"But one surely does express attraction that way..." she said, blushing again.
He gave another derisive snort. "Your speech about respect, gratitude and admiration was relatively convincing. But I hope you don't expect me to believe that you find yourself attracted to me! I'm twice your age, girl, and surely not a man that turns heads."
Severus had no illusions about his appearance. He was by no one's standard a handsome man. His nose was too big and slightly crooked, his hair fine and prone to get oily. Contrary to rumors, he did place value on personal hygiene and found his daily showers not only necessary, but relaxing. There was just no point in taking them before spending hours over steaming cauldrons with often rather smelly ingredients. He was also fastidious about his teeth and brushed them regularly. But there was only so much his selfmade toothpaste could do - especially since he drank too much coffee and often enjoyed a glass of red wine in the evening. He could probably try and find a supplement for the essence of chamomile in the recipe, which was great for his gums, but probably only added to the problem of staining. At least, now he had the time to invest in luxury problems like that.
He was rather proud though, that despite his almost 40 years, he hadn't developed a paunch. True, he wasn't overly muscular or even athletic, but neither was he as lanky and thin as he used to be as a teenager. His skin had always been too pale and too sallow due to stress and too much time spent inside, and the lines etched in his face were more pronounced than could be justified by age alone.
But he knew very well that attraction - especially sexual attraction - was never based solely on looks. If it were, very few people would get to procreate. There were other things women found alluring, such as intelligence, humour and a strong personality.
Well, he did have a sense of humour, but unfortunately, it was dry and often sarcastic, and his quick wit came with a heartfelt disregard for stupidity. His remarks were often straight to the point, biting and cutting, often downright mean. His tongue was every bit as feared as his wand, a weapon honed to perfection, and it could inflict just as much damage. When it was well-deserved, a small and probably slightly sadistic part in him relished being able to deliver instant punishment without even raising his voice, his hand, or his wand. He could always count on that talent, which gave him a feeling of security. He was never without defences, like he had been when he was younger. But that didn't really make him a nice person, and it certainly didn't make up for his physical deficiencies.
"I'm reasonably sure it is not my charming personality or my friendly disposition that has attracted you, either," he voiced his thoughts on the matter.
She laughed at that. "Friendly? Definitely not! Sarcastic, scornful, even cruel at times. But not without a certain appeal..."
Here it was – she had to lay it all on the table now. After all, that was what she had come for. To tell him the truth. To tell him what she wanted him to know. Even if he would use it to shred her to bits afterwards with his cutting tongue and leave her bleeding on the floor.
She took a deep breath and started her eulogy, which, admittedly, she had recited in her mind often enough that the words came flowing like a river: "You're witty, quick with your words, and possess a wicked kind of humour that I like – when I don't find myself on the receiving end of it, that is. I probably don't even need to tell you about your voice, which it like liquid velvet, even when you use it to insult or intimidate. I also have a special fascination with your movements... The way you stalk the hallways with your billowing robes and dramatic flair, the way you move your hands when you're preparing potion ingredients – you're always lithe, graceful and efficient. Like when you cut Lockhart down to size in that duel... I guess that was the first time I realised what a powerful wizard you are. You have a very commanding presence, an intensity about you that either drives people away or draws them in. All that makes you very attractive. Maybe not classically handsome in the head-turning kind of way. But definitely in the way of tall, dark and dangerous."
She saw his eyebrow rise in a manner that indicated disbelief and annoyance, though she had no idea what might have evoked the latter.
Little did she know that his Death Eater persona had more than once prompted a hormone-driven teenage witch who doubtlessly had read too many dark romance novels to think herself in love with him. He had been the youngest professor Hogwarts had ever seen, given that he had gained his mastery under the tutelage of the Dark Lord in record time. When he had started teaching, he had been barely a few years older than his seventh year students. Back then, before constant stress and anxiety had worn him down, his appearance had been more pleasing, too.
He had rejected all these advances, be they subtle attempts at flirting or blatant indecent proposals, and he had never deluded himself into thinking that there had been no ulterior motive behind it. But the model student who was looking at him now, flustered and with a slight blush on her face, surely didn't need to push her grades.
"Is that the appeal you find in me, Miss Granger?" he asked snidely. "Death Eater and spy, a powerful wizard knowledgeable in the Dark Arts?" He was fully aware that he held some kind of allure for a particular kind of woman. Women who were attracted to his dark side, who found some kind of twisted thrill in being treated in bed just like he treated people outside of it. It wasn't gentleness, tenderness or compassion they were looking for.
With women who weren't students, he had indulged himself and taken advantage of their fascination while it lasted, as it seemed the only thing he had to offer. But it was just another role he had played, and sometimes, he had been disgusted with himself because of it. To think that she might be one of those women sickened him.
"Are you hoping to tame the beast – a man with a black soul who has committed more depravities than you can imagine?" he asked in a low and velvety, yet menacing voice, as if to give her a taste of this thrilling mixture of sensuality and danger. "Is it this darkness in me that draws you in? Or is it the idea of courting danger that thrills you?"
"No!" she protested too quickly, before averting her eyes and relenting: "Or maybe yes, a bit." She bit her lip, embarrassed. "What you call your darkness might be a part of the attraction, I won't deny that, but..." She was desperately trying to find the right words to make him understand, to show him what she saw when she looked at him. It obviously wasn't what he saw in himself. He didn't seem to like himself very much, despite all his accomplishments, his power and the image of strength he projected. She could sense self-doubt beneath it, and it made her heart go out to him.
"You do a very good job of not letting anybody see that you're human underneath your spiky defences. And despite my attraction, I often find myself intimidated by you, so I can't completely distinguish between your Death Eater persona and the man I know is also hidden beneath. Just by being in a position of authority over me, you have the power to make my life difficult and cause me discomfort. And since I – as you obviously noted – find myself longing for your approval, you also have the power to hurt me. But I would trust you with my life, anytime."
Before she could think about her spontaneous gesture, she reached out and covered his hand, which lay on the desk in front of him, with hers. He instantly tensed, and for a moment, she thought he would pull it away. But he didn't, though his gaze remained slightly alarmed and wary.
"You're a good man, Professor, I know that you are," she said with heartfelt sincerity. "You've proven it time and time again. I would never find myself attracted to you if you were a man like Lucius Malfoy. He's dark at heart."
"So am I. Don't delude yourself."
"No." She shook her head with utter conviction. "The darkness that surrounds you is not the darkness of evil."
"Are you trying your hand at muggle psychology now? What do you know about my heart?" He took his hand away and folded his arms in front of his chest, his armour firmly back in place. "But, pray, enlighten me! What is your theory about my darkness?"
His defensiveness silenced her for a moment. She had intruded way too far into his personal space, and it was easy to see that he was not at all comfortable with it. "I'm not sure I should voice my thoughts on this," she said hesitatingly. "You're right, it's preposterous."
"No, Miss Granger, I insist. I believe I should know who you think this person is that you want to kiss you."
"Well, then... I think your darkness is born out of sadness, of grief, guilt and loneliness. You loved Harry's mum, and you lost her, twice; the first time when you lost her friendship, and a second time when she died after you had gained it back. It's obvious that you feel guilty about that, though it's equally obvious that you don't bear lone responsibility for this loss."
"Believe me, Miss Granger, I am fully aware of my failings and my shortcomings. I called her a Mudblood. I joined ranks with people who thought she was worth no more than the dirt beneath their feet. I unknowingly assisted the Dark Lord in killing her by giving him a part of the prophesy. And I wasn't able to prevent her murder."
Hermione shook her head. "You spoke rashly in hurt and anger, as we all do every now and then," she said gently, but insistingly. "And you apologised for it. Yet she chose not to forgive you. That was her responsibility. Yes, you joined the Death Eaters, and that was a mistake, but you turned back to the Light and fought them from within. You didn't know that the prophesy referred to her unborn son. It was Pettigrew who sold the Potters out, not you. I imagine you easily take responsibility for occurrences that you are only partly – if at all – to blame for. You're a most unforgiving man with your students, Professor. It's easy to assume that you're equally unforgiving with yourself."
Though he took care not to show it, he was rather impressed. Her characterization had hit the mark. For a girl so young, she had gained a rather astonishing, if not downright frightening insight into his psyche.
"You seem to have given my actions and my possible motivations a lot of thought..." he commented, taking another sip from his cup and pondering the enigma that was Hermione Granger. She must have studied him for a long while to draw these conclusions. Since when? And most importantly – why?
"Yes. I guess that's what having a crush commonly entails..."
He almost choked on his tea. Now here was a sobering idea. "A crush, Miss Granger? Have I somehow come to replace Mr. Lockhart in your desires?"
She blushed again, more profoundly this time. "Don't remind me! And please don't put yourself into the same category as him."
"You just did that by implying that you had a crush on me," he pointed out, not really flattered by what she had probably meant as a compliment. A crush was nothing but an infatuation with a person one didn't really know. It was childish and immature.
"Well, not a crush, then," she conceded. "I can't believe I ever was so silly as to have a thing for Lockhart. Such a fraud!"
"Not many would find an attraction to me any more reasonable. Quite the contrary, in fact." There were a lot of objections people could rightfully raise about him, but no one could accuse him of holding illusions about himself.
Hermione knew that he had a point there. Some of her friends would doubtlessly question her sanity if she confessed her rather complicated feelings for their supposedly cold, mean and angry Potions Professor. But he had changed after the war, and she wasn't the only one who had noticed. Yes, he was still snarky and the strictest teacher at Hogwarts, who disciplined his class with harsh criticism, sarcasm and an exaggerated deduction of house points. But ever since the war, insults were dished out equally among all houses and had lost at least some of their sting. In fact, Hermione often found them quite witty. All in all, his attitude seemed to be born out of habit rather than a reaction to stress, anger and tension.
With the fall of Voldemort, a heavy burden must have been lifted off his shoulders. He was finally a free man, no longer bound by the vows he had taken, the Dark Mark that had controlled him, or the guilt he had carried for far too long. His name was cleared and an order of Merlin had swayed public opinion in his favour. He was free to live his new life however he pleased. The extensive healing he had undergone to counter the after-effects of Nagini's poison seemed to have cured more than the most pressing damage. He looked healthier than before – obviously, the long convalescence had done him a world of good. Hermione suspected that it had been the first decent rest he'd gotten in years.
All effects combined had eased out the lines of tension and worry in his face and left him looking years younger. His new hairstyle only added to that impression. Rumour had it that, initially, he had lost all his hair due to the treatment. Whether that was true or if he had just gotten it cut, his hair was much shorter now and not lanky anymore. In fact, the 'new Snape' very much reminded Hermione of the Muggle actor who had played the part of Mr. Darcy in one of the Jane Austen movie adaptions. He also reminded her of aloof Mr. Darcy himself, which was an added bonus. He still had that genteel paleness, too, probably from spending too much time in the dungeons. But it went well with his ebony hair and eyes, and even his nose, literally his most outstanding feature, just added character to his face.
"I believe you're selling yourself short, Professor. So what if someone is not conventionally pretty? They might still have hidden assets." She frowned, and the tone of her voice carried resentment and defiance when she added: "I hate that people dictate how to dress or how style our hair, and who and what to like or to dislike. If you're not in line, people frown upon you and treat you as social pariah. They judge every book by the cover and don't even bother to see what's really inside. What's wrong with preferring a book or a decent discussion over snogging in the hallways?"
He arched an eyebrow. "You have me confused, Miss Granger. Are we still talking about me, here?"
A fleeting smile crossed her face envisioning her prim Potions Professor caught 'snogging in the hallways'. Not that she had ever had troubles imagining him in the throes of passion... she just strongly suspected that the term 'snogging' wouldn't apply, and that, sure as hell, it wouldn't be in the hallways. Not with a man who considered smiling in public nothing short of indecent.
"Well, probably not exclusively. We're kind of in the same boat here, I guess. People base their assumptions on surface impressions and use those to sort us into neat little boxes. Yours reads 'git', mine simply reads 'bookworm'. They think me too logical, too brainy, too uptight to be anything else."
"Like what?" he inquired, wondering if she wasn't doing people injustice. There were far more adjectives that came to his mind to describe her.
"Like emotional, passionate, desirable."
Yes, those probably, too.
With any other girl he would have believed that she was fishing for compliments. But not Hermione Granger. She had never struck him as particularly vain, but rather cognizant of the fact that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Not that she wasn't beautiful in her own way. She had turned into a remarkably attractive young woman with her wild hair and warm eyes. Surely she must know that boys of her age were intimidated by her intellect and her maturity and were simply protecting their self-esteem by feigning disinterest for the most ridiculous reasons. Yet he could sense hurt and bitterness in her explanation, which made him wonder...
"Is that the reason why you pledged that you would ask for a kiss? Are you doubting that men would find you... kissable?"
He couldn't believe that he had used that word, even less voiced it aloud. But he still wanted to get to the heart of the matter and find out if her insecurities ran deeper than he had thought.
Well, no." She blushed deeply. "It's not that I've never been kissed, Professor." God, to have him think she was hoping for a pity kiss! "It's just that – well, given previous experimentation in the field, people's assumptions about me might be right after all, and those concerns were probably on my mind."
Telling the man whom she wanted to kiss her that she might be frigid was probably not the best approach. Unless he had some sort of hero complex, which certainly wasn't the case with him. Nor was he a hormonally driven teenager who felt the constant need to prove his sexual prowess. Despite the awkwardness, she hadn't hesitated to answer his question truthfully. She had been nothing but truthful with him, and she intended to keep it that way.
He felt an equal measure of relief and astonishment. "Why? Because Mr. Weasley's efforts failed to ignite passion in you?"
He snorted disdainfully. "He is an immature, adolescent boy whose brain, in this phase of his development into whatever the final outcome might be, is lamentably smaller than his libido. It's a quite common ailment at that age, I'm afraid. What I don't understand is why you would take the blame for his obvious shortcomings."
"Well, for one, Lavender never complained..."
Miss Brown – indeed! Here was another breathing example of the fact that brain and other bodily functions didn't always develop at the same rate, and unfortunately, in some cases, never reached the same level of maturity. He didn't hold much hope for Miss Brown in that respect. "Do I really need to comment on that, Miss Granger? Let's just say that she and Mr. Weasley are a perfect match. You, however, were never a match for him."
She gave him a tentative smile. "Given that you've never tried to hide your rather low opinion of Ron, I probably shouldn't take that as an insult to my person."
His gaze was reprimanding. "Don't be ridiculous! Mr. Weasley is a dunderhead. He wouldn't be able to recognise your hidden assets if they hit him in the face."
Hermione's mouth locked in a silent 'oh' for a moment. Twisted as it had been – she was pretty sure that Severus Snape had just paid her a really nice compliment. She only wished she knew what he thought those hidden assets to be...
"Just for the sake of this analysis: Was this – experimentation – with Mr. Weasley the only basis for your assumption, Miss Granger?"
Again, she was struggling to hide her surprise. Her Potions Professor was not-so-subtly inquiring about her sexual experience. Maybe there was hope yet...
"Well, there was this moment with Viktor Krum in my fourth year," she freely admitted, "but I'm not sure if that counts."
"Why wouldn't it?"
"Because I hadn't been at all attracted to him in the first place. I merely wished to prove to Ron that I was, in fact, a girl, and let him know that other people had taken notice."
"I see," he answered, all the more convinced that Weasley was an idiot. As if hadn't been clear that she was female even before she had dressed to the nines so the fact could punch everybody in the eye. "But surely you are aware that it's neither sound nor scientific to postulate any theory on the basis of one or two experiments..."
"I know. Which is another reason why I pledged that, if I survived the war, I would ask you to kiss me."
It didn't make any sense. "Why me – the very person you believe to suffer from the same affliction?" he asked. He was aware that people thought of him as cold and unfeeling, and why shouldn't they? He had become quite proficient in shoving unwanted emotions into some far corner of his mind and hiding them behind the walls of his Occlumency. Showing emotions was a sure way to get into dire straits.
"I never thought you incapable of passion!" Hermione protested. "It's just what most students did. I always believed them to be wrong."
"Again – based on what facts, Miss Granger?"
"Because you have so much passion in you – it's blatantly obvious!" the unfathomable girl declared. "Your passion for potion-making, for instance. I find myself mesmerised just listening to you lecturing on the subject and by watching you brew."
"That is hardly the same thing."
"Yes it is! It's about dedication, doing something you obviously love doing, about putting care, thought and effort into it and allowing it to 'bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses' as you so eloquently put it in our first potion lesson."
"Well, in that case you have nothing to be concerned about, because your love for books and acquiring knowledge seems to be the very same thing. Maybe you would have managed to limit your essays to the required inches of parchment if you hadn't poured quite that much passion into your assignments."
She couldn't be sure, but she thought she detected a trace of amusement in his expression. But he definitely had a point there. She had obviously mistaken enthusiasm for passion.
"You're right," she agreed. "It probably is a different kind of passion. But take your love for Lily..."
"It wasn't the passionate kind of love," he interrupted. "I assumed we had already established that."
"Nevertheless, it was devotion. A man without passion couldn't possibly have given so much of himself, could not have made so many sacrifices and could not have found his life's purpose in such commitment to another person."
"Have you not committed yourself just as much to Potter? Have you not made sacrifices for which you paid dearly? How is your devotion to your friend any different? We never really got anything in return, though, not even a 'thank you', which makes me wonder if we should call it devotion, passion or rather idiocy."
"It was the right thing to do!" she objected vehemently. "And contrary to what you believe, Harry did thank me for it. He gave me his friendship in return. He would have died to save me in Malfoy Manor, if he'd been given the chance, and so would I! He has earned my loyalty and devotion a thousand times over!"
"You feel quite passionate about that, don't you?" he asked, smirking now.
"I do..." she said, astonished. She had never looked at it that way before. A slow understanding smile spread across her face. "Thank you!"
"Whatever for?" he asked, feigning ignorance. "I'm merely indulging you in your wish to discuss passion and take pleasure in rebutting your arguments." He couldn't seriously be trying to boost the self-esteem of a Gryffindor! Granted, it was late and he was feeling a bit mellow after having had his own ego stroked in a hitherto unprecedented way... but he didn't coddle his students, ever. Nor did he care about other people's insecurities. He had enough of his own.
"No." She smiled that soft smile again, that somehow seemed to touch and melt something within him. "You are doing what you often do: Being secretly nice and hoping that nobody takes notice."
Her most hated Professor was not as successful in this endeavour as he probably thought he was. She had noticed. Despite all his cruel remarks and all the point taking – the potion marks everybody got at then end of the year were always strict, but fair. And no matter how many points he unjustly deducted from Gryffindor in his lessons – somehow, those losses were miraculously regained within the day.
Again, nobody seemed to take notice of this. But she had become suspicious, and thus had carefully observed and kept charts of the house points for the duration of an entire month. And had realised that Gryffindor's most outrageous losses – like those deducted for sneezing or answering a question too elaborately – somehow failed to materialise in the hourglass. Snape must have secretely awarded house points to replace some of those he had nastily taken beforehand. Sure, he was still biased and favoured his own house – but not more so than any other teacher.
"And you think that kissing you could fall into the same pattern of rather pathologic behaviour?" he asked. In this case, his 'secretly being nice' demanded a whole lot of discretion. He needed to trust that she would keep her mouth shut – well, not during the kissing, but afterwards. He shook his head in an effort to clear his mind. What was he thinking? She had stirred so many things up from the bottom that the waters were getting murky – the idea of kissing her suddenly didn't seem quite as ridiculous as it had been when she had proposed it to him in the first place. Looking at her now, as she was biting her lower lip nervously, he realised that he even found it appealing.
"I would surely hope so, but..." She sighed. "I guess it doesn't matter that much. As I said, it wasn't so much about the kissing as about having this conversation with you: telling you how I feel about you, thanking you for all you have done for us, asking forgiveness for having failed you. And I hope that you won't think any less of me now that you know..." She broke off, determination being replaced by insecurity once again.
"I don't, Miss Granger."
She let out a relieved breath and visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Sir. I know that you always disliked me, but I dreaded to think that after this..."
He frowned. "I do not dislike you, nor did I ever. Why would you think that?"
The girl gave him a look of surprise. "Well, it's certainly no secret that you hold little regard for Gryffindors in general and for friends of Harry Potter in particular... and don't tell me that was just for show, because I won't believe it."
His smirk, for once, was without malice. "True. I have a tendency to hold grudges. And because of those, I never liked Harry Potter. However, I never judged you guilty by association. You managed to annoy me just by your own efforts."
There was no real bite in his comment, either, and Hermione thought he might even be hiding mild amusement. "Was it the incessant hand-waving, the overlong essays, or the regurgitating of things I read in a book that you found most off-putting? Or maybe my pointless efforts to prove myself to you? Unless it was simply me being an insufferable know-it-all..."
"A little bit of all the above," he echoed her words from earlier. "Except for being a know-it-all."
That had her confused. "Why insult me like that, then?"
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Whoever said it was meant to be an insult?"
Alan Rickman unfortunately never played the part of Mr. Darcy. (What a pity - wouldn't that have been great?) But he was a brilliant Colonal Brandon in 'Sense and Sensibility'. 'My' Severus looks a lot like a dark-haired version of him. :)