn't remember seeing him with anything other than his teaching robes. Hell, she'd never seen him wearing anything but the teaching robes over his simple black suits. She prayed that she wouldn't accidentally see something that he hadn't intended, say, if he was on his way out of the shower.
Hermione nearly giggled insanely at the thought of seeing the man undressed. He'd most likely throw a hex her way and then obliviate her afterwards.
Forcing herself to think rationally, Hermione's eyes scanned her bedroom until she came across a potions textbook that she'd been studying. She'd already devoured the required books for her apprenticeship. Despite Slughorn being a less than stellar professor, his book collection was quite large and he had no qualms about lending them to Hermione. Although, on more than one occasion, she'd considered that the only reason the man lent her books was to stop her from firing questions at him and hastily exit his office.
She'd stayed on her bed and read all of three pages when she decided that it was rude of her to leave Severus downstairs alone. Despite knowing that he'd look at her with nothing but disdain, Hermione snapped the book shut and tucked it beneath her arm.
Cautiously walking downstairs she found him perched in the armchair, engrossed in a tatty tome that he must've conjured with his wand.
"Do you mind if I sit in here with you?" she asked when he didn't look up.
"It's your home; do as you wish," he replied indifferently.
Folding herself into a corner of the sofa, Hermione propped her book up on one knee and reopened to the page she'd left. Nearly becoming lost in her book, Hermione wryly smiled to herself when she thought about the phrase 'companionable silence'.
She and Severus were anything but companionable and the silence was nearly deafening, the tension so thick it was able to be sliced through with a knife. Hermione sometimes listened to music while she read and she found herself wishing that she'd brought down her headphones.
Then again…she thought as she furtively peeked over her book to look at Severus. He was completely engrossed in his book, only the top of his head visible as his face was hidden behind the tattered and worn black leather.
Hermione frowned slightly, trying to make out the title of the book but was unable to find anything, even on the binding. Knowing how the tempestuous man would respond if she so much as parted her lips to breathe a question in his direction, Hermione resumed reading her own book.
After another hour of the uncomfortable silence, Hermione stood up and announced that she was off to bed. Severus closed his book and stood up, glaring across at her.
"Well…I guess I should show you to your room…" she trailed off, suddenly feeling nervous.
His dour expression hadn't changed, and he stood with his arms firmly folded across his chest. Hermione had begun cautiously making her way towards the staircase, turning back slightly to see that Severus was following her.
Hermione bypassed her room, since Severus had been in it twice already and knew where it was. She showed him the lavatory and then the guest bedroom. She was in the midst of telling him goodnight when he promptly shut the door in her face.
Exhaling softly, she made her way to her bedroom. She hadn't actually expected anything different from the professor and was surprised that she didn't feel insulted.
Digging out her cd played from her desk drawer, Hermione turned off the overhead light and crawled beneath the duvet. Balancing the electronic device on her stomach, she shoved the headphones into place and fell back on the pillows. Despite being in the dark she was able to find the play button on the cd player, and the sounds of Brandenburg Concertos soon filled her ears.