“You are not going to tell her, are you?” Albus said, his blue eyes looking at him with mild disappointment. Severus looked back at him in annoyance.
"Of course not," he said, decidedly ignoring the cup of tea the man had offered him in his office. "I can't see her reacting rationally to this kind of news. Either she shies away and makes this more difficult than it needs to be. Or she feels pressured or trapped into doing something she'd rather not. Miss Granger is a teenage girl, Albus. She's supposed to be allowed to make her own decisions and not…" he waved through the air, as no appropriate words would come to him.
The Headmaster looked at him with knowing eyes and sighed. "Who said she could not? She is an intelligent woman, as you surely realized by now. Kindred Magic is not a curse, Severus, it's a gift. But more importantly: it is not something that is suddenly forced on you out of the blue. It’s not some charm, Severus, as it’s most likely always been there. You’ve just never realized that it was. Think of it like the question of what was there first: the egg or the hen?”
Severus could not help but roll his eyes. "The egg, of course, it's obvious. But I guess I get what you are trying to say. Still, if it is like you're saying, not telling her will not make any difference. Either this is meant to happen, or not, end of story."
The Headmaster stared at him with a shake of his head. "You are making a mistake, my boy and I fear that you are coming to regret it one day."
He shrugged. "I'm sure you won't be too shy to tell me when that day arrives. Is there anything else you need from me?"
Albus studied him with a grandfatherly expression. “You will be the one to escort her home tomorrow,” he said and took a sip from his cup. “As you’ll have to visit her from time to time, even if it is in secret, I can as well give you the chance to find out more about her home.”
Severus nodded. "As you wish," he said and got up from his chair. This was probably another one of Dumbledore's attempts to manipulate him, but right now he did not care because the man was right. He needed to at least get an idea of the girl's living situation and her plans for the holidays. Visiting her in secret would be hard enough as it was.
The time started to fly and soon Hermione was healthy enough to finally leave the infirmary and Hogwarts and go home. Over the last days, Professor Snape had visited her regularly. In the morning he usually took her on a walk over the grounds and day by day she could see her fitness return until they made a long walk along the Black Lake without her tiring out. That was yesterday and as soon as they returned, the Professor told her that she would be able to leave the castle tomorrow. It was good news of course, as she would finally be allowed to go home and see her parents. But somehow the thought of leaving Hogwarts behind also made her sad, which was ridiculous as she would all too soon return for the new school year. Still, the thought of leaving the castle felt wrong and she could not help but sigh when she tugged her last school uniform away and closed her suitcase.
"You might want to open that again," a well-known, male voice suddenly said and when she looked up, she could see Professor Snape standing in the doorway of her dorm. It was strange seeing him here as she had somehow always thought that only other Gryffindors could enter the Gryffindor tower. Now she realized how ridiculous that was. Professor Snape was a teacher at this school and therefore he was probably able to visit all the rooms of the castle, well most of them.
“Professor Snape!” she said and looked at the man with a pleased smile.
The man studied her with an unreadable expression, before he suddenly took an old book out of an inner pocket of his robe. "I thought you might enjoy some additional reading material for your summer break," he said and for a moment Hermione could have sworn that her Professor sounded nervous. But that was ridiculous, right? Why would he be nervous when talking to her?
Hermione looked at him curiously. "That is very thoughtful of you, Sir. I always enjoy a good book to read, but I guess that's not a secret." She blushed. Hermione was, of course, aware that many students and probably also some teachers called her a book-worm and most of them surely did not mean that in a good way. Usually, she did not care about being called names but with him, she suddenly found that she did.
"Not really, no. But it's never a bad thing to strive for more knowledge, as long as one can hold a conversation without constantly citing from a book." His lips twitched and Hermione blushed in mortification. He was right. She should really stop doing that. "This is an old book of mine," he continued "my old potions book to be exact. I believe you'll be needing it next year, but this is not why I am giving this to you. This version has a lot of notes at the sides that might be of interest for you.”
Hermione blinked at him in surprise. "I can't accept this, Sir," she finally said hesitantly and immediately she saw his expression darken. Therefore she hastily added. "I mean no offence, but using that book would be like cheating in class. I don't want to earn my potions grade by having a secret advantage, especially since I would be cheating on you."
For a moment he just stared at her silently, before he said: "I am most likely not going to teach potions next year and if you feel uncomfortable doing so, you would not have to use the book during class. You could also just read through and hand it back to me at the beginning of the school year if this is what you prefer."
Hermione could not help but smile at the man’s thoughtfulness. Somehow it was harder and harder for her to see the snarky Professor in him, that he had been during the school year. When meeting him now, without his Slytherins or any other students around, he was behaving so differently that it almost made her dizzy. No wonder the man was a spy when he could change his behaviour like that. Was this how he really was? "I would," Hermione said and with a happy smile, she accepted the book. It looked very old and worn, but she did not care at all. Professor Snape had just given her something very personal and considering how private the man usually was, the gesture almost took her breath away. "This is very thoughtful, Sir. Thank you. I'll handle it with care and hand it back to you after the summer break."
“As you wish,” Professor Snape replied and nodded calmly. “I also do have something else for you. You asked me after a way to conceal your curse scar and I developed a creme for that purpose.”
The girl looked at him with a stunned expression, before her face broke out in a wide, pleased smile. “Thank you, Professor!” she said, her voice eager. “This is… I can’t believe you did this for me. I don’t know how to thank you for this, Sir!”
"I told you, that you'll have to make up for my lost time during the next school year. Especially at the beginning of the year, I am usually very busy restocking the infirmary. You'll be helping with that," Snape said in a bored tone, but Hermione's smile only widened at his words. She couldn't wait for those evenings if she was honest with herself. Even if the Professor would not directly teach her and probably scold her if she did things wrong, she'd surely be able to learn at least something from working with him.
“I know, Sir. I’m looking forward to it,” she admitted, before accepting the container with cream he handed to her. She carefully stored the small jar and the Professor’s book in her luggage, before snapping it close and looking at the man with an expectant look on her face.
“Are you finished packing? Or do you need me to wait outside for you?”
“No, I’m good, Sir,” she said and cast the featherlight charm on her travelling suitcase. But before she could take it, Professor Snape grabbed it and lifted it with his right arm.
“Well, then come along, Miss Granger. I’ll lead you to the apparition point. It’s only a short walk from the castle.”
Hermione nodded with a hesitant smile and gripped Crookshanks' pet carrier. She had never travelled via apparition before, but she guessed it would be the quickest and safest way for her to get home. "Is there anything to pay attention to while you are apparating us, Sir? I've never done that before."
The Professor looked at her with a grimace. "Yes. Try not to vomit on my shoes," he said dryly.
She looked at him with wide eyes. He must be joking, right? But his face was entirely serious. Merlin! Maybe she should have asked the Headmaster to use the floo and let her parents pick her up from the Leaky Cauldron? But she guessed now it was too late for a change of mind.
Merlin, he had behaved like a desperate teenager, Severus thought, leading the girl through the castle. He wasn't even sure what possessed him to give her his old, shabby potions book but half an hour ago he had thought it a good idea. Reading his notes could maybe spark another scientific discussion between them, or several. And he thought the girl responsible enough to not use the darker spells he noted in this book. But then the girl had refused to take it, her reasoning was quite understandable actually, and he should have left it at that. Instead, he had almost begged her to take the damned book and could not help but scowl at himself now. What a pathetic, old man he had become!
They slowly walked towards the apparition point. He could feel the girl’s nervousness radiate in waves from her, he just wasn’t sure about the reason for it. Was she afraid of side-along apparition? Or of her parent’s reaction? It was probably the latter, as he himself had never looked forward to going home or telling his parents anything that happened at school. His father, who was a Muggle like Miss Granger's parents, was an abusive bastard and Severus could not fault her for not telling them the truth about her little stunt at the Ministry. He would have done the same. Maybe it was good that he'd decided to keep an eye on her during the holidays…
"We're almost there," he said calmly and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the girl nodding. She hadn't said a word since leaving her dorm and even though she hasn't been as annoyingly attention-seeking as during potions class in the last days, her silence felt somewhat strange. Merlin, he really shouldn't have given her this damned book, should he? It was an explanation for her to suddenly behave so shy towards him, wasn't it?
Only a few steps further had them arrive at the apparition point. Miss Granger looked at the marked area wearily and he could see her eyes nervously dart between her travelling suitcase and the pet carrier, that held her huge orange beast of a cat. It stared at him calculatingly, while its long bushy tail whipped back and forth. The ugly, flat-nosed cat hated him, this much he could tell. He guessed it didn't matter, as he wasn't a fan of cats either.
"I will apparate you and the luggage at once," Severus calmly explained and looked at the girl to judge her reaction. "You'll have to grip my arm tightly and use your other arm to carry your cat. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, I could apparate you first and come back for the rest later."
The girl looked at him with a hesitant expression. “We can do it all in one go, Sir. I just… I’d really like to avoid vomiting at your shoes or any other part of you.”
The Professor shrugged indifferently. “Getting sick after your first side-along apparition happens to most people, Miss Granger. You shouldn't worry too much about it. Instead, try to concentrate on not letting go. Can you do that?"
His student nodded. “Yes, Sir,” she said, sounding determined. Severus nodded and offered her his right arm.
“Very well then. Hold on tight," he instructed and a moment later he could feel her hand gripping his arm in determination. It was the first time she touched him and even though he could feel her hand only through his robe, he felt goosebumps spread all over his arm. Merlin, he needed to get a grip on himself, otherwise, he would risk splinching her. "Are you ready?" he asked and saw her nod in confirmation. A moment later they were gone.
Hermione felt her stomach lurch in protest, as her whole body was squeezed through what felt like the eye of a needle while she was riding some sort of invisible rollercoaster. The feeling thankfully only lasted a few seconds, before she had once more solid ground under her feet. It all happened so suddenly that she still stumbled forward, feeling horribly dizzy and definitely sick. Professor Snape must have expected it, as she could feel his strong hands grip her shoulders and keep her upright, preventing her from falling to her knees.
“Deep breaths,” he instructed her calmly and Hermione nodded. The small movement of her head was enough to let her stomach clench in protest though and she could only rip herself away from him and stumble to one of her mum’s rose bushes. There she immediately lost her breakfast. Merlin, how embarrassing! At least she managed to not hit the Professor, even though she had probably just killed one of her mum's prized flowers.
"Hermione, love, are you alright?" she suddenly heard her mum shout from the backdoor of their house and a moment later she heard her run towards her with quick steps. Brilliant! Just when she was about to pull herself up, she saw Professor Snape appear next to her, shielding her from her mum's view. She saw him silently vanish her vomit with a movement of his wand and could not help but thank him silently for his quick thinking. It was just in time as her mum arrived at her side a moment later.
“ ‘M fine mum,” Hermione mumbled hastily. “Travelling through magical means always seems to be somewhat unpleasant but I think apparition is my least favourite way of transport.”
"Oh Dear, is it worse than the brooms?" her mum asked sympathetically. Hermione nodded miserably before she remembered Professor Snape standing next to her.
“Mum, this is Professor Snape, my Potions Professor,” she hastily said and prayed that her mum would not embarrass her but saying something Hermione had written her about in her letters. She had often complained about the man’s unfairness or and unfriendliness, so it would not even surprise her if one of her parents felt appointed to set things right for their daughter.
"Professor Snape, huh?" her father suddenly said from behind her. She hadn't even seen him coming, but it was only a moment before she felt herself being pulled into his strong arms. "Hello Pumpkin," he murmured against her hair, so that hopefully only she was able to hear it. "I'm glad you're finally back home. Took you long enough, hey?”
“ ‘m sorry daddy,” she mumbled before pulling away with a sheepish smile on her lips.
Her father looked back at her with twinkling eyes. "I bet you are," he said before his eyes focussed back on Professor Snape. "Thank you for bringing my girl home," he said and offered the man his hand. "I am Dan Granger and this is my wife Emma."
Her Professor shook her father's hand with an acknowledging nod. "Severus Snape," he introduced himself with an unreadable expression on his face.
"We'd be glad if you joined us for lunch. I know it's still early, but we'd really like to finally meet the Professor that is featured in almost every one of Hermione's letters."
Hermione groaned inwardly. Leave it to her parents to embarrass her in front of Professor Snape. If it ever came to that lunch, the man would probably hate her even more than he already had before. Would he start regretting to having treated her kindly for the last days? She hoped not.
"I'm sure the Professor is quite busy," Hermione said hastily and plastered an apologetic smile on her lips. "He already agreed to stay behind at the castle to provide the potions needed for my recovery. I'm sure he's glad to finally be able to go home."
Her father looked at her with a knowing smile, before his eyes moved to her travelling companion. “In this case…” he said, but Professor Snape interrupted him with a shake of his head.
"I am sure I can make some more time for eating lunch with you," he answered and then he smiled. Hermione looked at him with a stunned expression, as his features were suddenly friendly and nothing reminded of the unfriendly man she had often described in her letters. That’s when she knew that the next hour would probably be one of the longest of her life.