This is a sequel to 'A Kiss for the Netherfairies'. You might be able to read this story without having read it first, but if you do, some things will probably not make sense.
In a nutshell, this is what happened previously: Hermione has to fulfil a vow she made during the Trio's search for Horcruxes, which leads to a very lengthy talk between her and the Potions Master. During that – in parts very emotional – discussion about previous events and motivations that led to them, important secrets are revealed with regard to Severus' role in the war and his relationship to Harry and Hermione. Hermione confesses her longstanding attraction to him, and in the course of the evening, they discover that there might be more to their relationship than they both had thought possible.
Though the sequel is less of a chamber play and has a little bit more 'action', you will once again find Hermione and Severus in lengthy discussions... about how Hermione managed to obliviate her parents and what became of them, the fine and subtle art of Occlumency and Legilimency, what's really behind the pureblood ideology and what the Hogwarts librarian has to do with it. Furthermore, those discussions reveal how Draco feels about Harry and Hermione now, how Harry's relationship with Snape develops and the concern Luna has for many Hogwarts inhabitants, who are suffering a severe outbreak of Gloomilows. You will also learn about Bluedrags, Whotnits, and Weapknats and the truth behind Lemon Sherbets.
This is intended to be an emotional character study and slowly developing love story.
The Incident in the Hallway
Friday evenings at Hogwarts were usually quiet, at least for the staff. Most teachers avoided giving out detentions on the last day of the week – not primarily for the sake of the students, but rather for their own. With the weekend coming, one could put off some of the classwork in favour of a relaxing evening with colleagues at the Hogshead for a glass of Firewhisky and a game of Gobstones or to share the latest gossip.
The Potions Professor was not known for participating in either activity, but he always looked forward to a quiet, solitary Friday-evening dinner in his rooms instead of sitting at the staff table in the Great Hall. He had just finished his habitual evening shower and was in the middle of re-dressing, when the schoolnurse's sheepdog Patronus burst into his quarters.
"Severus – I need you in the hospital wing immediately," Poppy's clipped voice informed him. "There has been an unfortunate Gryffindor-Slytherin run-in, and one of your house has been injured. Minerva is attending a board meeting and not available. Someone needs to sort out what has brought about this attack."
As soon as the dog had delivered the message, it dissipated, and Severus quickly slipped into his vest and frock coat and spelled the buttons closed. Though he had firmly refused to be reinstated as headmaster after his long convalescence, he had grudgingly agreed to accept the deputy position. Minerva simply wouldn't stop pestering him, ultimately to the point of begging him on her knees. None of the other teachers had volunteered, and frankly, none of them were intimidating and formidable enough to keep the ministry bureaucrats in line and their noses out of Hogwarts' business. The board meeting tonight was just about the usual, mostly technical stuff – nothing Minerva couldn't handle, or he would have gone in her stead.
He was high on adrenaline when he rushed to the hospital wing instead, his robes billowing behind him. Poppy's message about a Slytherin-Gryffindor confrontation had conjured up unwelcome memories of a similar incident two years ago, when his one godson had been cursed by the other to the point of near-death with a nasty spell of Severus' own creation.
He half expected to find Draco lying in a pool of blood, and his dark-haired attacker staring down at him with a blank expression. He even felt his emotions resurface, the dread, the fear, and the binding of the vow he had made, which had constricted his breath when faced with the possibility of Draco dying, and the cold fury at Harry Potter, who had shamelessly and remorselessly lied to his face when confronted with his actions.
Instead, he was very surprised to find a knocked-out first-year Slytherin and a very distraught Hermione Granger, and his heart gave an extra beat.
"The boy got hit by a Stunner and was thrown against a wall in the library corridor," the nurse explained briefly, while tending to the child. She threw another diagnostic spell and frowned. "I think he might have a concussion, but I'll have to awaken him to know for sure. Please see to Miss Granger while I take care of young Mr. McGregor, Severus."
He quickly scanned the girl who was huddled on the edge of one of the hospital beds. "Is she injured, too?" he asked, grateful for his ability to hide his feelings and remain outwardly calm, no matter how great his inner turmoil. She didn't seem hurt, at least not in a way he could assess at first glance. Had she been there when the boy was attacked and tried to help?
"No," Poppy replied. "Apparently, she's the one who threw the Stunner."
Disbelievingly, his eyes flew back from the nurse to the Gryffindor, who had been on his mind more often than not in the last couple of weeks. No matter how hard he had tried to shake memories of a certain encounter with her from his head, he had been utterly unsuccessful. Images of her standing in front of him, fiercely arguing her point, crying tears over his near demise, and smiling at him with affection in her eyes – they were all burned into his retina. There were other memories that were even more persistent and stole into his dreams at night... that of a soft and yielding body in his arms and sweet lips pressed to his... but at least in his waking moments, he managed to keep those firmly locked behind his Occlumency walls. Right now, she was a picture of misery and guilt, her head buried in the arms she had slung around her drawn knees.
"You threw a Stunner at a fellow student?" he asked, feeling a mixture of confusion and shock. "Why, in Merlin's name?"
She didn't even look up, and he wasn't sure if she hadn't heard him or if she couldn't bear to look him in the eyes.
"Miss Granger!" he snapped, his voice a little sharper than he had intended. His authoritative tone got through to her. Her head rose, and he could see that she was pale as death and shaking slightly. There was moisture pooling in her eyes, threatening to overflow any moment.
"I'm sorry!" she cried, her legs slipping out from her hold. She threw her arms around her upper body instead and started to rock back and forth. "I didn't mean to! He scared me, and I drew my wand... I only meant to defend myself!"
"From a first year?" He didn't get it. "What did he do that warranted sending him headfirst into a wall?"
"Nothing – he did nothing!" She broke into tears. "He came jumping at me from behind a tapestry all of a sudden. He startled me. I thought it was..."
"A Snatcher," he finished for her, as understanding dawned.
She nodded, her small frame shaking. "I wasn't really thinking at all. It happened so fast. I just reacted."
He looked at the sobbing girl and could have hit himself for not seeing it right away. She clearly was in shock. "Please stop crying," he said more softly now, reaching out and putting his hand on her shoulder in a feeble attempt to calm her. For a moment, he felt the strange urge to just gather her in his arms – something he had never done with anyone in his life, not even with crying, home-sick Slytherin firsties. His usual method of comfort was to give out hankies and pretty much tell them the same thing he had just told her. And usually, it had about the same effect it had on Granger. None whatsoever.
"I can't!" she wailed miserably. "I almost killed him!"
"Nonsense," he reasoned, feeling totally out of his depth. "You just knocked him out. Your Stunners are not forceful enough to cause serious harm." At least, that had been something he had always berated her for when he'd been her teacher in Defence. And while it was true that the power behind her combative spells was lacking when aimed at a grown person, it was probably a different case with a mere slip of a boy like McGregor. And she probably knew that, as his attempt at logic didn't comfort her either.
"It's my fault he's in the hospital wing, all bruised and bloody."
He pulled a blanket from one of the beds and wrapped it around her shoulder. It would have to do. "He isn't bloody," he said. At least that much was true. "And he'll be up again in no time. Poppy is taking care of him as we speak. Now calm down and talk to me. What exactly happened?"
She pulled the blanket close around her, seeming grateful for the warmth and for having something to cling to. "I think it was supposed to be a joke," she said, wiping her face. "He came jumping out from behind a tapestry when I was walking to the library. I hexed him before I even saw what was coming at me."
In that, she had certainly shown remarkable reflexes. "How did you manage to draw your wand so quickly?" he inquired.
"I didn't. I already had it ready at hand."
"You were only walking to the library," he repeated with a frown, suspicion forming in his guts. "Why were you holding your wand ready to attack?"
"I didn't think about it..." she said, barely audible. "It's become a habit. I go nowhere without having my wand ready anymore. I even go to sleep with it."
"I see." It wasn't surprising after what she'd been through. Most likely, it had saved all their lives a couple of times. However, the fact that she still was so on edge that she couldn't relax even in sleep and had her wand ready even while walking in the corridors of Hogwarts spoke of more deep trauma than he had realised. "Young McGregor seems to be a bit of a prankster. He probably didn't know how unwise it is to pull that kind of joke on someone who has fought in a war. I'll make sure that this matter is addressed. Your quick reaction was commendable, and while on the run, it probably saved lives, but now it's putting your fellow students at risk. You need to let down your guard."
"Do you think I don't know that?" she asked, angrily wiping her eyes. "What do you suggest I do?"
"For now, I suggest you take a calming potion and get some rest. It's probably best if you stay here for the night, too."
"No, you're clearly not fine, Miss Granger. I can see how you're shaking. I'll send Miss Weasley up here – she can fetch whatever you might need from your room, or you can ask a house-elf to bring it. Poppy?"
The matron, who had finished tending to his Slytherin, came over. "How is the boy?"
"A mild concussion and some bumps and bruises. He'll be alright. It'd be best if you spoke to him, though. He's a bit rattled right now. He literally doesn't know what hit him."
"I'll speak to him and also inform Minerva. You might want to give Miss Granger a Draught of Peace and keep her here for the night. She's a bit rattled, too."
"Professor Snape?" Hermione caught his sleeve when he turned to leave. "Please tell Malcolm I'm really, really sorry."
"I will. But don't worry about it now. Get some rest, Miss Granger."
Minerva, once informed about what had happened, decided to rule the incident an unfortunate accident rather that an attack on fellow student and forwent handing out punishment, and for once, Severus agreed with this leniency. They made sure that especially younger students were made aware of the fact that people who had needed to fear for their safety during the whole last year were not prone to react kindly to being ambushed or scared. His Slytherin had been just as mortified about his ill-conceived prank as his victim-turned-attacker once he had made him understand what students, especially those of other houses than Slytherin, had been confronted with during last year's reign of terror, and he had apologised to Hermione.
Severus himself hadn't spoken to the girl since, except during his lessons. He tried hard to think of her only as 'the girl' or Miss Granger, as if she was just another student. But maintaining that self-deception was getting increasingly difficult the more often he thought about her, and due to the incident in the hallway, she was now more prominent in his mind than ever.
Though he hadn't voiced his concerns to the Headmistress, the incident had him worried. Constant vigilance was fine, as long as it didn't turn into full-fledged paranoia. Mad-Eye Moody had been the living proof of that. He wondered if Miss Granger's obviously high stress-levels called for intervention.
He observed her more keenly, but found to his relief that it must have been a one-time incident. She seemed relaxed enough in his class. He looked for signs of unusual agitation or distress, but she seemed perfectly at ease. If anything, she was a little too nonchalant for his liking. Her potions were still faultless, albeit a result of mechanical routine rather than inspiration. She responded when asked a question, but rarely volunteered and raised her hand in class. A lot of times, he had the impression that her mind wasn't entirely focussed on the subject at hand.
He had first feared that her newfound ease or rather laxity with Potions was a disconcerting consequence of the shift in their relationship – that she was taking liberties after his moment of weakness. There was no denying that he didn't intimidate her anymore. When he scowled, scolded and rained acerbic comments, she lowered her head like all the other students, but he sometimes had the strong suspicion that she was in truth hiding a smile. Nobody would find fault with her demeanor, as it remained respectful and unobstrusive, but she seemed unfazed by any critique or harsh comment he made. Her newfound serenity was unfamiliar, as she had always seemed most hurt and angered by his cutting remarks.
A discreet inquiry among her other teachers revealed that this loss of drive was a general development which had been prominent even at the beginning of the school year. She did her assignments dutifully, but without the over-eagerness and ambition she had always displayed before. Her essays now seldom extended above the required length of parchment, and while he appreciated the new brevity when correcting, it was in itself very atypical for the girl who had always gone way above and beyond of what was required.
Of course, they all had changed after the war, but with her, the changes were at the same time more subtle and yet more pronounced. She had matured and lost a lot of those characteristics he had always found annoying: The constant need to prove herself which had come across as showing-off, or her over-correctness, which had sometimes unpleasantly reminded him of Percy Weasley. There had always been a touch of 'too much' on everything she did. If it was now toned down to a degree that it no longer screamed from every action, it was a positive development.
So he let her be for the moment – not that he had much choice, anyway. It'd be extremely hypocritical of him if he scolded her for not raising her hand at every question, when he had admonished and ridiculed her for doing so for years.
However, he continued to have an eye on her, inside his class and out. He told himself that it was just to watch out for anything that might give reason for concern, but deep inside he knew that he was lying to himself. He simply was unable to not watch her. She was often on his mind, whether he saw her or not. Their one-night encounter in his office had shaken him more than he was prepared to admit to himself.
He still couldn't quite comprehend how it had happened. In a persisting, rational and rather courageous manner she had talked herself under his skin. It had taken him a couple of days to analyse their lengthy discussion. He even re-watched his memories of it in a Pensieve, reassuring himself that he hadn't dreamed the whole incident, and figuring out his own feelings. There was no denying it: She had turned a huge part of his world – and of his self-conception – upside down. The entire situation was confusing, to put it mildly. It surely promised a world of trouble.
He didn't know what he felt for her now – his emotions were almost as much in a tangle where she was concerned as his feelings regarding The-Boy-Who-Lived were. He was impressed with her. Greatly so. Her braveness, her openness of mind and her unwavering loyalty awed him. Her intellect, her intuition and her empathy were utterly astounding in a girl so young. He was amazed at her strength in the light of everything she had had to endure. Yet he had come to feel oddly protective of her.
This was perhaps the most puzzling fact, as he had never really felt protective of anyone, not even of Potter. Keeping him alive had been more of a duty, a commitment, but certainly not a heart-felt yearning. He wondered why he felt it so strongly for her. Maybe because, despite her demonstration of strength, she looked frail and vulnerable ever since she had returned to Hogwarts? She had always been a small thing, but now she was also too thin, too pale. He had noticed that she didn't seem to eat much during meals. A lot of times, she loaded her plate, but merely shifted the food around on it after having taken a few bites.
As her teacher, he felt responsible for his student's well-being, and that sense of duty even extended to Gryffindors. But he couldn't shake the growing suspicion that what he felt was more than just the responsibility of a teacher towards his pupils. Something in her called out to him, something that he was only subconsciously aware of.
So he continued to watch her for clues as to what it might be that had him so oddly – entangled.