Beauty and the beast. The odd couple. The lion and the snake. So many names for Hermione and Severus's so-called "relationship."
Over the week after the newspaper was published, Hermione received over two hundred letters, one hundred fifty reprimanding her for her supposed relationship with Severus, and the others supporting her. There were death threats and poems of support, artwork and Howlers.
Can you stop looking through that rubbish? Snape hissed when jolted awake from his midday nap in the sun by a particularly loud Howler.
"It's not…" she began, ready to argue her case of opening the letters, but immediately quieted at his scathing look and watched him slink away.
She chucked the now silent Howler into the trash bin pile (to be burned, more accurately) and picked up something that looked harmless enough. Still, she whipped out her wand and cast a few diagnostic spells; it flashed orange and then purple. Puzzled, she set down the envelope and stepped back, hitting the mantle.
With a quick flick of her wrist, the contents spilled out of the envelope and stained the carpet red. She screamed shrilly as the innards fell out with a sickeningly wet splash.
She was trembling as the Aurors combed through the rest of the mail, bagging all the death threats and Howlers promising bodily harm. Her stomach hadn't stopped churning since she opened the letter and she kept breathing through her nose, trying her hardest to not be sick. She'd never seen anyone's entrails, much less a wizard's or a child's, even after surviving the Battle of Hogwarts.
She'd seen the grey, bloody faces of the living mourning the dead and had even caught glimpses while running around, the wizards' and witches' faces eerily calm despite the cacophony left in their wake. She remembered the white sheets, dragging on the wet concrete as the spells rocked the castle's foundation, chunks of wall making her stumble. When she hit the ground, she had stared into a dead Death Eater's face.
Even then, she hadn't been quite as disturbed as she was now. Harry rubbed her back as Ron and Seamus bagged the entrails, each one looking green in the face when they noticed the puddle at their feet staining the carpet. "I don't…" Hermione began, her voice weak despite her alert eyes and drawn face, "…I don't know how…how it could've…"
"We got so busy that it completely slipped our minds about coming over to add in some protection wards," Harry admitted softly, taking her elbow and leading her to the kitchen. Aurors were gathered in there, speaking quietly to one another, glancing up curiously at them before turning back to their conversation.
"It was just a child," she murmured, feeling her eyes fill, "a child. An innocent." Her voice broke and she sniffled as Snape pressed himself against her leg. The minute he heard her screaming, he bolted to her and pushed her back from the horrific sight. After he calmed her down, staring into her eyes with his black ones, he coaxed her to call the Aurors and had refused to leave her side even once, growling darkly at the wizards and witches who attempted to remove him from her presence.
Her fingers ran through his silky, thick fur as he licked her fingers.
I'm sorry, she said absently and she had the faintest feeling that he was rolling his eyes at her.
Don't be sorry for something horrific that someone else has done, Hermione, he told her, his voice filling her head. She sighed and rested her forehead against the table, weaving her fingers through his fur.
It doesn't help, Severus. I won't…I can't…She broke down and started crying. How could this have happened? Why?
She blinked away her tears and looked up, startled to find her mother and father standing close together in the doorway.
"What happened? There's…a giant red stain and—" her father said.
She opened her mouth to explain but nothing came out; the tears spilling down her face seemed to be enough to convey the feeling of something horrible had happened.
Her mother held her hand and her father spoke with Harry outside. Snape was lying across her lap.
Hermione, this isn't your fault; you didn't kill that boy, he said, staring up at her with his big, endless sky eyes. She nodded.
"Hermione, dear, when did you get a dog?" Jean asked in a short, breathless attempt at light conversation. Hermione's brained whirred.
"It's Snape, Mom," she blurted.
"Snape?" Jean's thick, dark brows drew. "The man who was with you last time? But—how?"
"He can change into an animal but he's injured so he can't change back," Hermione explained like it was an everyday occurrence, like grown men changed into dogs all the time; at least, in the Wizarding world, they did, but in the Muggle world, with its dentists and still pictures, they didn't. Her mother's look of puzzlement didn't smooth out into understanding; if anything, it increased.
"A man into a dog? I understand your world, of course, but I can't wrap my head around how a grown man can transform into an animal."
"Or grown woman. There are female Animagi out there," Hermione informed her, nodding to herself as her fingers wove through Snape's fur. She could feel heat rise across her neck, prickling.
"Well," Jean butted in, wiping her hands on her skirt, "tell me what happened." The determined but concerned eyes of a mother brought tears to Hermione's eyes.
"It's horrible," she whispered, curls swallowing her face as she curled up, hiding her face. Speaking past the building lump her throat, she continued. And then the words poured out, all hot and boiling her stomach, making her chest hurt.
"Someone did that…" Jean's voice was weak and tiny as she wrapped long, lean arms around Hermione; the Muggle-born leaned into her mother and breathed in the familiar aroma of lavender and laundry detergent and mouthwash. Her mother's teeth gleamed pearly white when she spoke next. "Why would they send it to you, though?"
Hermione just shook her head and let her mother rock her, Snape's weight digging into her thighs and his claws wedged against her hip.