The Tyger and the Lamb
The seat next to his was often the only one free. That was how it had started.
She sat next to him because no one else would. She talked to him because that was her nature. Eventually he responded, even though it was against his. She lent him a quill when his snapped. Gave him a Christmas card. Wished him a happy birthday. Brought him a stick of rock back from her holiday in Eastbourne.
He treated her with cool suspicion, at first. After the first few months, that warmed to a cool acceptance. Then one day, when she was running a little late, she caught him looking around anxiously, apparently searching for her. When he caught sight of her he seemed to relax, just ever so slightly. The corners of his eyes crinkled when she wished him a good morning.
Thankfully, the Headmistress had chosen that moment to summon their attention because Hermione doubted she could have spoken another word. She was in the middle of a sudden revelation and dangerously close to tears. She didn't catch a single word of that evening's staff meeting.
Apparently, all you needed to win Snape over was a little bit of niceness. She wondered how many people had ever bothered to find that out. The thought made her so sad that she found herself inviting him back to her office for a cup of tea. Of course, she actually asked for his help in understanding the quantities used in a medieval potions primer that Harry had found in a car boot sale and had thought she might like. Either way, she was surprised when he said yes.
Tea became a weekly thing. Hermione made certain to keep it very relaxed, bringing her marking or opening her book. She soon had Harry and Ginny scouring second hand shops for interesting conversation starters, and never ceased to be astounded at just how much Snape was able to decipher or explain about each battered pamphlet or crumpled scroll that she dropped on the coffee table. When she realised that he had begun to stay longer and longer, she celebrated quietly, swapping the pot of tea for a bottle of wine and the occasional glass of brandy.
Sometimes she caught him watching her, a slightly puzzled expression on his face, as if something about her confused him. She was tempted to ask him what it was, but doubted he'd take kindly to it. It was then that she realised how much she didn't want to jeopardise the rather fragile thing forming between them. It felt a bit too intense to just be a friendship, but there had never been anything in his manner to suggest it might be something more.
Which was rather a shame.
Teaching in a boarding school was very different from being a pupil in one. There were no intense friendships, none of the enforced intimacy of the dormitory or the camaraderie of the common room. She saw her fellow teachers during meal times, in the staff room, or during meetings. She didn't think of herself as lonely, of course not, but soon came to realise that her and Snape's informal meetings were the highlight of her week. Worse, she found herself wishing that he didn't have to leave.
She missed him all through the summer.
Oh, she had a wonderful time catching up with friends and family, but by late August she was almost ridiculously eager to return to Scotland. She wanted to see him again, to see if the corners of his eyes crinkled when he saw her. She wanted to give him his souvenir from Brittany to see what he made of it. The bottle of Calvados was a far cry from a seaside stick of rock, but she wanted him to know that he was more than a stick of rock to her.
She didn't get to see him until the first staff meeting. His eyes had crinkled at the edges, just as she had hoped they might. Then he had smiled; a brief, shy little crooked smile. It was then that she had known that something more with Snape would be really rather lovely.
She handed over his present that evening when he followed her back to her office for a cup of tea. He didn't even open the gift bag, just felt its weight and realised that it must be something more than themed confectionary. He was a little quiet after that. Quiet even for him. Hermione busied herself making tea (she had rather been hoping he might offer to share his present) and tried to fill the awkward silence.
She found herself telling him about eating omelettes and drinking cool cider from bowls outside a cafe in Brest. She told him about the folk dancers she had seen with their strange head dresses, the market in Saint-Malo, and the little old man in Morlaix who had taken her inside the tiny little church on his street to see the medieval carvings of the saints. She went on to describe the hot chocolate she'd drunk in Quimper, dark and bitter and sinful, only she hadn't quite managed to say the last word. She'd suddenly realised he was staring at her, watching her mouth as she spoke, and she had flushed and stammered to a halt.
Things changed after that.
Not overtly, but enough to convince her that she hadn't been wrong. He allowed himself to stay an extra ten minutes in her rooms when he visited. When she sat beside him for meetings he would offer her one of his mints. They were strong and crumbly and she would still be able to feel the sharp coolness on her tongue by the end of the meeting.
There was talk of reinstating the Tri Wizard Tournament now that the threat of sabotage had faded. This meant a lot more meetings, usually in the evening, when no whisper of what they were discussing would reach the students. On these nights, when there was a fair certainty that the corridors would be deserted, Snape would walk her to her door. One evening, he carried her books for her. It was such a charming gesture, so utterly unexpected, that she had invited him inside.
He accepted, even though it was two days until he normally called on her. This was outside the normal rules and he seemed acutely aware of it, sitting stiffly in his usual chair beneath the lamp. She fussed with the tea things, oddly grateful for something to do. He picked up the old potions primer from its shelf by his chair, idly turning the pages, his eyes following her across the room.
All he seemed to do was watch her, that look of puzzled concentration on his face. She began to wonder if all he wished to do was look at her. As if she were some sort of precious ingredient he had managed to collect, an object to admire from afar. She had no wish to join his collection of keepsakes sitting in formaldehyde on his mantelpiece, figuratively or literally.
She put the kettle down. "What is this, Snape?"
His eyes dropped. "What is what?"
"This thing between us. It feels as if we are . . . dating isn't the right word. Are you . . . are you courting me?"
He didn't look up, but his grip tightened on the delicate pages of the book. He swallowed. "Would that be unwelcome to you?"
"Not at all," she answered promptly, watching in fascination as his fingertips regained some of their colour. He raised his head a little then; dark, hopeful eyes seeking hers from under his lashes. "I was simply wondering why you haven't kissed me yet."
"I've been waiting for a physical expression of your esteem," she paraphrased.
He was staring at her now, his black eyes huge in his pale face. "A kiss?"
"Yes," she breathed, no longer smiling. Something seemed to have slipped inside her chest and her heart wasn't beating quite how it should.
He frowned and looked away. "It seemed a little presumptuous."
Hermione swallowed her disappointment. "Well, I suppose you really ought to take me to Paris or shower me with diamonds first," she sighed. "At the very least I should hold out for a moonlit picnic."
It wasn't surprising that he left so shortly afterwards. She'd done something wrong, that much was obvious. He paused at the doorway, and for a fleeting moment Hermione had thought he'd been finally about to kiss her. He was courting her, after all. Instead, he had nodded curtly and swept away down the dark corridor. Hermione watched him go until he disappeared beyond the weak light of the torches.
She tidied away the tea things before turning out the lights and letting herself into her little bedroom. She got ready for bed distractedly, staring thoughtfully at herself in the mirror while she cleaned her teeth. Kissing her would be presumptuous, would it? She could only assume that he was conscious of the difference in their ages and was concerned about rushing her into anything. Yet she had expressly told him that she wished to be kissed.
Her normally clear brown eyes stared back at her, clouded with confusion and disappointment. The odd feeling had gone from her chest and she found that she missed it. All that was left was a heavy sort of anxiety in the pit of her stomach; the worry that she might have pushed him too far. Somehow lessened herself in his eyes.
When she sat next to him the following morning, nothing seemed to have changed. He returned her greeting, passed the pepper at her request, and stalked off to teach, much the same as usual.
She bit her lip, idly toying with the remains of her scrambled eggs. Recently, his closed, careful nature had come to fascinate her. Now it left her terribly uncertain.
The next morning she managed to greet him more calmly. It was ridiculous, she realised, to expect him to give her any sort of indication of his feelings in front of the entire school. She would just have to wait until later that day and hope that he still intended to join her after dinner.
Somehow she got through her lessons without mishap. She gave Snape a brief description of the project she'd just started her sixth year students on, but she wasn't certain if he was listening. She certainly wasn't. The knot in her stomach had returned and she spent much of the meal pushing her cottage pie from one side of the plate to the other. After dinner, she had a brief one-on-one meeting with Headmistress McGonagall about the possibility of class trips for the older years – unlikely to be approved, apparently – then returned to her rooms to fret.
The problem was she had no idea how the evening might progress. She might be about to spend a rather depressing evening alone with a bottle of wine, or she might be about to spend an entirely different sort of evening altogether. She showered, used her favourite body cream, but dressed conservatively. She built the fire up in her little office, chilled the wine, but didn't bother fetching the glasses from their home in the cupboard next to the window. Then she sat on the edge of her armchair's seat and tried not to bite her nails.
The knock sounded at her door at precisely nine o'clock.
She stood back to let him inside, but rather than joining her, he hovered at the threshold and cleared his throat.
"Will you walk with me?"
"Of course," she answered, stepping out into the corridor. He wasn't wearing an outside cloak so she didn't bother fetching hers down from the hook. He waited politely for her while she warded her door, then led her towards the stairs.
She hoped he might take her hand, or tuck her arm through his, but of course he didn't. Snape on display was even more closed off and guarded than the man who visited her rooms, and was unlikely ever to behave in a less than professional manner whilst in the school corridors. He did, however, adjust his gait to match hers, and the two of them walked in silence through the quiet school.
Once they reached the ground floor she was intrigued that they didn't turn left towards the main door, but right, towards the dungeon steps. Her interest grew as she realised that he was leading her towards his private office. She'd never trespassed into his space before, happy to receive him in her rooms, where he was free to leave any time he wished.
The fire was lit, its cheerful flames filling the room with warmth and light. In front of the fire was a soft looking rug, piled with cushions. Enchanted, Hermione sank down onto her knees to explore further. There was a pot of hot chocolate, two cups and a little dish of cream on a tray by the hearth. There was also a little covered basket filled with bread, crumpets and muffins and a pat of butter wrapped in waxed paper.
"I know it isn't exactly a picnic," Snape apologised. "And we'll have to wait for the fire to burn down before we can toast anything, but I thought, seeing as we aren't able to leave the school during term time – except in emergencies – that we could pretend that it was. A picnic. The moon doesn't shine on this side of the castle until later, but . . ."
"It's perfect!" she declared, unable to allow him to torture himself further. She slipped off her shoes and wiggled her toes into the heavy pile of the sheepskin rug. "Shall I pour?"
The chocolate smelled heavenly, rich and dark, flowing thickly into the little cups. She remembered how she had left the word sinful hanging between them the last time they had spoken about this drink and couldn't stop the smile that crept over her lips. "Would you like cream? Or are we saving it for later?"
He looked uncomfortable. "I didn't think to provide a pudding," he apologised, looking miserable. "I didn't think you'd want one this late."
"You're right, of course," she smiled, adding a generous dollop of cream to each cup, and reassessing the situation. The rug in front of the fire, the pile of cushions, the cream – was it so strange that she should have assumed Snape was planning a seduction? The hot chocolate alone was enough to leave her weak at the knees.
He sat facing her, his long legs stretched out awkwardly in front, his hair falling over his face. It was such an adorably boyish pose that she had to smile. This was the Snape that fascinated her the most; this oddly earnest, oddly young man who could ignore her during the day while planning a gesture like this. The man who walked her back to her room as long as no one else was there to see. The man who had carried her books. The man who had once, just once, flashed her a crooked little smile of such disarming sweetness that she had wasted entire afternoons wondering how she could persuade him to smile at her again.
She handed him his cup, and then, before she could stop herself, reached up to brush his hair back from his face.
He froze under her hand, and she was suddenly aware that this was the first time she had ever reached out to touch him; the occasional knocked elbow whilst walking or the even less common handshake didn't count. Thinking about touching him, even talking about kissing him, hadn't quite prepared her for this. The odd feeling was back in her chest, this time prickling down her spine and across her breasts. It crept down her arms and made her fingers tremble against his skin. She stroked his hair back again, hooking it behind his ear before turning back to face the fire. She picked up her own drink, staring at the flames, embarrassed by her reaction to him.
Unlike her, Snape hadn't provided any props to revive a fallen conversation. He either didn't care to fill the heavy silence or, more likely, didn't know how. Hermione watched the fire begin to burn itself out, hoping that he would attribute the pinkness of her cheeks to the warmth of the hearth as she sipped her drink, wondering how he would react if she were to reach out and touch him again. He sat quietly beside her, his face turned towards the flames. If he watched her, he did it too carefully for her to tell.
Some of the tension diffused once Snape decided that the fire was ready for toasting and began readying the plates and unpacking the little basket of food.
Hermione had never used a toasting fork before and watched in interest as he held the bread low over the glowing embers. One side got a little burnt but, spread thickly with butter, it was still the most delicious thing she could remember eating in years.
They sat together peaceably enough, him toasting, her buttering, the room silent save for the pop of the fire, the scraping of the butter knife, and the crunch of toast. It wasn't quite a moonlit picnic and it was too early for a midnight feast, but it was just as magical. She wondered who Snape might have learned to do this with. His parents, perhaps? Lily? Or someone else who she had never heard of? There was an awful lot she had yet to learn about him. It wasn't a frightening thought.
Feeling drowsy and pleasantly full, she leant back against the cushions, watching him through half-closed eyes as he licked the butter from his fingers. The moon had finally edged its way into the corner of the window, its silvery rays filtering greenly across the lake.
"You're allowed to kiss me now," she whispered.
Authors note: Huge thanks go to Sevvysgirl253 for offering to beta for me! Any remaining mistakes are all mine.
Next chapter might take a while to be finished, but will be with you eventually!