The late-afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows and cast shadows across Hermione’s drawn, white face. Snape couldn’t take his eyes away from her, even as the Auror beside her, a heavy-set man with a scruffy beard, nudged a cup of strongly-brewed coffee at her. She didn’t even stir.
“So you’re saying that Bellatrix Lestrange is alive and well?” a sunburnt Percy Weasley drawled as he peered down at Snape with a disbelieving expression.
Snape felt a sharp flash of rage drape over him. “No, Mr. Weasley, I just like to fabricate these wild tales for kicks,” he hissed and watched as the redhead recoiled away. “Now, do not make me repeat myself because you’re too dim to listen to my statement.” He narrowed his eyes at the incompetent boy, now an incompetent man.
Percy flushed all the way to roots of his orange-red hair and then the color drained from his face. “O-of co-ourse, Pro-Profe-essor,” he squeaked, wide-eyed as he pulled out a self-writing quill and scratched down his statement.
Glaring at him, Snape made his way to a still white-faced Hermione and allowed his elbow to brush her. She flinched away from him, terror in her eyes once they rolled to him, and he ached to wipe the traces of tears from her eyes. “Are you alright?” he murmured, low enough that even the Auror right beside her wouldn’t have been able to hear.
The fear in her eyes was replaced by a flat, dark look. “I mean, the woman who tortured me when I was seventeen and gave me recurring nightmares for years is alive and hell-bent on destroying me, what do you think?” A single curl fell out of its formation and she pushed it back impatiently.
There it was, that fire he was so used to being burnt by, the sharp tongue and even sharper wit, quick enough to rival his own. Ah, there she is. The little spitfire, he thought, relief nearly crushing him to see the array of emotions on her face, not just a blank, white face.
“I didn’t know she was still alive…had I known, I would’ve dealt with her and nipped this in the bud,” he said soothingly.
Hermione ran both her hands through her hair, a crazed look entering her honey-brown eyes. “She won’t stop until I’m dead,” she solemnly pointed out.
Snape couldn’t find fault in her logic. Even when they were kids, Bellatrix went the extra mile for revenge and it only grew worse as Voldemort’s hold over Snape and his friends got tighter. He could only assume her sadistic vengeance was fed and encouraged by Voldemort and now with him out of the picture, she was taunting the one person besides himself who’d pay the price.
His mind turned. If Bellatrix and himself had survived the war, who was there to say there hadn’t been more Death Eaters who’d done the same? Were they, too, lurking in the shadows, planning their attack?
As if she’d had the same chain of thoughts, the Brightest Witch of Her Age spoke up, her voice still thin and warbling. Her expression, under the chalky pallor of her normally dark face, was fierce with determination. “If she’s survived, there may be others. This may just be the beginning of another battle,” she explained, wrapping her arms tightly around herself as though she couldn’t get warm enough.
“If it’s alright with you,” Ron said as he broke out of the crowd of Aurors, “we’d like to take some precautionary measures. Set up some wards and put in some Muggle surveillance, as well as assign an Auror.” But he wasn’t looking at Snape when he said all that; he was looking at Hermione with sad, knowing eyes.
“Mr. Weasley,” Snape found himself saying, “while I understand your concern for Her—Miss Granger, must I remind you that she is not the owner or partner of this apothecary but I am. Of course, I’d have no qualms for more wards but the Muggle security system may prove a bit finicky with the magics around us. You of all people should know; does Arthur still dapple in Muggle trinkets? Perhaps he knows more than I or Miss Granger.” He couldn’t believe he was suggesting the biggest dunderhead to ever grace the wizarding community to install a Muggle security system in his apothecary.
Ron, not unlike his elder brother, flushed all the way to roots. “Of course, Professor. I’m sure I can get a hold of him at the Ministry. I’ll Floo him now.” He smiled crookedly at Snape, who returned his smile with a scowl, and hurried off.
Snape turned to Hermione, only to find her rising from her seat and brushing past him.
“It’s absolutely freezing, Severus,” she said in a falsely cheerful voice as she squeezed past him and headed for the stock room where they kept their personal belongings during work hours.
Even though their skin touched for less than a fraction of a second, he could feel the trembling of her arm against his. The cheer in her voice didn’t reassure him in the slightest; in fact, it was sugary-sweet and made him shake his head. Even if she was pretending to be okay for appearances’ sake, it wouldn’t do her any good to not allow herself to think about it and she’d likely let it out at an inopportune time.
Ignoring the curious and frightened looks several of the Aurors were shooting him, Snape turned tail and headed towards the storeroom. He nudged the door open a fraction and found her crying silently against the farthest corner of the wall, curled in on herself.
Her puffy, red eyes flitted hurriedly towards him and she attempted to straighten her stance. “I-I was j-ju-ust—” she mumbled, avoiding his eyes as he strode over to her and took her scarred arm gently in his hand.
He traced the harsh slur with a single finger and pulled her against him. “Cry, Hermione, if you must. I won’t allow them to see you in such a state. Do not fret,” he whispered and she stiffened in his arms, her breathing shaky.
And then she leaned into him, crying.
As he said he would, he shielded her tears from hungry eyes of the Aurors.