Disclaimer: All of it belongs to JKR.
AN: Thanks to all who have reviewed. I need to invent better and more sparkly ways to thank Ariadne for her beta work. Keeping my commas and tenses in line is hard work. Offering up destruction in her honor is the least I can do. ;-)
“How can I be so stupid? To think that he might actually...”
Once outside, Hermione slowed to a quick walk, her head down in thought. You're just fooling yourself, thinking that he'd actually love you. She sat down under a tree and ran her hand over the exposed roots, feeling the twisting pattern, how they climbed over each other, competing. She stayed that way for several minutes, allowing herself to cry in frustration, loss and misled hope.
How she thought there was something, his eyes, his heart - or was it pure nerves? The possibility of her asking about his youth as a Death Eater? No, he was far too practiced at the art of deception to allow his body to betray him. Then again, how often had a woman been the interrogator? He didn't need her any more; there was no reason for her to go back to his rooms. She'd stay away, leave him to his own fate, his solitary existence, now hovering precariously between a death sentence and the Order which, for lack of better words, still didn't entirely trust him.
Could he love?
“Probably not. He isn't capable of love anymore...” she said aloud, pulling at one of the roots, loosening the soil around it, seeking its end.
“I beg to differ,” a deep voice said from above.
Hermione startled, looking up to see the dark outline of Severus Snape. Defiance shone in his eyes.
“What did you say?” she asked in disbelief as she rose to her feet.
“I think you heard me quite clearly,” he said and then immediately remembered the last time he spoke to her that way.
Her eyes narrowed as she took a slow step towards him. “Watch it, Snape. If you haven't noticed, I'm in no mood to be played with.”
Point taken. He noted that her wand hand was moving slightly.
“Come to play with my feelings some more?” Hermione asked bitterly, looking like she wanted nothing more than to have him gone. After practically throwing herself at him, she couldn't bear having him lecture her.
"You are hardly innocent here!" he yelled. "Did you really want the answers, or did you only want to manipulate me? Do not think that what you did was justified!"
She froze, her anger still there, but held in check; her mind running through his words, looking for reason, blame, responsibility.
"I said I was sorry. I wanted to know."
He crossed his arms, taking the upper hand. "Everyone has the right to say those things in their own time."
She looked him in the eye and said angrily. "Well, now I know. You can leave now."
“What then? Come to declare your undying love, have you?” she raged. “Well, save it! I'm sick of you messing with my feelings! You—”
“Perhaps if you could stop your ramblings, I could express myself!” he interrupted.
“Oh, so now I ramble do I?” she yelled. She pushed past him and started to stalk away.
Severus quickly caught her wrist and held her.
Her eyes shot to where he gripped her wrist. She drew her wand and lowered her voice in warning. “Let me go, or I'll make your leg the least of your worries.”
“Severus!” she hissed in warning, trying to pull away.
“Hermione, stop being such a typical stubborn Gryffindor, and listen to me!” Severus yelled, losing patience.
“What is with you? You think the world stops because Severus Snape has something to say? I'm supposed to turn my feelings on and off whenever your temper allows?”
“That's not why I'm here. I—”
“Well then, why? You already told me the truth. A FRIEND? How could you?” she raged, waving her wand around.
"What? That's all I am, aren't I?"
"Severus, you had no choice. You said it yourself!"
"It isn't that—" He shook his head, closing his eyes. The grip he had on her wrist was deathly tight.
"What then, Severus? I'm giving you one second to form a thought and get it out! I don't want to be hurt any more by your—"
He still held onto her wrist, gripping it hard.
Disbelief on her face, the resistance fading.
He loosened his grip, hoping she wouldn't leave.
"I lied," he repeated, breathing hard.
"What? How?" she started, then answered herself. "Of course. It wore off."
She looked up at him. "If you lied, what is the truth?"
"I don't know."
Anger rising again, she jerked her wrist, but he clamped down on it again, pulling her towards him.
"No!" she raged and thrust all of her weight forward, shoving him into the tree. He barely caught himself, slamming into the hard bark, grimacing as he struggled to remain standing, and failed. Incredibly, he still had a firm grip on her wrist and had pulled her down with him.
Ignoring the fact that he was tangled in tree roots, he shouted, "Do you think for a minute I would come out here like a fool if I didn't care? There are far more important matters to hold my attention than this!"
"So now I'm just a distraction? Well, I apologize for invading your precious solitude!" she screamed, her voice wavering. "I didn't know that being completely alone and miserable was a full time job!"
He threw his head back, as if asking the gods to save him. "Hermione, no, I—"
She noticed how he was trying to rise and failing miserably, losing an inch of his dignity with each attempt. She stood up, remaining still. She twisted her hand within his, but didn't offer to help him up.
"Listen to me, you miserable man," she stated, pointing at him. "You have one shot and one shot only. Tell me what this is! What happened back there? What do you want?"
He froze, his mind racing, too many thoughts, paths of phrases, implications, consequences, processes of redemption.
"ANSWER ME!" she roared.
"I love you."
He let her wrist go, only she turned it over and held his.
“What did you say?” Hermione said slowly.
"I—" he started, but became enraged at his attempts to get up. His shirt had torn in the back from the rough bark and was pulled askew off his shoulder. It looked as though he had been through a terrifying storm, barely surviving.
Hermione tightened her grip and placed her other hand on his arm, helping him up.
He looked down, preoccupied with glaring at the offending roots.
"I asked you a question."
Severus shook his head, as if to plead with her to not make him repeat it.
"Tell me you didn't hear."
She threw her hands up to the sky in complete frustration. "I might have heard wrong. After all, I HAVE been lied to before!"
"I would never say that as a lie."
"Really? How do I know? Maybe it's something to serve yourself. You have a history of that, you know. How do I know? Tell me that!"
He was astonished. She was literally tearing him apart, and he was just standing there, taking it, wondering if the world was going to arrive on the lawn and perhaps take bets on how often she was going to knock him down – both literally and figuratively. Never mind that he deserved every word.
"Stop looking at me like that!"
He blinked. Forgetting her talent at observation could prove deadly.
"Think before you speak, Severus," she warned.
He glared at her. "Stop interrupting me!"
"I didn't interrupt anything worthwhile. What you were about to say was some sad escapist excuse!"
"How do I know, Severus? You've lied to me already! Are you saying this to shut me up?"
They both stood, panting for air. She watched as he briefly pressed his arm around his middle and used the tree for balance.
Reaching out her hand, she said, "Severus, how do I—"
It happened so fast she almost fell. He swiftly took hold of her arm and pulled her to collide with his chest. Severus held a hand in her hair, clutching her, possessing her. His warmth was overpowering, pressed up against her, wanting to be as close as possible. She held him just as tightly, her hands tearing at him, afraid of letting go, the heat incredible. In the corridor he had been reluctant, fighting against everything she did. He was completely overwhelming her with the intensity of his actions. She could feel his breath, the surge of emotion, anger, bitterness, failed attempts at pride, surrender.
Eyes traveling to his mouth, he bared his teeth as he spoke, as if he was trapped and fighting to escape. "I cannot—"
But forgetting words, he took her lips to his in a fierce collapse of pain and possession. At first, she was in shock, gripping onto his arms to keep from falling. His aggression both terrified and fascinated her. This was a communication that couldn't be achieved using words. They had not known each other for long, but in this single embrace he told her everything she needed to know. The chasm between them closed more, moving to crash together and join them in a bond that most people hope to experience just once in their lives. Every time he softened, as if afraid he was frightening her, she dug her nails into his arms, telling him to go on, don't ever stop.
They both seemed to curse the most basic of human needs – air.
Hermione rested her head on his chest as they both gasped. His shirt was almost completely destroyed; in the middle of it all, she had taken hold of it and torn a huge gash across his back.
"I—" she panted. She closed her eyes and let out a soft chuckle. "I love you, too."
She loved the feeling of him there, his deep voice against her ear when he allowed a laugh.
"Don't – ever – lie to me again," she said in a tone as deadly serious as she could manage, then turned to leave.
A smirk born of admiration appeared on his face. He followed after her, looking down at the remnants of his shirt, trying to recover his dignity.
She called over her shoulder, "I heard that."
"Oh, that you hear."
Minerva watched from her window as Hermione stalked angrily out onto the grounds. Minutes later, she saw Severus moving slowly to arrive at her side. Her heart nearly broke to see what looked to be a full-scale battle raging between them, and then she gasped as she saw Severus step forward and take her into his arms.
Turning to Albus' slumbering portrait, she smiled sadly and returned to her work.
"Severus? A word please?”
“Oh, splendid, here we go with the speech again,” Severus muttered.
Remembering that she had forgotten to mention it to him, Hermione said quickly, “Oh, I did have that chat with her.”
Raising an eyebrow at the thought that maybe this speech might be different, Severus made his way over to Minerva, ignoring Harry's stare.
“Severus, Hermione and I spoke and she has some valid points. Harry needs to experience a real battle. He's successfully fought Death Eaters, but none on the level of you, much less Voldemort,” Minerva said, making sure to keep her voice low.
At his impressed expression, she continued, “Yes, Severus, it is not lost on us that you have the power needed to help Harry raise his skills. A great master passes his knowledge along; that is his legacy. Will you do that?”
“Minerva, I have.”
“No,” she said sternly. “You may have taught him, but in a way that is beneficial mostly to you. You're exacting some sort of revenge on Harry for what his father did to you years ago.”
Severus' eyes widened at what she was saying, even though he knew it to be true. Minerva took a step closer to him and leaned in to whisper, “Severus, James is dead. Harry did none of those things to you and he certainly didn't knowingly cause Lily's death. You may dislike Harry, that is your right, but please stop fighting James' ghost.”
Scowling, Severus nodded and said, “I will – try.”
“Good. Now, I will no longer require you to keep things light, even if it means – stronger spells. Even Unforgivables. It would be no use to Harry to be presented with an opportunity and fail because no one taught him. As brutal as it may be, it is reality. I know it now. I have spoken with the Ministry, and they are aware of what is taking place here,” she said with a glance towards Harry.
"If you are prepared. Teaching him these things goes far beyond anything he has ever experienced."
"You are the only one who would know," she said carefully, not daring to finish the thought aloud.
Severus was caught unprepared. Anger rose, then acceptance. "Yes."
"Severus, I'm sorry. I meant—"
He raised a hand to stop her. "No need, Minerva. It is appalling to think that we need to teach an innocent to kill. Let us dwell on it for a moment to appease those who need to mourn, then move on to the reality of the situation. Since he obviously cannot practice killing, I have another option available."
Minerva watched him. Her face echoed the startling truth of what Severus was describing, of what he was going to do. She knew that any battle against Voldemort was hardly going to be a matter of who could cast Expelliarmus faster.
"The Unforgivables draw far more magic than he has ever attempted to channel. They all require the same level, though," he said and nodded when understanding spread on her face.
"We need to know, though, don't we?" Minerva asked softly, the question too grave to ask in a normal tone.
Severus nodded solemnly.
“Please take my words to heart, Severus. He needs you. I trust you will do what's right,” Minerva said and then turned to go over to Harry.
Severus and Harry approached Minerva, in her customary place in the center of the hall. As the two attempted to stare each other down, she said, “Now, this will be a full duel. Anything is permitted – with the exception of the Killing Curse, of course."
"Severus, please try to spare the Great Hall from too much damage, please?”
“As you wish,” Severus said, grinning and gave a mock bow.
“Fine. If you're ready then? Begin!”
Immediately, Severus swung his wand, striking Harry with enough force to toss him several yards backwards. Before Harry could regain his footing, Severus was already approaching with an evil grin. His entire demeanor had changed in that split-second. He looked like he was on a mission to kill and having a grand time doing it.
Severus' expression bordered on deranged. “Better get up, Potter! Shall I assist?”
Another movement. Harry was picked up and slammed against the wall near the Great Hall doors, landing in an awkward, gasping heap. This time he quickly forced himself to his feet. Swiftly, he dodged another of Severus' attempts to toss him like a doll. The spell grazed the doorway, blasting part of the hinges apart, and dropping the door at an angle, it listed for a moment then tore off the frame.
Anger spread across Harry's face as stabbed his wand out. “Experlliarmus!”
Severus made a slashing movement at the air, sending the spell back at Harry. The sound of Severus Snape openly laughing filled the air. Harry's wand flew into the air, stopped, then traveled directly to Severus' waiting hand. Harry's face grew red with both rage and embarrassment. He opened his mouth to speak, but was astonished to see Severus throw his wand back at him.
“Have you learned nothing?” he raged.
Something was different about his tone, though; it was coated with more, with a threat of real damage. No more games.
Advancing on Harry, Severus roared, “Hit me with something, Potter!”
Harry moved backwards into the Entrance Hall, dodging several spells in a blinding explosion of light. He reeled backwards, blinded. He cast several Shielding Spells, heard the sounds of destruction around him, felt the shove of the magic filling the air, the sudden rush when a spell barely missed him. His eyes focused in time to watch a jet of light erupt from his wand. It hit Severus in the shoulder, tearing his robes and causing him to twist backwards. Without a second's pause, Severus viciously shot several spells in rapid succession, which Harry successfully blocked, sending them into the staircase. Massive chunks of marble blasted out in a high arc across the Hall, coating them both in white dust.
“Impressive,” Severus commented and swung his wand, sending a Stunner at Harry, who leaped out of the way. They both watched as the spell slammed into the Slytherin hourglass, exploding glass in a fine spray and sending all of the emeralds pouring loudly onto the floor.
Severus opened his mouth in a snarl and, before the others could arrive to see, pointed his wand at the Gryffindor hourglass. It, too, exploded in a sea of glass and rubies. From inside the Great Hall, Severus could hear Minerva shouting his name in frustration at the sounds of destruction.
Before Harry could look back at him, Severus was on top of him, grabbing a fistful of his hair, forcing him to look at him. Suddenly, Harry could hear him in his mind, like smoke traveling through his consciousness, pushing his thoughts aside. Before he knew what was happening, he was dropping towards the floor.
Submit to me. You will not win. The Dark Lord will kill you, that much is certain.
All you wish to do is to kneel before me and submit... it's simple... just do it...
Severus watched in satisfaction as Harry fought the Imperius Curse. Very strong will. Good. Lifting the curse, Severus immediately threw a Disarming Spell which Harry blocked while shaking the effects of the curse out of his head. The disarming spell spun sideways and struck the front doors, blasting them open to allow the night air to rush into the castle.
Harry lunged forward, casting several spells and hexes, hoping to gain some distance between them to give himself a change to regroup. Two of the bolts bounced off of Severus' Shielding Spell and spiraled at terrifying speed to the ceiling, ramming completely through the ancient structure. Little debris fell, but the sound of something dislodged could be heard, then a louder groan as a immense crack echoed through the Hall, causing both Severus and Harry to stare up in awe. A large hole had not only been opened in the ceiling, but a huge statue from the floor above had fallen and was lodged in the opening.
Some witch, most likely famous for some obscure achievement, had been memorialized in a statue, only to have it end up hanging precariously upside down and threatening to fall.
Severus could hear the others arrive and gasp at the horrid condition of the room. They found the two of them, standing amid the ruins of the destroyed Entrance Hall. Marble pieces were strewn everywhere and a mix of emeralds, rubies and glass littered the floor. Every step required care to avoid injury. Their eyes then shot up to the ceiling, gasping in unison as the statue shifted again, twisting further. Her shoulders were through now, slowly moving, skidding against stone, marble and wood.
“Severus!” Minerva cried at the sight of the hall in shambles and two of the Houses' hourglasses obliterated.
Ignoring her cries, Severus launched into another attack, casting an unimaginable amount of spells, punctuated with every step he took towards Harry. The destruction reached a catastrophic level with the entire right side of the stairway blown apart and the banister threatening to completely separate from the floor above. Minerva and the others had no choice but to retreat to the Great Hall to escape the flying debris.
Harry responded, dodging frantically and throwing random spells, only to have them rebounded right back at him. He backed up the staircase with Severus looking every ounce the Death Eater he could easily become if called upon. There was no scholarly advice. No backhanded praise. Even the taunting would be welcome. Anything but the desperately violent wizard intent on tearing him apart. Part of Harry wondered if Snape would slip and really kill him, Vow or not.
Harry missed a step, slipped and grunted as he fell backwards. Immediately, Severus was upon him, fully expecting to easily disarm him. Harry weakly rose and then started to back up the remaining stairs, blocking it. They both turned to see the spell fly back and crash into one of the suits of armor standing by the front doors, sending it sprawling out onto the front steps.
“ENOUGH!” Minerva cried and silence fell.
Harry and Severus both turned to see an extremely furious headmistress glaring at them from the bottom of what was left of the stairs. Both were severely out of breath and covered in various pieces of debris.
“Severus! Explain this!” she yelled, raising her arms to indicate the total destruction of the Entrance Hall.
“What?" he said easing himself to take a seat on the stairs to rest his leg. "Minerva, you asked for less blood," Severus said in defense and gestured towards his shoulder. "I'm the only one bleeding here."
Harry, incredibly, nodded in agreement.
"You asked to keep the Great Hall from too much damage," Severus reminded her, and grinning, pointed his wand at the Great Hall, "and it's pristine.”
Hermione looked at Severus sitting there in torn, dusty robes with bits of glass and marble in his hair, and did her best to suppress a laugh. Turning to Minerva, she could see the older witch was silently seething.
With a shrug, Hermione said, “He's got a point, you know.”
As if to punctuate Hermione's statement, a rough, grating sound came from above, and the statue crashed to the floor, shattering in a starburst of white stone. The witch's head rolled to a stop at the hem of Minerva's robes.
“Severus. My office. Now!” Minerva yelled, losing her normally reserved demeanor. She raised her robes and stepped carefully over the rubble out of the ruined Hall.
Breaking the long silence that followed Minerva's departure, Severus cleared his throat and said, “Better, Potter, you do have the ability.”
Severus' eyes shifted to where Minerva had taken her leave and grinned.
Hermione caught that look in Severus' eyes. It reminded her distinctly of someone about to disobey.
Harry, who was brushing off his robes, looked up. “But McGonagall..."
Severus drew his wand and pointed to the open doors.
There was no mistaking what he was about to say.
“Outside. This isn't over.”
AN: Reviews? Anyone? I know you're out there and you certainly didn't arrive here by accident. ;-)