A/N: Thanks to those who have reviewed...
In the light of the candles a fact that Hermione’s mind had been unusually slow to comprehend made itself quite clear to her.
She had no clothes on.
“I’m naked!” Hermione blurted, hastily grabbing at a sheet and pulling it up to cover her breasts, a flush upon her face.
The flush spread when she saw that Professor Snape had no clothes on either, but because he was sitting up and staring at her, the bedclothes covered his lower body from her gaze. Hermione was able to see that without his usual sweeping black robes (with their countless buttons), his body was pleasantly lean without any excess fat, with a dusting of black hair on his arms. His chest… Hermione blinked and put a hand up to her mouth to stop her from crying out.
There were countless white scars that crisscrossed his chest, many of them thin and fine, some of them jagged; and Hermione didn’t want to know how half of them had got there.
“Professor… what happened to you?” she whispered, compassion and horror in her eyes.
Surprise had replaced the fleeting amusement across his face, followed by incredulity and then thoughtfulness.
“Hermione it is… but it is your younger soul I see in your eyes,” Professor Snape said slowly to her, then he glanced for a moment down at his scars, his mouth tight. “Most of these are a reminder of my days of a Deatheater… and what happened when one failed to please a master,” he said quietly.
“I’m sorry, Professor,” Hermione said awkwardly, with sincerity in her voice.
There was a brief, odd smile upon his face. “It has been years since you have called me ‘Professor’… and tonight my appearance shocks you,” he said dryly as he casually pulled the sheet up over his chest. There was no condemnation in his voice but Hermione felt a sense of embarrassment that she had made him feel uncomfortable in his own bed.
He continued. “This only serves to reinforce the fact that somehow you are a younger Hermione. But how?”
There was a faint frown as if he was trying to remember something.
“When are you from… Miss Granger?”
“I’m at the end of my seventh year… I… this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t used that silly balm of Professor Trelawney’s!” Hermione said awkwardly, finding it hard to concentrate when he was so close to her. His usual aura of menace was absent, replaced by an air of… well, intense awareness of her that she found just as disconcerting in its own way.
His black eyes widened slightly in surprise then narrowed. “Ah yes, now I remember,” he mused, impatiently pushing a strand of silky black hair out of his eyes. “The balm that let you see different futures that Trelawney made, the silly twit. You were in the Pensieve Room as I recall when something went wrong… and this is where you went. Of course… ”
“How did you - ” Hermione began then stopped, finding herself unwilling to continue the sentence.
He tilted his dark head at her in silent mockery, though it was gentle too. “I found you, of course. Or rather, have found you. I was quite worried.”
“I can’t imagine you to be that worried since you quite obviously hate me. Or did,” she said hastily, her words stumbling over themselves.
He reached out an arm and clasped her shoulder, giving her a gentle shake. “Listen to me Hermione,” he said abruptly. “Although I see the danger in saying that which may change events, I can say this – I did not hate you. Nor do I at this time… ”
“No?” Hermione whispered. It suddenly seemed very important have confirmation from him.
“No, impertinent one,” Professor Snape said dryly to her, but there was a kindness in his black eyes which undid her. To her embarrassment she felt tears welling up in her eyes.
The next thing Hermione knew she was in his arms. “There is no need to impersonate a watering can, Hermione,” he murmured though his embrace was slightly awkward, as if he didn’t want to repel her.
She hiccupped and put her arms around him in return, feeling as though she wanted to burrow into the comfort of his arms. His skin was warm against hers and there was the scent of sandalwood and other spices about him. He murmured soft words of comfort in her ear and one of his hands gently stroked her hair.
It felt so right to be here in his arms, to be here with him. His sheet had slipped slightly and Hermione gently laid a hand against his chest when she had regained control over herself and had stopped crying. It was suddenly easy to say the words that were welling up inside her. “I love you,” she said with quiet conviction against his neck. “I don’t know how I will end up in this particular future… but this is where I want to go.”
Professor Snape made an inarticulate sound and then his hand reached out to tilt her face up to his. Hermione found herself unable to look away from his dark eyes, inwardly startled at how intense and alive they looked, neither cold or contemptuous as they had been… back then.
“Hermione,” he murmured and then his dark head slowly lowered towards her. Feeling that she could trust him, Hermione tilted her head back, her breathing coming as fast as his as he kissed her. She could taste his desire, his love… also his hesitancy in not wanting to frighten her. He drew back quickly, watching to see what her reaction was.
“To think this was our first kiss,” he murmured, relaxing when he saw her eyes shining.
“No it isn’t,” Hermione informed him and reaching forward to tangle her hands in his black hair kissed him back, feeling as though her being was on fire from his passionate response, their bodies pressing close to the other.
At length he drew back and stared at her with narrowed eyes, panting slightly. “No?” he questioned. “I would not have kissed you when you were a student…”
Hermione smiled ruefully. “The first time I used the balm I had three visions – and one of them was with you – you had had a nightmare, and afterwards you kissed me. Um…”
Her face went pink as she thought what the kiss had clearly led to.
There was a strange light in his eyes. “There were three…” he said in a voice of odd satisfaction and he bent to kiss her again.
But suddenly Hermione felt a strange tugging feeling inside her, and the room seemed to lurch for a moment. Startled, Hermione jerked slightly, and Professor Snape held her at arms length, staring sharply down into her eyes as if he was looking for something in particular.
“I see there isn’t much time left here for you, but you must listen to me Hermione, for this is important. In hindsight I see why…” he said urgently.
Hermione stared at him. “What is it?” she asked, ignoring the fact that by now her sheet had slipped down completely.
“When you return to your own time – yes, I know this to be true for it has happened – if you truly want to be with me here one day, you must keep your distance and your feelings hidden from me while you continue to be at Hogwarts. No matter what.”
“But why?” Hermione asked, startled. If she did so, then how would this future come about?
There was a look of anger on his face, though Hermione sensed it was directed at himself. “If I could go back in time and knock some sense into the fool that I was I would do so… I was vicious to you then because I could not cope with how I felt towards you, a student at the time.” He brushed her cheek gently with a pale hand. “I was cruel when I should not have been, my little Know-It-All, but I know I would eventually be crueller if you return and look at me like that… with your heart in your eyes as you are doing.”
Hermione stared at him, then nodded jerkily. She could look at his ‘past’ behaviour in a new light if he really was struggling with how he felt towards her. She hadn’t really considered how it would be from his point of view, to have feelings for a student. True, there was only a short time to go before she graduated, but the turmoil he would feel of ‘taking advantage’ of her could easily turn into self-hatred. It could tear him apart… and she didn’t want that.
“There’s something else,” Professor Snape said abruptly, taking her chin in his pale hand and tilting her face up to his. When Hermione looked at him questioningly he raised a dark eyebrow at her.
“You have that burnt-out look in your eyes… take better care of yourself, my silly girl. Do that, and the future will take care of itself. Trust me…”
Whether it had been the influence of whatever was drawing her back to her own body or if he had somehow given her a ‘shove’, Hermione felt herself in darkness again, flying back along the green and scarlet thread with the memory of a farewell kiss brushing her mouth to sustain her.