Summary of Chapter 1 - The Incident in the Hallway
Hermione is scared by a first year who plays a prank on her. She inadvertently hexes him and injures him in the process. Severus is called to the hospital wing in the Headmistress' absence. He realises that something is amiss with the Gryffindor student with whom he shares a very special relationship and decides to keep an even closer eye on her.
A/N: Sorry that this chapter is so late! I posted it already two weeks ago, but something must have gone wrong when saving it - I only realised yesterday that it didn't come up in my outstanding chapters list!
The Soothing Qualities of Potions
Although her friends insisted that she wasn't to blame and that the boy should have known better, Hermione had taken her involuntary attack on a fellow student very much to heart. She had been shocked to realise that her paranoia put innocents at risk and took active measures to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. From that day on, she made a conscious effort to always store away her wand when she roamed the hallways, but it took a lot out of her and put her in a constant state of nervous alertness. She felt naked and defenceless without her wand in her hand, although she couldn't have said against what she thought she needed to defend herself.
True, there were still a few Death Eaters out there who had so far evaded capture, but Aurors were on the look-out for them all over the country, so they were well advised to stay in hiding. Even the Slytherins, who had been the only students relatively safe from the Carrows' reign of terror, hadn't given anybody trouble since the start of the new term. While they had felt safe in the knowledge that they had the upper hand last year – which had encouraged some of them to prance around and act worse than ever – they preferred keeping a low profile now.
This was even true for Draco Malfoy, who acted uncharacteristically subdued. For the first time since Hermione had known him, he was behaving downright decently, which had been a little perturbing at first. But then, there were a lot of things she found perturbing, lately. There was really no explanation as to why she was so high-strung and jumpy now that the danger was over, but she really would've felt better with her wand in her hand.
At least she still had her small beaded bag with her at all times, safely hidden in her robes. It was probably an exaggerated precaution, but it gave her a small sense of security. Whatever happened, she was prepared.
Hermione was aware that, aside from bearing physical scars, she was emotionally damaged at some level, too. They probably all were, but only after the incident in the hallway did she realise to what extent she herself had been affected.
When Minerva had offered all students who hadn't been able to take their N.E.W.T.s last year to return to Hogwarts and finish their education, Hermione had accepted with an immense feeling of relief. Hogwarts was her home, especially now that she had no other place to go. Her parents were still in Australia, oblivious to the fact that they even had a daughter.
Helping to undo the damage to the castle and to make sure that school term could resume as usual had been therapeutic. She wished it was just as simple to clear away the debris inside her own mind – those ugly scars that still gave testimony to all she had been through in the last year.
She had thought that peace, once reestablished, would bring happiness and a life full of possibilities. But instead, she found herself feeling strangely adrift. For years, every thought, every plan, every action had been dedicated to bringing forth a world without Voldemort in it. He had always been the influencing factor behind everything, her thoughts, even her dreams. And now that he was finally gone, all purpose seemed to have gone with him.
Hermione cast a wistful glance at her friends who were sitting at the table next to her, oblivious to her woolgathering, as their attention was focussed on their teacher. Harry and Ron at least had plans. They had both been pre-accepted into the Auror Department – under the condition that they completed their last year in Hogwarts and got the required N.E.W.T. scores. That, unfortunately, included an A in Potions.
Finally having the right motivation, they were both following the lecture with rapt attention. It helped that the disdain they had formerly held for their most hated teacher had changed into something that could be called grudging respect, tinted with a hint of guilt for having been proven wrong for mistrusting him so long, and an equal measure of annoyance at the fact.
Harry and Ron had always assumed that Hermione wanted to become an Auror, too. But the job had held little attraction for her even before the war, and certainly even less now that it was over. She had seen enough violence for a lifetime, and after her ordeal at Malfoy Manor, she'd be happy if she never came face to face with a dark wizard ever again. Memories of Bellatrix and Greyback still haunted her and gave her nightmares. She filed that away as normal; after all, she wasn't the only one who suffered from them. A lot of people who had fought in the final battle were showing mild to severe symptoms of PTSD.
She knew for sure that Ron suffered from it, although he never talked about it. His strategy had been to firmly push all thoughts of the war from his mind. For him, it was over, period. Apart from putting a ban of silence on everything that concerned the last year, his coping method was the same that he had applied to all stressful situations: snogging and shagging. It had been the only reason, Hermione had realised in retrospective, for their very brief affair about a year ago. She had known they were different to the point of incompatibility, but at a time when both had felt despair and utter desolation, it had seemed right. After all, they had always been together, and being there for each other in a more intimate way had been the next logical step.
But logic only worked so far when feelings were concerned. Being with Ron had been familiar, it had been what everybody expected, it hadn't required a lot of soul searching. But while they had friendship and loyalty, they lacked passion and trust. Hermione had never really gotten over Ron's abandonment in the Forest of Dean. Due to this deep disappointment – and for a lot of other reasons, too – she didn't feel anything for him anymore apart from friendship, and even that, she had come to realise, was a bit unbalanced. Ron had never been exceptionally deep or understanding. Now that he had so many problems of his own to deal with, he had become even more self-centred. He never saw that she was suffering, too.
All that Ron had perceived of the hollowness she felt deep inside was a lack of passion in their relationship. Hurt by her coldness, he had come to the conclusion that she must be frigid. No surprise there – she had always been the bookworm, the braniac, whose only passion had been learning. Her views and her actions were usually the result of a careful thought-process; passion didn't really fit into that.
So they had separated – officially they were still friends, but they were both hurt by each other's rejection and the loss of closeness that came with it. They didn't really have much to say to each other at the moment.
With Harry, it was different. He and Hermione had an understanding about each other that didn't require many words. Nevertheless, Hermione had kept herself slightly apart from him when he was so much in the limelight in the aftermath of the war. He was The-Boy-Who-Lived-Twice, rescuer of the wizard world, a hero. There was no day without an article in the Daily Prophet about him, nowhere he could go without being tailed by reporters. Harry somehow had found a way to deal with it. After all, he had been famous all his life; he was used to people staring at him, people having expectations of him, people admiring him.
But Hermione couldn't deal with being in the focus of publicity. It made her want to melt into the floor and become invisible. She didn't see herself as hero – there were others who deserved that title. People who had devoted their entire lives to the cause, and had suffered beyond measure for it.
She cast a glance at her Potions Professor, who was demonstrating the right way to handle the ingredients required for the particularly nasty potion they were supposed to brew today. He was a hero. A man who deserved so much better than what he got. A man whom she wished happiness more than anyone besides Harry.
She had not seen much of him outside Potions class – except for that moment in the hospital wing, when she had been too distraught to appreciate the fact that he had been there. Although she had never shared time with him before their one-night-encounter a few weeks ago, she now missed him. There was so much she wanted to talk to him about, ask him or simply tell him to unburden her mind. But it wasn't going to be. For another seven months, just watching him and listening to him in Potions class would have to be enough.
With an internal sigh, Hermione re-focussed her attention on the right technique for peeling the delicate, silver skin from the juicy bulbs of the Moonflower without tearing it and rendering it useless for the potion. It seemed easy and effortless when he did it. His hands were working quickly and deftly and with the same economical precision that was typical for his entire demeanour. Hermione had always had a partiality for hands, and his were perfect: Long fingers, well-groomed, nicely shaped nails and visible veins on the back of his hands. Slender, yet strong and manly.
Like always, she became enthralled with the precision and efficiency of his movements and the intense focus he was applying to his task. Not for the first time, she envisioned herself at the centre of his rapt attention, wondering how his graceful fingers would feel handling her delicate skin instead...
A sharp voice cut into her wandering thoughts. "Miss Granger!"
Startled, Hermione looked up and found her Potions Professor looking at her with a frown on his forehead. Her face flashed hot. Merlin! Hopefully, the rumours that he routinely Legilimised students in his class were merely that – rumours. "Sir?" she asked, hardly daring to meet his eyes.
"If it's not too much to ask, would you kindly answer my question?"
"I... I'm sorry, Professor. I didn't hear it... My thoughts were – elsewhere."
"Obviously! Well, would you enlighten us and tell us what exactly you found so distracting in the dungeon classroom, which is bare of windows and hasn't changed its decor in the last twenty years, that you found your mind wandering instead wondering?"
"Ehm... I'd rather not, Sir."
There was a short and awkward silence, in which he kept his stern gaze fixed on her, as if debating internally how to react to her remark. Students seemed to be holding their breaths, too. It had been a long time since her Potions Professor had last lost his temper in class. His dangerously low voice usually was a good indicator that he might do so any moment now. "Not paying attention and being rude and impolite towards your instructor, Miss Granger?"
"I'm really sorry, Professor Snape," she murmured, averting her gaze again, still red with embarrassment. "I don't mean to be rude. I apologise."
"If my lectures are boring you," he hissed, disregarding her apology in true Snape fashion, "maybe you should consider switching Potions for a subject that encourages the idle wandering of the mind and the inner eye... such as Divination."
Hermione blushed more deeply – partly in acute embarrassment, partly in anger. Doubtlessly, he was aware what she thought about Divination. By suggesting that she leave his class – which he hopefully didn't mean! – he was threatening to cut her life line, though he probably wasn't aware of that. For various reasons, Potions was the only thing that kept her sane at the moment.
"I really prefer your class, Sir," she said calmly. "I'll pay attention now."
"See that you do, Miss Granger – or I might find methods to help you concentrate."
Professor Snape was his usual snarky self with her – he truly behaved as if the evening in his office, which had changed their relationship on a fundamental level, had never happened. Sometimes she wondered if it really had – or if she'd been hallucinating the entire incident. Her mind wasn't entirely trustworthy at the moment. But then, he was a very good actor.
If he did not treat her differently as before, it might be due to his discipline and sheer, stubborn determination. Something in her own behaviour, however, had changed considerably: Unlike before, she didn't take his insults to heart anymore. As far as his expectations of her achievement in his class were concerned, she would probably always come up short. She liked Potions and her brewing was always accurate. But she lacked true talent and inspiration for the subject. She preferred sticking to the recipe and didn't ever try to improve it as he had done when still a student. Experimenting, in her eyes, implied questioning the books, and thus people who clearly had more expertise than she did. And why should she question him, doubtlessly an eminent authority in the field of Potions?
While she knew she would never truly impress him, she also knew that she couldn't completely fail in his class either, because she was meticulous and able to follow instructions. No, failing or disappointing Severus Snape was no longer one of her worries, the almost desperate need to prove herself to him no longer drove her. She felt safe in the knowledge that she had his respect, even his trust, and, quite possibly, his affection.
She felt a surge of warmth well up insider her when she dared raise her gaze back to her professor, now that she was no longer in the focus of his attention. He had always been formidable as a teacher. Competent in his subject, thorough in his instructions, fastidious in teaching them the right method of ingredient preparation and brewing. And he had no problem upholding discipline. That hadn't changed since the war. But his lessons were noticeably less tense now, and students could count on being treated equally and justly. He was still strict and demanding, and his comments were as sarcastic as ever. But now that he dished out his insults more evenly, other students than Slytherins had a chance to appreciate the wit in them, even if his humour was rather biting.
The intimidating glowers he shot at his students – still his most effective weapon – no longer affected her. While other students cringed at his criticism and sheepishly looked into their cauldrons to escape the intensity of his gaze, she usually had a hard time tearing her eyes from him.
He did cut an impressive figure, especially now that he was less stressed and his overall health had much improved. Severus Snape was a force to be reckoned with, and strangely, she found it exhilarating and reassuring at the same time. He was like a rock in a world that had shifted its axis.
Just like Hogwarts, he was a constant, a reliable and indelible part of her life, and he had come to mean even more to her after the confessions they had made to each other, the secrets they had revealed and the intimacies they had shared. And by that, she wasn't even thinking about the kiss. In fact, she was trying very hard not to think about the kiss at all. Potion class would become unbearable if she did. No, she had locked those memories firmly away in some dark corner of her mind – like the Christmas tree baubles in a chest in the basement... beautiful, valuable and fragile, something to behold and to cherish that you only took out for very special occasions to sigh at, in wonderment and in pleasure...
A hard elbow in her ribcage tore her out of her silent revery. "Hermione!" Harry softly admonished her in a strange reversal of roles. "Come on – we're supposed to get the ingredients and start brewing. What's the matter with you today?"
"Sorry," she whispered back. "I guess I drifted off again."
"Are you trying to get a detention? Seriously!"
'If only!' Hermione thought wistfully as she made her way to the storeroom. She'd love to get a detention with Professor Snape, but it was highly unlikely to happen. They had agreed to keep their distance, after all, and a forced intimacy like an evening in detention, as enticing as that sounded, certainly went against that decision. His decision, to be precise. One she understood. But one that wasn't easy to accept, nonetheless.
Sometimes, when they were having dinner in the Great Hall, she thought that she felt his gaze on her. Had he really been watching her? She pondered the thought while she searched the cabinet shelves for the required potion ingredients. Every time she had looked up to check, he was just staring at his plate, or scanning the crowd with a bored expression on his face. But that didn't have to mean a thing – he was too much a spy to be caught spying. Was it possible that he was missing her as well? Or had he convinced himself that it had been nothing but a strange interlude, a spur of the moment thing that she regretted by now?
Feeling a bit unsettled by this thought, she made it back to her table and started brewing. She had never tried this potion before, but she knew the theory. It seemed easy enough. The only difficulty came shortly before the potion was finished, when she had to make sure that it remained hot enough without boiling while giving it the exact number of stirs. Until then, she was safe to ponder these important personal questions even while working: Did he think she had regrets? Or worse, what if he had them?
She had felt sure, almost euphoric because suddenly, everything had seemed so clear, but now, she felt a bit of the elation that had held her high since that evening fade away. What if she had over-interpreted his reaction? Well, his physical reaction had been clear enough, but that was hardly surprising. He was human, after all, a man of flesh and blood. She had never doubted that. But what if it had been just that? A reaction to the flattering adoration of a young girl who had just confessed her crush on him?
She dropped the porcupine quills into the potion and counted her stirs. 'Stop it, Hermione!' she then told herself firmly. 'This isn't you! Since when have you become so insecure? You're a mature, competent witch!' But that was the point, wasn't it? The root of her insecurities. What did she have to offer a man like him? If even Ron found her lacking...
Forcing herself to focus on her potion again, she shook off her sudden distress and reached for the next ingredient. Before she could drop it into the cauldron, however, her wrist was caught by a strong hand and torn away from it.
"Miss Granger!" her professor thundered, his face furious. "What in Merlin's name do you think you are doing?"
Confused by his intervention and his touch she glanced into his dark eyes. "I was dropping in the beetle eyes," she answered, perturbed.
"Really? Then let's have a look, shall we?" He turned her wrist around and beckoned her to open her closed fist.
"Fire seeds," she gasped, horrified at her mistake. How had he noticed from a distance, if she herself had not? The two ingredients looked deceptively alike. But adding fire seeds to this particular potion had a high chance of exploding her cauldron, as it did react negatively with the porcupine quills already in it. Which was why beetle eyes and fire seeds were stored in different shelves and in differently shaped and differently coloured, clearly labelled containers.
"How could you have noticed...?"
"Because I was paying attention, Miss Granger, as you were clearly not!" he fumed. "Bottle your base and clean up your work table. You are done for today. And see me after class."
Thoroughly chastised for the grave mistake he had just saved her from committing and cursing her own inattention, she hastened to obey.
He was still fuming when the last students had left his classroom and Hermione was approaching his desk, her head held low. She was obviously embarrassed – which she well deserved to be.
"I'm really aghast at your performance, Miss Granger!" he shot at her. "I suppose I don't have to lecture you on the importance of concentration when brewing dangerous and highly volatile potions! Such carelessness is highly unusual for you! Are you deliberately trying to get a detention?"
"What? No!" Her eyes flew up and she finally met his gaze. "I wouldn't do that!"
From the former head girl, stickler for rules and model student he would never have believed it. But the girl in front of him was not the same bushy-haired Know-it-All anymore. With her slightly too nonchalant attitude she had lately demonstrated in his class, he had been waiting for an accident to happen, which was just another reason why he had been watching her closely.
"You had better not, because if you were, I would tell you to save yourself the effort," he warned, not fully convinced despite her assertion. He knew that she didn't whole-heartedly agree with his decision to keep their relationship strictly professional and limit their interactions to an absolute minimum. "I'd make sure you'd be serving your detentions with Filch."
"Honestly, it wasn't my intention," she assured him. "It would have been utterly stupid to purposely drop an explosive ingredient into my cauldron in the hope that you'd notice and step in just in time to prevent me from hurting myself! I still wonder how you noticed at all!"
"I've made it a habit to double-check certain students whenever beetle eyes are required in a potion, Miss Granger. You are regrettably not the first who failed to read the label, but even Mister Longbottom only made that mistake twice." The singed eyebrows he had sported after the second time had taken a couple of days to regrow and had served as a powerful reminder – far better than the lecture Severus had given him after the first prevented mishap. "I hadn't really expected such a beginner's mistake from a seventh year, and surely not from you." Had he not been watching her more intently than probably justified, he wouldn't have noticed. He could feel a slight tremor going through him, thinking what could have happened. Singed eyebrows were one thing, but a jet of flame could easily have set her voluminous hair on fire and done considerable damage before he'd even stood a chance to stifle the flames.
"I have no idea how it happened," she said in rueful voice. "Thank you – for not letting me learn the hard way."
Her obvious distress at her blunder soothed him a little. "This thoughtlessness is not you, Miss Granger," he said more calmly. "Do you find my classes not challenging enough? Or is there perhaps another reason for you to let your mind wander at most inappropriate moments?"
Hermione lowered her head again so as not to let him see her warming cheeks. It wasn't just inappropriate moments, but also inappropriate thoughts, but she certainly wouldn't admit to that. "No, there isn't," she lied. "I was just feeling a bit off today."
"It's not just today," he pointed out. "You're hardly raising your hand anymore. Your essays, which were always written in minuscule handwriting to squeeze in even more than the extra inches of parchment you – much to my chagrin – insisted on adding, are now just long enough to fulfil my requirements. And even the potions you produce don't come up to your usual standard. Do these changes perhaps have anything to do with – our epiphany a few weeks ago?"
For a moment, she felt flooded with relief. It hadn't been a hallucination. And if he labelled it an epiphany, it surely held significance for him. The term was fitting – it had been an epiphany. True, on the surface, one might say that it had merely been a long talk and a kiss. In reality, it had been one of these moments in time, a standing at a crossroads, that had changed everything. At least, it had changed everything for her. But not the things he was referring to. Those issues had been there long before.
"No, Sir," she said, making sure to use his proper address to condition her mind. "I assure you that it has nothing to do with you, nor with your teaching. I'm just feeling a little... I don't know. I think I have yet to rediscover my drive. The war has changed my perspective about a few things. Some things that were important to me before seem a bit pointless now."
He understood exactly what she was talking about. She was not the only one struggling to find meaning in her life again after a defining factor had been taken out of it.
"There is nothing pointless about learning. I never thought I'd have to tell you that."
"I know, Sir. I promise I'll try to do better."
"See that you do, Miss Granger. I mean it." He let his stern gaze linger on her a moment longer to make sure she got the point. Then he beckoned to the door. "You may leave now." When she rose, he softly added in afterthought: "Don't expect me to treat you differently. I won't be lenient next time."
"I know, Sir. I wouldn't expect you to."
Hermione really tried. He was right: Letting her attention wander was disrespectful and unadvisable in his class for various reasons, but she just couldn't help it.
She had been in a state of constant vigilance for an entire year, expecting danger around every corner, and it still haunted her. She jumped at unexpected sounds, and it was even worse now that she wasn't carrying her wand ready at hand anymore. She still was afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid that something might attack her any moment. This constant wariness was exhausting. She could never fully relax – except in Potions.
Severus Snape was a powerful wizard, quick and ruthless, if need be, and she knew that nothing bad would happen to her under his watchful eyes, nothing would harm her in his classroom. His lectures were certainly worth listening to, but they didn't offer enough new information to keep her mind from drifting. Hermione already knew most of it, as she had tried to keep up with their subject matter as much as she could, even while searching for Horcruxes. Truth to tell, most lessons were boring. But she had promised him.
Calling herself to attention for the third time within the first half hour of her Wednesday's Potion class, she tried to concentrate on his voice, which wasn't exactly helpful.
That rich baritone of his, the deep, silky drawl and his distinctive way of accentuating his words... Somehow, his voice reached right inside her head, making her feel very peculiar – as if her brain was being softly caressed on the inside. It made her slightly dizzy, but in a good way. He could read a telephone registry to her and she would close her eyes in bliss and let his voice soothe the raw edges of her nerves like balm. Was it her fault if she found herself unable to follow what he was saying, when it felt so incredibly good to have the carefully modulated cadence of his velvety voice wash over?
Especially now, when she was so very tired. She had hardly slept again last night, and already knew that she wouldn't be getting much more sleep in the night to come. It had become impossible to continue sharing a room with Ginny, who was equally haunted by nightmares. But Hermione found it almost harder to sleep alone in the room Headmistress McGonagall had given her after both girls had kept tearing each other from sleep. Hermione hadn't slept alone since she had been a small child, and she found the silence of her room nerve-wracking. In the silence, everything seemed louder, even the sound of her own breathing. After a while, she had even started imagining sounds that weren't even there. While Ginny had often torn her from sleep, being alone prevented her from falling asleep in the first place.
Right now, however, falling asleep would be quite easy... Supporting her heavy head on her hands, Hermione pretended to study her textbook and closed her eyes briefly, almost sighing in relief when the burning behind her lids immediately lessened. 'Just for a minute,' she thought, listening to the quiet background noises in the relative quiet of the classroom. It was almost like being in the library, which was still her favourite place. But here, it was even better, because he was there, allowing her to feel safe. The soothing sound of his voice as he lectured. Shuffling of paper. Feather scratching softly on parchment. Pages being turned. Someone whispering something unintelligibly to his bench neighbour. If she listened closely, she could even hear people breathing. Such peaceful noises, lulling her in a pleasant daze...
Her heart jumped into her throat at hearing a loud bark that cut the air like a whip. Her head jerked up from the table. She was suddenly wide awake, grasping her wand and her purse. Where was her purse? Blindly, panicky, she looked around, trying to get her bearings. What had happened?
Potions classroom. She was still in her classroom. And she had fallen asleep. Her racing heart calmed only slightly at this realisation. She was safe. But then – maybe not. A fleeting look into her professor's dark and stormy eyes made all her thoughts of safety fly away. He was furious. Of course he was. First her daydreaming and not paying attention, then the near-accident. And now she had fallen asleep during his lecture! He probably wouldn't ever forgive her that. Oh Merlin!
"Gather your things and leave!" he ordered in a low, hissing voice.
"Professor, please... I..."
"Miss Granger, I'm sure you're aware that I won't stand for that kind of insolence in my classroom. You will see me for detention the next three Wednesdays, starting today. Whatever your justification is, you can present it to me tonight in my office, at seven, sharp. At the moment, I don't want to hear your apologies – I want you out of my classroom now!"
Hermione swallowed. "Yes, Sir." Feeling humiliated and ashamed beyond measure, she quickly gathered her things and fled from his sight.
A/N Even better than Snape reading the phone directory is Alan Rickman's voice on Bach (see www. /watch?v=7WixG49FZyg ) or Alan reading Shakespeare's sonnets ( www. youtube watch?v= xP06F0yynic )
It'll put you to sleep better and safer than any pill, if put on endless-loop. Guaranteed! :)