Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, credit them to JK Rowling.
I wasn't going to write another chapter. However, after being coerced by more than a few people, I realised that there was a bit more of this story to tell. Enjoy :)
Hermione stretched her legs against the warmth radiating from the fire beside her. One hand drifted towards her loosened tie, fiddling absentmindedly with it as she read the tiny print splashed across the book in her lap.
Snape watched her movements from beneath lowered lashes. Why was she still here? There was only so long someone could read a book as dull as the one she cradled. His eyes dropped to the base of her neck, watching the elaborate patterns her fingers made as they danced with the tie. It irked him that she had so blatantly ignored his demand that she fix her shirt. He detested repeating himself, half-convincing himself that that was the reason he didn't ask her again.
Hermione marked her page with a scrap of paper and, without thinking, balanced it on one of the severely leaning piles that littered her bench. She hid a yawn behind an ink-stained hand.
"Are you bored, Miss Granger?" Snape couldn't help but ask.
"Not at all, sir." Hermione flashed him a small, tired smile. "The book is fascinating; I just haven't been sleeping well lately."
He raised an eyebrow and made a show of shuffling the essays on his desk in a disinterested manner. Fascinating? That book?
"I think it's the hay fever," Hermione offered as an explanation when he didn't reply. "It keeps blocking my nose."
Snape made a non-committal noise.
Hermione gave a small sigh, concealing the yawn that followed swiftly behind. She reached for the book, misjudging the distance as her palm struck the precariously placed book
"Oh no!" Hermione watched it fall in slow motion, wincing as it collided with the floor. She scooped up the fallen book, frantically checking for damage. An ugly crease on the spine glared at her. Hermione felt her stomach drop unpleasantly, traces of tiredness banished by the shock.
Snape twisted his mouth into a tight line.
"Professor Snape, I am so sorry." She muttered in despair.
"How ruined is it?" He snapped, rising from his chair.
Hermione showed him the creased spine, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
Snape would not allow his anger to falter, as distracted as he was by the movement of her mouth. He narrowed his eyes and wrenched them away from her face, fixating them firmly on the book she was holding.
"Give it here," he sneered as he snatched it from her grasp. He turned it over in his hands, running his fingers over the creased spine. "Miss Granger, this is the precise reason I do not allow students to manhandle my personal collection!"
"Professor, it was an accident –"
"Miss Granger, if you are not willing to treat my possessions with care, and return them in the exact state in which they were graciously lent to you, then you have no reason to be here!" Thunder darkened his face.
"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered, blinking furiously against tears that threatened to well.
"Are you crying, Miss Granger?" Snape scoffed. He buried the twinge of regret that reared its head.
She swiped at her eyes, wiping away the errant tears. "Yes."
"Why?" The question was out of his mouth before he could catch it.
"Oh, I don't know!" Hermione's voice broke as the sobs crept up her throat.
Snape was floored. He'd never been good with crying witches, and he certainly hadn't had to deal with one for many years. He met Hermione's eyes briefly, his scowl returning when she sniffed. Merlin, it was almost as if she'd done it on purpose.
"If you're going to insist on crying, Miss Granger, spare me from your incessant sniffing." He sighed heavily and fished around in his voluminous robes, retrieving a crumpled tissue. He held it out imperiously.
Hermione took it gratefully, turning away as she blew her nose. She faced him again, gently dabbing at her eyes as they continued to water.
"I find it hard to believe that you don't know why you're upset." Snape probed, against his better judgement. Leave it, Severus, don't get involved.
"Sir, I don't mean to be rude – but why do you care?"
"I don't." Snape said, a little too quickly. "Experience tells me that in cases of distress, talking can help. Besides, the sooner you stop this ridiculous show of emotion, the sooner I can get back to marking my essays." It was a blatant lie, but she didn't need to know that.
Hermione gave him a small, grateful smile. Snape was taken aback by how - even with blotchy cheeks and red-rimmed eyes, the student in front of him was strikingly pretty. He quickly stamped the thought down.
"I suppose it's because I haven't been sleeping, or maybe everything's just a bit raw at the moment." Hermione managed, swallowing roughly. "I'm really sorry that I ruined your book, Professor."
"Sir?" Hermione cocked her head to the side, more than a little confused.
"Shall I let you in on a secret, Miss Granger?" Snape said dryly. "The book is easy to replace."
"But earlier, you said that it cost more than all of my possessions put together…" She trailed off.
"I say that about all of my books." Snape rolled his eyes. "I don't know if you've noticed, Miss Granger, but I'm not particularly good at sharing. I just don't like it when people manhandle my possessions."
Hermione reluctantly giggled. Snape decided that he liked the way the sound filled the space of his workroom. In an effort to escape that thought, he settled back into his chair. She followed him across the room, resting lightly against his desk.
Snape pulled an essay towards him, pretending to concentrate.
"Isn't that the same essay you've been reading the entire time I've been here?" Hermione asked, her voice returning to normal as she calmed down.
Annoyed at being caught out, Snape shot her a glower. "Is that any of your business, Miss Granger?"
"No, it's not. Sorry, Professor." She retreated back to her desk.
Snape regretted snapping at her instantly. "It's the second essay I've read tonight, actually." He relented sullenly. "And that is a miracle in itself; the incomprehensible scribble that these Hufflepuff's think classifies as an essay is unbelievable."
Hermione chuckled quietly, and Snape felt a whisper of a smile cross his lips in response. He quickly smothered it with a scowl when he realised that Hermione was packing up her belongings.
Snape lent back in his chair, surprised by the reluctance he felt at having to end their conversation. At some undetermined point in the evening, he had actually started enjoying her company. He watched as she assessed the expansive bookshelf, attempting to recover the space from which she had withdrawn the book.
"Do you mind if I leave this here, Professor?" Hermione carefully placed the tome on his desk, ensuring that it would not come to any more damage. "The space it came from seems to have collapsed under the weight of the surrounding books and scrolls."
"That's fine, Miss Granger."
She lingered with her foot on the threshold. He met her gaze, and for the briefest of moments, Snape felt himself drowning in the depth of her eyes.
"Sir, can I come back?" She asked hesitantly. "Another day, I mean."
Snape almost said yes.
"No, Granger, you may not." He pushed out the words, ignoring the disappointment that filled a part of him that had been empty for years.
Hermione nodded imperceptibly and gently closed the door behind her.
He sat in the silence for a moment, embracing it like an old friend. He collected the book from where Hermione had left it, and walked over to his bookshelf.
He traced the crease that marred the spine, deciding to leave it there as a reminder.