Hermione helped Snape to his feet so they could head back to his chambers. She reached around his back, wrapping one arm around his waist, and placing her other across his stomach. He, in turn, put his arm around her shoulder.
“Ready?” Hermione asked.
“Yes.” Snape struggled to stand up. Hermione tightened her grip around his middle and pulled him to his feet.
Leaning heavily on Hermione, Snape toiled to put weight on his injured ankle. When he was stable, they moved out of the tunnel and into the dungeon corridor. Hermione took her arm off Snape’s core and closed the tunnel. The stone wall clicked in place with a thud.
Snape and Hermione moved slowly down the corridor to his chambers. He had to lean on her considerably to keep from falling. “Sorry,” Snape said as he noticed Hermione struggling to remain standing under his weight.
“I’m fine. We’re almost there.”
After a few more feet of shuffling along, they reached the entrance to Snape’s chambers. Hermione pulled her out her wand and prodded the carving of the Ashwinder. The door’s hinges appeared, and she pushed it open, sticking her wand back in her robes.
Hermione’s pulse quickened with the anticipation of seeing the inside of Snape’s private room. They walked through the doorway and down a short, narrow entranceway with a low ceiling, which opened into a large sitting room. Hermione was shocked at the cosiness of the room. A huge fireplace took up the entire right wall. A warm, welcoming fire was burning bright in the hearth.
The stone wall across from the entrance contained a large rectangular window. The narrow window ran the length of the wall and was treated with deep green window dressings. If it had been daytime, Hermione was sure the bottom of the window would have been flush with the ground outside. Under the window, there was an armchair and table.
A bookshelf took up the left wall, except for a door at the far end. The bookshelf wrapped around the corner, to where Hermione was standing.
As much as she wanted to, Hermione didn’t have time to browse the titles on the shelves. Instead, she led Snape over to the couch in front of the fire. He fell heavily onto the cushions and landed in a slouched position, causing his travelling cloak to pull tightly across his neck and his face to contort in an odd way. Hermione remained standing, catching her breath.
“What can I do, Professor?” Snape didn’t answer. He sat with his head thrown back against the headrest and his face pointed toward the ceiling; his eyes were closed.
Hermione looked down on him, not quite knowing what to do. Her eyes lingered on his travelling cloak pulled tightly across his neck. I wonder if that’s choking him, she thought. She tentatively took a step closer to him; he didn’t stir. She got down on her knees so she was at a better height to unclasp his cloak. On her knees, she shuffled to the edge of the couch, the sides of her thighs brushing Snape’s legs. He didn’t move. She reached out and unhooked the clasp at the neck of his thick cloak. He gasped, gave a little jump, and lifted his head off the back of the couch, his hand griping his wand.
“S-s-orry, sir. It looked really uncomfortable, I thought I’d…” Hermione trailed off when she noticed the look on Snape’s face. He had a look mixed with terror and sadness. His whole body was tense, and his hands, which were resting in his lap, were trembling.
Hermione reached out and placed her hand over his. “Do you want me to go?” she asked. He looked at her for the first time and then down at her hand covering his. Her hair was dishevelled from struggling under his weight on the walk. Her hands were smudged with dirt, and they felt soft on top of his. Her young, attractive face studied his, waiting for a response. He didn’t want her to go, he wanted to be close to her, but he knew that was not a good idea.
Hermione, feeling self-conscience about Snape’s gaze and their touch, pulled her hand away.
“Do-n’t g-o,” he choked out, before turning away from her and staring blankly at the fire. He needed time to work things out in his head, like which of his feelings were real and which were side effects of the curse. He knew he should have told her to leave, but he gave into his desire to have her stay.
Hermione wasn’t sure what else to do, the silence seemed endless. He didn’t want her to leave but didn’t tell her how to help him either.
She turned her attention back to his hand resting in his lap. She tentatively lifted it up, turning it over to look at his palm. It was caked with dried blood and dirt. She picked up his other hand and examined that, as well. It was identical to the first. Hermione placed his hands back in his lap and walked over to the table by the armchair. She picked up a bowl and cloth and returned to the couch.
This time, instead of kneeling by Snape, she sat down on the couch next to him. She pointed her wand at the bowl in her lap. Water appeared. By this time, Snape had turned his attention away from the fire and back to her, watching with interest as she dampened the cloth.
She gently picked up one of his hands and began to clean the dirt from the cuts. Snape gave a short snort, which Hermione ignored as she worked in silence, careful not make eye contact with him. She finished cleaning his first hand and noticed the cuts were nothing more than little scrapes, whose appearance was augmented by dirt.
She reached for his second hand, and this time Snape let out a full laugh. Hermione jumped slightly, and her eyes sprang up to Snape’s face. He was wearing a twisted smirk across his lips. “What?” she asked.
“Nothing… only…. you are always the little good-doer, aren’t you? You can’t just sit here and leave me alone, can you?” he asked.
“Do you want me to leave you alone?” Hermione turned her attention back to cleaning his hand.
“You’ve fulfilled any obligation you may feel you have to me. You delivered me safely to my chamber. Your duty to the Order has been completed.”
Hermione looked up from cleaning his hand and gave him a puzzled look.
“Come now, Miss Granger. You don’t like me. But, you feel that because of our positions in the Order you are obligated to do what you can to keep me alive. However, I assure you that you aren’t required to try and be my friend.”
“I don’t hate you,” Hermione replied automatically. Snape snorted but didn’t press the matter.
Hermione finished cleaning his hand and set the cloth and bowl on a nearby coffee table. She sat back down next to Snape but couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact. Her downcast eyes caught sight of the mud print on his chest. In the brighter light of his chamber, she could clearly see the mark she had been unsure about in the tunnel was a footprint. Snape noticed Hermione looking at his chest.
“Giants,” he whispered.
“What?” Hermione gasped, finally meeting Snape’s eyes.
Snape hated opening up, and as much as he didn’t want to tell her what had happened he knew he had to. He didn’t want her to see him as weak, but someone from the Order had to know what they were up against. And, since she had helped him it might as well be her. Plus, telling her would save him from having to report to the either the entire Order or the werewolf later. He knew Granger was on his intellectual level, she would understand, and she wouldn’t criticise him. She was more his equal than any of those other idiots in the Order.
He found himself calming down now that he was back in his room with her sitting next to him, but he knew talking about the latest Death Eater meeting would shatter his calm. Nevertheless, he pressed on.
“The footprint. It’s from a giant,” he told her. Hermione’s jaw dropped slightly. “The Dark Lord has gotten many of them to join him. This was the meeting he chose to reveal his newest supporters to the Death Eaters.”
“A giant stepped on your chest?” Hermione asked childishly.
The corner of Snape’s mouth turned up ever so slightly. “Yes, Miss Granger, a giant stepped on my chest.” Snape replied, slipping back to the patronizing teacher. “Or rather, a young giant tripped over me. They aren’t the brightest creatures; add youth and they are down right dismal.”
Hermione gave Snape a look of concern, but it was a look Snape interpreted as pity. She reached out and lightly traced the muddy print on his chest with her index finger. “Why did Voldemort let a giant attack one of his supporters?” she asked gently.
“He didn’t let a giant attack me. The giant spooked and took off running, I was lying on the ground; it didn’t see me. It tripped over me, crushed my ankle, and broke a few ribs. Luckily, or perhaps unfortunately, most of its weight landed on my ankle, which took the brunt of the damage. My chest received only residual injuries,” Snape told her, trying to be condescending. He hated that she pitied him and wanted to belittle her for it. But he wasn’t sure how successful he had been.
In recent months, her work for the Order and their encounters had caused him to come to look upon her as a colleague. In a few years he knew her mind would rival his own, if not surpass it. And that wasn’t something he said about very many people. In fact, she was the first student he ever had that showed any real potential.
If only the giant had landed on his chest, he most certainly would have been put out of his misery. Then he wouldn’t have to deal with these unusually tender feelings he was having for his student. But despite the fact he respected her, he did not want her pity, so he brushed her hand off his chest.
Then Hermione asked the question Snape had been dreading, but knew was coming. The question whose answer he knew would invoke more of the pity he dreaded. “Why were you lying on the ground?” Hermione asked.
He took a deep breath. “I fell over when the Dark Lord performed the Cruciatus Curse on me.”
Hermione gazed at him. She didn’t want to push Snape too hard for information, but his answers were dodgy. He was not giving her any of the important details. She figured at least one Unforgivable had been used on him, that was pretty obvious, but here he was telling her the Cruciatus Curse had been performed on him like he expected the world to stop or for her to be floored with shock. She wasn’t that naive. She just looked at him with the most sympathetic expression she could manage. She hoped her face didn’t convey the annoyance she was feeling.
Snape was surprised when he didn’t see the expected pity in her face, but something else. Is that a look of vexation? he thought. He didn’t elaborate about the curse. What’s she waiting for? he thought, when Hermione didn’t respond to the fact he’d told her he’d been tortured. She was just looking at him. Does she really want more detail? he thought. He didn’t know if he was ready to tell the story. But she kept staring at him. Really. The idea of torture isn’t enough for her, she wants a visual? He took a deep breath; the whole story would have to be conveyed eventually and she was still staring at him expectantly.
“And?” Hermione asked in a slightly snippy voice. Snape didn’t like her tone. She was getting braver, not acting like a student around him anymore.
If she is going to have that attitude why should I tell her? he thought. But then again, at least her reaction wasn’t one of pity, that would have been worse. I guess if I’ve come to see her as an equal she should be able to talk to me the same way I would talk to her.
Snape continued. “I knew tonight was coming. The Dark Lord had been planning to introduce his newest followers for a while, but…” Snape paused and swallowed hard, “the Dark Lord was angry. I Apparated to the meeting point and took my place in his circle. He was yelling at another Death Eater for some reason when I got there. Something had gone wrong. I don’t know what; I wasn’t able to find out. After the rest of the circle arrived, the Dark Lord went around and invaded everyone’s minds. He was looking for something. When he got to me, I automatically blocked him.” Snape shuddered. Hermione could tell he was struggling reliving the night’s events, and she felt guilty for having been annoyed with him.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to…”
“Yes I do,” he responded.
“It doesn’t have to be me.”
“I have to,” he repeated more firmly.
“All right, take your time then,” Hermione whispered. She gave his forearm a tentative squeeze that she hoped would be reassuring. Snape didn’t respond, he just continued his story.
“The Dark Lord became furious; he called me out for blocking him. He knew I had been keeping him out of my mind for months, and he’d had enough of my continued evasiveness. He asked what I was hiding. But, when I told him nothing, he invaded my mind again. I had to let him in. I showed him what I wanted him to see, my supposed loyalty to him. But he pushed harder, and I showed him more. He didn’t believe what he saw; he is very skilled at Legilimency. He became angry and questioned my loyalties, accusing me of being a spy. Then he called me to the centre of the circle.” Snape’s voice faltered. He was trembling again. He stared down at his hands with his eyes closed.
After several minutes of silence Hermione said, “Professor.”
Snape’s head snapped up. She thought he looked ill. Hermione put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Snape turned his head toward her and met her gaze. His eyes glistened, the pain was clearly overwhelming. Hermione wished there was something she could do. She found herself beginning to feel sorry for Snape. But, at the same time, she found his vulnerability attractive.
“I was terrified my cover was blown. When he called me into the centre of that circle, I was so sure he had evidence I was a double agent,” Snape emphasised the word, so. “I thought he was going to kill me, right there, in front of everyone, as an example. Instead, he tortured me. Maybe it would have been better if he had killed me.”
“No! That would never be better, Professor.” Snape turned his head away from Hermione, and she thought she saw him wipe his eye.
Snape turned back, met her gaze again, and continued in a flat matter-of-fact tone. “He cast the Cruciatus Curse on me, and before I could even get back to my feet he had invaded my mind again. I was able to show him only what I wanted him to see, but he wasn’t satisfied. He cast the Cruciatus Curse again, keeping me under longer. I was still able to guard my mind, but just barely. I thought if I controlled what he saw he’d eventually believe I wasn’t hiding anything. But, he is too skilled to be fooled; my plan didn’t work. He signalled to one of his new supporters being unveiled that night. A group of Dementors have joined his ranks. The Dementor hovered over me, inches from my face.” Snape choked on a lump in his throat. It was clear he was having trouble continuing the story.
Snape turned away from Hermione, but she wanted him to know it was okay. She shuffled closer to him on the couch, reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. He relaxed a bit.
“Professor, look at me.” As much as he didn’t want to, Snape turned his face back to Hermione and took a deep breath. A tear rolled down his cheek. It was hard for Snape to be seen like this, and Hermione understood. He was brilliant and proud, two things that made his weakened position even more difficult. But, the side effects of the torture were beyond his control.
Instead of drawing attention to her professor’s emotional display, she nodded in an understanding show of sympathy. Hermione’s own eyes were filling up with tears as she heard his story, and she had to bite her tongue to keep her emotions under control.
Hermione dropped her hand from Snape’s shoulder and he continued. “It was horrible. I couldn’t fight the Dementor because the Dark Lord wouldn’t stand for it, so I had to lie still and submit to the attack. I was forced to relive the worst moments of my life, my most painful thoughts, coupled with the agonizing pain of the Cruciatus Curse… it seemed to go on forever.” Snape shivered. His hand was trembling again, and his eyes were swimming with tears.
“Just when I thought my soul was about to leave my body, it stopped, and the Dementor backed off. As it was backing off, the giants became overly excited and a young one came hurling toward the Dementor. It crashed through the Death Eater’s circle; people scattered as it came running, out fear of being trampled. I saw it heading toward me, but I was in no condition to move. As the giant ran at the Dementor, it hit me shattering my ankle and clipping my chest.” Hermione gave a slight squeak of terror, but Snape didn’t seem to notice. “The Dark Lord chased it off. It all happened so fast.”
Hermione tried to keep her composure, but it was getting hard. What had happened to Snape was so horrible that she began to feel bad for all the times she, Harry, and Ron had wished they could use the Cruciatus Curse on him.
“I was right where the Dark Lord wanted me,” Snape continued. “I was mentally weakened by the Dementor and physically weakened by the giant. I swear the Dark Lord was happy with the giant. He had been so angry his plans weren’t going his way, then my misfortune occurred, and his mood seemed to brighten. But he still wanted answers, and he wasn’t giving up. He invaded my mind again, I already felt like I was going mad, I had no energy, I let him in, all the way in.” Snape shook his head sadly. “After the Dark Lord got what he wanted, he stopped torturing me, and the meeting ended,” he finished, studying Hermione’s aghast face.
“Oh Merlin, Professor, does… does… does he know… everything? Is he… coming… after… m… the Order?” Hermione stammered in a terrified voice.
Snape smiled inwardly, there was something oddly comfortingly knowing Granger was first and foremost concerned with herself and making sure no Death Eaters were coming to get her. Her selfish reaction was so like his, self preservation first and foremost.
“Relax, Miss Granger,” Snape said upon seeing her terror. “Although, I couldn’t hold him out any longer, or send him false memories, I do not think he realized my true loyalties were to the Order and not with him. So you can relax. Although I showed him current members of the Order and the location of headquarters, he didn’t really learn anything he hadn’t already figured out on his own, and he still believes I am a loyal Death Eater, spying on the Order. My cover remains intact.” Hermione stared at him, her mouth agape. When he saw the confusion on her face, he said, “Death Eaters aren’t on their way to kill you for your little part in the opposition.” His words finally sank in, and Hermione calmed slightly, embarrassed that she wore her fears so clearly.
Until tonight, Hermione hadn’t realized exactly how much Snape sacrificed for the Order. He kept its secret even when he was tortured. But, what made Hermione feel worse about his huge sacrifice was the Order-the people who should support him- treated him horribly. Snape never received any respect at Grimmauld Place. And although, Harry, Ron, and even Hermione enjoyed having the majority of the occupants at headquarters be anti-Snape- instead of anti-Harry like in Potions classes- she now regretted feeling glad the Order disliked Snape. He had gone though more than most of the Order put together, and he had no support. She wished she had made more of an attempt to include him at Order meetings. Hermione’s eyes filled with tears. She reached up and put her arms around Snape and pulled him slightly toward her.
Snape snorted and tensed, “Granger, what are you doing?” Despite his internal conflict, between wanting to be close to her and wanting to handle things on his own, he let his head be pulled down onto her shoulder. He didn’t know if his longing to be near her was the side of effects of the curse or an actual desire to be close to her. But, one thing he knew for sure was it was nice not being alone after a Death Eater meeting; and it sure felt pleasant being held by her. But the nagging in the back of his mind, that she was only being friendly because of guilt, couldn’t be pushed out. His will won the internal battle, and he pushed her away. When he looked at her, he saw tears in her eyes.
“Professor, I’m sorry… for everything that has happened,” said Hermione, a tear slipping out from the corner of her eye. She now wanted to be with him more than ever. His shoulders felt strong and muscular in her arms; she wished he would have responded to her embrace by holding her back. But he didn’t.
Hermione’s actions and his own unsettled feelings caused Snape’s demeanour to change from calm back to his usual mean self.
“For Merlin’s sake, Granger, get it together. You may go,” Snape told her curtly.
“Huh?” replied Hermione, stunned.
“I no longer need your help. You may return to your common room.”
“Professor? You can’t even stand. How are you going to…”
“That is not your concern, Miss Granger.” Snape cut her off.
“But sir,” Hermione began tentatively, “it is my concern. Your services to the Order are important.”
“Don’t worry, Miss Granger, my work for the Order will continue.”
“But, sir,” began Hermione. “You are in pain. I want to help.” Her face contorted in a sad pained look that Snape interpreted as pity.
“I don’t want your help or your pity!” Snape yelled. “I can take care of myself,” he added more calmly, the pain returning to his face. He attempted to stand up but was over come with weakness and collapsed back onto the coach.
Hermione reached over and put her hands on the sides of his shoulders to steady him. She saw his eyes begin to water. He was trembling again. “Please,” Snape begged, “just go. I don’t want pity. I chose my own path; don’t feel sorry for me. I am in my current situation because I choose to be.”
“Pity!” exclaimed Hermione. "Is that what you’re upset about? Professor, what I’m feeling isn’t pity; it’s compassion. I respect you and what you’re doing for the Order. I respect the choice you’ve made to spy, and I want to help you. I want to make your work easier because if it’s easier it will be more successful. Plus, if your work is successful, I will directly benefit. So, I am actually helping myself,” she finished matter-of-factly with a smug grin on her face. She thought the last part was a very Snape-like attitude to have and might help him relate to her, and maybe, she hoped, to accept her.
Snape stared at her, surprised at her last remarks. Although that selfish mentality was similar to his own, her last remark still kind of stung. So, she’s just here for herself, thought Snape, believing her comments to be her true feelings. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse.
Hermione’s words had worked. Snape’s face wore an expression of a man who’d just been slapped. “If you’ll let me,” Hermione continued, “I thought you might like a friend. Someone inside the Order for you to talk to, since it seems to me you aren’t on the greatest terms with the other members.”
Snape didn’t know how to respond. “I don’t want someone to be my friend because they feel sorry for me,” he responded.
“I told you it’s not pity; it’s compassion. I am here because I want to be,” Hermione told him in a slightly admonishing tone.
“Not because you want to make sure I don’t sell you out to the Dark Lord?”
“Well actually…” Hermione smirked, trying to lighten the atmosphere. “No.”
“Why do you want to be here? Why do you want to help a Slytherin whom your best friends hate?” Snape asked.
She surveyed the look on Snape’s face. He looked defeated. “I don’t think you’re as tough as you come across. I think a lot of it’s an act,” Hermione boldly told him. “As for my friends, I think for myself and make my own decisions. They will respect my choices, and if they don’t, I will just curse them.” She smiled.
Snape couldn’t believe she was talking to him without fear, like Albus used to talk to him, and in no way like a student would talk to him. “Rubbish. Your friends will never respect this decision.”
Half a smile crossed Snape’s face. He shifted his weight and winced in pain. He closed his eyes and when he opened them he seemed to be weighing his options.
She was acting like his equal. Surprisingly it didn’t bother him, but he had to decide how close to allow her to get. It wasn’t the curse that made him respect Granger, but he didn’t know if his other feelings were a result of the torture. He didn’t know how far he should let her in, given his current state. “What are you going to tell the Order?” he asked.
“The facts. Only what they need to know.”
“Thank you,” Snape whispered. It’s what he had hoped for in telling Granger his story. Lupin would have asked a million questions and shared all the painful details with everyone. Hermione wasn’t going to do that. Maybe her friendship could be beneficial, thought Snape. Maybe I should accept it.
She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders a second time. Snape responded and let himself be pulled to her. He slumped forward and buried his face in her shoulder. Snape wrapped his arms loosely around her waist.
Hermione never thought she would feel the embrace of her professor, and her stomach knotted itself when he wrapped his arms around her.
After a minute, Snape lifted his head and looked at Hermione. Their faces were inches apart. Hermione struggled with emotions from hearing Snape’s story, but Snape was his composed self. He ignored the look on Hermione’s face; he didn’t want to have to deal with an overly emotional girl. I’m the one who was tortured, after all, he thought. He wished Granger would pull herself together.
Snape gazed into her soft brown eyes. She was attractive, which made the proximity even nicer. He knew he should shut down this line of thinking; he had enough on his mind. The last thing he needed was to get trapped into having unrequited feelings.
Snape lifted his head and adjusted his position, his forehead brushed Hermione’s. She didn’t move away. Instead, she bent her head forward, ever so slightly, so her forehead pressed against Snape’s. Snape responded by letting his own forehead come to rest on hers. Their noses brushed lightly against each other. He closed his eyes. He hadn’t been this close to another person in longer than he could remember and was enjoying the feel of her soft skin under his. But, he knew he had to end it before things got out of control.
Hermione couldn’t believe what was happening. Her lips were inches from those of the man who she had a crush on for months. She felt as giddy as a schoolgirl and a little bit nervous, but she told herself it was a good nervous. She knew she had to keep her cool. Play it cool, Hermione, keep it together, she told herself. This is a bad idea; he isn’t himself. Don’t get sucked in. Nothing’s going to happen anyway. Hermione tried to talk herself down.
“You should probably get back to your common room. Thanks for your help,” said Snape. But instead of moving completely away, he rested his hands on the tops of Hermione’s thighs, as she sat cross-legged on the coach, unmoving.
“Yeah,” breathed Hermione. “I should get back. Will you be all right?” She didn’t move. Instead she laid her hands on top of Snape’s, excitement coursing though her. Her eyes kept darting down to his lips then back up to his eyes. She couldn’t keep her eyes from straying to his lips. She hoped he wouldn’t notice. She didn’t want her crush interfering with helping him.
“I’ll be fine. I am going to take a shower and head to bed.”
Hermione gazed into his black eyes. She adjusted the position of her head, just as Snape began to pull his forehead from hers. In the process, his lips brushed hers. Both froze.
“Sorry,” Snape said, quickly pulling completely away from her.
“No, it’s okay,” Hermione said frantically. She gave his hands a little squeeze and leaned toward him in an attempt to stop him from moving away. Part of her wanted him to touch her lips again. But Snape quickly yanked his hands out from under hers.
“I’m going to go shower,” said Snape, pain and panic returning to his face.
He stood and swayed unsteadily. Hermione jumped up and grabbed his shoulders, steadying him to prevent him from falling.
“Professor, relax, it’s okay. I know it was an accident.” Snape’s eyes snapped up and met hers. They were once again standing close to one another.
Snape studied her. “An accident… right,” he whispered. “But… what if… Miss Granger… you need to go. I’m not myself. Tonight… it…the curse… the side effects…it… messed up my head. You need to go.”
“Really, Professor, it’s okay.” And, as if to back up her words with actions, Hermione took a step closer to him. “Let me help you.”
“I don’t trust myself… the side effects…”
“I do,” said Hermione, leaning toward him.
Snape looked down on her. She could feel his breath caressing her lips as her upturned head gazed at him. Hermione gathered her courage, flexed her toes, raising herself to their tips. She leaned forward and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Fine, you win. I’ll let you help me to the bathroom, then please just go,” he begged.
Hermione smirked and moved her hands from Snape’s shoulders to his waist. He put an arm around her shoulders and they headed toward the bathroom, Snape limping.