A/N - Thanks as always to those who have reviewed.
Biting her lip, Hermione set out to concentrate solely on the tasks of the lesson, and when it was over she gladly left the classroom with her friends.
Sympathetic towards her misfortune for having a detention later with the Greasy Git (“This is all my fault!” Ron said miserably. “I’ll buy some more chocolates – honest!”) Harry and Ron did their best to coax Hermione into a better mood.
Hermione found herself willing to listen and laugh as the three of them walked along the corridor. The visions she had had before were starting to take on aspects of that of a dream – something to be puzzled over momentarily when waking then abandoned for the activities of the day.
However, her attention was caught by Harry’s hand absently reaching up to his hair – not to ruffle it as usual, but to tidy some of the more wayward locks.
“Something wrong with your hair, Harry?” Ron said in bemusement.
Harry shrugged and looked somewhat sheepish. “I’m starting to get sick of my hair, to tell you the truth. It’s always so messy.”
Hermione felt as if a cold finger had been placed on her neck. But surely there was nothing wrong with Harry wanting to tidy his hair, she argued with herself.
“Harry, there’s nothing wrong with your hair,” she nevertheless said lightly.
“You’re just saying that because you hardly do anything with your hair, Hermione,” Harry jested.
It might have been her imagination but Hermione thought there was a faint note of censure in Harry’s voice…
When they reached an intersection in the corridor where the three of them would separate and go their separate ways to classes, Harry and Ron said a cheerful farewell to Hermione, leaving her to hurry with some relief to Herbology.
Here in the greenhouse complex where the class was held, Hermione was able to recapture some peace of mind. It was strange how Herbology had become one of her favourite classes in this past year.
While she knew the names of countless plants, herbs, flowers, grasses and trees, those that hindered and the ones that helped, it was only after the War had ended did Hermione find a real comfort in tending to the plants in the greenhouse. Who would have thought there was anything relaxing about getting your hands dirty, or joy to be found in making sure plants thrived as they reached for the sun?
It was easy to forget pain and death when surrounded by living, vigorous plants - even if some of them were too vigorous for their own good.
As always, the air in the greenhouse Hermione was in was hot and humid, and though she tried to keep her gardening smock clean, somehow smears of dirt found their way to it.
The plump figure of Professor Sprout bustled about the classroom, a teacher who always seemed to airily dismiss her own slightly dirty appearance. There was nothing wrong with some honest dirt, she seemed to imply.
A big notice board on a wall was a riot of colour as always, with pictures of new varieties of flowers moving gently in unseen breezes, notices about upcoming meetings of the Flora, Fauna and Foliage Club as well as jobs adverts.
This week there was a notice from St Morgana’s Forest Retreat asking for those interested in gardening to come and work there over the summer after the year had ended. Hermione found herself paying attention to the picture that formed part of the letterhead at the top of the notice. As usual with notices from the retreat it was a picture of a wooden door wreathed by ivy, with its leaves swaying in an unseen wind. However, for some reason the door seemed to be beckoning to her today in a strange way.
Raising an eyebrow slightly at this flight of fancy on her part, Hermione turned her attention back to her work. She had carefully planned her future post-Hogwarts– she would spend a great deal of the holidays preparing for her new life at a prestigious wizard university where she would be studying Transfiguration.
However, the thought of her life at university did not fill her at the moment with the usual enthusiasm. She had spent most of her life it seemed seeking knowledge and poring through books until her head these days felt crammed with facts and figures. Though she did and always would love learning, the thought of a holiday job as a gardener at a wizards retreat sounded oddly appealing at the moment.
At a nearby table Lavender caught Hermione‘s eye and grinned at her. “Harry or Ron?” she mouthed, winking.
Hermione pasted a smile upon her face and managed an airy shrug, implying that she would have a tough choice. She was still trying to argue with herself that the visions were only ones of many possible futures for her, but things such as the offhand remark of Harry commenting about the messiness of his hair were giving her little twinges of warning inside when she thought of her friends.
As for Professor Snape… Hermione was still inwardly seething at the circumstances by which she was to have a detention with him, glad for once to find a reason to resent him. He was always finding reasons to discipline Gryffindors, leaving the Slytherins alone even in circumstances where it was blatantly clear they had done wrong.
Yet, a little voice in her head whispered, he was secretly a spy for Dumbledore and it would have raised questions from those close to Voldemort if he were overly harsh with those in his House. He had risked much for the Order of the Phoenix in carrying out difficult work behind the scenes without complaint, for what in retrospect seemed to have been scant thanks in Hermione’s opinion. He kept to himself in the dungeons out of what many viewed as disdain for the company of other wizards… or was it because he viewed himself as someone always destined to be on the outside, always looking but never invited in?
A faint feeling of guilt reminded Hermione that she really owned Professor Snape a ‘thank you’ for his part in helping her after the accident in Potions. She owed him that much at least.
After classes Harry and Ron sought her out as usual, but Hermione found she was feeling uncomfortable and on edge around them, briskly explaining her attitude away as tiredness on her part when her friends started giving her strange looks at her behaviour.
Well, the tiredness was genuine – she was feeling as if she had had one of those days where everything happened at once. She would rather curl up on her bed and go to sleep instead of having a detention; but in facing Professor Snape she would need to keep her wits about her.
By the time Hermione arrived for her detention that night Severus was coolly confident that if he felt any more unwanted feelings towards her then they would be treated with the derision they deserved. It was no business of his to think of a student the way he had, therefore it was of no interest of his of what she did in her personal life.
Therefore when she was standing before his desk, a composed expression on her face (despite faint shadows underneath her cinnamon eyes) he was able to take a slightly malicious pleasure in ordering her to immediately start scrubbing all of the cauldrons in the classroom with no magic used to aid her.
Hermione felt as though the professor was silently daring her to complain, as the cauldrons were always kept in a pristine condition. But she refused to give him the satisfaction of a scene.
“Yes, Professor,” she said stiffly, feeling her earlier resolution to thank him wavering. Without fuss she went to a cupboard where brushes and other cleaning materials were kept and taking them out she set to work on the cauldrons, starting with the ones at the back of the classroom. There was one good thing to be said about menial tasks, Hermione thought grimly, the exertion prevented you from feeling cold. Certainly Professor Snape was quite miserly when it came to heating the dungeons, having commented smoothly once that excessive heat in the classroom would be detrimental to the condition of the potion ingredients. Despite her tiredness she was able to carry out the cleaning steadily without being accused of sloth.
Satisfied in having felt he had restored the balance between them back to that of professor and annoying, Know-It-All student, Severus was able to shut her out of his mind while he worked on grading papers and she scrubbed. However, at one point when he heard her try and conceal a weary yawn he found himself lifting his head swiftly to look at her.
Startled, Hermione looked back at him and his sharp gaze locked with hers. Then his mouth thinned and he put his head down again, but not before Hermione had seen a brief look of concern in his eyes. It should not have mattered to her that he had cared that she was tired, but her heart felt light for a moment in response. She was working near the front of the classroom at the moment, and it was only a short matter of time before she was finished.
Finding the conviction to say what needed to be said, Hermione approached Professor Snape’s desk.
He looked up at her with narrowed eyes. “Finished, Miss Granger?”
His tone implied that she had not cleaned the cauldrons thoroughly if she had completed them at this time of the detention, but Hermione ignored it.
“Yes, Professor,” Hermione said quietly. There’s something I want to say - I heard that you spent a great deal of time in helping me recover after the accident with Neville’s cauldron. I just wanted to say thank you.”
Severus froze and his suddenly nerveless fingers dropped the quill he was holding, where it spattered black ink over the fine cream parchment, though thankfully Hermione did not see that happen. For a moment he felt as if he could not breathe, her simple thanks feeling as if it reached through the barrier around his heart and pierced it. He could count on the fingers of one hand the times he had been sincerely thanked for the various work he did.
More than ever he longed to rise and pull her into his arms, to kiss her and to feel her arms hold him close to her.
Fool! a little voice inside whispered contemptuously to him. Have you looked in the mirror lately? Imagine, an ugly ex-Deatheater to be wanted and loved by a woman such as her.
Grimly Severus managed to slam the door upon his heart once again.
“Your illness was a merely a challenge to be overcome, Miss Granger,” he snapped, his eyes cold. “Certainly time spent attending to you was time spent away from my work thanks to your inability to leave Longbottom to his own idiocy.”
“Can’t you accept a simple ‘thank you’, Professor?” Hermione retorted, stung by the venom she heard in his voice. But she was determined to stand her ground, seeing again in her minds eye the look of surprise (and had there really been vulnerability?) she had seen in his eyes before.
“I do not want your thanks!” the Potions master spat, the harsh words tumbling from his mouth before he could check them. “I do not want anything from you – I only wish to see the day when I will no longer be tormented by your annoying presence!”
Hermione flinched and took an involuntary step back. For a moment they stared at each other in silence, the hurtful words seeming to hang between them.
How those words hurt her, Hermione thought in pain, but she refused to let him see that hurt upon her face, or let the hot tears that were stinging behind her eyes fall down her cheeks.
“Fine,” she said, managing to force the word out of her mouth and then she turned and hurried from the class back to her quarters, her tears silently soaking her pillow while around her the other girls snored on, unaware.
Severus sat alone in his classroom for a long time, staring with unseeing eyes down at his desk. There was a hell for the damned, and it was here in this room.
Severus was to wonder the next day why it was that he seemed to see a look of sadness in Dumbledore’s eyes when the headmaster looked at him.