Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
"I know it doesn't feel much like it at the moment, Severus, but you are making progress" Adrian said calmly, as Snape clutched at the stone bench for support and leaned on it heavily - leaned with both hands, the natural and the artificial, he noted with approval.
"I suppose so - Merlin, but I feel dizzy standing up. I'd forgotten how far away the ground is." He could feel his - "his" - left leg trying to give way under him again, but he was determined to remaining standing (if you could call it that) for as long as possible. At six feet and a jealously-guarded half inch he had been, before, accustomed to looking down on most people, except for malformed giraffes like Albus and Sirius bloody Black, and one of the most disturbing things about four and a half months of enforced bed-rest had been finding himself looking up at Filius Flitwick. He had never realized the little man had so much nasal hair - which he seemed for some unfathomable reason to have styled into ringlets.
He tried to straighten up and stand unsupported, but as soon as he let go of the bench his left leg began to fold. Adrian, who was a lot faster than he looked, caught him round the waist at once and guided him to the couch in a sort of synchronized stagger.
"Hell," Snape said, almost conversationally. "I hate this."
"It will get better, honest."
"I suppose. What do Muggles - what do Muggle cripples do, after they've crashed their explosive-powered tin-can cars? If they can't walk, I mean."
"If their spines are intact, they learn to use artificial limbs - like these, only not as sophisticated. If not... they use a wheelchair. You must have seen those, when you were a boy."
"Yes. Couldn't I - couldn't I use one? As a, an interim measure, I mean. At least then I'd be able to get to the bloody lavatory without help."
"I don't think it would work, unfortunately. A purely manually-powered chair - well, you'd need both hands to work it, otherwise you'd just spin in a circle. I've only once seen one that would work one-handed, and it needed a lot more upper-body strength than you have just yet. And an electric one just wouldn't work here, according to Poppy. I did discuss it with her. You'd have to get someone to push you - and that's no better than what you've got. You'll just have to stick with it and keep practising, leik."
"Bloody easy for you to say, isn't it?" Snape snarled. "Do you have any fucking idea what this is like?"
"No - but that's not my bloody fault, is it man? Hell, I know you're under stress, I can't even begin to imagine how much, but I'm trying to organize my own bloody wedding and do night duty as well, I don't need my bloody head bitten off just for trying to help, all right?"
Snape turned his face away. "I don't know why you put up with me, Addy, I really don't, but if your misguided sense of charity leads you to waste your time on a hopeless case that's not my bloody fault either, is it?"
"I don't 'put up with you', you arse, and it's not charity; it's professional concern, and the fact that you've grown on me - like moss, leik." In truth, he was at least as fond of the dourly witty, prickly man as he was of any of his old college mates; more so, if anything.
Snape gave a little snort at that. "I see myself more as some bizarre fungus... one of the poisonous ones."
"All red, with little white spots?"
"Like some 1950s housewife's especially hideous summer dress? No, no - definitely something in black."
"I don't know any black fungi that are poisonous - and you're not really poisonous either. Just a bit bitter, leik."
Physically, he could see that Adrian was right - despite his continued failure to stand for more than a second or two at a time he had turned a corner, somewhere; his body was getting stronger almost by the day and he was now spending most of the day sitting up instead of dozing, and was able to see two or three solicitous visitors or traumatized Slytherins before his nerves began to fray too badly. Predictably, Horace had promptly manoeuvred him into helping with marking Potions essays - although he refused to mark the work of his carers or their immediate friends.
"It's not," as he told Neville with a frown, "that I'm afraid I might show undue favouritism; I'm more afraid I might mark them too harshly, for fear of showing favouritism."
"That's all right," Neville said cheerfully; "even if I was doing Potions this year you could hardly mark me any worse than I was. There isn't anything below 'Troll', is there?"
Mentally, it was another matter. He might be getting better at coping, outwardly; he might be able to go for as much as fifteen minutes without being held and without hyperventilating, now, provided it was daylight and someone was close enough to touch if he needed to; he might be able to talk to his colleagues for quite a long time and nearly enjoy doing so, and nearly not think that they ought to be recoiling from him in disgust. He might even (whisper it, don't even think it too loud, if fate offers you a sugar-lump there's bound to be a bridle in the other hand) experience a warmly self-satisfied glow every time he remembered that a brilliant, personable witch half his age found him attractive. Even if he still more than half thought she must be out of her mind.
But as Poppy fussed over him with her firm kindness, coaxing him back from the brink of the latest lacerating, wrenching flashback - as he lay on his back with his fingers knotted into the blankets, his breathing shallow and rapid, not daring to move - the part of him that still knew where it was knew that for all his progress he was still, always, poised on the edge of panic: sprawled precariously on a thin membrane stretched over roiling darkness, and much too terrified to move.
"You don't have to go through with this if you don't want to," Albus said gently.
Snape shook his head, wearily. "No - it's all right. It has to be done." He had tried before, months ago now, to extract the memory of being conveyed into the castle, and had got nothing but a swirl of jagged horror. His own fear of what he might see, combined with the anguish which had overwhelmed his senses at the time, had left the memory too confused to be useful. Yet he had been aware as he was carried in - hideously, agonizingly aware - and there ought to be some information there, if only one could decipher it.
And now that he had seen himself through Hermione's eyes... now that he had seen that ruined, rotting near-corpse splayed across the hospital bed and had somehow managed not to vomit, he felt better-prepared for what he might see inside his own head. Or outside it. He looked down at the polished surface of the stone bench for a moment, frowning in concentration, and then touched his wand to his temple and began to draw out the silver skein of memory.
Albus's hand on his own was an anchor in nightmare, in memory fractured like broken glass, jagged and savage - at least he didn't have to re-experience the pain but he remembered the pain, he could see his own torn body jerking and twitching in the belly of the boat, blurred figures, movement, himself arching up in convulsion, the ripped mouth trying to scream -
And again, Albus's hand gripping his tightly, the other man's nails biting into the side of his hand as they plunged through the silver surface of the mirror once more - the image blurred, stretched, leapt, there was nothing in it in focus except the focus of his pain, the skeletal, still-breathing carcase jerking, arching in desperation as a booted foot kicked again and again at its groin, at its torn arse, at its open, overflowing belly, and there were voices, jeering, saying something -
And again - the Pensieve like a bowl of quicksilver and clouds, pain pain pain the grey pre-dawn sky spinning above him, jab and jab and his skin blistering and peeling where the acid-soaked cloth touched and the boat swinging wildly under him, a masculine voice jeering, mocking him and a female voice giggling and another one saying something hard and commanding -
And again - he was going to be sick, he knew he was, he couldn't separate himself from the half-dead thing twisting and flopping like a fish in the bottom of the boat as the foot lashed into his side, his crotch, his belly over and over, as the memory of pain lanced through him with every blow and a loud, hearty-sounding voice that was almost familiar crowed "Like that, do you? Look at him jump!" and a female voice laughed, shrill and inane, and a second one snapped "Leave it, Cormac - you'll have us all in the water!"
He clung to the older man, gasping and shuddering, tears coursing down his scarred cheeks and soaking into the white beard as Albus rocked him like a child and crooned wordlessly. After five minutes that felt like forever, Snape mastered his own breathing and his surging nausea enough to disengage from the other man's arms and sit back, his mouth pursed into its accustomed expression of dour disapproval. "McLaggen," he said sourly. His bowed head was turned aside, his skin was deathly white and he was still shivering so hard he looked blurred, but his voice was firm and acidic and the Headmaster's mouth twitched into a smile under the shelter of his beard. "He's just the type, isn't he Albus? An empty-headed idiot who thinks the world owes him a living, and is prepared to go to any lengths to get the power and adulation he imagines himself entitled to."
"McLaggen and, it would seem, two of his, ah, female conquests."
"And what a lot of ground that covers."
"It could be any two of dozens, could it not? Did you recognize either of the female voices? I fear you have had far more contact with the individual students than I have, in recent years."
Snape looked up then, the lines of strain bracketing his mouth and eyes. "I don't remember, I can't - they both seem slightly familiar but the - what happened last year, it affected me, my memory, I lost a lot of the - of the fine detail. And it's no use using the Pensieve for that, because I wouldn't know where to start."
"Indeed - we don't even know what year they are in. McLaggen I know graduated last summer, but whether the two females with him were past students or current ones - the fact that you were not intercepted by the squid tends to suggest current students, but it could have been your presence which...."
"Did Hagrid actually follow through and ask the squid about it, do you know?"
"Not to my knowledge; he was, rather, ah, under the weather when he suggested it."
"He was three sheets to the wind."
"Even if - even if it was current students, I don't believe that they pose any present threat to you. The wards on these rooms - "
"Yes. It's not - not the danger that concerns me. Much. But the thought that I could be marking the essays of two of my own - torturers...."
"Will you give me permission to take a copy of this Pensieved memory and show it to the other Heads of House, to see if they recognize the voices?"
The younger man scowled at him for a moment, tight-lipped, then nodded sharply. "Very well. But warn - warn Pomona in advance. So far as I know she didn't see me when I was... opened."
"Do you - do you want to reclaim the memory, or would you rather...."
"Lose a piece of my mind? I don't feel that I have it to spare. And you know us Slytherins, Albus; everything which is mine, is mine. Even the bits I don't want."
Re-absorbing the memory was bad, it was so bad, but there were arms that held him, the one strong and the one withered, a firm embrace to keep him anchored in the reality of friends, of comparative safety, of (comparative) recovery. "I'm sorry," he murmured, when the shivering fit was finally done; "sorry to be such a burden."
"Severus, you have every right to expect to be given every help you need, not just for friendship's sake but for everything which you have sacrificed for the Order."
"But I blew it, didn't I Albus? After a few weeks of - of pain I told them - I told the Dark Lord everything I knew. Thanks to me, he knows at least roughly where our headquarters are, he knows as much as you've told me about the prophecy, he knows you found the Peverell ring and broke it, knows that I suspected you thought the diary and the ring were both Horcruxes, even if you never used the word then, and the damned locket you were so keen to get - damnit, why did you tell me so much? You knew my position was precarious at best, that this might happen - "
"If I hadn't taken you into my confidence, dear boy, I would have been dead twice over - once from the curse which withered my arm, which would have spread and killed me if I hadn't come to you at once, and once from the poison I drank whilst retrieving the false locket. Nobody else has your skill - and could you have treated me half so well, if you hadn't known what caused my injuries?"
"I suppose not... but oh, damnit Albus, what's the use, now he knows we know about them, he knows you cleansed him from the Peverell ring - suppose he decides to replace it with another? Will I be responsible for him committing another murder?"
"If so, he is responsible, not you - you cannot take his sins on your shoulders, dear boy."
Snape made a harsh noise. "I've enough of a burden carrying my own."
"Which were never as grave as you seem to think, and which you have expiated long since."
"You say so now" Snape said, restless and fretful, "because you pity me, so you want to soften the blow - but when I first came to you with my sins on my hands you told me I was disgusting because I - because I cared more about a friend than about an enemy."
"I was... interpreting your actions in the light of - of prior experiences which involved other people entirely, and I think now that I was wrong to do so. You proved to be... of much higher quality than I mistakenly thought at the time. You aren't an easy man to know, Severus, and I could never breach your shields and see your heart, then, even when I tried to destabilize you by attacking you. But I've seen it often enough since, with your permission, and I know it to be a sound one. And at least, thanks to you and Horace, we now know how many Horcruxes there are, and Tom does not know that we know. I will not have you troubling yourself so much about it. I will tell you again, as your friend, your employer and your commanding officer, that the war is not your concern at present, except as a matter of abstract interest.
"As far as Horcrux hunting goes, Harry and I have the matter well in hand. If I am poisoned, blasted or shrivelled again in the process you may advise Horace as to appropriate treatment for this ageing carcase, but other than that your primary concern, and your only task, is to become again as well as you can be. Rest when you are tired, exercise when Adrian tells you to, and be a little frivolous - for once in your life. Lie down with me now."
"It's quite true," Snape said drowsily as he curled himself down into the reassuring contact, his head pillowed on his friend's good arm. "I feel myself to be in some sense always skating on thin ice, now, but I'm good at that, and despite everything that happened - last year, and the, the physical and psychological consequences, in some ways I am less tense than I can remember ever being. No spying; no immediate danger; no responsibility - no classroom full of infuriating dunderheads and mannerless brats to ignore me, just three bright, academically-minded students who want to hear what I want to tell them, which is just.... And sleep. Do you know how wonderful it is, Albus, to be able to sleep whenever I am tired?"
A soft snore, like the distant murmur of approaching thunder, told him that Albus probably did know.
"Stand still, Pomona, do, while I calibrate this." He touched the there-and-not-there components delicately in a complex sequence, and the thing whirred and chimed and glittered like moonshine. "Favourite breakfast cereal, equivalent weight in split lentils, name of Imaginary Friend - really?"
"We don't talk about that."
"What's it worth not to tell - ?"
"Don't you bloody dare."
As nightmares went, it wasn't one of the worst - no literally blow-by-blow retelling of agony, just a vast formless unease, a sense of something soft and amorphous and horrible lurking behind his shoulder, waiting to pounce. Nevertheless, he was shamingly grateful to wake and find himself safe in his own bed, with a brisk March wind probing the edges of the window-panes.
He lay for a long time in silence, just feeling the here-and-now, the luxurious way his body, what there was left of it, sank into the yielding mattress, the warm weight of the blankets and the firelight glimmering softly across the tapestries which covered the worn stone walls.
Not the least of pleasures was the warm presence of another body next to his in the soft darkness, a hand laid lightly on his arm, tethering him to sanity and to this strange, fantasy world in which he actually mattered to somebody. He had not even woken her, this time, the dream had been so mild - or perhaps she was just too weary.
He lay and watched her as firelight danced across her skin and the sky outside began almost imperceptibly to lighten, a frown tightening between his brows to see how very tired the blasted girl did look. Under the circumstances, he found himself quite grateful that she did not look like a cherubic innocent but she shouldn't resemble a careworn woman of thirty, either. Between school work and fretting over him she was clearly over-doing it, and he ought to tell her to leave except that, amazingly, that would probably worry her even more.
And it was a novel experience, even if an unnerving one, to find himself sharing a pillow with a personable young woman who found him attractive - personally attractive, too, as himself, not just as a male who happened to be an available dick at some rowdy Death Eater revel. As he watched her Hermione stirred slightly and the hand on his arm tightened. She smiled in her sleep at that, although her face was still weary and strained. Seeing that tired little creasing of her forehead as her breath stirred a stray strand of unruly hair, he found himself suddenly a little breathless himself, and fighting the urge to brush that errant curl aside and kiss her on her still faintly-curving lips.
The wind rattled the window-panes abruptly and Hermione opened her eyes and smiled drowsily at him. This was so like a number of her dreams that it took her a moment to realize that she really was awake, and being watched intently. "Did you have 'nother nightmare?" she murmured, snuggling a little closer and rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't wake up...." The look on his face was... nice. Intent and warm and much softer than usual.
"That's all right, it was nothing too terrible" Snape replied in a brisk tone which sounded false even to himself. He could feel his ears turning pink under her dreamy scrutiny. "Just routine creeping dread - not much different from teaching a class with Potter in it, really."
"Mmm. That's good." She yawned, lifting a hand to brush his hair absently back from his face. "Well, not good, but better." He was going a bit pink, for some reason, and she smiled again - he was particularly endearing when he was blushing and awkward. "Is there anything I can do?"
Right now he could think of several things she could do, but he didn't dare say any of them. He swallowed, and hoped she wouldn't notice his Adam's apple bobbing. "No, I'm all right. Really." For the sake of having something to do, even though it was only twenty to seven and rather early for getting up, he fumbled after his wand and used it to start the tea things brewing. While the kettle was heating up, Hermione used Mobilicorpus to help him get to and from the bathroom.
Afterwards they sat up in bed side by side, sipping Twinings' best English Breakfast tea as a grey dawn lightened the sky above the lake, although the early sun itself was not visible from this angle. Hermione was obviously still barely awake, and looked as if she might fall face-first into her cup. Snape stared at his own tea without really seeing it, trying to collect his scattered nerves. "I was just... thinking," he said quietly. "About - about what we were discussing the other day."
Hermione blinked, floundering towards the surface of her own mind. "Er... trans-time probability nodes?"
"Ah - no. About what might happen if - well. If I was able to, er, return your feelings."
"Oh." Hermione blushed a bit herself, trying not to feel too hopeful. "Uhm... what were you thinking?" She fiddled a bit nervously with the edge of the blanket, arranging her face in what she hoped was a receptive-but-not-overeager expression.
"That it... well, as I told you, I don't know if I could ever come to feel as you feel, or, or how I would react, now, to the idea of somebody taking a... physical interest in me. But it has occurred to me that it will be very difficult to answer those questions without to some extent, ah, testing the waters. In a manner of speaking." There were several stock manners of speaking which might apply to his situation. "You won't know till you try it" was acceptable, but "Suck it and see" was rather unfortunate, and as he thought it he could feel a blush starting to turn the edges of his horrible early-morning beard-shadow purple.
"That's true," Hermione said, trying harder than ever not to sound overeager. "A trial run would certainly seem like a good idea... a sort of test under controlled conditions. I mean, you wouldn't try some completely new potion at full strength first go, and this is at least as important as that." She would take trial status and be thankful for it, under the circumstances.
Snape looked at her obliquely over his teacup, raising his eyebrows. "Granger, you are nattering. Hermione. Why are you nattering?" Truth be told, he had very little idea what to do next, and was stalling for time.
Hermione blushed furiously, looking down into her cup. "Because I'm nervous," she said in a small voice. "And trying not to be too... too hopeful, because I really don't want to push you into anything."
Snape looked at her with his head on one side like a curious crow, glittering and faintly malicious. "Nervous because I might do something," he said with the beginnings of a smirk, "or nervous because I might not?"
"Nervous because you might not want me," she said honestly. "So because you might not, really." Blushing again, she sipped her tea, giving him a look that tried to be honest and open and succeeded only in being pleading.
"As a general rule," Snape said seriously, gazing thoughtfully at the pattern on the bedspread, "I quite enjoy making my students nervous. But in this case, I find myself curiously reluctant to do so, which may be a further indication that I do not, in fact, regard you as a student."
"Oh." Hermione went pink, fiddling happily with her cup. If he didn't want her to be nervous, and she was nervous about him not being interested, then that meant he was, didn't it? "I'm glad you don't regard me as a student. I'd be rather crushed if you did, actually, after I've tried so hard to show you that there's more to me than just a constantly waving hand."
"Indeed," he said gravely, "you have, at least in potentia, an excellent mind, and a lively if somewhat aggravating personality. As to your - physical attributes," he said delicately, pausing for a sip of cooling tea, "I can personally testify that there is much more to you than just your hands. Thanks, that is, to the - towel incident."
Hermione went from pink to scarlet. "Er... yes... well...." She couldn't even look at him now, ducking her head so her hair would hide her face. "I'm glad you... uh... think so."
"Most definitely." He finished the tea and set his cup aside, grinning to himself. "My dear good girl, if you wish to attempt a - relationship, even as a trial run, you are going to have to get used to me being provoking. As well as to the idea that I might... enjoy looking at you."
"I like it when you're provoking," she mumbled, glancing up at him shyly. "It's just... uhm... I'm not really used to anyone enjoying looking at me, let alone actually doing it."
"Neither am I," he replied honestly. "Even before I was.... But I thought that we might - well, practise together. So long as it is clearly understood, on both sides, that it is just a trial run. I do not wish to find myself the object of furious recriminations, nor do I wish to spoil our - our friendship," (there - he'd said it!), "if either of us should eventually decide that the trial isn't working out." He cleared his throat. "And it would be a good idea if you started calling me Severus, not Professor, and I will endeavour to call you Hermione. I've never been into, ah, sexual rôle play and I really don't want to feel as if I am playing at being the stern teacher ravishing the innocent schoolgirl, even if - even if some people would say that that was what we were doing."
"Of course." Hermione wrinkled her nose. "And that's not at all what you're doing. If anything, we're in a real-life version of 'nurse seduces vulnerable patient' and I don't like that one much either. I'd much rather 'friends seeing if they can be more than friends', really." She smiled shyly at him. "I would like to call you Severus, though. And for you to call me Hermione." It would be so damned hard not to get her hopes up too much... still, even a trial was more than she'd ever expected.
"I don't think you can fairly be accused of seducing me - at least, not in that... pejorative sense, since you had to rely on Longbottom to play matchmaker. Indeed, I would say you've been - admirably professional, which is more than I'm certain of in myself at this point. At least, I'm not teaching you, or at least not in the formal sense of being responsible for your grades et cetera - I don't think just talking about your essays for other people counts - and the nurse/patient situation means that I am not taking advantage of a position of authority. At least, I hope not.
"As for you taking advantage of your authority over me, as my - my carer, I thought we already agreed that I seem to have a bit of a tendresse for bossy women. I'm old enough not to need protection from something which I might rather enjoy. Just don't - don't overdo it, and for the love of God don't shout at me. I don't think having a panic attack and throwing up would be very romantic."
"Well, I've been hoping you do still like them. Bossy women, I mean." Hermione smiled, reaching out to tentatively take his hand. "And I certainly know better than to shout at you, after all this time. If it's absolutely necessary to be cross with you, if you put yourself in danger again or something, I'll have to resort to either reasoning with you persistently until you give in - and I can do that for a really long time - or threatening to cry. And I don't think either of those would work on you, so perhaps I won't bother."
Privately, he thought they might both work quite well, but he wasn't going to say so; it went against his Slytherin instincts to hand her a weapon to use against him, even if it would be wielded for his own good. "You may... chivvy me for my own benefit, however. Albus has been amusing himself by doing so, and I quite like it - even though I tell him I don't." He rubbed his thumb lightly across the back of her hand, feeling the bones there as thin and light as a bird's.
"I could fuss. I fuss very well, I've been practising on the boys for years." Hermione grinned, on surer ground now. "I can also bustle, although I don't really have the hips for it yet. If you don't look after yourself, I'll give you such a bustling that you'll think Mrs Weasley's here, maybe that will work."
"Now, I didn't think it was hip-size which was really the issue when bustling, considering that a bustle is an, um, an artificially enlarged... derriere. In which respect, Molly is also more generously provided for than you."
"It's that whole area." Hermione made a vague encircling gesture in the area of her hips, going a little pink. "All the way around, really." She looked down at herself. She was sadly lacking in "around"... a trip around her circumference wasn't a lengthy one at any point up or down. "Still, I can trot about being cheerful and bossy and convinced I know best, which is the spirit of bustling."
"Indeed." He looked at her gravely, although he could feel his own lips quirking at the corners. The best thing about provoking Gra... Hermione was how well she played up to it. "And since I only have the one arm at present, I should perhaps be glad that you aren't too much of an armful, otherwise it might be difficult to reach... everything which I had it in mind to reach."
Hermione blushed furiously, but shifted a little bit closer. "In the spirit of giving this a proper trial, perhaps you should try that," she suggested hopefully. "Er, putting the arm around the rather limited armful, I mean. In an experimental capacity."
Snape felt himself stiffen - drew a deep and careful breath and forced himself to relax again. "Yes, it - would seem logical," he agreed, carefully. "I'm not sure - not sure how I'm going to handle I mean react to a situation in which I am being touched in a way which is even quasi-sexual, but we have to start somewhere. If we're going to. Only it would be a great deal easier if you came round the other side of me."
Hermione nodded. Setting down her teacup, she slid off the bed and moved around it to sit near him. "We do have to start somewhere," she said, taking a deep breath. "I'm nervous too, if it helps at all... but we've had lots of practice with snuggling up already. It's more or less the same thing, just... more cuddly." That had sounded so silly. She hoped it was at least reassuring.
Squeamishly aware of how awkward he must look, having to move himself using his backside and one hand, Snape shuffled over to "her" side of the bed, then patted the mattress next to him. Hermione edged closer, and he tweaked the blankets up over her knees and then sat for a moment, not quite looking at her. His breath, he found, was stumbling over an uneasy mixture of half-formed desire and latent panic, and the blood was singing in his ears. But he had spent his entire life riding roughshod over his own fears and at least this time he knew, intellectually, that he was in no real danger of anything except making a fool of himself.
Drawing a deep, shuddering breath to steady himself, he leaned against Hermione lightly, nearly but not quite resting his head on her shoulder, and looped his arm around her back. As he felt her own arm ease carefully around his waist, he was grateful for the foresight, or instinct, or whatever it was which had led them both to brush their teeth when they used the bathroom earlier, so that neither of them had to confront the other one's morning breath. Aesthetics aside, the cleaner and more quiet and controlled everything between them was, the less it reminded him of Macnair's foul mouth coming down over his, and - biting his lip and forcing the memory aside with a little flick of his head, he tightened his arm around Hermione's ribs, and wished distractedly that he had thought to shave.
Hermione nestled tentatively against him, tucking herself into his arm. It felt nice - more than nice - and she sighed contentedly, curling her own arm gently around him. Not too tight, for fear of upsetting him, but holding him close. They rested like that for a minute, and when he didn't draw away or seem upset, Hermione ventured a light, brief kiss on his stubbled cheek. He hadn't minded that, the last time, and they did have to start somewhere.
Snape flinched, slightly but definitely, forced himself to relax and turned into her kiss, see-sawing queasily between terror and tentative desire. At this level of proximity, desire was definitely winning. He knew what he wanted to do, now; instincts which were a long time out of practice were starting to kick in, his body was telling his brain what it wanted and his brain started to tell his body how to go about it, and that was where it all fell apart - He folded forward into Hermione's arms and rested his head on her shoulder, feeling horribly like crying. "Damn - oh, damn! This isn't going to work."
Hermione released her hold on him at once. "Oh, S-Severus, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go too fast...."
"It's not that," he growled, shaking his head against her shoulder. "Not your fault." He drew back and glared at her wildly, all haggard and unshaven as he was. "I wanted - I wanted it to work. I could feel it starting to work, I was going to be all, all bloody suave and lift your chin up with my fingertips and kiss you properly, at least a little bit - and then I realized that I couldn't, because I didn't have a bloody arm any more on that side." He made a harsh, self-derisive noise like the cry of a crow. "And it's no good trying it with Filius's prosthetic, because the way my control of the thrice-damned thing is going, I'd probably miss and stick my bloody fingers up your nose."
Which was not even to mention the routine, humiliating difficulty of working out where to put his nose when he kissed somebody; but they could fall off that particular bridge if they ever reached it.
"Oh, Severus...." She lifted a hand to smooth his hair back, keeping her touch gentle. He flinched a little, but he didn't pull away. "It's... I wish I could make this better for you. Easier. I want you to be happy because of this, not miserable." She lowered her head to rub her cheek lightly against his shoulder. "Until the prosthetic is working properly, I think I could manage tilting my own chin if there's a kiss in it for me...."
Snape gave a wild little laugh. "Nothing is ever easy. Whenever I want to, to impress a girl with how bloody sophisticated I am, fate always manages to dump me on my arse, one way or another. At least this time," he added cryptically, more to himself than to her, "I wasn't wearing my oldest and most horrible underpants." He sighed and then nodded at her rather curtly. "Well - go on, then."
Hermione blinked at him, looking nervously hopeful, and tilted her face up towards his. He tightened his arm around her ribs, drawing her closer, and bent his head down rather cautiously - and yes, there it was, bang on cue. After a moment of irritable readjustment, trying to find an angle which didn't squash his nose against her cheek, his lips met hers in a feather-soft touch which jolted through him like electricity. As Hermione seemed to move and flow in the curve of his arm, her whole body rising into the kiss, he parted his lips slightly against hers and tried to remember how to breathe.
Hermione shivered, her bones feeling decidedly melty as they kissed each other slowly and tentatively. When their lips parted, she couldn't keep the silly, adoring smile from spreading across her face, or her fingers from coming up to brush his rough cheek very gently. "Oh, my...."
Snape sat back and looked at her, his heart pounding until he felt giddy and almost sick. It wasn't just the kiss itself, as enjoyable as that was, but the feeling that somehow, against all the odds, he had reclaimed a little power over his own body - that Lucius and Macnair had not after all succeeded in taking this away from him.
And she was looking at him - him! - as if he was something wonderful and worth looking at. He had always preferred to avoid mirrors, even before he was scarred, but he had a vivid idea of what he looked like first thing in the morning, before he had had a shave and a shower and several cups of coffee. But the imbecile, astonishing girl was looking at him as if he was some sort of Muggle film-star, or a Witch Weekly poster-boy like Lockhart. He ducked his head in embarrassment, but he could feel a silly, satisfied smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. "That was - reasonably satisfactory. For a first experiment."
That head-duck and tiny smile were both encouraging and so adorable that Hermione slid down several notches further into "complete melt". "I thought so," she said happily, cuddling against his side a bit. "Although I think we might have to do it again a few times just to be absolutely sure that our results were accurate and properly indicative of future chemistry."
"I would think so," Snape replied gravely. "But right now - right now what I want to do is to lie down again with you in my arms - my arm - and go back to sleep for..." he glanced at the clock, "half an hour or so. And then wake up and kiss you again. And then have a shower and a shave, so that I am as near to presentable as I ever can be, and kiss you again. And then have breakfast in bed with you, and then, perhaps, if Albus is not too punctual and you still have time before your first class...."
"Kiss me again?"
We are never actually told how tall Snape is, but Narcissa is specified as being tall, and Snape is enough taller than her that he can noticeably look down at her when they are standing on a level. On the other hand he is visibly shorter than Sirius, who is himself not so unnaturally tall as to invite comment. So I'm assuming Narcissa is about 5'9", Sirius is about 6'2" or 6'3", and Snape is around the 6ft mark.
As Time Goes By is, of course, the title of a 1930s song which famously includes the line "A kiss is just a kiss".
This chapter has been re-edited in accordance with the new backstory in Deathly Hallows, to reduce the amount which Dumbledore had told Snape about the Horcruxes prior to his capture; to specify that in this time-line Albus called Snape as soon as possible after the ring-curse hit him, and that is why he is still alive; and to begin to address the fact that Albus had been very harsh to Snape in the past.
In the light of various reviewers' comments about how we have chosen to portray Snape and Hermione in this fic, and whether we have made Snape too open or noble etc., we have posted an essay called Reserved!Snape - Canon or Fanon?, q.v..
Also in light of some reviewers' comments I feel I should point out, once again, that Hermione is nearly three years over the age of consent. Whether or not Americans would consider her a bit young at not-quite-nineteen, these are British characters in a British cultural setting, and to Britons there really wouldn't be anything very remarkable about a nearly-nineteen-year-old taking up with a thirty-something, so long as the thirty-something wasn't in authority over the younger partner. A friend of mine in his early forties got into a passionate, serious relationship with a not-quite-eighteen-year-old and nobody was especially surprized or shocked (although admittedly he might not have done it if she hadn't lied and told him she was twenty-one).
In autumn 1998 it was made illegal for a person in authority to have sex with a person who was under their authority and less than eighteen, unless they were married; but eighteen is the age of absolute majority in Britain for all except three purposes (driving a heavy goods vehicle, becoming a council member or MP or owning a business which sells alcohol), and is so regarded. Hell, even the fact that one of my schoolteachers (in the 1970s) eloped with an eighteen-year-old current pupil didn't raise that many eyebrows, although it would have done had she been younger.
PLEASE NOTE: whitehound's solo story Sons of Prophecy has been nominated in the Azkaban category of the The Sorting Hat Harry Potter Thematic Fanfiction Awards. Readers who liked it enough to vote for it should go to The Sorting Hat and cast their vote between 18th September and 1st October 2006.
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