The next day would have been miserable if not for the excitement of Hermione's impending “detention” with Snape. She’d overslept and missed breakfast. Thankfully, Harry brought an apple to Transfiguration for her. Even so, by the time she made it through two more classes, she was famished. She ate, lost in thought, as the others talked around her. She made a mental list of things they might need in the forest.
“Hey, Mione, a bunch of us her going to watch the meteor shower in the Astronomy tower tonight. Wanna come?” Ron asked between bites.
“I can’t,” she said slowly, deciding how much to share. A half-truth. “I have detention with Snape.” All eyes at the table shifted to her.
“For what?” Neville asked.
“Being out past curfew. He caught me after I left the library.”
“But you’re Head Girl! You don’t have curfew!” Neville was almost shouting in his outrage.
“It’s fine, Neville. Don’t get too worked up about it. He’ll probably just let me work on my Potions project and I could really use the extra time in the lab.” He didn’t say anything else but shot dirty looks at the Head Table for the rest of lunch. Hermione gave Snape one apologetic glace as she rose to leave with Harry, Ron and Ginny.
“Are you sure that’s all that happened?” Harry asked incredulously.
“Actually, there is more, but I didn’t want to say it in front of everyone.” Distract from the truth with more truth. She told them her suspicions that someone was there without using too much of their actual conversation. A girl must still have some secrets. She couldn’t bear to tell them about her feelings yet. Not when it didn’t matter anyway. They wouldn’t understand; deep down, they still hated him.
In the end, they’d found the incident odd, but weren’t concerned, so she dropped it.
The day improved slightly after lunch, but the end of the day couldn’t come fast enough. Though she’d been in the Forbidden Forest before, none of the trips had ended particularly well. Between dead unicorns, centaurs, Grawp and even Draco’s incident with the Buckbeak, she hadn’t had the best of luck. She hoped this time would be different. While she wasn’t concerned about her actual safety, the last thing she needed was to injure or embarrass herself in front of Snape...again.
The day dragged on at a snail’s pace. Potions went no differently than any other day. She wondered if he would even acknowledge her or her detention. She was both relieved and disappointed when he didn’t even look in her direction.
He did, however, stop at the Gryffindor table at dinner. She had felt him behind her so she didn’t jump at the unexpected sound of his voice. The others at her table did not fare as well. Most of them were trying to covertly watch the exchange in front of them.
“Miss Granger, I trust that you have not forgotten your detention this evening.”
“No sir, I have not," she said, turning to look up at him and immediately regretting the decision.
“Good then. Dress warmly and meet me in the front hall at 8 p.m. You’ll be assisting with the gathering of plants from the Forbidden Forest.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, trying desperately not to look at his crotch, which was awkwardly at eye level. From the slight glint in his eye, he had likely noticed her internal struggle.
Oh God. I want to die. I absolutely want to die. She was still looking into his eyes when she thought it and mentally kicked herself when he raised an eyebrow. She knew from working with him that sometimes her errant thoughts strayed into his mind when she was looking at him. He’d said she had loud thoughts just like her loud mouth and told her to stop projecting so much. Which normally she did. Normally.
His only reply was the smallest of nods as he strode away. She quickly glanced around, but everyone intently studied their plates until he was out of earshot.
“See, not so bad,” she said to Neville, whose face had resumed its state of righteous indignation where Snape was involved. “You know I enjoy collecting samples. I’ll be fine.” She patted his hand as though comforting a small child. “I might even get to see some of the meteor shower on the walk back.” She could feel how forced and bright her voice sounded and wondered of anyone else caught it. No one seemed to notice so she continued eating in silence.
A glance down the table, however, was met with Ginny’s suspicious gaze.
Bundled in her cloak, Hermione met him near the doors at precisely 8 p.m. Neither spoke as they set off from the castle in the darkness. She shook her head and rolled her eyes at the memory of her earlier gaffe, hoping he wouldn’t bring it up. She sighed softly as they entered the woods, knowing he’d be more guarded now.
He seemed to know where he was going and led her deeper into the darkened forest. To be harvested correctly, salvia had to be procured in the darkness of a new moon with no direct human contact. She had leather gloves in her pocket along with a leather bag for storage. They hadn’t spoken before about what to bring, but she was nothing if not prepared.
About ten minutes after entering the forest, they came to a clearing dotted with white and purple flowers. There was only small window of time when the flowers were “ripe” for picking. They would have to wait. She turned to him, a questioned poised on her lips, to find he’d already transfigured two tree stumps into comfortable looking chairs, sitting a few feet apart, facing the clearing.
“Thank you, sir.” They sat quietly for a few moments before she spoke. “Did you find anything of interest in your research last weekend, sir?”
“I have some ideas on how to extend the effects of the potion for prolonged battles.”
“Oh good, sir. You certainly picked a good weekend to leave. Saturday night was a mess. I was up most of the night with the Headmistress and Madam Pomfrey trying to undo all the pranks and hexes.”
“It was not a coincidence,” he said. “I am not fond of Halloween.” He stared straight ahead, face hidden in shadow.
Realization dawned upon her, tightening her chest. Halloween. The day Harry faced Voldemort as a baby. The day Lily died.
“Sir, I am so sorry. I wasn’t thinking--” she stammered.
“Miss Granger, please rein in your unnecessary pity for me and my past,” he said. His voice was low, but with a hardness that wasn’t there a moment ago.
“Sir, I do not pity you. I just...don’t want you to hurt.” She regretted the statement when he closed his eyes and huffed out a breath before answering.
“Miss Granger, contrary to popular belief, some things do, in fact, change. Not that it is any of your business,” he added. He was quiet for a moment before continuing, “Almost dying does tend to put things into perspective.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, hope soaring though she tried to quell it.
They sat in silence until the salvia was ready. When the petals began glowing bright white, they got up. He stepped close enough to see her and started to hand her leather gloves. She could just make out his half smile when he saw she already had her own. They set about collecting the furry white plants as quickly as possible. When they each had a full bag, they met back at the chairs.
“Ready, Miss Granger?” His voice in the darkness made her shiver. She pulled her cloak tighter around her body.
“Yes, sir,” she answered, changing the chairs back into trees.
As they crossed the clearing, Hermione looked up to see that the meteor shower had begun. Distracted, she tripped over a fallen branch. Before she even registered that she was falling, she felt his hand steadying her. His fingers were surprisingly warm on her wrist in the cool night.
“Thank you, sir,” she whispered, still looking up. She couldn’t seem to look away. She felt him tip his head back to watch as well. She smiled as the tiny lights raced across the sky. His hand was still on her wrist. Gathering every bit of courage she had, she turned her hand to lace her fingers with his. He stiffened briefly, but didn’t pull away.
They stood with faces upturned and hands joined, watching the sky fall. She could hardly breathe with the perfection of the moment.
When the night sky regained its normal composition, his hand left hers. It moved to her back, nudging her forward gently.
“Come, Miss Granger,” he said quietly, dropping his hand back to his side. Her sense of loss was immediate. She edged out of the clearing, careful not to trip again and infinitely grateful for the gift of those few moments.
They walked in silence back to the castle, parting ways in the front hall. She turned to look at him once more.
“Good night, Professor,” she said, with a small smile.
“Good night, Miss Granger,” he returned, with a nod and his half smile.