Summary of Chapter 13 – Family Matters
Severus tells Hermione about some unexpected news he has recently received from his cousin Irma: His aunt, who mistrusted him for many years, has confessed to her daughter that her deceased husband named him as his heir – under the condition that he adopts the name ‘Prince’. Severus is undecided what to do, not sure about his feelings towards his aunt. Hermione encourages him to at least consider meeting with her.
Looking into Hermione’s mind for the information he’s still supposed to find, Severus finds out that he’s about to receive another unexpected offer from a ‘relative’: From Harry, who wants Severus to spend Christmas at Grimmauld Place with him, Draco and Hermione.
A/N: So sorry! I erroneously posted the last chapter twice and didn't notice. Here's the right one! Please note that this chapter has been heavily edited since it was beta-ed. If you’re in a mood to point out mistakes, I’ll gladly correct them. But please don’t blame my poor beta if I violated your beautiful English language in the one or other sentence!
What Dreams May Come
A piercing scream tore from her throat, but it couldn’t wake Hermione from this nightmare. Anguish. Endless Torment. Torture. Again and again, Hermione’s entire world was drowned in an ocean of pain. It was in every single fibre of her body, it burned into her, it tore at her, it ate her, it liquified her. There were no words to describe the agony.
Then the Cruciatus Curse was lifted for good and the wand that had made her feel as if her organs were being crushed, her nails torn out and her bones broken was replaced by a knife that cut into the delicate skin on the underside of her arm instead. It was almost a relief – at first. The burning pain was now concentrated on one area of her body instead of everywhere at once, but it was adding insult to injury. And the psychological effect of what was being done to her was almost worse than the pain. She was being branded.
Bellatrix enunciated every letter she painstakingly – or rather pains-givingly – carved into her flesh.
M – u – d – B – l – o – o – d.
A lower life form, not even human in her tormentors’ eyes. Hermione didn’t feel human right now. She had wet herself, having lost control of her bladder under the witch’s powerful Cruciatus. She probably would have soiled herself, too, if she had had anything in her bowels. The vomit, Bellatrix had vanished with a spell and a look of disgust on her face.
Hermione could feel the hatred emanating from her like she could feel the blood that was oozing from her wounds, the tears that were leaking from her eyes and the broken, animalistic cries that were coming out of her throat. And worse yet, she could feel the pleasure Bellatrix felt on seeing her tremble and whimper, and knew she was revelling Hermione’s pain and her fear.
But the mad, shrieking witch wasn’t the only one to derive a sadistic feeling of lust from her suffering. Greyback was holding her down, molding his body along hers in a mocking parody of a lover’s embrace. And while his cruel hands kept her pinned to the floor, he kept whispering into her ear... crude and ugly words that were defiling and humiliating her; vivid descriptions of the things yet to come that held her paralysed with fear, menacing promises of what he would do to her that would make Bellatrix’s torture seem like a caress in comparison....
“Don’t listen to him,” she suddenly heard a calm, commanding voice say. “He won’t hurt you.”
Hermione turned her head to her side – away from the chandelier above head that she’d been staring at to avoid looking at the werewolf’s leering face, to her side. There, behind Bellatrix, stood the Potions Master, arms crossed in front of his chest, looking as intimidating as ever. Yet his eyes that were holding her gaze now were full of sympathy, warmth and compassion.
“Help me!” she begged. “Please!” She couldn’t do anything more now than whisper. Even that hurt.
He gave an incline of his head. “I will,” he promised. “I won’t let him hurt you.”
“I’m so scared!”
“I know. But you will get though this, Hermione. You have to stay strong just a little bit longer.”
“I can’t!” she whimpered. “I’ll have to tell her... Maybe it will make her stop. Make it stop, please. It’s too much to bear....”
His tone, though full of regret, became more insistent. “You can escape them, right now. Look inside your mind. Put up your shields and retreat behind them. They can’t find you there.”
“I don’t know how!”
”Yes, you do. I know that you can.”
“It hurts so much!”
“Go behind your walls, Hermione, and find your happy place. The grove, the river... remember?”
“It’s not my place! I don’t know how to get there! You led me there last time. I can’t find it without you!”
“Then I shall lead the way.” He stretched his hand out for her, but started to fade at the same time.
“Don’t leave me, please!” she cried in anguish.
“I’m here,” she could still hear his soothing voice in her ear, though she couldn’t see him anymore. “I’m always here. Just look inside you... Come with me, Hermione!”
She obeyed. As if she had disapparated, the drawing room, the crystal chandelier, Bellatrix, the werewolf... they all faded away, and she found herself back on the arid, desolated plane of a landscape that seemed inhospitable, even hostile. But she knew it was just the surface appearance. She only had to find her way to the grove, she had been there before. All she need was the courage to actually start walking. Hermione took a tentative step, then another one. There – it wasn’t that difficult. Just putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
The wind picked up, a gentle breeze. Once she felt it in her back, warm and soothing, gently giving her directions, it didn’t take long at all to get there: That peaceful, beautiful place near the river, where golden sunlight fell through the leaves of the trees and sparkled on the surface of the water like diamonds. The wind almost seemed to carry her right to it.
And there he was, waiting for her.
“You’re here...” she said, feeling a wave of happiness surge through her that washed away all her fears, her doubts and her pain.
“Where else would I be?” he asked. “You’re not alone in this, Hermione. I have always watched out for you. I promised I would help you.” He reached out with his hand and wiped away the tears that were still running down her cheeks. “There. It’s okay now... you’ll be fine.”
She smiled at him through misty eyes. Yes, everything was going to be okay. They were together. “Can I hug you now?” she asked.
The corners of his mouth never moved; he looked as stern as ever. But his eyes smiled back. “Yes,” he simply said, and opened his arms, welcoming her. She wrapped her own around him and put her cheek on his chest, inhaling his comforting scent and listening to the steady beat of his heart. She was home.
Hermione had woken crying, but for once, they had not been tears of terror and despair, but tears of release. She felt shaken and highly emotional, but also strangely liberated - as if a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders.
Strangely, once she had fully realised that she safe was in her bed in Hogwarts and that Luna was snoring softly right next to her, she hadn’t been able to remember her dream at all. Yet a couple of times throughout the following day, something had briefly flashed up, a fleeting picture, a feeling, and she had thought it would come back to her now.
But like often with dreams, it had remained intangible, lingering just beneath the surface of her consciousness and evading capture. Yet a strange, euphoric feeling had carried her through the day, like the remains of a particularly stimulating drug that had not yet faded from her system.
Something good had happened. Though she had no idea what and why, Hermione felt something like hope unfurl its fragile wings.
It all finally came back to her when she was sitting in her Potions professor’s office, correcting first years’ essays. Hermione didn’t know exactly what triggered it – maybe it was the calm contentment she felt in his presence; the companionable quietude that was much more pleasant that the ruckus in the Gryffindor common room or the oppressive silence in her own. Or maybe it was just his unique scent that had become quite familiar after all those nights she’d spent sleeping with his robe and which caught in her nostrils whenever he moved behind her to pick up another book form the shelve.
All of a sudden, the memory was back and Hermione gasped in surprise when she was flooded with pictures and emotions of her dream. Severus looked up sharply. “Everything alright? You look like you’ve just seen a Thestral for the first time.”
“Yes,” she murmured, still trying to grasp all of those fragments that came flying back to her and to put them in the right order, so that she could see the entire picture. “That describes it pretty well.”
He shut his book and looked at her, unmistakable concern etched on his face. “What’s the matter?”
“I had another nightmare last night, about Malfoy Manor...” she said with a catch in her voice, depicting what she saw unfolded before her eyes again. “It’s always the same. I’m lying on the floor at Bellatrix feet... First, she’s using the Cruciatus curse on me, then the knife... And while she’s torturing me, Greyback is holding me down... whispering into my ear the entire time... vile, disgusting things... what he’ll do to my body once she has finished playing with me... how I will scream until my vocal chords are raw and bleeding and how much pleasure he’ll derive from that... It’s just – horrible. I’m lying there in a pool of my own blood, staring at the chandelier and I have no control of my limbs anymore. They are twitching and trembling as if I was a broken wind-up doll. I sure that I’m going to die. I hope that I’m going to die, soon, before he can have his way with me. I’ve lost all hope...”
Severus’ face lost all colour, his fingers closed around the edges of the book so hard that his knuckles turned white. “Oh Merlin, Hermione...!” he exclaimed with a choked voice, looking tortured himself. “ I’m so sorry! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I wish I could have spared you this...”
“No, wait,” she rushed to explain, not even taking conscious notice of his slip of tongue. She hadn’t meant to impart the worst thing that had ever happened to her on him like this. It wasn’t exactly how it had happened in reality. It had been Scabior, whose lecherous gaze she had felt on her body and who had verbally defiled her. Greyback hadn’t held her down while Bellatrix carved her arm, either. She had used sticking charm. But his hands had been all over her before Bellatrix had even gotten started, and Hermione had known what atrocities the werewolf was capable of.
Hermione had never spoken about it to anyone before, she hadn’t been able to. The nightmare had merged her most traumatic moments and made them into a kaleidoscope of all her fear. But now, probably because the dream hadn’t ended like the countless times before, everything had just come tumbling out. “I didn’t mean to burden you with this. I just wanted to tell you that it was different this time. You were there... You saved me!”
It didn’t seem to make a difference. She could still see the horror on his face, and strangely, something that looked like self-recrimination. Why would he feel responsible for something that had been clearly beyond his sphere of influence?
“I wish I could have acted sooner,” he said almost inaudibly. “But the message reached me too late... I didn’t even know you were captured until Aberforth’s Patronus arrived. I sent Dobby immediately, but obviously still too late to prevent you from getting hurt....”
Confused, Hermione looked at him. “It was a dream,” she tried to clarify, “in reality, it wasn’t quite like that. You were... wait – what?” Becoming fully aware of he had said, Hermione’s voice broke off and she searched his face for an explanation. He wasn’t talking about the dream. Dobby hadn’t even been in it, neither had Aberforth. He was talking about what had really happened that day they had been caught by the Snatchers.
Severus remembered it like it had happened yesterday. It had been, even in retrospective, one of the worst days in his life, quickly progressing from unpleasant to disastrous within hours. In the morning, he had been forced to deal with another graffiti that had shown up over night, which was not only highly offensive in nature, but especially tasteless, as is painted him, Voldemort and the Carrows in an activity they definitely had never engaged in. Well, he had never engaged in – he couldn’t really speak for the others. But he was reasonably sure that the Dark Lord hadn’t permitted any of his followers to take their ass kissing quite so literally.
Then, he had had to deal with the punishment of a student who the Carrows had caught stealing food from the kitchen, and a had only narrowly been able to prevent Filch from putting the thumbscrews on him.
He had already had a headache before noon. But nothing could have prepared him for the horror that awaited him in the afternoon - when he had received Aberforth’s urgent missive, telling him that he’d been contacted by no other than the boy who had gotten himself in a real mess this time. Apparently, the trio had been captured by Snatchers and was being held at Malfoy Manor.
For a moment, his thoughts had been running rampant with panic and despair. Everything seemed lost, now that the worst case scenario had suddenly become reality: Harry Potter had been caught, and most likely would be killed within the hour. And he had no idea how to safe him this time.
If not for his Occlumency skills which allowed him to suppress his feeling and lock them firmly behind walls, he wouldn’t have been able to clear his head and calmly and methodically sort sorted his options: Blowing his cover and going to Malfoy Manor himself, in vague hope that he’d somehow manage to apparate Potter out; going there under a ruse and trying to talk his way out of it like he had done may times before, or alarming the order and putting responsibility for a reckless and doomed-to-fail rescue mission in their hands. Neither approach had looked promising.
Sending the house-elf had been a brainwave he still had no idea how he had managed to come up with. Within a second after his calling, the elf had appeared in his office. ‘Headmaster Snape has called? How can Dobby help the Headmaster?’
To his immense relief, the elf had answered his question of whether he could still get inside the wards of Malfoy Manor in the affirmative: ‘Dobby is still tied into the wards of his old master’s mansion, Sir. Dobby can get in and out without detection’, he had assured eagerly.
Severus had made unequivocally clear that he would surely be detected this time, and that it would be a high-risk mission. But Harry Potter’s life depended on it. It was all he had needed to say. The elf had immediately and with fierce determination declared that he’d do anything to rescue Harry Potter and bring him to safety.
‘Try to get all of them out, Dobby’, Severus had told him, but had added just as firmly: ‘But your priority is Potter. He must be saved at all costs, do you understand?’
‘Yes, Headmaster,’ the elf had answered eagerly, excitedly flapping his ears. ‘Dobby will do anything for Harry Potter. Dobby will save Harry Potter.’
And he had saved them all - not only the Golden Trio, but the Lovegood girl, the goblin and Ollivander as well. But at what a cost for the elf himself and for Hermione!
And yet they could all count themselves lucky that Aberforth had learned about the Golden Trio’s capture at all. Without the mirror shard, without being trusted by Dumbledore’s brother, Severus wouldn’t have known until he was being shown their dead and defiled bodies. He felt an icy shiver run down his spine just at the thought. If he had nightmares, this was a scenario he’d probably be shown frequently.
“It was you? You sent Dobby?” Hermione looked at him with utter surprise, which only now registered with him. Hadn’t she known?
He frowned. “Of course I did. Who else could have sent him?”
“Aberforth... Harry saw him in the mirror shard. At the time, he had thought that he was talking to Dumbledore, but we learned later that Aberforth had gotten Sirius’ mirror from Mundungus Fletcher. We thought it was him who sent Dobby.”
“A house-elf can only be summoned by his owner – or in the case of a free elf – by his employer. Which, being the Headmaster of Hogwarts at the time, technically was me. Aberforth had informed me about your capture via Patronus, and I immediately sent Dobby knowing that he might still be tied into the Malfoys’ wards.”
“So Aberforth knew about your true loyalty? Did Dumbledore tell him?”
“No. But he was member of the Order of the Phoenix. At some point, Minerva needed to confide in him. He was of strategic importance, given that the secret passageway from his pub led into the Room of Requirement. Someone had to send in food and water to keep those hidden students alive, and it obviously couldn’t be me.”
“So it was you who saved us – again!” said Hermione, who felt her eyes tear up. For one thing, because the memories of what had happened still shook her, but also because knowing now that he had saved them yet again made the antagonism he had been faced with back then all the more unbearable. “And it was you who protected the students of the resistance... I never knew!”
He quirked an eyebrow and quickly offered her a handkerchief. Her shining eyes were alarming. Severus feared that she might break into tears again, which was quite understandable considering her trauma. But he also feared that this time, he would not be able to just stand by and watch. “So the little Know-it-all didn’t know it all...” he said, trying for a light tone, hoping to avert the frightening situation he saw coming.
Much to his relief, the manoeuvre was successful. “As far as you are concerned, I suppose I’ll never know everything,” she said in mild indignation and accepted the handkerchief.
“Not if I can prevent it, no,” he agreed.
Hermione shook her head. As determined as he might be to remain occlusive, distant and withdrawn... she had already managed to chink his armour in quite a few places and had gotten through to the man beneath. As unlikely as the thought seemed to be: She strongly suspected that he might pull her into a comforting embrace just like he had in her dream if she were to break down with emotion right now. But she also instinctively knew that the idea of what he might do deeply unsettled him, as it would completely bring down his walls and lay him bare. And she wouldn’t do that to him. If she hoped to ever get close to this highly guarded man, she would have to let him set the pace.
“I should have known,” she said, gathering her thoughts and emotions and directing them back to their discussion. “Dobby chose to give his loyalty to Harry and to Hogwarts. What did Aberforth ever have to do with him? We never questioned it. And Aberforth didn’t tell us when we came to Hogsmeade.”
“Of course not. Minerva had put im under oath not to reveal my secret. He was given to understand that it was crucial that Harry didn’t know.”
“But if Dobby had survived – he surely would have told Harry that it was you who sent him... It would have blown your cover!”
“Yes – now that you’re mentioning it,” he said ironically. “At the time, I didn’t exactly have the leisure to ponder these consequences. Harry probably wouldn’t have believed it anyway.”
“Yes, he would have, coming from Dobby,” Hermione objected.
“Then Dobby has doubly saved Harry by dying for him. Who knows how things might have turned out if he had he known about my true allegiance.”
“I often wondered about that...” Hermione murmured. “I believe if you and Harry had been able to work together, Voldemort’s demise would have come much sooner.”
“We don’t know that. There is no use in pondering ‘what if’s’. What’s done is done.”
Yes, that was a universal truth, but it was still hard to accept. Looking back and knowing what she knew now, there seemed to have been so many options promising a better outcome. And no matter how she turned it, it always seemed to came back to the trust issue between Harry and Severus. She mostly blamed Dumbledore for it. Why hadn’t he taught Harry Occlumency himself, knowing how important it was and how small the likelihood of success when Severus was the one to teach him?
It now seemed to her as if Dumbledore had - ever so subtly - fostered the animosity between the his spy and the boy who lived - knowing that Harry’s chance of survival depended on him being in the possession of all Deathly Hallows. And to make sure that the mastery over the Elder Wand would be his, Dumbeldore had even been willing to sacrifice his most loyal servant and spy. Just like Voldemort.
It didn’t really matter much to Hermione’s opinion that Severus would have willingly given his life to fulfill his promise and his perceived obligation. In that, he had been a lot like Dobby – both of them had been bound in willing servitude and prepared to give their life for the cause – and for Harry Potter. Severus at least had survived, if only by sheer luck. The elf had paid with his life for his worship and adoration.
“I’m immensely grateful for what Dobby did,” Hermione remarked, sad that there hadn’t been a happy end for him. “But his death is another thing I will forever feel guilty about. He died rescuing us.”
“Yes,” Severus agreed calmly. “And I am responsible for sending him to his death.”
“You couldn’t know that.”
“Maybe not. But I still would have sent him, even if I had known. And he would have come to save you, even if he had known his fate beforehand. He died in loyal service to his chosen masters. There is no greater honour for a house-elf than that. Be proud of him, but don’t belittle his sacrifice by feeling responsible for it.”
Hermione looked at him with eyes so full of warmth that Severus had to avert his gaze.
“You never cease to amaze me, you know that?” she asked, overcome by emotions that she herself couldn’t quite identify. It wasn’t only the fact that there were still so many things she didn’t know about him, or that everything she learned only made him more a hero. It wasn’t just the fact that everything that was revealed proved the depth of his torment, and made his bravery and his determination all the more admirable. All that also cast a light on the human side of him – showing her man with such depth and capacity of emotion that was all the more overwhelming because no one would ever guess.
“You’re the one who saved me from coming to even greater harm,” she told him with great solemnity. “You rescued me from Malfoy Manor, twice. In reality, by sending help and thus saving our lives, and yesterday night, in my dream, by being there. You were comforting me, telling me to not give up and to find shelter within my own mind. And it helped - for the first time ever, I didn’t wake up panicky, crying and nauseated to the point of vomiting. I woke up feeling - released, and safe. You have led me to the happy place in your mind.”
“Well, it seems like your Occlumency skills are kicking in,” the obtuse man only said, still stubbornly refusing to look into her eyes. “Good! I was hoping for that.”
Hermione shook her head at his insistence to deny his importance in her life. “But I still have no idea how to occlude,” she pointed out logically. “I don’t even have my own hiding place. I used yours.”
Severus shrugged. He didn’t mind sharing it with her. “It doesn’t matter,” he declared. “I told you, it’s not a skill that can be learned like Transfiguration, Potions or Arithmancy. Occlumency is more like Divination in that regard. Both belong to a more obscure, mystic branch of magic that deal with the mind and the subconscious. Thus, everything is highly individual, and there is not one way of learning.”
Hermione didn’t really agree. She knew that the fact that she was getting better – physically, mentally and emotionally – had nothing to do with Occlumency, but everything with him. He was the wind that had gently given her directions when she was lost. He had relieved her of burdens and had helped her deal with one at a time. He had been there for her, steadfast, reliable, like a rock. Her own subconscious had obviously picked up on these facts, understood them at a deeper level, even before her conscious mind had. He had saved her in her dream because she knew that he would always try everything within his power to keep her safe. Her trust in him was so deeply rooted that it had begun to change her subconscious awareness.
The realisation didn’t hit her - it was more like a soft enlightenment. There was no denying it: She loved him, plain and simple. He awed her, impressed her and gave her security - and yet he made her also feel oddly protective of him. He calmed her, grounded her and excited her at the same time. He was always so harsh and abrasive and yet so gentle at heart. He was a bundle of contradictions. It would take a lifetime to figure him out, and she’d be glad to serve the time.
And yet her obstinate teacher and mentor didn’t seem to have the slightest idea about all the emotions he evoked in her. And she wouldn’t tell him – yet. He wasn’t ready to hear it in such simple words. She’d be just as patient with him as he’d been with her. She would be as patient with him as he had been with her.
“You can look at it that way, if you want,” she merely said shrugging, and picked up her quill again. “But even if it was Occlumency that helped me, it’s still you who taught me. No matter how you turn it – you were the one who saved me, body and mind.” She didn’t look up again to see the impact her words had on him, kindly sparing him from having to come up with anything to say.
The remaining week before the holidays passed quickly. Hermione had taken the Prying Potion three more times – always under the same strict rules her adamant teacher had set for them. She had gotten rather good at spotting his intrusions, and even managed to thwart his attempts a couple of times by concentrating hard on something else.
To Hermione’s great delight – as well as to Harry’s – Severus had accepted the invitation to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day at Grimmauld Place. As promised, he had even been reasonably pleasant with his answer, although it had been a bit stiff and formal.
Hermione, who had tried some experimental reverse charms on the quill he had given her a while before, had been curious and had immediately written Severus response as Harry had relayed it to her on a piece of parchement: ‘I’m surprised that you should wish for my company, especially on such an occasion. But I believe politeness dictates that I accept your invitation, despite having great doubts about the wisdom of both, your resolve to invite me and my decision not to decline.’
Then she has spoken the charm which duly translated what Hermione had dubbed ‘Snape-Speech’ into what he most likely had meant to say. Puzzled, she had re-read the sentences, coming to the conclusion that the spell wasn’t working properly yet, as the sentence now read: ‘I’m deeply moved that you want to be with me. The whole situation scares the shit out of me, though.’
Okay, that was most likely not what he had meant to say. But she had felt that the spell had caught the essence of his feelings right: He was positively surprised about the invitation, but at the same time worried about the outcome. Or maybe he was afraid that it wouldn’t work out and both would end up disappointed. Afraid that he wouldn’t know how to act in such an unfamiliar setting. Or maybe he feared that others might notice the shift n their relationship and realise that they were more to each other than teacher and pupil, mentor and assistant. Maybe he was afraid they might disapprove.
If she gave it too much thought, she’d probably start worrying about all of it, too. However, she wasn’t willing to give in to such pessimism. They were going to be among friends. They were going to have a lot of fun with the mock-gift exchange. She already knew what to take. Now she only needed to find a real present for him.
Hermione was still trying to come up with an with an inspiring idea, when, much to her surprise, he beat her to it.
“I have something for you,” Severus announced when came to his office two days before the holidays, and rather unceremoniously presented her with a bottle filled with a bright orange potion.
“A Christmas gift?” Hermione asked, delighted. He had gotten her a Christmas present!
“As it is obviously is not Christmas yet and we will apparently be doing a white elephant gift exchange to celebrate the festive event – no. This, I have made specifically for you.”
“What is it?” Curious, Hermione opened the potion and sniffed.
He frowned at her. “You should know better than to sniff an unknown potion, Miss Granger! Even the vapours could possible kill you.”
“Well, I wasn’t expecting you to brew me a deadly poison as a not-for-Christmas gift,” Hermione retorted, sniffing again. “This smells nice. I think there is Soaproot in it, so I take it that it’s not meant to be ingested?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it. This is a cleaning potion for your hair – to be used instead of those unhealthy muggle products with Merlin-knows-what in it. I thought that if I can make toothpaste, I might as well try my hand at something you seem to feel in desperate need of.”
“You think I’m in desperate need of shampoo?”
He rolled his eyes. “No,” he said, stretching the syllable, as if he was answering a particularly stupid question. “But you constantly whine about your hair. I experimented with the potion I use for mine and tried to customise it. Put one hair of yours into the bottle and shake it well before first using it.”
“Oh – is this similar to Sleekeazy’s potion for unruly hair?” she asked, her eyes lightening up with interest.
He gave her a disapproving look. “If your are referring to the quack remedy you so liberally worked into your hair for the Yule Ball to force it into submission – no.”
“Well, what’s it going to do if not tame it and make it more manageable?”
“I see no need to ‘tame’ your hair, as you’re putting it. This potion is designed to work with your hair, not against it. It’s supposed to optimise what you have rather than try to make it into something that it’s not. And yours is neither tame, nor sleek.” Her hair was exuberant, obstinate, crazy. Just like her. He found he rather liked it. Especially now that it was getting some of its vibrancy back.
“Have you been using it on yours?” She critically eyed his head, probably doubting it’s miraculous properties.
“Not this new and improved formula.”
“Why – you wanted to try it on me first? In case of unfavourable side effects?”
He smirked. “That, too. But mainly because I think the flowery scent wouldn’t suit me.”
“Yes, I believe you’re right...” Hermione agreed, sniffing again. “I’ll give it try. I’ll thank you for it only after being sure that I’m not going to lose my hair completely or end up looking like a mop.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence!” he said ironically. “I’ve never brewed or invented a potion before, so you’ve got to cut me some slack.”
“Haha, funny! Why hasn’t anybody else noticed that you actually have a sense of humour?”
“Because I do my best to keep it hidden and only let it out on very special occasions. It might ruin my hard-earned reputation even more than great looking hair that smells like blossoms of orange and jasmine. Now, if you don’t mind, let’s see that we get some work done.”
The next evening, when she came to say good-bye to him before heading off for the holidays, Hermione was smiling all over her face. “You wonderful, wonderful man!” she exclaimed exuberantly and planted a kiss on his cheek. Severus almost dropped the book he’d just been putting back into the shelf in shock.
“What in Merlin’s name was that for?” he demanded, looking at her with a frown that was supposed to hide his confusion. Dam the girl. She couldn’t go around and kiss unsuspecting people like that! She clearly had no idea what she was doing. As if she wasn’t wreaking a world of havoc with his emotions just by everything else she said and did around him.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked, excitedly turning in circles in front of him. “Look at me!”
He did. She was beautiful, her lips smiling brightly, her eyes shining with joy, her hair flying in all directions. Ah! It finally clicked. She had used the hair potion. The result was as expected. He wasn’t a renowned Potions Master for nothing.
“It’s still rather voluminous,” he said, glancing at her bouncing curls that were catching the light of the torches and glowing in dark golds, rich ambers and warm maroons. “And not sleek.”
“No,” she beamed and stopped twirling. “It’s curly, but not bushy! And it even stays wavy after I comb it! Before, brushing my hair would invariable make me look as if I stuck my finger into a socket. But the shampoo... it’s wonderful! So simple and so effective! I was even able to use a drying spell on my hair! This is so great – now I won’t have to let it air-dry anymore, which took forever in this castle and always gave me colds in winter.”
He couldn’t resist reaching out and gently pulling on one of her long curls until it stretched almost to her waist, watching how it bounced back into shape as soon as he let go. “It looks alive,” he said softly. “I like it.”
For a moment, she just stared mesmerised into his face as he was standing in front of her. She was pretty sure that hairs didn’t have nerves, but she could still feel a mild tingle in her scalp where the strand attached to her skin. It hadn’t even been a touch – surely, pulling on one’s hair, however gently, didn’t qualify as touch. And yet it made her feel so much more than Ron’s hands on her bare skin ever had. She wanted him to do so much more than touch her hair... Even though she knew it was wrong on so many levels, she wished he’d throw caution into the wind, to kiss her senseless and ravish her right here on the lab table.
Severus breath caught in his throat as she stared up at him, desire and longing oh so evident in her eyes. Merlin help him!
“No.” She quickly put a finger on his mouth, forbidding him to speak. If he was going to tell her that they had to be sensible and keep their wits about them, she didn’t want to hear it. If he was going to apologise for affecting her so much with his innocent touch, she didn’t want to hear it either. “Don’t say it, please. Just don’t say anything. Thank you for the most wonderful Not-For-Christmas gift I ever received. I have something for you, too, though I fear it pales in comparison.”
She reached into the small, beaded handbag she had hidden inside her robe and pulled out a package wrapped in surprisingly tasteful Christmas paper. “Don’t open it now – I don’t want you to feel pressured to fake enthusiasm if you think it’s dreadful. You may open these, though.” She pulled out a tin box that seemed far to big to have fitted into her purse. “Cookies. I threatened the house-elves that I would start knitting hats again if the didn’t let me use the kitchen. I made them myself. Oh, and before I forget...” She blushed and pulled another bundle from her extended purse. “Here’s your robe back.”
The last made him frown. “You’re sure you don’t have need of it anymore?” They were not even in the middle of winter yet. It might get colder in January.
“No, not really.” Not even a trace of his scent lingered. “It has faded.”
He gave her puzzled look and Hermione realised her blunder. Her slight rosy colour turned a shade darker. “I mean – the spores. They are gone. The aura has faded. Luna has confirmed it.” Which had actually made Hermione wonder if Luna had somehow been able to see Severus scent on his robe. She wished she could just give it to him for a refill.
“I see,” he said, though truly, he didn’t. “I assume you bought yourself a new robe in the meanwhile?” he asked, taking back the piece of clothing she held out to him.
Hermione looked confused. “No – why? I have my Kimono.”
“That flimsy silky thing you call a dressing robe is hardly sufficient to keep you warm, Miss Granger!” he growled, and resolutely pushed the bundle back at her. “Keep it!”
“What? No, I couldn’t...”
He really didn’t mean to embarrass her because of her obvious financial straits, but if need be, he’d rather risk wounding her pride that having her risk her health.
“I’m not trying to help you get your health back for you to waste my efforts by catching pneumonia! If you don’t take it, I’ll be my contribution for the White Elephant. No one else will want it.”
“I... well, if you insist... Thank you!” Hermione reached out to take the robe back. It was nice and warm. Apart from liking the scent, she had never been cold in it. An idea sprang to her mind and she pulled her hands back. “You know, I’m just realising...”, she said and smiled at him, “that I won’t be needing it at Grimmauld Place. Harry will wonder why I’m wearing your robe. Just keep it until after the holidays, will you?”
She looked at him with a strangely hopeful expression. Severus just didn’t get the girl. He had the feeling that she was on about something, but he had no clue as to what it could be. “Very well,” he sighed, not sure if he even wanted to know.
“Maybe you could keep wearing it in the meanwhile?” she suggested. “You know – since your spores are purple, they’re good against my Gloomilows.”
“If you keep repeating this nonsense, people will think you are as crazy as Miss Lovegood.”
“Actually, I’m beginning to think that she is the only really sane person around,” Hermione said, now smiling happily. “Thank you. For two really awesome gifts.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, at a loss for words otherwise. Maybe there wasn’t anything else that needed to be said right now. “I’ll see you on Christmas Eve.”
“Yes.” She kept smiling. “I’m looking forward to it.”
A/N: (March 2018)
I’m afraid you’re really going to be mad at me now... After all your comments telling me how much you were looking forward to Christmas at Grimmauld Place, I feel really bad telling you now that it was never intended to be part of the story originally.
I wrote the White Elephant gift exchange scene, just for the fun of it, but I stopped when everybody had his/her present. But since then (encouraged by so many reviews asking for the Christmas chapter), I’ve added considerably to it, so much in fact, that it turned into a story of it’s own.
One part of it actually is a long conversation between Harry and Severus about the night his parents died. That, too, has morphed into a story of similar length and structure as ‘A Kiss for the Netherfairies.’ Given that Christmas season has passed, I’ll be finishing that one first. It’s undergoing beta-ing right now, and will be posted shortly.
I’m positive that the Christmas story will be up before the holiday season this year, too.