Hermione woke to beams of light pouring over her closed lids, pulling her from a dream of giving a cat a root canal. Yawning, she stretched languidly and rolled over, finding herself face-to-face with a sleeping black dog, his lips twitching as he fidgeted in his sleep. He looked worried and anxious, kicking his paws.
He looks so much like his human self, she thought dimly as she stood, her muscles aching softly. Deciding to hop in the shower, she scooped up some clothes and headed down to the bathroom, stripping off her panties and her sleep shirt, leaving them on the floor. She'd grab them later.
As she ran the water, she stood nude in front of the sink and brushed her teeth, the fresh taste waking her further. With the foam dripping from her lips, she looked rabid, wild bed head puffed out like a lion's mane. She laughed to herself as the mirror fogged up like it did, leaving watery streaks running vertical, like the glass was crying. She rinsed her mouth and splashed cold water onto her cheeks, ignoring the way her skin prickled at the cold.
"I'm in need of a good, long soak," she murmured, eyeing the hot, clear water. With a quirky grin, she rummaged around in the cabinet under the sink, faltering when she saw the little wooden box, painted with an intricate design, and chipped in places. The lid was wide open, a gaping mouth of glinting blades and cigarettes, begging to be lit and glinting edges stained red.
She picked it up slowly and shook the contents. Ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk. The sound used to be her solace, her only thread to staying in the world of the Living, with beads of crimson, dancing lines on her skin; the smoke, rich and thick and deadly, filling her lungs slowly, staining her teeth yellow and stealing her youth slowly.
She stared at the contents, at the silver blades and small cancer sticks. "No." She dropped it unceremoniously and everything spilled out, scattering. The click of claws drew her attention and she opened the door, smiling down at Snape. His black eyes stared up at her, and, if a dog could blush, she was quite certain he would be. He saw the blades and cigarettes on the floor and looked panicked, his eyes widening.
"No, no, I'm fine. I'm going to soak. You're free to stand guard if you'd like." She headed back and heard his snarl, which sounded suspiciously like a groan.
The box was heavy and rough in her hands as she headed towards the fireplace, curly hair piled high in a bun and secured with her wand. Manually, she lit the fire and let it climb higher and higher in the fireplace; orange and red licked at each other and burned bright yellow.
Snape was watching her apprehensively from his spot behind the sofa, black eyes narrow; he was faring well, his coat growing more sleek and glossy each day, his back healing slowly but steadily; the grooming she'd given him daily had helped. He looked like a dog version of the Potions professor she'd come to know so very well.
"After the war, I often isolated myself from my depression. It was hard, watching everyone pick themselves up and glue each other together but I was drowning and everyone was none the wiser." Hermione sat down, letting the heat sink into her skin; her toes wiggled in their stockings and Snape crept closer, eyeballing the box like he didn't trust it.
One by one, she pulled out the cigarettes and blades. Eventually, he relaxed enough to lie down beside her and rest his chin on her leg; she stroked from between his eyes to the wrinkled edge of his bandages. Wrinkling her nose, she whispered, "Ferula," and the dirty bandages fell away at his belly, replaced by crisp clean ones. Admiring her handiwork, she continued.
"It got so bad; I was admitted a few times until I suffered a breakdown and was placed under suicide watch. They stopped me from ending it several times; it was you, Prof—Severus," she admitted shyly, twisting her hair around her finger tightly.
He huffed to her.
"You stopped me. I remember being thrown onto a bed and they tied me down to keep me from hurting anyone and then they sent you down and you told me, in that lovely, commanding voice of yours, to snap out of it."
He shifted against her. Remembering.
"I thought about everything you'd sacrificed, your time, your mind, your…your body to us every day since Harry turned eleven," she said softly, sniffling as tears prickled her eyes. "And I burst into tears. You patted my head and told me not to cry, that my tears were meant for someone more…pure. But the tears didn't stop and you just stroked my hair and I remember falling asleep then. After that, I was determined to get better."
Slowly, she rose to her feet and clutched the box to her breasts; the wood dug into her skin painfully as she swayed. The fire was high and the heat was searing, making her face flush. "I hid this away in the bathroom for when I got really, really bad." A shuddering breath.
"I used it when I broke up with Ron, when my aunt died, and when they…they found him all mangled inside his house, Dark Mark staining the clouds above. He was the only one who understood; my cousin, Jeffrey, didn't deserve all the pain Bellatrix unleashed on us." Absently, she rubbed her wrist, feeling the rugged skin, puckered and never healing.
The word used to send her to the girls' room in tears but now, it set a fire inside her belly as she glared at the ever-climbing flames. Snape whined and bumped her calf. She glanced down into his big, black eyes and sighed softly. "I'm going to burn my razors and cigarettes but not the box. It's all I have of Jeff's; his parents donated the rest, kind of like his organs."
His eyes swung between her weapons of choice and her chest, staring at the box or maybe her breasts, which just about threatened to spill out of her sweater's low collar. The sweater was frayed and decaying but she kept it because it was Jeff's. "Goodbye," she whispered as she sealed her lips against the cigarettes' cool, laminated boxes and tossed them. The gleaming razors followed and Snape watched them hungrily fall into the fire, melting slowly as the boxes curled in on themselves.
"How about some dinner?" she asked softly. He perked up and gave a short bark.
As she passed the bookshelf just outside the kitchenette's doorway, she saw a large opening and tucked the ornate box there.
It looked like it belonged.