“What do you think you’re doing, Severus?” Minerva’s stern voice asked him, as he left the Great Hall after lunch. Severus turned around slowly and looked at his colleague with his eyebrows raised questioningly at her.
“I don’t think I know what you’re referring to, Minerva,” he said, realizing that the woman was seething.
“It’s the girl’s birthday, for Merlin’s sake! You can’t just put her in detention over… over… nothing!”
“Ah,” Severus exclaimed, schooling his face into a mask of indifference, before casting a quick Muffliato to protect their privacy. Secretly he had prepared himself for the old woman to approach him. She had always been protective of her cubs, and especially Hermione. “Call it private lessons then, if it makes you feel any better. I did not take any House Points from her, if that is what you’re worried about. ”
Minerva looked at him with a dark expression and he prepared himself for her to try and box his ears. “Private lesson? Really? You never give private lessons, not even for your Slytherins. So why would you do it now?”
He looked at her calmly. “I was told it was the girl’s birthday.”
Minerva stared at him open-mouthed for a few seconds and for a moment Severus feared she would have a stroke.
“Are you… are you trying to be nice ?” she asked, her voice full of disbelief.
He shrugged nonchalantly. “There are dark times ahead of us, Minerva. Maybe you should consider giving private lessons to your favourite cubs, too. They will surely need them. Good day.”
Severus turned around without waiting for the woman’s answer. She would surely make her own conclusions about what he was doing. Probably she would come to the decision that he was indeed trying to give the girl a birthday gift. And she would not have been far off.
Hermione was not worried about the detention Severus had thrown at her, even though she could hear some other Gryffindors hear complaining loudly about the unfairness of it all. Harry, of course, was the one who complained the loudest, even after Hermione assured him that she did not mind another duelling lesson with Professor Snape.
“Can’t you see what he’s doing, Harry?” she asked him with a shake of her head. “He’s teaching me, Harry, really teaching me how to duel and hopefully survive. I told you he is on Dumbledore’s side and I think this is his way of helping us improve.”
Harry looked at her with a stunned expression, his forehead wrinkled as he was considering her words. But she was not finished. “Think about it, Harry. He never even asked a Slytherin to practise with him. Why? He is trying to help us improve, even though some of us might not appreciate his methods. But he is a powerful and skilled wizard and one of the best teachers we’ve had for DADA.”
She could tell that Harry was considering her words, even though he still did not seem happy with them. “But it’s your birthday , Hermione. Don’t tell me you didn’t hope for something different than spending the evening with Snape wiping the floor with you.”
“He is giving me a private instruction, Harry,” Hermione said with a small teasing smile. “What else could I wish for on my birthday?”
At that, her friend snorted. “Only you could see it that way. You’re such an over-achiever, Hermione,” he said, but there was a fondness in his voice that made her smile. Maybe Harry did not think the same way she did, but he at least tried to understand and that was all she asked for in a friend.
Hermione knocked at Severus' office door two minutes early, but she hoped he would not mind. It did not take long for him to open the door and ask her inside and even though his tone was brisk, she could see their friendship reflecting in his eyes.
As soon as the door closed behind him though, his whole facade dropped and back was her friend, staring at her with an awkward smile.
“Sorry if I was too rough on you in class. But I did not want to celebrate your birthday as a raven, confined to Gryffindor tower.”
Hermione looked at her friend with a small smile. “But you already sent me a present, Severus, and I love it. It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, carefully pulling out the necklace from below her shirt. The crystal still glowed in blue light and by now it felt warm and… familiar against her skin. She could not help but smile while looking at it.
“You like it then,” Severus stated neutrally. “Good. It’s more than a pretty piece of jewellery though. There are some protective spells on the crystal that you will hopefully never need. But these are difficult times, Hermione and I want you well protected.”
She stared at her friend with wide eyes. His last statement had a weight that made her realize how serious he was about this… about her. He really valued her company, her friendship, on a whole different level than anybody else ever had. It made her feel… odd and she could not help but ask herself if she could give him back enough in return. “I… I don’t know what to say to this. I.. this is…” she could only stammer and look at the man in front of her helplessly. Slowly, she started to sense his discomfort and when she saw the anxious look forming on his face, she leapt forward and pulled him into a tight hug. Because she definitely did not want to make him feel like she did not appreciate his efforts. She did, but it also made her feel slightly overwhelmed.
“I am not used to being spoiled like this, to feeling protected like this…” she mumbled while pressing her ear against his chest. “But I do appreciate it, even though I do feel young and stupid now. Sometimes I feel so stupid compared to you, you know?”
Slowly she felt his arms close around her, holding her close. “You are not stupid Hermione, you are young. Knowledge comes with age and experience and it’s not your fault that there’s such a large age gap between us. I plan on staying your friend for a very long time, Hermione, and eventually, things will get more even between us. Don’t worry about it now.”
Hermione nodded. He was right of course. She would not be his student forever and there were so many things she planned on learning. “Alright, sorry,” she mumbled, slowly pulling back from him. “It’s just that I have the feeling that I cannot give anything back to you.”
He stared at her with an unreadable expression on his face. “How is it then, that these last days have been the happiest in my life? Do not dwell on this, Hermione. Your friendship is all I want.”
She accepted those words with a nod. “Alright. So… what do we do now? I don’t exactly see the two of us eating birthday cake together, especially as we’ve just had dinner.”
Severus chuckled. “I did not plan for us to stay here. I’d like to take you somewhere… a place outside of Hogwarts that is.”
“We are going out? Really?” she asked, suddenly feeling excited. “But what if somebody sees us leaving the castle? Everyone assumes you are teaching me defence in your office.”
Her friend smiled. “No one will see us leaving. We are taking a portkey, directly from this office.”
Hemione smiled. “Looks like you have given this a lot of thought. I cannot wait to see where you’ll be taking me…”
Severus smiled. “Excited? Wait till we get there.”
Severus thought that this evening was as much a present for him, as it was for her. Not only did he enjoy seeing the look of wonder and awe on Hermione’s face; visiting the Timeless Collection had been a dream of his, too. The place was truly magical, not only because the cathedral-like room contained thousands of rare books and magical artefacts, but because time was literally standing still in this place. As he explained as much to the girl at his side, he could see her eyes bulge at the revelation.
“Time is standing still? Does that mean we can stay as long as we want?” she gasped and it took all his willpower not to chuckle at her enthusiasm.
“Indeed. Some wizards stay for weeks and months. I did not plan on spending the night though, as I have not booked us a room. But we can stay as long as you can keep yourself awake and after we return, you can nap on my sofa before I am sending you back to your dorm after an appropriate time for your detention has passed. You might still be tired in the morning, but this second gift comes with a bottle of Energy Replenisher, so you should be fine.”
For a moment Hermione just stared at him in stunned silence, but then she pulled him into a hug, that was surprisingly strong for such a small person. Severus did not mind and even though he had never enjoyed physical contact with another person ever since Lily, he found himself soaking in her touch. Asking Albus to get him the permission to enter that secret Refugio of Knowledge has been totally worth it.
“You are spoiling me, Severus,” she said, her caramel brown eyes beaming at him with happiness.
He smiled. “This is as much a gift for myself, as it is for you. You might remember that I am a very bookish person, too.”
Hermione nodded and before he realized what she was doing, her hand took his, so that they were standing side by side, their fingers entwined while they stared at the seemingly endless shelves with books in front of them. “And no one appreciates that more than I. Shall we go? Because I can’t wait to see what they have here…”
Severus smiled a happy smile. “Neither can I.”
When Hermione stumbled back into the Gryffindor Common Room she was beyond tired, despite the short nap she had taken on Severus’ sofa. They had been to the Timeless Collection for hours, browsing book after book, reading side by side on one of the plush sofas that were provided for them. Hermione could not remember feeling this content in her life, this happy, because she had the chance of doing what she loved most without needing to feel guilty about it. Severus did not mind that she did not speak a word for hours while she buried her nose in a book, the world around her forgotten. Because the man at her side understood and enjoyed those hours of silent reading as much as she did. They were indeed Kindred Spirits.
Now her head was pleasantly buzzing with all the new information she had taken in and she could not wait to discuss the things she had read with Severus, tomorrow when he would come visiting her again. But for now, she just wanted to stumble into her bed and sleep.
“You are back,” a voice said when she was about to stumble towards the stairs to the girl’s dorm. Immediately she halted in her steps and turned around, realizing that Harry had been waiting up for her on a sofa in the corner.
“Harry,” she said, slowly walking over to him. “What are you doing, staying up that late. Have you been waiting for me?”
The boy nodded, staring at her with intense, green eyes. “I have. I was worried about you. That’s why I watched you on the Marauder’s Map. Strangely you were only in Snape’s office for a few minutes, before your and his dots disappeared from the map for a few minutes. But that wasn’t the strangest thing. After your dots reappeared, the both of you entered his private quarters where you stayed for hours. Isn’t that strange? And then there is something else, I suddenly remember. I saw you at the hospital wing, Hermione - you and Snape. First I thought it was just a dream, but now? Where have you been, Hermione? What’s going on?”
Hermione stared at him helplessly, her mind suddenly blank and devoid of an appropriate answer. Because there was none. “Harry I… it’s complicated…” she tried, but at that, his expression only hardened.
“Complicated, huh? Are you having an affair or something? Is that what this is?” the boy asked while staring at her heatedly.
Hermione saw red. She hastily cast a silencing spell around them, before she started to shout. “Harry James Potter! How dare you accuse me of such a thing? Relationships between teachers and students are forbidden!” She paced in front of him and the sofa. “What is it you’re even accusing me of? Using the first possibility after coming of age to ensnare my Professor during detention? Maybe even to improve my grades ?”
She looked at him with a fiery expression, while Harry just stared at her, taken aback. But she was not finished.
“Or are you implying that we have been shagging for weeks and months while I was still underage ?”
“What? No!” her friend replied, taken aback. “That’s not what I meant.”
She stared at him with a cold expression. “No? Because it very much sounded like you did. Merlin Harry, I thought you knew me, but it seems like Ron isn’t the only one with his mind in the gutter. Maybe you should tell him ! He would love that new theory of yours!”
With that she stormed off, not even looking back to judge Harry’s reaction. His words had hit her hard, not just because she was a stickler for rules. They could have been true, as far as she was concerned, because somehow, she could see herself falling more and more for Severus - for Professor Snape . More than once she had felt the impulse to not just hug him but press her lips against his, to let him know how she felt. She wanted him, not just as a friend. Except she would ruin their friendship if she only as much as hinted into that direction. Severus had always been concerned about her behaving properly and he had good reason to. Having a romantic relationship with a student would be a scandal and would probably cost his job. He couldn’t - they couldn’t. But apart from that he probably was not interested in her that way. Because only a few hours ago he had said it: “Your friendship is all I want.”
He wanted her friendship, nothing more, Hermione reminded herself, just as she threw herself onto her bed, not even bothering to brush her teeth or remove her clothes. She, too, needed to pull her mind out of the gutter, because when she was honest with herself, she wasn’t any better than the boys. But she would not ruin her friendship with Severus by wanting things she could not have, not in a million years.