“Hermione? Can I carry your school bag for you?”
Ron’s voice came from behind her as she was walking down the corridor as she had just left her Arithmancy Class.
Ever since their conversation last night, Ron had been different towards her, more attentive and Hermione could not help but smile at his sudden chivalry.
“Hey Ron,” she said with a wide smile on her face. He greeted her back with a huge smile himself and then, a moment later, he took her bag from her, causing his ears to pinken at the cat-calls he got from Seamus or the giggles of some Hufflepuff girls behind them. “Thank you Ron,” she said, suddenly walking with a little spring in her steps. It felt good to be treated like someone special, like someone cared about her , not just as a friend. Obviously Ron did and Hermione found herself exhilarated at the idea of being someone else's centre of attention. If her heart whispered that she wished for someone else to see her like that, she did not acknowledge it.
“I could accompany you to your Quidditch tryouts,” Hermione said at lunch, smiling happily at the redhead next to her. Ron, who was just about to take a bite from his pasta, looked at her with wide eyes and flushed bright red.
“You’d come down to the pit, watching? Me?” He asked while staring at her with a mixture of disbelief and happiness. “But you’ve never watched the tryouts, Hermione. You don’t even like Quidditch!” He said with no little incredulity.
Hermione smiled at him and shrugged. “So? You care about it and I’d really like to watch you play. I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly.”
She saw Harry watching her from the side, like she’d just grown a second head. Well, maybe she was laying it a bit thick, but if Ron could make an effort for her, she could very well do the same. And watching him play, cheering him on, sounded like a brilliant thing to do.
“You think so?” Ron asked, the food on his plate forgotten. Something that had never happened before.
Hermione smiled sweetly. “Absolutely! I’ve seen you playing with your brothers and Ginny for years . You’re a brilliant keeper Ron. The others don’t stand a chance!” Okay, maybe she should reel it in a little but who cared? Ron wanted to be supported and who else would do that if it wasn’t her or Harry?
Ron looked at her like he’d never seen her before, a wide happy smile blooming on his face. “You’re right!” He said motioning towards her with his fork. “I’m used to playing against Fred and George - and Bill! I’ve played Quidditch since I was five. There really isn’t anyone better for the position, is there?”
Hermione looked at her friend with a fond smile. “No, there really isn’t,” she said before taking a huge bite of pasta herself. She hadn’t been hungry at all, those last days, but suddenly she felt like she was starving. Supporting Ron felt good, she realized and the smile he had just given her was worth a bit of boredom in the afternoon. After all, she really cared about him and unlike certain others, he seemed to care for her, too.
“I did it, Mione!” Ron exclaimed, before swooping Hermione up into an embrace. “I made it into the team!”
Hermione giggled happily. “Of course you did! I told you the other’s didn’t stand a chance.” She said, enjoying the feeling of being twirled around. She could feel Harry’s and Ginny’s eyes on them but suddenly she found she did not care. Ron seemed to like her and not just because some obscure connection forced him to interact with her, he seemed to be genuinely interested.
Ron put her down with a happy smile, his eyes looking at her for a long moment before he returned his attention to their other friends. Hermione watched him with a fond smile for a while and listened to him relaying every Quidditch move to Harry, who answered him enthusiastically. But it was only a while until Ginny was suddenly at her side, slinging an arm around her waist.
“So you and Ron, huh?” she asked, smiling like a Chesire cat. “Are you two dating now?”
Hermione shook her head with a smile. “Not quite. I asked him to take me to Hogsmeade though, and he accepted.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Of course he did. You’re good for him, you know? Haven’t seen him this happy in a long while. Can’t wait to see how happy he’ll be, until you snogged the breath out of him.”
The redhead winked at her and Hermione found herself blushing at the thought. “You wouldn’t mind if I snogged your brother?” she whispered, but the boys were too occupied with discussing Quidditch to hear.
Ginny snorted. “Why would I? It would make him shut up about me dating other guys, would it not?”
Hermione looked at the other girl with a smile. She did have a point. “It probably would,” she admitted with a grin. “Ginny? Would you mind showing me some stuff I could do with my hair? I feel like I’m in need of a little change.”
The youngest Weasley looked at her with an excited expression oh her face. “You really want this date to work out, don’t you?” she asked with a knowing smile. “Don’t worry, my brother will like you no matter what you do with your hair. You don’t need to feel like you have to prove something to him, alright?”
“Alright,” Hermione said, pushing the thought away that maybe it was not Ron whom she wanted to prove something to. “Yeah, maybe you’re right,” she said, feeling slightly disappointed. “It’s probably best if I just stay true to myself.”
At that, Ginny shook her head with a grin. “I never said I wouldn’t help you, Hermione. I just meant that you shouldn’t feel the need to change it for a boy . But I’ve been waiting for a chance to do your hair for years .”
Something was wrong, Severus thought, staring down at the students that were streaming into the Great Hall for dinner. It did not take a spy to realize that the dynamic in the golden trio had shifted, Weasley’s attention now focussed on Miss Granger, probably in the sorry attempt to get her attention. He was clinging to her side like a desperate puppy, his watery eyes looking at her like he expected her to pet his head any moment. Twice he had seen him carry her books today and now it was the third time he stared at her with this sickening, sweet smile, that made Severus want to stab his sausage, or even better, banish it into the idiot’s face. But he couldn’t, as he could clearly feel the Headmaster’s eyes on him, watching him, like he was expecting him to make a scene – which he would not. After all, there was no saying, that an intelligent girl like her would ever be interested in a moron like Weasley. She was probably only trying to be kind, or to not ruin their questionable friendship. Not that she could. Potter and his redheaded sidekick probably depended on her help with their homework, which would have them grovel for her forgiveness sooner or later.
Still, Severus would keep an eye on the situation - keep an eye on her. Luckily that wouldn’t be overly difficult, at least for the rest of the week, when the girl had detention with him. The next one would be in not even one hour and Severus was determined to make good use of the time. He needed her to trust him again, no he wanted to, because he wanted her in his life. And he would use all his Slytherin cunning and other abilities to assure just that.
Severus had carefully cleaned his office and organized all the papers on his desk into neat piles. It wasn’t just to pass the time until Miss Granger’s detention was about to start, he wanted her to feel comfortable, well as comfortable as it was possible in the current, messed up situation. And it wasn’t like he would ever let the house-elves touch his desk or his bookshelves.
It was exactly 7 p.m. when Miss Granger knocked at his door. Usually, she was always a bit early, even though he had never found out why, but today she was exactly on time.
“You are rather late, Miss Granger,” he said, without the usual snide in his tone for once .
But Miss Granger just looked at him with a calm expression before saying: “I am pretty sure I am on time, Sir.”
He looked at her in silence and for a moment he asked himself, if she had waited in front of his door for the latest possible moment to knock. It was possible, h e realized with a growing heaviness in his belly.
“Do come in, Miss Granger,” he finally said, deciding to divert her attention to the project at hand. “I have prepared everything we will need in my lab. Follow me.”
The girl did so without a word and when he brought her to the table where he had built up the microscope and the box containing the light crystal, she looked at the items with a neutral expression on her face. There was no saying, if she was overly interested in the project, even though he was pretty sure she was, going by her exclamations during their last discussions concerning the topic. But now, all her emotions seemed to be wiped away and for a moment he could not help asking himself, if she had practised Occlumency.
“I thought it fitting that we continue the work on our microscope today,” he said, motioning towards a chair to invite her to sit down. “First, we need to study the properties of the light crystal, see if it can be split into smaller pieces while still remaining intact.”
The girl remained silent for a few seconds. Finally, she said: “Will you start another research journal for this project, Sir? I understand it would be most useful, to note all your observations in precise, unadorned words. It is useful for remembering all the details later on, is it not?”
For a moment, he did not know what to say. But then again he thought that this was probably her not so subtle way to start a conversation. “It surely is,” he admitted in a neutral tone. “Especially with projects where one is not sure about the outcome.” He considered his next words for a moment, then he said: "I imagine you read my old potions book very carefully, did you not?"
The girl gave a small nod in confirmation.
"In it, I carefully describe the perfect methods to produce those advanced potions. I did so by crossing things out, changing things to improve a recipe that was already considered good in other brewer's eyes." He focussed her with an almost gentle expression. "Still, all those dry facts and comments could never relay the beauty of potion-making or the thrill of finishing a perfect potion. Those things are to be felt and can hardly be written down."
There, he had said it. Those words were as good as an apology and Miss Granger was an intelligent woman. She surely would understand them.
For a moment the girl stared at him in silence, her eyes showing disappointment? Pity? He was not sure. Finally, she said: “I always wondered how you saw the world, Sir. Now that I know, I finally understand why you are such an isolated, cynical man. It is hard to not take offence when one is treated like a potion ingredient, pride and self-esteem crushed and sliced with an efficiency that is worthy of a potions master. Luckily those crystals and the microscope will not mind being treated with such precision, as they most likely don’t have any feelings you’ll be able to hurt in the process.”
Severus sighed discreetly , the meaning of her words not lost to him. “I never meant any offence, Miss Granger. The notes in my research journal were private. Of course, I would never address you or talk to you in such an improper way, as it was done there.”
At that, Miss Granger’s eyes were suddenly full of fire, the hands in her lap clenched to small fists. “I was not hurt by your words about me , Sir, because that would require me caring about your opinion on my person. I never had the illusion of being particularly liked by you, as I knew you saw me as nothing else than an annoying, plain and attention-seeking Know-It-All,” she said, her voice strained with tension. “What I do care about is you obliviating my father, whom I deeply care about, or keeping knowledge for yourself, even though this condition does affect both of us. You had no right to do either of those things, Sir, especially as you do not even seem to register how hurtful and offensive those actions were.”
She was right, Severus realized in dismay. Obliviating her father had been a mistake, even though he had not deleted any other memories than the ones of him using Legilimency on the man. But that, she could not know. “Neither of those things were done lightly, Miss Granger, as I intended to keep the unfortunate truth from you as long as I could. I did not want to burden you with the knowledge of being shackled to me by such an obscure condition. Therefore, I decided to take care of the situation myself and make sure that you would not be bothered by the unpleasant side-effects that are induced when being apart from each other.”
Miss Granger looked at him with a humourless smile. “Then you will be glad to hear that we are not ‘shackled to each other’ as you so kindly phrased it. The bond can be undone, Sir. All it takes is for both of us to let go, to not wish to be bound to each other . One does not even need a ritual of some sorts, as this connection between us is based on sympathy and trust. Yes, one needs to find a kindred spirit at first, one that is compatible with one's magic. But that alone does not result in Kindred Magic, which is the reason for this condition being so rare, I believe.”
The girl had once more taken on her lecturing tone, repeating facts that she must have gotten from a source that was still unknown to him. But when? And how? “Where did you get this information from?” he asked, his eyes staring at her with a mixture of disbelief and… something else.
Miss Granger stared back at him with a raised eyebrow, the humourless smile still in place. “It appears I have read at least one book, which you did not have the chance to hide from me, Sir, one book that you have not read ,” she said with evident satisfaction.
Severus looked at her with a dark expression, his heart suddenly beating much faster than only a moment ago. Was it really possible to undo their connection? And would he be able to prevent it, if she really tried to do so? “I need to see that book, Miss Granger,” he said, his voice betraying none of his emotions, not even the panic that he suddenly started to feel.
But the girl just looked at him with an unimpressed look in her eyes. “I can imagine. And I needed to see those other books, which you decided to withhold from me. I am not going to risk losing another book on Kindred Magic, Sir, because I do not trust you to give it back to me, you see?”
He wanted to snap at her, rage and demand from her to hand it over but that would probably only further damage the fragile trust that was left in the girl. She had accompanied him into the Black Lake yesterday, which indicated that she did not totally distrust him, but would that be enough to preserve the bond between them? He did not know but he desperately needed to find out. Only that it would need patience and time to do so, as it appeared. But what if he did not have either at the moment? How much time was there until their bond would collapse and she would be lost to him? Was there, maybe, a way to restore the bond in case it really got broken? There had to be because he simply could not lose her. He shuddered at the mere possibility.
“I see,” he croaked out, his face carefully blank. “Then it appears this part of our discussion is closed for now. Shall we proceed with your detention then?” he said, taking a new, blank notebook from his robes. “I will do some tests with the light crystal and I expect you to take detailed notes on your observations,” he said, handing the slim, green notebook over.
Miss Granger nodded, with a detached expression on her face. “As you wish, Sir.”