Disclaimer: 'Of Debts and Debt Collection' is a fan fiction based on the characters in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. No money is made from this work in any way.
AN: Thanks for the reviews. I must thank Ariadne, who is my trusty Beta and darn good friend.
Harry stood in the doorway, his wand shaking as he pointed it directly at Severus.
“Try it,” Severus growled, almost wanting him to strike. His voice barely betrayed the tremendous pain from throwing himself to retrieve his wand. The room blurred for a moment before refocusing, mostly due to the adrenaline now pumping through his veins. His heart beat wildly.
“Harry! NO!” Hermione screamed. She launched herself to her feet and rushed at Harry. “Please! You saw it in the Pensieve! He did what he had to do!” she reasoned frantically, trying to force his wand down.
“Hermione, don't defend this worthless bastard! Get out of the way!” Harry raged, trying to push her aside.
“Stupefy!” Harry roared and swung his arm around Hermione. The spell immediately bounced away from Severus, crossed the room, and destroyed the dresser, sending splinters of wood everywhere. All of the pictures fell off the walls, sending the occupants screaming out of their frames with their arms up over their heads. A considerable amount of sawdust sprinkled Severus' wet hair. He remained in the same place on the bed, looking almost comfortable, propped up on his right elbow and holding his wand casually. Harry had a look of raging frustration and was breathing hard. His wand hand trembled.
“Come on, Potter, surely you can do better than that? After all, I’m a wounded man lying in bed,” Severus teased with a bored voice, provoking Harry further.
“Petrificus Totalus!” Harry yelled, shoving his shoulder against Hermione. The spell again rebounded wildly, this time heading straight back. Harry and Hermione managed to avoid a direct hit, but the bedroom door did not fare as well. With a loud crack, it blew off its hinges, cart wheeled end-over-end, and came to rest across an armchair in the sitting room.
“Oh, please, you’re boring me with this,” Severus sneered. “Just like a Potter to attack an injured man. Your father knew he never had a chance against me alone, so he always chose to have his gang around to ambush me.”
Harry moved to cast again, even as Hermione wrestled with him.
“Potter, haven’t you learned anything yet? You haven't a chance against the Dark Lord! Do you seriously expect your series of sad spells advertised well ahead of time is going to be a match for him? I can hear your thoughts across the room without even trying,” Severus mocked. “It’s a shame you didn’t take after your mother. You had to grow up to be just like your worthless father!”
Hermione placed herself directly between them, pushing Harry back out the doorway. When Severus mentioned Lily, Harry froze, then surged forward, completely out of control.
“SHUT UP! You don’t know anything about my mother! Don’t you dare talk about her!” Harry yelled.
“Harry, stop!” Hermione cried. She had one foot up against the doorway, trying to block him from getting around her. Every time she turned to call her wand, he tried to slip past her.
A smirk of amusement spread across Severus’ face at the nerve he had touched. “Oh, but I did know her. She was kind and intelligent and deserved much more. Even in death, she showed nothing but love, dying to protect you. And look at what you’ve become ... nothing but an arrogant prat. I have news for you, Potter; you are heading towards certain death,” he said, regarding Harry with disgust.
“EXPEL—” Harry began, but was cut off as Severus’ wand moved a fraction. Harry was suddenly jerked upwards by his ankles and hung in the air. His wand slipped from his hand and clattered onto the stone floor.
“Let me go!” Harry screamed, his face turning bright red. He swung his arms uselessly as he raged, “I’m going to kill you!”
“Going to kill me, Potter? Oh, my mistake. Here, please continue,” Severus said in an apologetic voice. Suddenly, Harry was unceremoniously dropped headfirst to the floor in a heap of robes and limbs.
“Professor Snape, please!” Hermione yelled and called her wand. With a devious smile, Severus shrugged his shoulders in an apologetic motion.
“You don’t know anything, you liar! You’re the reason they’re dead! You told Voldemort about the prophecy!” Harry roared, his face filled with pain and anger. Hermione held Harry’s wand hand down and pointed hers at Severus.
“Enough! Both of you, stop!” Hermione cried and finally wrenched Harry’s wand from his hand. She noticed that Severus paid her almost no attention. The only indication that he was aware of her wand was a slight twitch of one eyebrow, nothing more. It was more of an irritated expression than anything even remotely near concern.
“Yes, that part is true,” Severus said, ignoring Hermione. “I didn’t know who the prophecy referred to, though. Had I known, I would have never told the Dark Lord.”
Hermione noticed that Severus was no longer holding himself up very well. He still appeared remarkably calm, even with bits of wood all over him and his hair in a mess of half-dried tangles.
Severus looked to consider for a moment before he said in a quieter voice, “Your mother refused to give you up to the Dark Lord, even though…” Severus trailed off. When he spoke again, his voice entered a dreamlike state. “She could have lived, but chose to save you. She should have listened and put you aside.”
“How do you...?” Harry asked slowly, his anger migrating towards curiosity. Hermione, as always, was one step ahead. Her face held an expression of dawning realization.
She distractedly lowered her wand. The tension in the room became unbearable.
“Because,” Severus began, pausing long to think before looking up at them both. “I know because I was there.”
“Lily, he wants the boy; let him go!” Severus pleaded with Lily as she clutched Harry to her chest. As a reward for his alerting him to the prophecy, Voldemort had brought Severus with him to watch him take care of the problem.
Lily and James had been cornered in a back room before James began to fight for his family’s life. The duel had traveled through the rooms, settling in an adjacent bedroom. Severus had instructions not to interfere, as Voldemort wanted to handle them himself. He was ordered to keep Lily restrained while Voldemort went after James.
The walls were half-destroyed from dodged spells. The ceiling hung in tatters, and flames had begun to take hold above, raining burning fragments of wood down around them. Lily and Severus both twitched as the sound of Voldemort casting a killing curse in the other room reached them. Somewhere several windows exploded with incredible force. All of the walls shifted slightly, indicating that a collapse was imminent.
Lily became both frantic and determined at the same time. Harry, silent until now, began to scream.
“NO! He’ll have to kill me first! Reason with him, Severus! He’s just a baby!” Lily cried, now begging him to intervene.
“Lily, I can’t. The prophecy states that the boy is a threat! Leave him and you’ll be spared! You can have other children!”
When Lily violently shook her head, Severus took hold of her shoulders. “Let him go; it’s your only chance!” Severus pleaded with panic rising in his own voice.
Lily and Severus both crouched as a wall nearby blasted inward, slamming wood and furniture across the room. The silence that fell in the other room could only mean one thing.
“Please!” Severus tried in a hoarse whisper, true fear striking his heart. What have I done?
“Give me the child,” Voldemort said in a cold voice as he strode into the room.
Lily screamed as she clutched Harry even tighter against her, directly over her heart. “NO! He’s just a baby. He’s no threat to you!”
“I’m warning you, now stand aside!” Voldemort sneered as he stepped closer and raised his wand slowly.
“My Lord, perhaps we could use her. She is quite talented at Potions and could be an asset,” Severus reasoned carefully, trying to keep his features schooled while pleading for Lily and Harry’s lives. “The child cannot possibly be a threat— ”
“Enough!” Voldemort roared as he spun and thrust his wand against Severus’ throat. Severus could see the mix of terror and utter despair on Lily's face. Voldemort had already cast a spell preventing Apparition on the house, effectively sealing any escape.
In a quiet voice, full of the kind of anger made worse by detached calm, Voldemort hissed, “You dare to question me?”
It was the type of cold, almost casual question that could easily be mistaken for normal. However, when utilized by the truly deranged, the tone meant so much more. Behind those simple words lurked the promise of torture, or if one was lucky, a quick death.
Severus took a step backwards and flicked his eyes to Lily before stating, “No, my Lord....”
Without warning, Voldemort roared, “CRUCIO!”
Severus fell in a heap and was thrust into a dark world of searing pain. It rolled in waves, washing over him and never quite receding. Some part of his mind registered the smell of burning upholstery and that the flames must be approaching.
Dimly, he heard Lily continue to scream for her baby’s life.
"Never once did she plead for her own."
The dead silence was startlingly empty. Severus had a slightly removed look about him as he told the story, while Harry’s face held a mixture of confusion and disbelief. He stared at Severus, seemingly lost in the words, his wand forgotten.
Hermione’s heart broke at the thought of Severus living with the knowledge that his mistake cost his first love her life. She caught his eyes for a moment, expecting to see regret. What she saw there instead was resentment before he swept his gaze to Harry.
Severus broke the silence. “I was already spying then,” he said with force, as if to drive home the point that he was, indeed, working for the Order even before Harry was born. “In return for Dumbledore's protection from being sent to Azkaban, I agreed to become a spy and made an Unbreakable Vow.”
He looked up at Harry with revulsion spreading on his face as he said, “I vowed to protect you.”
“That can’t be true,” Harry said in disbelief.
Severus’ face darkened dangerously.
“Oh? And why in the world would I make up something like this?” Severus snarled. “Do you believe for one moment that I enjoy being bound to protect you? The son of a man I hated more than anything in this world?”
“Think, Potter! I‘ve had the opportunity to kill you a thousand times. I could have easily killed you not more than ten minutes ago. I have the power to dispose of you in ways unknown to civilized wizarding society, and why haven‘t I? Do you think I've enjoyed being tortured by the Dark Lord for failing to deliver you?”
Silence fell. Harry had no answer, it seemed, and instead had taken to simply staring. Hermione remained between them, poised should either one choose to start up again. Severus shot her a look as if to say she must be joking to dare point her wand at him.
“Minerva was our Bonder,” Severus stated. He lifted a hand and gestured beyond them.
“That is true,” Minerva stated as she walked into the room, neatly stepping over the mass of broken wood strewn across the floor. She and Severus exchanged a look before she surveyed the room. She had been in her office when the charms warning of the use of dueling spells had sounded. It wasn't difficult to decipher what it meant.
“Now,” she said, allowing her eyes to settle for a moment on each guilty party. “Am I to expect that every time I enter these rooms, I shall be greeted with fallen patients or destroyed furniture?”
“Harry burst in, and well, things just—” Hermione started, shooting a frustrated look at Harry, and then to Severus, who gave her a look of innocence. He’s very talented at slipping out of trouble, that one.
“I’m sorry. I’ll leave,” Harry said. His face still held a detached expression.
“I do think that would be prudent, Mr. Potter. Perhaps when Severus is up to it, we can all sit down to discuss this. Until then, he requires rest, nothing else. Agreed?” she said, looking at Harry and expecting nothing but an affirmative answer. Her tone also meant that this incident would not be forgotten.
“Yeah,” Harry muttered.
Hermione watched as Harry shot Severus a look of hatred before leaving. Part of Hermione wanted them to come to an agreement to work together and combine their talents. Considering what had just happened, though, she worried that the possibility of a partnership was extremely remote.
“Now, Severus, I see your lunch has arrived,” Minerva said, and with a wave of her wand, repaired the dresser, replaced the pictures to the walls, and relocated the door back to its proper home. “Please tell me you two can manage a meal without more drama?”
“Yes,” Hermione and Severus answered almost simultaneously, again feeling uncomfortable under McGonagall’s critical eye.
"Oh, and Severus?” Minerva asked. She waited while he shoved his wet hair out of his face. “Make sure you watch that attitude for just a few hours, understood? Try being nice to Miss Granger for once,” she suggested, giving the slightest of nods at him as she left the room.
Severus was dumbfounded. The way Minerva had given him that look made an impression that left him stunned.
Severus jerked out of his thoughts, glaring at her as he winced in pain.
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Hermione apologized. The expression on his face, though, intrigued her.
“I’m sorry for Harry—” she began. Suddenly the nightstand became fascinating.
“It is not your place to apologize for the likes of him,” he said quickly, sneering at the thought of her feeling responsible for Potter’s actions.
Hermione shrugged. She had no excuse for the way Harry acted; however, part of her couldn’t blame him for his feelings. “That was — I mean — how did you? Well — I mean....”
“Miss Granger, I may be skilled at Legilimency, but you are not making sense,” he said, a bit harsher than he intended.
“Well, sir, I mean — fighting Harry without even getting up and wounded was well — impressive,” Hermione said carefully, afraid of his response to a compliment.
“Yes, well,” he said, then, after clearing his throat and straightening a little, continued, “I do believe you’re one of the first to recognize my skill.”
“Except Lockhart,” Hermione said with a grin.
Severus nodded. “Indeed. That pompous fool was in desperate need of an ego adjustment.”
Silence stretched between them as Hermione couldn’t help but catch his gaze. Once there, she was surprised to find that she couldn’t look away, even though the amount of time seemed rude. Severus’ face, however, held a calm but intense expression. His eyes narrowed slightly, and he looked to be considering her.
Hermione blinked and mumbled, “I’ll just — go fetch lunch and be back shortly.”
“Yes, of course.” He did not remove his dark eyes from hers.
She shook her head and moved to the door.
As Hermione brought the tray, she caught a look on Severus' face, as if he was waging some internal war. It quickly disappeared once he saw her. Lunch passed peacefully with both of them successfully avoiding each other’s eyes.
“What is on your— ” he began and hesitated. Am I seriously doing this? “What is on your schedule, Miss Granger?” Severus finished, sighing with a twinge of defeat.
A hesitant smile spread on Hermione’s face at the prospect of at least a semi-cooperative patient. “Ah, let’s see... It says for you to take a nap, sir.”
She glanced at him cautiously, suspicious of the shift.
Knowing the answer in advance, she asked anyway, “Do you want a sleeping potion?”
“No, I’ll be fine,” he said and leaned back. In true Slytherin fashion, his intention was to let it appear as if he was allowing her a victory. In truth, he was exhausted.
Hermione helped arrange the sheets over him. When she went to straighten up, she avoided his eyes, fearful of getting lost once again. He had a penetrating gaze that felt like she was being examined from the inside out. The realization that she was close enough to feel his breath struck her, and she pulled away.
He watched her with a look in his eyes that both drew her to him and made her want to run at the same time. It was as if some force meant for the moment to occur, refusing to allow it to pass unnoticed. Slowly, she withdrew and moved towards the door, keeping her eyes on him as an uneasy silence stretched out between them.
“I — um, will be in the sitting room if you need anything.”
He nodded, appearing both tired and intensely interested. Hermione stood with her hand on the doorknob for a moment before closing it completely.
Hermione had left the room an hour ago, but Severus could not calm his thoughts well enough to even remotely consider sleep. He was currently trying to differentiate dreams from reality enough to grasp exactly what was occurring between them. Part of him wanted to push her away, to believe that she couldn't possibly want to get involved with him, that it was too strange of a situation. He could tell from reading her emotions that she felt something towards him. Whether it was the need to take care of him, or true attraction, had yet to be seen.
Various reasons why it could happen invaded his thoughts as well, pushing doubts aside. If he read Minerva's expression correctly, it was agreeable with her for some strange reason. His suspicious nature questioned her motives, as he could find no reason why she would want to help grant him happiness, in any form.
“Sir?” Hermione asked as she ventured into the room cautiously. “Are you awake?”
“I was thinking that you might want to move to the other room and read."
Severus nodded with his best air of indifference.
After finishing with a bandage change, Hermione helped Severus to the sitting room. They had become quite good at walking in time, so Hermione could act as his crutch. His breathing became labored as his ribs hurt tremendously; however, he had absolutely no intention of letting her know. Several times she insisted on stopping, as he would simply hold his breath rather than make a sound. Once in the room, she set him down and gathered some books for him to read.
They had passed several hours in companionable silence. Every so often, Hermione would steal a glance carefully in an attempt at reading his expression. She noticed that his brow would come together slightly whenever he took a deeper breath or moved even a fraction. It was difficult to watch him for too long unnoticed, as he was painfully aware of anyone's eyes on him.
After watching Severus carefully breathing to avoid making a sound yet again, Hermione fetched the pain potion and stated, “You’re taking this.”
His eyes widened as he responded casually, “Oh, you believe so? I believe we've already established my position quite clearly."
Hermione dropped the politeness and asked, "And give me one good reason why, other than stubborn male pride?"
Both eyebrows shot up in surprise at the way she had spoken to him. He lowered the book and said in a calm voice, "I need no reason to explain my actions or my refusal. It is my pain."
“You can't breathe correctly and you’re not fooling anyone. You’re only spending more energy to keep your pride, rather than allowing me to take care of you.”
He glared at her. “Bravery does not become you.”
“There is nothing brave about insisting that your little act is completely useless, not to mention childish,” Hermione countered. She figured that if he was going to tear into her for her lack of respect, it certainly would have happened by now.
“Miss Granger, I have spent my entire life being insulted in various ways and have been ridiculed by the best. There is nothing you can say that will change my mind.”
She shook her head slowly as she said thoughtfully, “I figured you would be intelligent enough to see the logic. I guess I was wrong.”
His eyes shot to her, then narrowed.
“Interesting angle, Miss Granger. A failure, but interesting.”
Hermione thought for a moment. He hadn’t completely destroyed her yet, cutting her to pieces with sharp words that would bring anyone to their knees. Something flashed there. He was holding back.
At her irritated expression, he added while gesturing towards her with the book, "You should be glad that I am in a good mood."
"Yes, you're very threatening right about now," Hermione said, rolling her eyes before even thinking. He was acting so childishly that she had slipped directly into the way she would fight with Harry or Ron.
"You are playing with fire, Miss Granger, and are on my last nerve. Do not attempt to take part in a battle of wits or dissect my motives with wordplay. You will not win."
"Am I playing with fire? Or am I simply beating you at your own game?” Hermione stated with the coldest stare she could come up with. “Not as enjoyable when the opponent hurls it back, is it?"
Severus suddenly struggled to rise, growling, "How dare you...."
"Oh, getting up again, sir? Want to take a walk?" Hermione asked with mock concern, crossing her arms and holding her ground. She roughly shoved the voice in her head aside. It was now screaming and waving at her to stop, that she couldn't possibly be doing this. Basically, to shut up.
"Miss Granger," he growled in a dangerous tone, "I am warning you. You forget who you are speaking to-"
"And you, sir, are forgetting that I have taken care of you for eight days! You have only been awake for one of them! I hardly think it's difficult to take a simple potion! I'm only here because I care!" Hermione hurled back at him.
"I never requested such an immense sacrifice on your part. Clearly, your overwhelming Gryffindor drive for recognition is at work here. Well, I am fine and can manage on my own. I don't need anyone."
Hermione was beyond furious. "Really? You didn't seem to be doing too well on your own out there on the grounds!" She was yelling now but didn't care.
He froze, his hands still positioned on the arms of the chair where he was attempting to push himself upright.
“If I hadn’t looked out that window, you’d be dead. Admit it,” Hermione said quietly. She set her jaw and glared at him.
There, I said it.
She waited for the tirade to start; however, he only leaned back in the chair.
Instead of exploding in rage, he regarded her with the type of respect usually shown to a worthy opponent. Incredibly, he nodded, as if awarding her silent points.
“I cannot deny it,” he said slowly.
Hermione was breathless, as if she had run up a flight of stairs. She found that her hands had been balled into fists, her nails cutting into her palms. At first, she didn't register what he had said.
“Did I actually win?”
He shook his head. "Not the battle you may believe you are fighting, no."
She looked at him questioningly.
“I am not taking the potion.”
Hermione groaned. She had thought that Harry and Ron were thick at times, but Severus Snape was by far the worst she had ever come across. Ever.
“I’m going to the library for a few hours,” she announced, trying to disguise her frustration. She was actually going to seek permission to hex him into submission, drug him for another week or two ... anything.
“My soul shall suffer greatly from the loss of your companionship. I shall count the seconds until your return,” he mocked.
While attempting to give him a proper glare, she was confused by what she saw there. He was again studying her with a calculating gaze, as if he was trying to figure her out. It was there for a moment, then gone, replaced by his usual irritated expression.
Breaking the contact, she moved quickly to the door.
As she turned to close the door, she heard him say, "Hermione?"
Shocked that he had used her given name, she took a moment to respond. "Yes?"
She almost thought he wasn't going to speak. The door handle clicked under her fingers as she nervously fiddled with it. The sound of her name coming from him was stunning enough; what came next was memorable.
Severus looked at her sincerely as he tilted his head in a gesture that imparted unspoken respect, however small.
He then looked her in the eyes and said simply, “Thank you.”