Where are you?
Near Boris the Bewildered.
I am coming. The Bloody Baron will collect the Headmistress. She may arrive before me.
Hermione made sure the girl had stopped bleeding and pulled her dress down slightly. She tried not to touch her more than that. She couldn’t help but think of the Muggle crime dramas her father had been so fond of and how they always talked about not contaminating the evidence.
It was only a few moments before Professors Snape and McGonagall rounded the corner. She tried not to show the relief that washed over her in his presence. The Headmistress quickly used Mobilicorpus and levitated the girl to the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey set to work on her while the other three stood outside the room. Hermione told them how she found her, skipping the part about mentally calling out to Professor Snape. She was thankful when it went unnoticed.
She could feel her carefully checked emotions beginning to overwhelm her. It was all too much.
“Headmistress? Ma’am, when I got there,” she said, stumbling over her words, “um, her dress was pushed up...and she had bruises...” Her voice trailed off when horrified realization crossed the woman’s face. She stared at Hermione in shock for a moment before she straightened her shoulders and collected herself.
“Then I must join Poppy to take the necessary precautions and evidence. We won’t tell the students until we mount a full investigation. They will be safer at home anyway. Severus, please escort Miss Granger back to her rooms and set extra wards on the dormitories.” She gave her orders in one breath and entered the examining room.
Hermione did not speak nor did she meet his eyes. She simply turned and went down the stairs. Walking in the darkness, tears began silently streaming down her face. By the time they reached her rooms, she was openly crying.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she choked out. “I just...I thought...” she said between sobs. She gave up on speaking out loud and continued in her head as she cried.
All I wanted was one normal year. Just one year of not spending all my time wondering if I’d live to see the end of it. The nightmares had mostly stopped and now this. I just thought it was over.
He surprised her by not saying anything at all but instead pulling her to him. She buried her face in his chest and inhaled the warm spicy scent that she could never seem to get enough of. She only cried for another moment or two, comforted by the safety of his arms. She finally sighed and pulled away from him. She tried to look him in the eye but couldn’t in her embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she whispered. “Thank you for...everything.” She started to go in her room, but turned, finally meeting his gaze. “This isn’t how I planned this evening.” He nodded and waited until her door closed before walking away. He hadn’t said a word to her since she’d called for him.
In a haze, she Accio’ed the pins from her hair, stripped down and got in bed, too exhausted to do anything but pull on a t-shirt. She briefly considered the two very different ways she’d been held by him that night before dropping off to sleep.
The nightmares returned that night.
She hauled herself out of bed after what seemed like only a few minutes. Pulling on the first clothes she found, she quickly made herself presentable and went down to breakfast. Her friends stared at her when she sat, recognizing the haunted look in her eyes.
“Hermione?” Harry said.
“I thought they were gone, love,” Ginny said gently, putting an arm around her.
“I guess it’s a relapse,” she said dismissively, shrugging.
“Mione, maybe you should come home with us after all,” Ron said around a bite of toast.
“Ronald, I don’t think Claire would appreciate me climbing into bed with you in the middle of the night,” she said shaking her head and smiling sadly. “No, I’ll be fine here and I’ll see you all in a week.”
They finished their breakfast with a slightly forced sense of Christmas spirit. Hermione was keenly aware of the absence of the Headmistress, Professor Snape and the girl, whose name she still didn’t know. If she was quiet on the walk to the station to see everyone off, her friends just assumed it was the return of the nightmares that distracted her.
She stood on the platform, waving goodbye to her friends. She was grateful for the time she would have alone—and with Professor Snape—but desperately wished it were under less tense circumstances. She hoped that whomever did it would be gone for the holiday so she could relax.
McGonagall moved down the platform, making sure everything was in order before the train departed. She stopped briefly at Hermione’s side.
“Miss Granger, there’s a staff meeting after lunch to discuss the incident and our course of action.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be there.” She squeezed the girl’s arm reassuringly before moving on. Hermione watched her walk away, pausing to say a few words to Snape who had just appeared. She flushed and looked away when his eyes met hers across the platform.
Morning, sir, she mumbled without thinking. Her eyes flew back to his when she realized they were still connected.
Good morning, Miss Granger. I agree that we should discuss this as soon as possible. Come to my office after the staff meeting.
Yes, sir, she said, trying not to laugh at his exasperated expression when Neville tripped over his own shoes and nearly plowed into him.
“Watch it, Longbottom,” he snarled. “Ten points from Gryffindor for the inability to walk unaided.” He glared in her direction briefly but without any of the coldness his eyes once held for her.
Don’t encourage him, Miss Granger, he said, voice still as soft as ever when speaking to her, though he was still outwardly scowling and berating Neville.
The staff meeting went better than she’d anticipated. Everyone was already aware of the night’s events so she wasn’t forced to relay it again. Mostly, the agenda consisted of safety measures and plans for the students who stayed behind of the holidays. Only a small group remained, just fifteen students and most of the staff. They decided to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew every night and a rule stating that students must stay in groups of at least three at all times.
The girl who’d been attacked, Mallory Brandon, had woken up in the night and had been taken to her parents’ home by Professors McGonagall and Snape that morning, which explained their absence at breakfast. Her parents had been very upset, as expected, but had agreed to let the school carry out its own investigations instead of calling in Aurors immediately. Unfortunately, there was little evidence to go on. The girl couldn’t remember anything after leaving the ball, which suggested that an Obliviate had been used. They also agreed to let Professor Snape attempt to extract any information he could using Legilimency after the holidays, when she’d had a chance to recover. The exam done by Madam Pomfrey had thankfully concluded that she had not been raped, only beaten and kicked. Her assailant left no clues to determine identity or even gender. The consensus was that she had likely turned down a boy’s advances and had then been attacked in anger.
The Headmistress asked her and the Heads of House to have tea after the two hour staff meeting to discuss their individual responsibilities for the holidays. By the time she left, Hermione had forgotten much of what they’d discussed. Professor Flitwick had ideas and plans already laid out that he explained in minute mind-numbing detail. She tried to maintain an interested and engaged air throughout the meeting but found her mind wandering. One could only listen to a debate over whether to use red tinsel or green for so long.
I think I feel my IQ dropping, she mumbled to Snape who seemed as glassy-eyed as she.
Be grateful he’s portkeying out. This normally goes on for days, he said, obviously irritated. Four years ago, he and Albus argued whether the star on the tree in the Great Hall should be silver or gold for a week. A solid, fucking week.
She covered her chuckle with a cough and a sip of her tea. She tried to stay focused on the conversation but her attention often wavered. By the time “tea” was wrapping up, they’d been there close to another two hours and she could hardly think.
Sir, do you mind if we meet tomorrow? We’ve been here for four hours and I think I’m going to start screaming soon.
Understandable, Miss Granger. After breakfast then?
Thank you sir.
As she finally made her way back to her rooms after dinner, she couldn’t help but marvel over how much had changed since just the day before. She had a found a poor girl on the floor, shattering her hope of a quiet year. It weighed heavily on her mind, and yet the progress she’d made with Snape made staying at the castle worth her while. They’d shared a connection for only about thirty-two hours so far, but seemed completely comfortable in it. He’d held her while she cried and had spoken to her as equals. Meanwhile, he’d also yelled at Neville for tripping and taken points from a Hufflepuff for kissing her boyfriend goodbye. The juxtaposition of his personal and professional sides made her head spin. She was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted; she went to bed early, thinking of him.
And still the nightmares came.
Before going down to breakfast, she made sure to use all the glamour charms she’d learned over the summer to hide the effects of the nightmares. She’d gotten proficient enough at them that only her best friends had known how often she’d had them. Other than the ghost of them in her eyes, there were the occasional nights she’d left her room to sleep with Ron. She didn’t want to be held since comfort was of no help. She just needed to not be alone.
Since there were so few students, they all sat together at a table perpendicular to the Head Table. She ate her breakfast in silence, reading a Muggle novel. Her mother had instilled an appreciation for the classics early on. On the rare occasion that she read something non-academic, she usually chose one of her old standbys.
What are you reading?
Emma, she answered absently. She’d gotten so used to him in her head that she didn’t immediately note that they were still connected, now four times longer than planned.
Ahh. A little Christmas Austen, Miss Granger?
Yes, sir. It’s one of my favorites.
“Miss Granger,” he said sharply as he passed by her. She jumped a little at the volume of his voice. “As soon as you can be torn away from whatever rubbish you are reading, come to my office. I’ve decided to use your infinite marking skills after all.” Without waiting for a reply, he stormed from the Great Hall. She was still unused to the duality of their relationship and was left staring after him.
I always rather preferred Pride and Prejudice, he said, continuing their conversation as though he hadn’t just yelled at her in front of everyone.
You like Mr. Darcy? How shocking, she muttered, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She shook her head at his answering snort and gathered her things. She ignored the sympathetic looks from both tables and left with her head held high.
By the time she reached the dungeons, her irritation had mostly dissipated. Instead, she went into full analysis mode. She entered the lab and began speaking to him as though already in the middle of a debate.
“It must be an interaction with the ingredients,” she said, not acknowledging his raised brow. “How much of what exactly did you add after the last test?” They spent the next half hour making a list of the amounts of each ingredient used. They did not discuss their exchange at breakfast. They didn’t need to. She knew he had to keep up appearances with the students. She also knew that it was not appropriate to have such an intimate mental connection with one of said students and, therefore, the other professors probably shouldn’t have been made aware of it. She didn’t care though. She was enjoying this secret side of him that only she got to see.
She took the list of ingredients and began researching during the week before she left for the Burrow. They must have missed something when choosing the original formula. She planned on spending any free time—that wasn’t filled with Christmas frippery—in the library looking for unusual interactions and/or rare side effects.
Unfortunately, most of her time was filled with Christmas nonsense. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the holiday or her duties. She simply had better things to do. She didn’t like missing things or being wrong, even when being wrong had allowed the connection between them. She began to relax, however, when she realized that rushing to an answer also meant rushing to end it. After that, she enjoyed the festivities much more and even came up with a few activities herself to further her new found procrastination.
As the week wore on, she noticed Severus attending more of the events. The other Professors’ reactions to this implied that it was not the norm. She got no small amount of satisfaction in assuming it was because of her. She had no proof, of course, but chose to believe it nevertheless. She was also pleased when he began “thinking at her” more conversationally. Sometimes mentioning something he’d read or some foolish thing one of the students—and often Professors—had said or done.
Outwardly, their relationship had not changed, nor had his snarky behavior. Inwardly, she was falling deeper and deeper in love with the so very complicated man.