Disclaimer: It all belongs to JK Rowling, and rightly so.
A/N: Thanks for the reviews. I appreciate every single one. :) Thanks again to Ariadne.
The gray morning light gradually infused life into the room where Severus slept. It seemed as if a curtain was being drawn back against the night, pulling the day along slowly with a reluctant, easing motion. Hermione wanted to avoid startling him, as she had no interest in finding out the first hex that would come to his mind, wand or not. She stood by the bed and reached her hand out to touch his shoulder, but stopped. Her hand hovered over him, shaking slightly from the chill in the air. Something in her wanted to watch him sleep. Watching him was all she could do while he was unconscious, willing him to heal quicker, to be all right. Somehow now it was different. She noticed that the crease in his brow never quite left his face. Part of her wondered if he could ever fully rest.
The sun rose, driving away the gray and filling in the colors of the room. As warmth poured in through the windows, throwing blocks of sun onto the floor, a wave of realization hit her. Severus Snape was not a morning person.
“Gods! I told you to close those drapes!” he yelled, seemingly unaware that she was right next to him. He swung his wand in their general direction, almost hitting her. The drapes obediently shut themselves with such force that one of the rails fell, allowing even more light into the room.
“No need to yell, I'm right here,” Hermione stated angrily and rolled her eyes.
Looking slightly surprised, he muttered with one eye still shut, “I suppose you are.”
Hermione tentatively moved to sit on the bed, watching his reaction. If he was going to regret kissing her, he would certainly let her know now. She looked at him and found the same slightly conflicted expression on his face.
"Are we—" she said, picking at the sheets. "Are we okay?"
When he didn't speak, she pushed the pattern of peaks she had nervously created in the sheets flat, fully preparing to leave. When she looked up, though, she found uncertainty in his eyes.
She didn't believe him and so she only sat there, frozen. It still felt like a total onslaught of embarrassment and awkwardness was imminent. His hair was atrocious, obscuring most of his face. Everything about him in that moment was different: his hair wild beyond comprehension, his shirt twisted from what she knew was a fitful sleep, the best he could hope for. Even stranger was the odd way he was looking at her and the fact that he didn't seem to care how he looked.
"So, you—" she started, and looked at the ceiling in frustration. "So, you wanted to?"
His only response was a guarded expression, along with the slightest of nods.
Hermione sighed. "Will you say something other than yelling for the drapes to be closed or one-word answers?"
An eyebrow moved.
She was about to get up when he spoke, "I did not mean for it to happen—"
The blood felt like it drained out of her face.
"However," he said carefully, "I do not regret it."
She was lost somewhere in between noticing how his hair had a bluish tint in the sun and the fact that he didn't want her to leave the planet. Hermione was a realist. Saying he didn't regret something was about as close to something nice as she was going to get out of him.
She leaned over slightly, still wondering if he was going to suddenly rage at her. He moved to raise himself up and, surprisingly, could do it without much pain. The healing was finally working. She only meant to give him a chaste kiss, something to confirm that he wasn't going to suddenly change his mind. Instead, she noticed that he was only waiting until she was close enough to grab her and pull her close again. This time, they kissed with the kind of confidence that meant they were both sure of their decision. His movements bordered on possession, telling her that he did want her there, before they finally needed to break for lack of air. The sun had risen further, throwing almost hot light onto them.
Severus realized he still had an almost frightening grip on her arm and quickly released her.
Hermione stood and caught her breath before saying, “Look, I'm going to have the house-elves bring you breakfast, and then I'm going to talk to Harry. He could use a friend right now – after last night.”
His face darkened. "Must you mention Potter at times like these?"
Hermione laughed. "Is that a way to tell me to watch my choice of subjects?"
"Well," she said with a smile and leaned over him. She felt brave, so she reached and pushed his hair at least partially out of his face. "At least that got more out of you than 'yes,' hmm?"
He watched her with a steady gaze, narrowed only because the sun was now in his eyes. A smirk played about his face as he said, “Remind Mr. Potter of his assignment."
“Hi, Harry, how... umm... are you?” she began, wondering why she felt awkward around him suddenly. It may be because you have feelings for the man who beat the daylights out of him yesterday.
“Come in, Hermione. So, how's it going with the git?” Harry asked with a grin, taking a seat. He chewed on a piece of toast, awaiting her reaction.
“Harry, please, he may be a git to you, but he's someone who deserves respect,” Hermione said tiredly. She dropped herself into an old armchair and shot him a look.
“Oh, really? What is it with you?” Harry asked sarcastically. “You keep defending him when I saw what I saw, Hermione.”
“Harry you need him. You're not...”
“I'm not what, Hermione?” Harry said suspiciously.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione finished in one breath, “You're not ready to face Voldemort if you can't win against Professor Snape.”
She braced herself for his expected reaction.
Rising from his chair, Harry said seriously, “Friends are supposed to have faith in each other, aren't they? Not hang out with a traitor.”
Sighing, Hermione began, “Harry, I am your friend, or else I wouldn't be honest with you. Your dueling skills need to be brought up before you even consider seeking out Voldemort. You can't possibly beat him now. Without Severus, I don't believe you'll be successful and I'm...” she stopped, and then spoke almost in a whisper, “I'm afraid for you.”
She looked up at him sadly.
“He's Severus to you now, is he? Just what is going on, Hermione? Do you know what he said to me? He said he could get used to having you around,” Harry said pacing in front of her. “Hermione, he's nothing but a greasy bastard, and will never be anything more.”
“He said what?" she asked, looking confused. "Well, that doesn't sound bad.”
Harry stopped pacing and looked awkward.
“Hermione, it was the way he said it, like you're his personal servant, and, well... more... in a nasty way,” Harry said, trying to explain without getting vulgar.
A small “Oh” was all Hermione could manage. "Thanks, Harry. I need to go take care of something. I'll see you later. Practice your nonverbal spells, okay?” she said and quickly left the room.
“Run for your life, you greasy bat,” Harry said with a laugh and closed the door.
Severus had finally woken up completely. He ran a hand through his hair. Stretching and rolling onto his back, he contemplated everything that had happened over the past day, his changing view of Hermione, and why she unnerved him so. He had never allowed anyone to get so close to him mentally, or talk to him the way she had, let alone win an argument. Of course, if anyone ever saw him being even remotely tender to her, he'd curse them within an inch of their lives. In the short time they'd spent together, he realized he felt something now. When he saw the rebounded spell fly towards her, he went completely over the edge. How close he had come to killing Potter then. At first, he told himself it was because it made him look careless, but his heart knew differently.
“Some nurse,” he growled, dragging himself to the edge of the bed. He summoned the cane and stood. Hoping his leg was now healed enough to take weight, he took one step, preparing to drop to the floor.
When it held, he smiled slightly. Not dead yet, are you?
He slowly made his way across the room, taking small steps. He was nearly there when the door burst open.
“So it was nothing at all, was it? That thing you told Harry last night? You made it sound like I'm some sort of... possession?” Hermione yelled, stomping into the room with her wand drawn.
Severus turned around as Hermione approached and quickly found himself against the wall.
“I was only—” he started, mentally kicking himself for allowing the young witch to speak to him this way. “Hermione, please,” he reasoned, attempting to calm her and still balance on the cane. It was amazing to him that he was still standing. “If you would lower your wand, we can discuss this, and—"
“Oh, we'll discuss, that much is certain,” Hermione said sarcastically. She did lower her wand. Severus wasn't entirely thrilled with the general vicinity of where she was aiming.
Gods, she's beautiful when she's angry. He couldn't help but grin, even as he noted the latest altitude of her wand was not entirely desirable.
“And what is so funny, may I ask?” she practically growled.
“Miss Granger – I mean Hermione – it's simple. I merely wanted to incite Potter to focus so he'd fight with more intensity. I used what I knew would – well – anger him. I daresay it worked; however, Potter's skills proved to be less than satisfactory,” he explained quickly, hoping to be able to now extricate himself from the wall.
"You find it entertaining to use me like that? To make it sound like I'm some sort of object? And what about the kissing? Was that 'nothing at all' to you too?” she asked, with hurt in her eyes.
He took a deep breath and said, “Hermione, what I said to Potter is true, but not in the tone in which I said it. Yes, you are a very capable nurse, and I could get used to having you around.”
“That's all? Nice to have around? Handy, am I?” she demanded, punctuating each question by poking her wand into his chest.
“Hermione, please, it's not as it sounds. If you'll listen...” he tried, clearly stunned. Is this some kind of lover's quarrel? What in the blazes do I say to make her stop?
She stopped and crossed her arms angrily. "I'm listening."
“Hermione, I do care for you,” he said quietly, trying to get the point across without too much elaboration.
“What did you say?”
“I believe you heard me,” he said a little too sternly and took a step forward away from the wall.
Hermione suddenly pushed him, almost causing him to fall. The cane fell to the floor. Hermione grabbed the front of Severus' robe, yelling, “Severus Snape, don't you dare get snarky with me! That act may have worked on thousands of students over the years, but it does not work on me! This is not your classroom, I am not your student, and you are not in control here, is that clear? Now, the next time you open that mouth of yours, you will say something nice to me. Not a halfway comment, not a shifty dance around the truth, something nice! Is that understood?”
During Hermione's rant, Severus could only stand rooted to the spot, his eyes wide in surprise. He had absolutely no experience dealing with women this way, and so had no clue what to do with an opponent he couldn't curse, hex, or intimidate.
“Well?” she said irritably, crossing her arms again.
It took a moment for him to collect himself enough to start as the angry witch stood before him, awaiting an answer. He noted that Hermione was trying to keep from grinning. Admirable.
Doing his best to straighten himself out, he said, quietly, trying to look her in the eye but failing, “I've found I do have feelings for you. I have enjoyed having you with me, and, frankly, I've never allowed anyone to get this close. I didn't intend to hurt you by what I said to Potter.”
She thought for a moment.
Suddenly, Hermione leaned forward and kissed him gently. When he joined her, she swiftly ended it, grabbed a handful of his hair, and pulled him down to close the height gap.
“That was a dismal attempt at a barely acceptable explanation,” she said, imitating his classroom demeanor and staring him in the eye. “But it'll pass. For now.”
She grinned into his stunned face, let him go and strode out of the room, leaving him to lean against the wall in stunned silence.
Minerva was heading down to Severus' rooms, hoping to discuss Harry's training and to see how Hermione was doing. Turning the corner, Minerva saw Hermione emerge from the rooms, leave the door open, and stomp off in the opposite direction.
“Severus Snape, what have you done?” Minerva muttered.
She let herself in and entered the bedroom to find Severus standing against the wall. His hair was frightful and his face held unmistakable look of a man who had just been put in his place. She grinned to herself. Never seen that look grace his face before.
“Well, nice to see you up, Severus. Good morning,” she greeted him with a smile.
Upon seeing her enter, Severus quickly bent and picked up the cane. “Good morning, Minerva,” he muttered irritably.
Minerva grinned as he tried to tame his wild hair. “I saw Hermione leaving just now. Is there anything you'd like to tell me?”
“No. Everything is just fine.”
“Oh, I see,” she said taking a seat and smiling over at him. “You care for her, don't you?”
“Oh hell, Minerva, really—" he started, crossing his arms and brooding, "How can she possibly want me?"
“Severus, look at me,” Minerva said sternly. “She cares for you a great deal. When she saw you out there on the grounds, she tore out of my office and got to you first. When we arrived, she was holding you in her arms, covered in your blood and screaming at us to help. All she could do was stroke your hair to try to console you in some way. She was pleading with you to live, Severus. In a way that I've never seen before. You were extremely close to death, and I fear that if you were lost, she would have just about died with you. She has obviously cared for you longer than you think. Much longer.”
Severus looked at her in stunned silence as she continued, “Hermione sat by your bedside, refusing to leave, and then agreed to take care of you. As you already know, she looked after your every need for a week. Every single minute of the day revolved around you.”
Minerva leaned forward and looked into Severus' eyes as she said, “If that isn't love, then I don't know what is.”
After Minerva's description of Hermione's actions that night, Severus wore a shocked and confused expression, sitting in quiet contemplation while looking down at his hands in his lap.
“I had no idea she did all of that. I just thought...” he said.
Then he looked up at her.
“I just thought it was an assignment to look after me. I'd never think that anyone would dare volunteer to do it. Even Poppy is done with me,” he finished, shrugging his shoulders.
“Severus, you know it is because you've tortured Poppy to no end while she's tried to doctor you,” Minerva said grinning at him. “Unless you're unconscious, of course. She prefers you that way.”
“Yes, so I've heard,” he said scowling and looking away with his arms crossed over his chest.
“I think it's time you treated Miss Granger with respect, Severus. She deserves and needs that recognition, you know. She's becoming quite a confident young witch and should be treated as such, or beware the consequences,” Minerva said with a smile, raising an eyebrow to ensure he caught her meaning.
“Yes, well, it's a little late for that, I fear. She... well, I may have...” he started, but failed at the words to admit he was wrong.
“I saw her leave, Severus, and looking quite angry, I might add.”
Leaning forward, Minerva said quietly, “Tell me.”
Hermione marched through the halls with no real destination in mind, just away from him. Where did that come from? I've never yelled at anyone that much, let alone him. Not only that, but I pushed him too.
She made her way out of the castle and down to the lake, settling near the same place she had sat after Dumbledore's funeral. Feeling a pang of sadness, she looked out over the calm water. Over the years, she had learned how to relax and slow her thoughts; critical to managing the stress of exams. Concentrating on the flight of a single raven, she sighed, letting out some tension. Time passed as she contemplated.
Now, what do I say to the man when I go back? I'm certainly not sorry, since he had that coming. Could he possibly have meant what he said? Now I've certainly scared him. Probably thinks I'm mental. Well then, we're a matched pair, because he's not much better in the sanity department.
"Hermione Granger, enough talking to yourself. Your patient needs his—" she said aloud, looking at her watch. "Lunch? Has it been that long?"
Getting up and brushing herself off, she took a deep, cleansing breath before looking up at his window.
Severus finished his account of his earlier “conversation” with Hermione. Minerva looked at him, trying to suppress a grin. “Oh, Severus, that explains the look on your face,” she said, ignoring his glare. She couldn't help but chuckle a bit as she continued, “Oh, please admit it, you want her in your life. Truly, I do believe you'd do well together. I seem to remember a young man who was very similar to her.”
“Why do you care, Minerva?” he asked, suddenly serious. “Isn't it quite odd to be playing matchmaker for the man who murdered someone so close to you?”
His sudden turn of tone shocked her for a second, causing her to hesitate. “Severus, I saw what I needed to see in the Pensieve.”
Looking down, she quieted for a moment, then looked at him. “I know what Albus asked you to do was terrible, and have no doubt that he meant a great deal to you as well. Yes, it is strange to be around you, but I know in my heart that Albus would want you be happy. There is no way to change the past, but I think that he would have wanted to make the future more bearable for you. I think that Hermione could possibly do that for you, if you'll let her.”
“Possibly,” Severus said quietly.
“Now, to change the subject, my intention in coming here was to discuss Harry's training. Yesterday was... well,” she said, trailing off as she searched for the right words.
“Interesting?” he said with a grin.
“Severus! Take this seriously, please!” Minerva complained. “It was brutal to watch, but necessary, I suppose. Harry needs to learn to fight under pressure and you certainly provide that piece nicely,” Minerva said nervously, rubbing her hands together.
“Minerva, he needs to stop broadcasting his spells, or else the Dark Lord will have no trouble at all in killing him within seconds. Never mind that he practically screams them in his mind beforehand,” Severus said, and then realized he said too much.
Minerva's eyes widened. “Severus Snape, you agreed to not use Legilimency!”
He simply shrugged. “Minerva, he is extremely easy to read. He needs to close his mind as well as his mouth. Speaking of which...”
Severus' eyes took on a terrible light. He leaned forward and shared what his actions would be should Harry dare utter a spell during the next duel.
Minerva was mortified, but agreed, “I trust you.”
Severus was eating an early lunch, neglecting to abuse the house-elf in favor of entertaining his plans for Potter. He grinned, looking out the window as he ate, almost hoping that Potter would trip up. His grin widened into a genuine smile he was sure no living soul had ever seen, when he saw a certain witch moving towards the castle's doors.
“Oh, I see you've gotten your lunch,” Hermione said quietly as she entered the room.
“Yes, my nurse seemed to have not only abused me, but moved up to abandonment as well,” he muttered without looking up from his book.
“Severus, I didn't mean to act out, but I—” she said, but stopped as he looked up at her suddenly.
“No, no need to say anything,” he said, and moved to get up from the table.
“Hermione, I'm—” he said, then took a deep breath. “I apologize for my choice of words.”
She eyed him suspiciously, doubt in her eyes.
"Yes, it is sincere," he said, answering her thoughts.
"Stop doing that, Severus," she said crossing her arms.
"Doing what?" he asked innocently.
"You know exactly what you're doing," Hermione said, and couldn't help but smirk.
"Hermione, I am not reading your thoughts, if that's your point." Somehow he had managed to get close enough to take in whatever scent she wore.
She rolled her eyes, saying, "Really now? And that little game you played yesterday? The staring contest?"
Severus quirked a slight smirk as he reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear, "Takes two to play a game like that."
"I was not playing, you were – what are you doing?"
"Nothing at all," he muttered. Hesitantly, he lightly kissed her, holding her close. Dipping his head, he lingered there, barely touching his forehead to hers. Severus cradled her head in his hand as they kissed, then moved to trail light touches down her neck and along her collarbone. Everything he did was well thought out and purposeful, sending chills down her spine as he moved along.
Resting her head on his shoulder, Hermione took a steadying breath and said, “Severus Snape, you're killing me here.”
"Do you feel ready for this, Harry?" Remus asked as they walked into the Great Hall. The tables were again pushed aside to make room for the duel. Minerva stood in the center of the room looking extremely worried.
"I think so," Harry said. He nodded without looking up as they walked. Remus had been helping him prepare for his next practice over the previous few days, and Harry had successfully cast several nonverbal spells. Of course, that was after a tremendous amount of concentration on his part and without a maniac Potions master about to hex him into oblivion.
When Severus entered the room using his cane, all eyes were on him. Every step of the way he glared at Harry, as if planning exactly how he was going to paint the walls with the young wizard. The sight of Severus walking again so soon seemed to unnerve Harry. When Severus arrived in front of him, Harry straightened and looked him in the eyes.
“Potter,” Severus nodded. “Ready for a silent duel?”
“Yes, sir. I believe so,” Harry replied with a strained sound of respect, as if it was painful to call him “sir.”
“You 'believe so'? Not good enough, I'm afraid,” Severus taunted. He leaned closer to loom over Harry, adding loudly enough to ensure Lupin could hear, “Remember my last words to you, Potter. Allow so much as one word to escape your lips and I will make you sorry you were born.”
Severus regarded Remus with contempt, nodded in a curt greeting, and turned to stand in the middle of the room.
“Ready, Harry?” Minerva asked, looking quite nervous at the prospect of another one of these duels and, worse yet, after what Severus said he'd do. Albus, I hope I'm doing the right thing. He's still so young.
At Harry's nod, Minerva looked to Severus. He nodded back to her with a terrible look in his eye. It took a moment for Minerva to compose herself. “All right then. Begin!”
Severus simply stood awaiting, Harry's first move. After a second passed, he sneered, “Potter, would you prefer I throw you about the room a few times as a warm up?”
“No, sir. I just—” Harry said, looking to be concentrating quite hard.
“Just NOTHING! Throw something at me!” Severus roared and started to stalk towards him. "NOW!"
Harry looked panicked, moving backwards in an arc with his wand raised and hesitating numerous times. Finally, when Severus was just a few feet from him, Harry managed to yell, “STUPEFY!”
Severus' face contorted with rage. He swung his wand, effectively diverting the spell to crash into the wall where it exploded, blasting stone out onto the middle of the floor. Dust clouded the room, but Severus could be seen moving slowly towards Harry with grim determination, his robes gray from the debris. Harry backed up quickly, but, even using a cane, Severus was gaining ground.
Severus bared his teeth like an animal about to pounce and make its prey very sorry before finally killing it. "I told you to keep your mouth shut!" he screamed. "SILENCE!"
Suddenly, Severus lunged forward, snatched Harry by the throat, and in one movement threw him to the floor. A strangled scream erupted from Hermione as she held her hands to her face, while Minerva signaled everyone to hold back. Severus knelt slowly with a look of great pain, and then pinned Harry's other arm to the floor. Harry fought to get free, gasping for air. Severus calmly reached over, picked up Harry's wand and roughly thrust it into his hand.
“Now, Potter. Get me off of you!” Severus shouted, glaring down at Harry.
Harry panicked, trying to pry off his hands and tearing at his robes.
“I'm waiting, Potter, or would you rather I convince you more?” Severus yelled, picking Harry up and slamming him back down on the stone floor.
“CURSE ME, DAMN IT! FIGHT!” Severus screamed still clutching Harry's neck. Severus had a look of great expectation in his eyes as he stared down at Harry's wand, willing him to strike. He could feel the consciousness draining out of Harry. One more minute and we will both be dead, Potter. Do not make me back down...
Harry's arm slowly rose and pointed his wand directly at Severus' heart. His hand shook with lack of oxygen, wavering from side to side as he closed his eyes. A look of hatred spread on his face when he opened them again as his arm faltered more, arcing to the right.
Severus suddenly released Harry and screamed in pain while clutching his chest. He hunched forward, looking murderous, as Harry gasped loudly for air and weakly pushed himself away. Harry slowly rose to his feet with his wand on Severus who, miraculously, was already starting to stand. He shoved himself up with the cane, never taking his eyes off of Harry.
Hermione remained in a shocked position, holding her hands to her face as Remus had his hand on her shoulder, offering some comfort. Poppy was clearly unnerved and near tears at what she was witnessing.
“Well done, Potter," Severus said, raising an eyebrow.
Harry nodded quickly as he struggled to catch his breath, rubbing his swelling neck.
"Now, let's try that without the strangling, hmm? Unless you prefer it that way?” Severus sneered. He started stalking towards him again.
Harry's eyes widened in disbelief that he was coming at him again. He stood frozen.
“Do it, Harry,” Hermione said quietly. She was torn between wanting Harry to succeed and not wanting to see Severus hurt.
“Last chance to take a free shot, Potter. I will, by the way, be fighting back this time,” Severus mocked, moving closer and raising his wand.
Harry held his wand out and level, but kept hesitating, trying to avoid casting aloud. Every time he hesitated, Severus drew closer, effectively breaking his concentration.
“Harry! Concentrate!” Remus yelled, trying to coach. He sounded more nervous than encouraging.
“Oh, poor Potter. Need your pet werewolf to coach you? Do you think for a second that you'll have a cheering section when facing the Dark Lord?” Severus teased, waving his wand over towards Remus and the others.
“Potter, if you don't bring me down now, I will tear you apart,” he snarled in a deadly serious voice. He backed it up with a fierce look that told Harry he meant every single word.
Several times Harry started to cast, then almost spoke the incantation aloud. He shook his head while trying to regroup and keep a distance from Severus at the same time. Eventually, he was almost to the High Table when the first blow came.
“Fine, Potter, I warned you!” Severus arced his arm from side to side and small slashes appeared across Harry's arms, chest, and thighs. With every pass, more cuts came, the last across the side of his face, knocking him to the ground, sending his glasses flying.
As Harry fell, he stabbed his wand out blindly and silently hit Severus with a Stunner. Severus fell backwards, reopening his leg wound. Blood from his leg spread on the floor at an alarming rate.
The hall fell silent as Harry and Severus lay on the floor. Severus pulled himself to sit up and crudely dragged his leg around to a more normal position. Harry remained on his side breathing heavily, his neck in light shades of purple and starting to bruise. He tipped his head to look up as Severus stared at him.
While the others were still out of earshot, Severus nodded and said, “Better, Potter. That was better.”
Harry, stunned that Snape would compliment him not once, but twice, took a moment before saying, “Thank you, sir.”
Harry knew that in one lesson, Snape had helped teach him to cast silently while fighting for his life, something that couldn't be taught in any classroom. While he still hated him as much as ever, he couldn't help but realize that it was a valuable lesson indeed – and most likely the key to his success.