If you had told Hermione that that she'd be squeezed into a booth at IHop with Severus Snape, his knees hitting the table, head dangerously close to the low-hanging light above their table, she would've asked you what spell you'd been hit with. Now, with her hands wrapped around a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee, she could hardly believe it herself.
Severus had his head bowed, his long lashes silver in the light, and he was utterly still, as though he were made of stone. She wasn't sure she could see his chest rise and fall with every inhale and exhale and nudged his calf with the edge of her sneaker.
Without looking up, he asked, "Yes?"
Heat crept up her face, pooling in her cheeks. "We shoulder order something," she suggested quietly, glancing at him over the crisp edge of her menu. He met her gaze for a second, his midnight eyes piercing, before turning his intense concentration onto the list of breakfast foods. All she could see where his big, black eyebrows. Feeling the need to break the silence, since she'd decided to get cinnamon pancakes, she asked, "So how did you become an Animagus?"
He barely glanced up as he answered. "There are two ways. Surely you should know them, Gryffindor's favorite bookworm?"
Had anyone else called her that, she would've bristled and ranted at them with horrendously big words but, hearing the words roll fluidly off his tongue, she felt a small stab of embarrassment and pleasure.
"You either take a course with the Ministry or you're born one," she said, twisting the scorching mug in her hands. "Very good," he sneered mockingly as his head bobbed.
She decided to ignore it. "So which one were you?" she pressed.
His lashes appeared as he blinked, scanning the menu still.
"I was born one," he stated.
"How come you've never used it before, say during the war?"
His fingers were bone-white against the bright colors of the laminated menu but his voice never wavered as he spoke. "There was no need, even in the most desperate situations." His nails drummed.
Hermione brought the cup to her lips and sipped, eyeballing him. He didn't seem particularly upset by her endless questions. As she sipped, he folded the menu and laid his folded hands on top. Long, graceful fingers, even longer nails stained from various potions and ingredients.
"What did you do after the war?" he asked suddenly.
"Oh." She blinked in surprise, setting down the mug. "I finished Hogwarts. Went to Muggle College. Got my diploma. Now, I'm a writer for a newspaper. I've actually published a few books, though they weren't as successful as some," she laughed softly.
His eyes flickered briefly down to her mouth, then back. "What about your scars?" he prompted gently, unraveling his fingers.
Something cold dripped down her spine, like icy water.
The waitress came by to take their order but Severus never lifted his eyes. Their table was cleared, glasses refilled, and then the waitress was gone, her ponytail swinging back and forth like the pendulum of a clock.
"I…It was a hard time for all of us. We lost loved ones, husbands, wives, children, and friends. We experienced things children, at the tender age of seventeen, should never have to experience." Hermione's hands shook. "There was so much death and the trials had everyone on edge. I managed to reverse the Obliviate I put on my mother and father but…they…never quite forgave me." Her lip quivered. "I couldn't tell them why I did it—and the rest of the family despised me for it."
"Except your cousin." It wasn't a question.
A pinprick stabbed her eyes, hot and fierce. "Yeah. He loved me. All I could say to them was, 'It was to keep them safe.' From what? They'd ask, but they didn't understand why I didn't want to talk about it. A lot of us had nightmares, waking, sleeping. I remember we were all sitting for dinner and someone came rushing into the room and my brain just…just stopped." Her voice lowered several octaves and she struggled not to cry. "I was back in the battle, stumbling over stone, watching enemies and friends rush at me. My mother told me that I pulled my wand and I was screaming, all wide-eyed. Jeff snapped me out of it. Everyone looked at me like I was a monster. That was the first time I used those razors. At first, it hurt, that sharp paper-cut sting, and I looked at the blood and I felt better. It was like…some of my evil was slipping out."
Severus nodded understandingly.
Hermione lifted the mug to her lips and burned her tongue on the scorching coffee, anything to break away from his eyes.
"It got really hard after he died. Bellatrix tracked him down one evening and tortured him slowly. They said she was looking for me."
She blinked away a film of tears and something touched her wrist, long, white fingers curling around its girth.
Heat seeped into her skin. She followed the sinewy arm covered in heavy black hair that vanished into a black coat sleeve, a broad shoulder. The jarringly sharp jawline, a hint of stubble, faint scars gleaming in the light. High cheekbones, framed by ink-black hair, set below deep-set, hooded eyes the color of the midnight sky. Set between the eyes was a long, slightly crooked nose, more like a beak than anything but it suited the man. What caught her attention the most, however, was the hint of softness to his startlingly sharp features, an age-old sadness in his eyes, a soft line in the seam of his thin mouth.
"You don't have to tell me any more," he told her and his voice was velvet-wrapped nighttime, silky and smooth. "The years after the war were painful for all us," he said and for some reason, she thought of him, pale and tired, at his trial, gauze bleached against his sallow skin, being tried for nearly killing one of the most powerful wizards and his horrendous crimes in the years building up to the war.
"Alright," said the waitress, breaking the quiet connection, and Severus's hand lingered before retracting, slithering back into his lap.
"Cinnamon pancakes, chocolate chip."
Their plates were set before them and Hermione wiped the tears out of her eyes. The waitress squinted at Severus like he was the cause but the bushy-haired witch smiled.
"Shall we?" Severus asked once the waitress sashayed away. Hermione shyly met his gaze and found something warm in them.
"Better than burnt to a crisp," he said and she snorted with laughter, nearly spraying coffee all over him. It dribbled down her chin instead and his mouth twitched, as though he were fighting a smile.
She had the feeling he was trying to make her feel better and she really appreciated it.