When they broke apart moments later, she felt something inside of her shift. Despite how he'd hurt her in the beginning, she couldn't help but notice how strong and protective he was. Instead of mocking her fears and belittling her, he blocked out the unwanted eyes and allowed her to cry.
He was resolute in keeping her safe, it seemed, and she couldn't help the rush of gratitude that reared its head. A fresh flood of tears stung her eyes, this time in appreciation and overall emotion.
“Not done yet,” he murmured, reaching to pull her into his embrace again, and she stepped away.
“I-I'm...okay.” At the flat, disbelieving look he shot her, she continued, wiping the few tears that had managed to drip out of her eyes, “Really, Severus, I'm okay. A bit scared, yes, but I'll be fine.”
A light rap on the door made him turn away, but she could've sworn she saw the softness of relief and understanding dawn across his thin features.
“Dad says he's on his way with some surveillance cameras.”
At the sound of Ron's voice, Hermione straightened her back, squared her shoulders, and hurriedly wiped at her face with the sleeve of her cardigan. And then she turned, facing them.
Something akin to surprise brightened Snape's black eyes, making them appear a very dark brown instead. “Miss Granger?” he ventured almost apprehensively, as though he was expecting her to fall to pieces again.
“I'm fine.” With a smile that felt more genuine with the ticking minutes, she brushed past them and trotted into the throng of Aurors and worried friends. As she passed, just inside the doorway, something touched the back of her shirt ever-so-slightly, but when she turned, Snape was still standing there, watching her closely, and Ron was inspecting the corners of the office as though they were very interesting.
The next few hours were grueling; once the Aurors had swept the area and bagged the evidence, she and Snape were asked to come down to the Ministry for questioning by some higher-ups.
“Have you ever been questioned?” she asked as she folded her heavier jacket over her arm. She was busily chewing a hangnail as she spoke, her eyes scanning, trying to see past the sea of taller people.
Two Aurors that didn't speak to either of them flanked the door, their impassive expressions betraying no emotion.
Snape pulled on his coat, adjusting the sleeves accordingly. “Once or twice,” he admitted almost absently, his face stark-white as his eyes grew hazy.
“After the war, right, sir?” she guessed, watching the transformation that overtook his normally bleak features.
She'd followed the news religiously, devouring any information she could get her hands on, during his trial, after Dumbledore resurfaced after the war just as Snape had been tried for his apparent war crimes. They'd shown the final session live on every telly, and she had watched, riveted. As if drawn by a magnet, her eyes had sought the familiar, railing-thin figure, unlike anything she'd ever seen him as—hunched over, his arms hanging limply in front of him, his face angled to the ground.
Present-day Snape turned to her suddenly, causing her to step back in surprise. His eyes stared down at her, unwavering and unnerving. “You watched the trial, I presume?”
When she nodded, a tiny corner of his mouth lifted up. “Why does that not surprise me?” he mused as he turned and fluidly walked to the door.
She hurried after him and the unexpected drop in temperature outside once she pushed open the apothecary's heavy door made her yank on her coat quickly. “It's freezing,” she stated.
“Yes, it is.”
The four of them walked briskly towards the street corner, the Aurors tailing them a bit closer than Hermione liked, and then they stopped.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione closed her eyes and felt Snape's warm hand on her shoulder as she concentrated. With a gut-wrenching tug deep in her stomach, they Apparated.
The sensation of Apparating never got old. She never grew sick of the feeling of being squeezed too tightly in a tube, the pull in her navel, the rush of dizziness that whipped through her as her feet touched the wet cobblestone.
Shaking off the wisps of her dizziness, she straightened up and brushed down her coat.
“This way,” said the shorter Auror and began to climb the steps to the Ministry without allowing Snape and Hermione to gather their wits, forcing them to follow quickly behind.
“What do you think they'll ask us?” Hermione found herself asking quietly. “Because I know Harry went during our fifth year and he said it was awful. They wouldn't let him get a word in edgewise, and they questioned his Squib neighbor, thinking her incompetent. Why didn't they just—sir?”
Snape hadn't said a word and had been walking quietly beside her but now he stopped, his nostrils flaring as something drew his attention. The Aurors, too, paused in stride.
She couldn't see anyone. “Sir, we should keep moving. Musn't keep the Ministry waiting.” When she touched his arm, he didn't seem to see her at all, his eyes locked on someone she couldn't see no matter how hard she searched and squinted.
“Severus!” cried a high, breathless voice and Hermione watched as a figure broke away from the front throng of people. A flash of white-blonde as the figure drew nearer.
Hermione's stomach twisted unpleasantly, not with jealousy, but with fear. Icy torrents of unease and panic lashed at her, leaving her breathless and quivering. Her hands shook as bile rose in her throat, hot and sour. Her eyes brimmed as the figure paused, picked up her voluminous skirt, and then continued.
Snape was watching the woman approach with quiet intensity, his jaw tight and his body tense. He was a far cry from the blanched figure she'd seen on screen, tired and meek as the Wizengamot trial; now, he stood tall and sturdy, possessing a fierce, controlled air about him.
The woman who'd called to them was right in front of them, face-to-face with Snape.
“It's so good to see you, Severus,” Narcissa Malfoy said with a delicate smile, her hard eyes fixed steadfastly on his face.
Justwhat Hermione needed—the sister of the woman hellbent on destroying her.