- Hermione Granger
- Drama Romance
- Multiple Eras
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 03/19/2002Updated: 09/01/2005Words: 220,150Chapters: 28Hits: 163,807
Falling Further In
- Story Summary:
- The story begins in the summer holidays before the sixth year. After her parents are murdered by Voldemort Hogwarts becomes Hermione's home. She joins the staff in the fight against Voldemort and learns more of the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom. Will *eventually* be Snape/Hermione. Lupin is again the Professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and has a black dog who lives with him - Sirius Black in his animagus form.
- Chapter Summary:
- Hermione learns more about the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom
Hermione woke in slow stages, barely stirring under the covers as she identified her surroundings. She was back in the hospital wing - the same bed she had occupied during the weeks she had lived here after the Polyjuice Potion fiasco, when she had ended up with the face of a cat.
She felt muzzy-headed, sucked dry of moisture and as if she had been beaten with clubs. Par the course for anyone unlucky enough to spend time with Snape.
Her eyes bright in the darkness, Hermione absorbed the brutal efficiency with which he had broken her, before silent tears rolled down her face as the enormity of her loss came crashing back. She wept for what had been done to her parents, for the fact she hadn't been there to save them, and because of an all-encompassing sense of guilt. The only reason they had died was because she was friends with Harry. She supposed drearily that to He-Who-Must - Voldemort's way of thinking that would mean she would blame Harry.
But most of all, and to her deepest shame, she wept for herself and her loss. But just when the loneliness seemed too much to bear there was someone there in the darkness.
"There, child," said Professor Sprout's honeyed voice from beside her, just before she was taken in an embrace that would have been comforting but for the fact it was a too poignant reminder of the mother she had lost.
The next time Hermione awoke the room was awash with sunshine and Professor McGonagall sat at her bedside. Briskly kind, her astringent manner was just what Hermione needed at this stage, and oddly comforting. Having bathed, changed her nightgown and eaten, she slid gratefully back to sleep despite the oppressive heat.
That evening Professor Dumbledore was at her bedside, followed over the next thirty six hours by Madam Pomfrey, Professors Flitwick and McGonagall again the following morning. While they were kindness itself, each time it was a relief to retreat back into deep, dreamless sleep.
Waking to a velvety darkness thick enough to slice, she sat up to drink thirstily from the glass of chilled pumpkin juice at her bedside, grateful that there was no one sitting vigil tonight for whom she must make an effort. Relaxing, she gave a long stretch, surprised by how well she felt. She was distracted as brilliance flooded the room when the quarter moon slid into view, perfectly framed by the open casement windows. It hung in the sky, seemingly close enough to touch but making her feel as if she was the only person alive.
And so she was, in the Granger family.
She steadied her chin, drank another glass of pumpkin juice, which just refilled when needed, and munched on the banana and brown sugar sandwiches which appeared. Though how the house elves knew they were her favourite comfort food...?
It was odd, the moon at Hogwarts looked twice as big as it had back in the Muggle world - back home. Except it hadn't been her home any more. Not really, deep down inside, where it counted. Getting that letter from Dumbledore had been like coming home, the holidays just something she enjoyed only because she'd been with her parents. And even then...
Snape, the bastard, had been right. She had been drifting away from them. Each holiday had become a little more strained as they struggled to mesh the concerns of their different worlds; in time they would have had nothing in common, except love - which even Voldemort couldn't destroy. If he could Harry would be dead and... She paused to consider what life under Voldemort might be like. Both terrifying and dull because you'd be too busy trying to stay alive to be able to study and...
Harry and Ron were right. She really did need to get out more. Only not just yet. There were too many things to organise to ensure she could remain at Hogwarts without the Muggle authorities starting a search for her in their world: there would be lawyers, bankers, the house to sell, belongings to sort through... She had no other living relatives and so for the next couple of months would need a legal guardian, preferably one she could display to the Muggle authorities and who would pass in the Muggle world if necessary. It would only be until September, when she would be eighteen.
That old fool Fudge had mumbled something when he had told her about her parents' murder - though after what Dumbledore had said to him when he discovered Fudge had taken matters into his own hands it wasn't likely she would have to put up with him again. Besides, she wouldn't trust Fudge to see her across the road, never mind be her guardian. Particularly as he had never given any sign of knowing she existed before. Except now she was that notorious witch - friend of Harry Potter and therefore marked for death. Or worse.
Panic flickered in the back of her mind but she resolutely conquered it. She could waste her remaining time at Hogwarts hiding in corners or she could learn all she could from who ever she could before they defeated He- Voldemort.
There. She had thought it.
The headmaster was right. The name did lose power the more you used it.
She would speak to Professor Dumbledore about sorting out her Muggle existence. She couldn't expect the staff at Hogwarts to continue to take responsibility for her.
Refocusing on her surroundings, it was only when she looked into the room rather than out of it that she discovered she wasn't alone, as she had assumed. Snape sat astride a straight-backed chair positioned in the shadows beyond the foot of her bed. Careful not to advertise her wakeful state, Hermione realised he was asleep and therefore off-guard. She had never seen Snape so relaxed. He wasn't a comfortable person to be around; he seemed to live on his nerves, and in the process he ensured that everyone else had to do the same. She took her time to study this familiar stranger.
He looked as if he was hugging for comfort the straight-backed chair he was straddling. His long legs were curved, so that the soles of his booted feet met, completing the circle. His head pillowed on his forearms where they rested on the chair back, the vulnerability of his position was heightened by the naked nape of his neck, exposed where his lank hair flopped forward over the gaping back of his collar.
As she studied his motionless figure it occurred to Hermione that, with the possible exception of a man with his trousers puddled around his ankles, there was no more vulnerable sight than the nape of a strong man's neck.
The air was thick with heat and so still that it felt as if she should be able to hear him breathe, but he slept on noiselessly. As if he had no conscience.
Easing herself from the bed, Hermione gathered up the voluminous folds of her pin-tucked white nightgown and padded over to where Snape, looking as boneless as Crookshanks, slept. The heat must have made him discard his usual robe or coat, for he wore only a fine cambric shirt and black trousers and boots. It was the first time she had noticed the shape of the man who inhabited the black robes which seemed so much a part of him. Come to that, it was the first time she had thought of him as a man rather than the purveyor of dark sarcasms and casual cruelties in the classroom.
The fabric of the white shirt was thin enough to reveal the muscled contours of his bowed back and the sharply pricked definition of his spine. He was too thin for such a large-boned man, a fact usually disguised by his layers of clothes. He must be very tired not to have heard her. Her expression hardened.
Gaining no response, she prodded his shoulder, flinching back a step when his head shot up in a tangle of black hair. His drowsy lack of focus and rumpled approachability were in stark contrast to his usual severe formality.
"Miss Granger." A betraying relief lit his tired face as he prepared to rise from his chair.
Before he could do so Hermione struck out; swinging her entire body around into the punch to increase its force, she connected with the centre of that pale face. Already off-balance, her blow sent him sprawling and the chair crashing to the ground.
Yelping with pain, she involuntarily tucked her throbbing hand into her armpit before glaring at her felled adversary. Her knuckles felt as if they were broken.
"You bastard!" she cried, sweeping her wand from the table to the top of the bed before she could give in to the urge to cause more damage. For the first time she understood the terrible temptations that accompanied their powers and the knowledge marked her.
His eyes watering with pain, Snape sat cupping his nose, blood smearing his fingers as he looked up at her, wearing an expression she wasn't sure how to interpret.
She began to shake with reaction. Merlin save her, she'd hit Snape. She'd assaulted a teacher and was going to be expelled...
Then Madam Pomfrey was there.
"Hermione? Whatever has happened, child?"
Hermione turned to her with a helpless gesture and was mortified to find she had started to cry again. At this rate she would be spending all her time with Moaning Myrtle. Then she stopped thinking and took refuge in the comforting arms that encircled her.
"Really, Severus," scolded Madam Pomfrey, from over the top of Hermione's head.
His eyes widening with reproach at the injustice of it, Snape remained on the floor in case Miss Granger decided on another demonstration of her pugilistic abilities, waiting for Poppy to notice that his nose had been broken - again.
If he didn't bleed to death first.
By the time Madam Pomfrey had sent Hermione off for 'a nice long soak in the bath,' Snape's nose had stopped bleeding, although the bruising around his eyes was already evident. Madam Pomfrey healed the break and reduced the bruising within seconds.
"Hermione made almost as good a job of this as James Potter did," she said reminiscently.
"If with more reason." Snape gingerly prodded the already bumpy bridge of his nose.
Madam Pomfrey smacked his hand away from the area. "It won't heal any faster with you prodding it. Do I have to remind you that I know what I'm doing? Or should I remind you of your only disastrous attempt at healing yourself? Here," she ruined the effect of her scolding by handing him a chocolate frog.
He eyed it with astonishment even as his fingers unwrapped it. "How old do you think I am? Mmn. I'd forgotten how good these are," he admitted, devouring it with obvious pleasure.
"You forgot to eat again, didn't you," she said with resignation.
"I was looking something up in the library and forgot the time. It's not often that quiet."
"Yes, students can be such a nuisance at a school," she agreed dryly.
He spared her a dirty look. "I happen to enjoy work - unlike most of the pupils and staff."
"Can I be around when you tell Minerva or March that? For my own part I've no objections to being insulted to my face and..."
Snape held up his hands in surrender. "I'm going, I'm going."
"Covered in blood? It always amazes me how far a little goes. One of the house elves will bring you a meal. You're having it here because that way I can be sure you actually eat it." With the aid of her wand Madam Pomfrey set the room to rights, even dealing with his bloodied shirt and hands.
"What do you plan to do about this?" she asked, gesturing broadly.
Snape swallowed his mouthful of chocolate. "About what?"
"Miss Granger struck you - a professor of Hogwarts."
"It's the holidays. She lashed out at 'that-bastard-Snape', not a professor. And if you imagine I'm keen to advertise the fact I was laid out by a chit of a girl you don't know me very well. The Gryffindors would be lining up round the block. Thinking about it, you can add the rest of the school to that tally. So if word of Miss Granger's right hook gets out I shall know who to blame."
"As if I would!" Madam Pomfrey looked genuinely upset. "Oh, you were joking. Well, it isn't funny. Let me tell you Severus Snape, I take my responsibilities every bit as seriously as you take yours. And if you need reminding of the fact I can find you - "
He looked amused. "Poppy, I'm not eleven any more. You can't give me a detention. Not that you ever did, as I recall," he added, a distant expression on his face. "Did I ever thank you for all you did for me?"
She gave an indulgent snort and ruffled his hair, not to mention his dignity. "Thanks, from a Slytherin? Even I'm not that much of an optimist," she teased.
For a moment the adult reverted to a skinny eleven year old as he tried to reorder his hair without being too obvious about it. Madam Pomfrey hid a smile. Severus had always been vain. He must have hated using the Appearance Detracting Charm at first; nowadays he was so accustomed to it that he forgot to take it off, even in the holidays. Not that anyone would ever call him handsome... Though she would kill for those eyelashes of his. Wasted on a man. Or perhaps not, she mused, studying him. Oh to be forty years younger. Well, maybe thirty, at a pinch.
She blinked and saw only the man again, weighed down by knowledge and experiences of which she could only guess. The same could be said of many at Hogwarts - they lived in difficult and dangerous times - but she had known him since he was eleven years old and while it shouldn't, it made a difference. She had seen a lot of Severus during those early years, before he learnt best how to defend himself.
"What, dear?" she said vaguely, refocusing.
"Nothing. You just looked..." Snape shrugged, then grimaced, a stifled sound escaping him before he doubled over, grunting with pain. His forearm was pressed to his torso in a vain attempt to reduce the hurt, the fingers of his free hand unconsciously clawing at it.
"I have to go," he grated, his jaw locked before he sagged as the intense pain eased to a more tolerable level.
"Oh, not so soon," she protested involuntarily. "You've barely recovered from the last - "
"There's no time for this, Poppy." Age descended on youth, his face set, it was as if he had never known warmth or laughter. "Do you have a robe I can borrow?" His lank hair clung sweatily to his temples.
"Yes. Here. It's a spare of Remus's."
Pulling it on, he was already at the door. "Tell the Headmaster," he said, turning. While his expression was schooled, his eyes betrayed his dread of what was to come.
That hurt worst of all because she had never let herself consider how terrified he must be as he answered Voldemort's summons, never knowing if this was the one that would send him into the same ward as Longbottom's parents - or that he wouldn't survive at all. She had more cause than her colleagues to be aware of what the last two years had cost him, not least because he came to her only in extremity.
"Of course, child. Keep safe," she added, because no one should have to look like that.
It hurt even more that he should look so surprised by her concern.
The next day the heat was so intense it was almost a living force. Even the Hogwarts' ghosts seemed lethargic, remaining in the dungeons, where it was coolest. People had difficulty sleeping and tempers grew short, not helped by the fact many of the staircases seemed to have disappeared altogether.
Unable to sleep and knowing better than to take the Dreamless Sleeping Potion every night, Black prowled the corridors in search of cool air. A sharp sound brought his head up; unable to track its source he changed into his animal form and soon ended up outside the darkened staff room. Transfiguring back, he had barely taken two steps when he relaxed on realising that apart from Headless Nick, who appeared to be dozing in the corner of the ceiling, the only living occupant was Snape, who was sprawled on one of the battered but comfortable sofas.
"I might have known you'd be communing with the dark," said Black, standing over the supine figure. "I glad I've found you, I want a word."
"Then it's your lucky n-night."
"What the bloody hell do you think you were doing to Hermione Granger the other day? She's a plucky girl and you - " Stopping, Black sniffed the air. "I can smell blood." He made an accusation of it.
"No, I haven't b-bathed in the blood of any infants tonight."
"Never mind the sarcasm," dismissed Black impatiently. "How badly are you hurt?"
"S-sorry to d-disappoint you."
"S-so am I. F-fuck off."
Snape's ability to wound with his tongue meant he rarely needed to resort to obscenities and did so only in times of emotional stress. Crouching beside the sofa, Black fished out his wand.
He stared at Snape, instinctively made to put out a comforting hand and thought the better of it in case he did any more damage. "Don't move," he breathed, before he left at a run to find Madam Pomfrey.
His eyes shut, Snape muttered peevishly to himself about the stupidity of those who stated the obvious. Then the pain swelled again, making thought impossible.
In some ways that was a relief.
Hermione started awake when she heard all the activity coming from the ward across the corridor to the one she occupied. Slipping out of bed, she tucked her wand into the sleeve of her nightgown and went to investigate.
The sound of an animal in agony made her wince. Terrified, because it had come from inside the castle and she had never been able to forget her encounter with the Mountain Troll, she grasped her wand tightly and edged across the corridor and through the other door. At first she could see nothing but the backs of Madam Pomfrey, Professors Lupin, Flitwick and Sprout, and Sirius Black.
"...of all the bloody silly places to go, the staff room had to be the worst," said Black. He sounded shaken.
"Steady," murmured Lupin, gripping his shoulder.
"It's a wonder he got back at all," retorted Madam Pomfrey grimly. "I'll speak to Albus again. He must put a stop to this!"
She moved slightly and in the gap she left Hermione glimpsed a man's starkly muscled forearm, the bloodied hand grasping clawlike at the air. As she watched the hand spasmed and there was another of those terrible sounds.
"Not again," said Black shakily, sounding as if he was going to be sick. "Can't you give him something?"
"Hermione, my dear," said Dumbledore from behind her.
Blinking, Hermione discovered she was in the corridor outside her ward, standing opposite the headmaster with no clear idea of how she came to be there. She fingered her nightgown in tranquil puzzlement.
" - glad we've had this little chat. Off to bed with you for a nice long sleep. Good night, my dear. Sweet dreams." As he offered an insubstantial, one-armed embrace she smelt lemons and sunshine.
She suddenly remembered how Snape had wrapped himself around her, enfolding her with security; he had smelt of cypress, rosemary and - disconcertingly - of clean, healthy man. Ironic, that someone who spent so much of his life in the dark should smell of green things growing.
"Goodnight, Headmaster," she said tranquilly.
Stumbling back to bed, she was asleep in seconds, her sleep sound, although tantalisingly she could remember nothing of the dreams which tickled her back brain, beyond a sense of urgency. But it was hard to wake the following morning and she felt heavy and lethargic and as if there was something important she had forgotten.
She decided to take a day off from studying while she found somewhere cool and private; she didn't want company today. The sun beating down like an anvil, going outside was something of a penance so she went to the top of the Astronomy Tower to see if there was any breeze that high up. While it was only a little cooler, the dizzying views of the surrounding neighbourhood made it worthwhile. She did what she had so rarely done in her life and just sat, watching the world, letting her mind wander at will.
She would be eighteen in September. A woman. Of course, if you took loss of virginity into account then she'd been a woman for a while. The first time had been a disaster, not helped by the fact Viktor had been so nervous that he'd had too much to drink, while she'd got hiccups. Luckily, things had improved after that...
She gave a reminiscent grin. They'd improved quite a lot actually, although Viktor's age and career meant they didn't get a chance to spend much time together. She would owl him. But not yet. She wasn't ready for monosyllables and the constant need to interpret their true meaning. It was typical that Sebastian Knott from Ravenclaw hadn't given her a second glance. Imagine the novelty of a boy-friend who didn't think you were extraordinary because you voluntarily read a book - or one who wanted to discuss something other than Quidditch or sex. So naturally he went out with that giggling idiot from Hufflepuff with big breasts who never disagreed with anything he said. Though it was true that Cathy was always in the top five for their year. Merlin, if even Sebastian wanted to pretend his girlfriend didn't have a brain what hope was there?
Never going to happen, she thought sadly, reviewing all the males of her acquaintance.
Absently eating the meal the house elves brought her, she sat thinking about where Voldemort would strike next. It was difficult to look beyond the shadow he cast over all their lives but if you didn't then he had won anyway. Her time at Hogwarts had opened up so many possibilities that she hardly knew where to start. She supposed, in a vague kind of way, that one day she would have to get to grips with wizard society. It was no good asking Ron - his mum and dad didn't seem to be regarded as typical, if there was such a thing, even in the wizarding world. But the truth was, she really didn't know much - anything - about it. They seemed a pretty solitary lot, given that Hogsmeade was the only community - apart from Diagon and Knockturn Alleys - and there were certainly a lot of rivalries and petty jealousies. Maybe Muggles and wizards weren't so different after all, she mused.
Comfortingly, the future no longer seemed so frightening as it had a few days ago. She had always been a loner - not from choice, initially, but now she felt comfortable with her own company and less as if she needed to prove herself by being surrounded by a circle of people she didn't even like very much. She would give almost anything to have her mum and dad back but... This was her world now and it was useless to feel guilty about wanting to be more a part of it than ever.
As for what she did once she left Hogwarts... There was no particular rush. That was a year away. She would never starve. She was intelligent, resourceful and she even had a little money to keep her going for a while. She also had people to whom she could turn if she needed them. People who she could trust.
Much as she had been enjoying the chance to study without the constant need to excuse or explain her actions, she was beginning to miss Harry, and Ron. While she spent quite a lot of time with Professor Sprout and Madam Pomfrey, she had absolutely no desire to confide in them, as they seem to expect. But then she always had preferred male company. She was on cordial enough terms with most of the girls in her year now - going steady with Viktor seemed to have given her a credibility that coming top in the class every year had failed to do - but they didn't have much in common. Not that she and Ron did, come to that - except Harry. She was just grateful that Ron had got over his crush on her; it had stemmed only from the fear he wouldn't find a girlfriend of his own. He'd certainly been making up for lost time since then.
She wondered idly how Harry's burgeoning romance with that girl in Ravenclaw was getting on while it was restricted to owl post, which tended to dampen anyone's ardour. But then Harry was resourceful when it came to getting anything he really wanted.
Surprised to discover it was dark already she settled back on the cushions she had brought with her and lay watching the night sky until she fell asleep.
She woke to find it was dawn and that she was no longer alone. Sirius Black, his gaze on the distant horizon, was obviously keeping watch, while Lupin lay fast asleep beside him. As she watched, Lupin twitched and muttered something faintly in his sleep. Black rubbed him gently on the back and the murmuring stopped, what she could see of Lupin's face gaining a look of peace.
She tried to imagine what it must be like to live with the knowledge that every month, at the whim of the moon, you turned into a werewolf.
"Good morning, Hermione - Miss Granger," amended Black quietly.
She refocused and managed to find a semblance of a smile, unwilling as yet to face the new day. She had been dreaming again last night - not about her parents, or the Troll, or any one of the more complex anxiety dreams; it had been far, far worse than that. She had been losing her mind, literally losing the ability to think, to reason, to remember. And the terror of it was with her still.
She began her familiar mantra in times of panic, the twelve uses for Dragon's Blood.
There, that was better.
Because the staff had been treating her differently during the holidays, the formality the men employed when addressing her had amused her at first. Now she appreciated what lay behind it - a constant reassurance, and a reminder, that any relationship they might have remained within circumscribed boundaries. For instance, it wouldn't be much fun having to fend off some lecherous wizard old enough to be her father, or even one who was vain enough to think she had a crush on him. With the memories of Gilderoy Lockhart always around to haunt her she was glad of the reminder. Not that there was anyone at Hogwarts to get a crush on, she reminded herself. Even the youngest were old enough to be her father....
She was suddenly pierced by a longing to see her own father, just once more. She'd never even had the chance to tell him she loved him and -
"Miss Granger?" said Black, sounding worried. He looked decidedly uneasy when she silently began to cry.
"Well, I know Sirius' social skills still need a lot of work but even he doesn't usually have this effect," said Lupin as he propped himself up into a sitting position.
Hermione looked up, her chin wobbling, tears spilling down her cheeks. The words 'want' and 'father' were just distinguishable.
Lupin's expression became kind. "Of course you do. You cry, my dear. You cry for them both as much as you want. Should you want to talk about them we would be honoured to listen. Here. Take this." Getting up, he came over to offer her a clean handkerchief, before heading for the door leading to the stairs, taking Black with him.
Later, blowing her nose one final time, Hermione silently gave him thanks. Oddly she felt much better now. A knock on the open door to the tower made her look up to see that Professor Lupin and Sirius Black had returned with the most wonderful breakfast of crusty bread, honey, and fresh strawberries and raspberries.
"The house elves will bring the next course when we've finished this," explained Black.
"If you've no objection to our joining you," added Professor Lupin, with a pointed look at his companion.
Black grimaced. "Sorry, Hermione. Miss Granger, I mean. I keep forgetting."
Hermione grinned at them both. "I'd enjoy the company. I've never liked eating alone."
They were all hungry and conversation was at a minimum until they had taken the first edge off their appetite. The house elves had excelled themselves with the variety and quality of the menus this morning and all three ate shameful quantities of food.
"That was wonderful. Thank you," Hermione said with real gratitude, wishing she was wearing something with a waistband so she could loosen it.
"Thank Remus," said Black ruefully. "I've never known what to do with crying females. Uh, that is to say - "
"Professor Lupin's right. Your social skills could do with some work," said Hermione, before her expression softened. "Hardly surprising. But once He- Voldemort is dead you'll be able to clear your name and restart your life. I know Harry's looking forward to that so much. In the meantime, perhaps you should hone those rusty skills on Professor Lupin and myself."
"You should be aware that tact has never been Sirius' strong point," said Lupin, his smile reaching clear to his eyes.
"I'm used to that from Ron and Harry," she pointed out cheerfully before she looked at Black again. "I can only imagine what twelve years amongst Dementors must be like. But you will regain everything they stole from you. Just give yourself time. You've only been free four years and some of that time was on the run. Look how much better you've felt since you've been at Hogwarts."
"That's very perceptive of you."
"Not really. Just common sense. Fortunately I have a good supply of that as well as intelligence."
"While Sirius has never been over-burdened with either," smiled Lupin, lounging in the shade, his shaggy hair falling into his eyes. But as he smiled at the man he had just insulted he looked almost happy, rather than strained and worn.
"That potion of Snape's must be doing you good," said Hermione. "You look loads better."
"Professor Snape," corrected Lupin mildly. "Yes, that must be the reason." Black choked on a raspberry pip. "Can we tempt you to come swimming with us?" added Lupin. "The water's wonderfully warm and the giant squid enjoys company."
Hermione shook her head. "I'd rather spend a few hours in the library," she said, no longer feeling the need to apologise for the fact.
Black gave her a look in which incomprehension and respect were mixed. "If I didn't know better I'd say you'd been spending too much time around Snape."
"Time we were going," said Lupin with haste.
From the expression on his face Hermione guessed that Black would be getting another lecture on tact.
Having intended only a quick visit to the library Hermione ended up spending most of the morning there when there was no sign of Snape. However, as the day progressed, she was disconcerted not to glimpse his tall figure around the castle, grounds, or at mealtimes. He wasn't in the dungeons either. Obscurely bothered, she spent the evening in the staff room, playing exploding snap with Flitwick, but there was still no sign of Snape.
When she casually mentioned the fact Flitwick looked up in surprise.
"Severus? He's gone on holiday. As you know, we all have work to do around Hogwarts, preparing for the new academic year and guarding the castle. We're taking it in turns to have a few days off."
"Snape goes on holiday?" she said incredulously.
"Professor Snape," Flitwick corrected her, his voice gentle but firm. "We do have lives outside Hogwarts, you know. Even if it is sometimes difficult to remember it ourselves." He went off to join Professors Sprout and McGonagall, who were watching Black's limited success as he tried to juggle four apples.
"Why not just use your wand?" Professor Sprout asked, puzzled.
Sighing, Black again explained that it defeated the object and a lively debate ensued, leaving Hermione sitting on the fringe, musing over the issue.
"Hello, dear," said Madam Pomfrey to Hermione, as she came into the room. "You look better today. I believe there was some air up in the Astronomy Tower."
"A little. I spent the night there," said Hermione.
"So I heard. For the sake of all our nerves tell someone where you're going next time."
Hermione looked puzzled.
"You had half the staff combing the castle and grounds for you last night," said Madam Pomfrey.
"Oh. Sorry. No one said anything."
"No, they prefer to leave the dirty work to others," she said, casting a look of meaning over to the noisy group of professors. Little sparks of magic were darting around the room in exuberant bursts. "Very pretty, Ceres," Madam Pomfrey called, before she returned her attention to Hermione. "Of course, it would have helped if anyone had thought to check with the house elves. Ah, ginger tea! Just the thing. Will you have a cup?"
"No, thank you," said Hermione politely, having a fondness for her taste buds.
"Then try a piece of shortbread and tell me what it is you're wondering if you should ask me."
"How - ? You should teach Divination. In fact I expect all those unfortunates still taking it wish you would," added Hermione frankly.
"I know you gave it up in favour of Arithmancy, haven't the others?" Madam Pomfrey looked surprised.
"Harry wasn't allowed to. Because Professor Trelawney has the odd real premonition. About him, I mean. The others just see Divination as an easy option. It drove me mad. Will Professor Trelawney be away for all the summer holiday?"
"Oh, yes. We insisted," said Madam Pomfrey.
"The entire staff. Severus was most eloquent on the subject."
Able to imagine the scene, Hermione almost choked on a biscuit crumb. "Yes, I would imagine he might be," she allowed.
"Of course, it wasn't likely that someone with such a logical mind as yours would take to Divination. I loathed it myself. And we weren't lucky enough to have Sybill Trelawney. Now, what is it you wanted to ask me?"
"Well, I know it's the holidays but you seem to be spending a lot of your time in the hospital wing..."
Madam Pomfrey shot her a swift look, relaxing when she realised Hermione meant nothing beyond what she said.
"I was wondering if I might study with you - when you have the time," Hermione added conscientiously.
"So you're considering becoming a medi-witch," said Madam Pomfrey non-committally.
"Considering, yes. The trouble is, I know more about Muggle medicine, which is no use at all. The idea of healing through magic fascinates me - but then so do a lot of other subjects, particularly since I began to appreciate how much they intertwine. I like most of them really. Except for Divination, Care of Magical Creatures - they either bite, smell or excrete all the time - and Defence Against the Dark Arts."
"You've no fancy to master the Dark Arts?"
"I get the impression they master us if we give them the chance," said Hermione dryly.
Madam Pomfrey patted her on the arm. "Just so. If only more people your age could be brought to realise that..."
Hermione went pale. "You mean the Death Eaters?"
Madam Pomfrey nodded.
"Is it true that He- Voldemort - calls the initiates after they've had their eighteenth birthday?"
"So they say," said Madam Pomfrey, her attention elsewhere.
"I don't envy the Slytherins this year," Hermione said, her mouth twisting.
"May I join you?" said Professor McGonagall, sitting beside them when they nodded. "I couldn't help overhearing what you were saying." She helped herself to a piece of shortbread. "What makes you assume Death Eaters come only from the ranks of the Slytherins, Miss Granger?"
She blinked. "Everyone knows that all the dark wizards of great power have come from Slytherin."
"While conveniently forgetting those from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Less from Hufflepuff, of course," said Madam Pomfrey reflectively. "But when we turn bad, watch out. We can give most Slytherins you care to name a run for their money."
"Hufflepuff?" exclaimed Hermione, trying not to smile at the idea.
"If you want to became a halfway decent medi-witch you need to start seeing more than the obvious. Despite what they like to believe many Gryffindors and Slytherins aren't known for their subtlety of approach. Look around you. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw anyone misbehave in one of Ceres Sprout's classes? It's true there's no one to beat Minerva here or Severus for holding the attention of a class but Ceres comes a good third."
"But she's so...nice," Hermione faltered.
"There's no need to make a pejorative of the word," smiled Professor McGonagall. "Gryffindor and Slytherin are the houses for the bulk of the seekers of glory and fame but you dismiss Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff at your peril. A mistake I feel sure Voldemort is making."
Hermione shot her a speculative look.
"No, Miss Granger. I don't know anything. I wish I did. That was just hope talking. This is likely to be a tense year. So," Professor McGonagall added in a obvious attempt to change the subject to more cheerful topics, "you're going to be training with Poppy for the rest of the summer?"
"If she'll let me," said Hermione, wrestling with the idea that Lee or Seamus could become Death Eaters. That Crabbe and Goyle most certainly would. Merlin. They'd be in class with Death Eaters.
"How are we supposed to protect Harry, if there are Death Eaters in Hogwarts?" she blurted out.
All sound in the room stopped.
"The same way we always have, child," said Professor Sprout from the other sofa. "With care and vigilance."
"Which are qualities much in demand amongst those wishing to become medi-witches," cut in Madam Pomfrey, at her most brisk.
"I couldn't agree more," said Professor McGonagall. "Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to retire."
Madam Pomfrey and Hermione murmured their goodnights as she left the room, transfiguring as she went out the door.
"I'll enjoy setting you a course of study. From all I hear you've a fine mind and you enjoy using it. Naturally it will be all theory, without any patients. At least I hope I won't be required to see any more patients," said Madam Pomfrey, looking sterner than Hermione had ever seen her.
She flushed. "I suppose Snape - "
" - told you what I did," continued Hermione, stubbornly refusing him the courtesy of his title.
"He didn't need to. I could hardly miss what had happened, given that he was bleeding all over my clean floor."
"No, I suppose not," conceded Hermione in a small voice. "Is he all right?"
"It didn't occur to you to ask before?"
"No. I - er - forgot."
"How convenient. He'll live. I've been mending broken noses for over fifty years. The majority of them inflicted by a Gryffindor on a Slytherin, or vice versa."
"I broke it. Mercy. I'll be expelled for sure," whispered Hermione, having allowed herself to forget the heated scene in the hospital wing.
"As to that, I wouldn't know. Just don't go around attacking any of your professors again."
"Oh, I won't," Hermione assured her fervently. "Not even... I didn't mean to. I just saw him sleeping and - something snapped."
"Did it? I confess, I had expected better of you. Out of interest, why didn't you reach for your wand?"
Hermione looked down, this not a topic she was at all comfortable thinking about.
"It's a question which needs to be addressed," Madam Pomfrey pointed out in a gentler tone.
"Yes, I know," conceded Hermione unhappily. "I hit him because I wanted the satisfaction of contact. Of feeling him flinch. I was so angry. It was only afterwards that I saw my wand lying there and thought of all the other things I could do to him. He was still half-asleep, an easy target and I've always had good wand control. I never realised how tempting it could be," she whispered, her nails digging into her sweating palms.
Ashamed, she didn't look up for some time and so was taken aback by the understanding she saw on Madam Pomfrey's face.
"No need to look so tragic, child. You think we haven't all faced the same self-knowledge at some point or another? In essence, it's the choosing not to take the temptingly easy option that separates us from those who choose the dark. Don't under-estimate how seductive its lures can be. But no one is going to pretend it's easy to make those choices. Or that there aren't occasions when we fail. The secret is never to stop trying to master yourself."
Hermione's fingers twisted themselves into knots. "Should I see the headmaster? About this, I mean?"
"If Albus needs to speak with you you'll be the first to know."
"But - "
"But me no buts. There are enough people with martyr complexes around Hogwarts as it is. Yet another dangerous trap to fall into. Now, on to a more pleasant topic. If you're serious about studying with me you'll need to do some background reading before you can be of any use. Come up to my quarters and I'll find you some books to start you off."
The image of Snape astride the chair was inspired by a photo of Rickman - http://www.rickmanistareview.com/welcome.htm/
The phrase ' dark sarcasms' was inspired by Pink Floyd's We Don't Need No Education from The Wall.