Hermione's mind wandered as she sliced up strawberries into a ceramic bowl.
Last night, after the Aurors left, after her parents Flooed away, after the house went quiet and still but she could still smell the blood in the air and see the entrails on the carpet forever etched onto the backs of her eyelids, Severus had gently lulled her into a calmer state of mind. His dark eyes met hers and his voice, soft and hypnotic, vibrated through her brain. Breathe, Hermione. Deep. In through your nose, out your mouth. Good, good. Sit down.
She sank down, weak-kneed and muscles relaxing, the cushions enveloping her. His voice was soothing, a balm to her burn, his eyes filling her vision, wide and vast, an ocean of nighttime. His long nails scratched her feet as he settled down before her.That's it. Good girl. Keep going. Close your eyes. When she hesitated, he repeated, close your eyes in a far firmer tone. Reluctantly, her lids lowered inch by inch. A black rectangle cut off the top of Snape's head, then his shoulders, chest, and stomach until he was nothing but a layer of ink. Now, imagine your favorite memory, he told her somewhere in the distance, his voice echoing like they were in a canyon.
For some reason, she didn't think of when she found out about Hogwarts or when she graduated with top Os; she thought of him, staring up at her as she watched the life slip from his eyes, the crystalline tears shimmering at the corners of his eyes, streaking down his temples. He looked so sad and fragile lying there, his breath rattling out of his cracked, bloody lips. He looked so at peace, so unlike the war haggard man she'd known for seven years, as his eyes fluttered shut, the last image that of his unrequited love's green eyes, her best friend's eyes, finally at peace.
"Where would you like this?"
She blinked and her memory was gone, banished by the present day Snape standing in front of her, in her house. Her stomach twisted.
"Sit down. I'll do it. You shouldn't be on your feet, after all," she said shakily, "until your back is healed." She reached out, prying the bowl from his grasp and setting it on the counter. When she turned back around, he was frowning at her, eyes hard.
"Why are you treating me as though I'm a child?" he asked finally, his voice smooth like butterscotch and just as silky. His long, spider-fingered hands gripped the edge of the table, white-knuckled and he looked menacing with a clenched jaw.
"What ever do you mean?" Her voice came across obnoxiously high and shrill. A lock of long, black hair fell across his wide forehead, cutting across his left eye. His chest was rising slowly, rising and then falling, raise fall repeat, and she found her eyes tracing the path of buttons on his frock.
"Hermione, answer me." He was sharp, an edge of a glass shard, and she shook herself. "I, well…" She fidgeted.
"I'm waiting." His long, lean arms crossed, his back against the edge of the table, his intense gaze locked on her, Snape was the epitome of tall, dark and mysterious.
"I kind of liked taking care of you, okay? I've taken care of the boys for seven years and I like being depended upon. At work, no one gives me a second glance. When I'm with friends, all I can think about is how I saved their asses so many times while they chatter about pregnancies and shit," Hermione blurted, the words pouring and gushing from her mouth like a great wave of agony, piling into the air between them and stalling; Snape's calm expression never faltered once as he digested her verbal diarrhea.
"Okay," he drawled softly, stepping closer with each drawn out syllable, "I understand the need to be wanted. Believe me, I do, but I'm a grown man and I don't want to be babied. If you want to baby someone, why not try a daycare?" A chord vibrated inside her, making everything ring in startling clarity. He was still watching her, waiting for a response but, to be quite frank, Hermione couldn't see a hole in his suggestion.
"That's actually not a very bad idea," she murmured as he strode past her, heading for the oven. Abruptly, she was all too aware of the musky, sour smell filling the kitchen and making her eyes water profusely; it took her a minute to notice the faint smoke. Panicked now, she spun around in time to see him dispel the smoke with a flick of his wand. The smell, however, lingered, painfully sharp and bitter. "I'm sorry," she apologized quietly, wondering how on Earth could she have been so out of it as to nearly burn down her flat.
"No harm done," he said, and then looked at the charred remains of pancake batter, "well, except for the pancakes it seems." A strangled laugh bubbled out of her and he looked mildly pleased at having made her laugh. Something light gleamed in his fathomless eyes, like a faraway brightness. Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light. She was smiling, her cheeks aching with the width of it, teeth flashing.
"Thank you," she breathed, her voice raspy and far lower than she liked, seductive even, "for helping me last night. For staying. For…for being there." Suddenly feeling shy, Hermione turned her face away and reached for the middle drawer in the granite counter top. "Hope about going out to eat?" she offered, trifling through the pamphlets to find the breakfast ones. "Considering I've charred ours past the point of no return." At her Gaston Leroux reference, he snorted and she twisted.
"That was a dreadful noise," she informed him and his lips twitched in something that resembled a smile.
"Such a dreadful smell," he said, referring to the sour stench of smoke lingering. "Does IHOP sound alright?" she asked him.
"Sounds edible," he stated.
She rolled her eyes and headed upstairs to get changed.