“Hey Hermione, can we… can we talk?” Harry said. He had come to find her after their DADA class finished and even though Hermione was still mad because of the boy’s abysmal behaviour towards Severus, she knew they had to talk eventually.
She turned towards her oldest friend with an audible sigh. “Of course, Harry. We can always talk, as long as you’re not behaving like an idiot again.”
Hermione pulled the boy into an empty classroom and warded the door as soon as she had closed it behind them. She could see him watching her with a curious expression.
“Did Snape teach you how to do this?” he asked and motioned towards the warded door. “Or did you teach yourself?”
She looked at Harry with a stern expression. “ Professor Snape taught me how to do the most important wards,” she said, carefully walking towards a desk before leaning against it. “Amongst other things. He is always very generous when sharing his knowledge with me.”
“Is that why you like him?” her friend asked, staring at her with scrutinizing, green eyes. “Because I don’t get it, Hermione. The man has been a git towards you. He has mocked you more often than I can count and sometimes he’s just been outright mean. Why would you befriend someone like him? And how? When did this happen?”
Hermione sighed. “He was the one who took care of me after I got wounded in the Department of Mysteries,” she explained calmly, because she could somewhat understand her friend’s confusion. To him, this friendship really must seem strange, even though it was the most natural thing for her these days. “I realized he was totally different when being alone with me and after a while, I realized that this was just the mask he wore in public.”
Harry looked at her with furrowed brows, restlessly pacing the floor in front of her. “What do you mean: ‘He took care of you?’ Did he sit at your bedside or what?”
“Sometimes,” Hermione admitted. “He took care of my medication and as Madame Pomfrey was sometimes busy, he took me for a walk to improve my stamina after being confined to bed for such a long time. We talked, mostly about books as you can imagine. He love s to read, like me, you see?”
Harry nodded, even though his expression was still somewhat pained. “What can I say? Hermione I… I’m happy for you, I’m happy that you found a… friend that seems to share your interests for once. I know it’s sometimes difficult for you with me and Ron being so… different. We never really got your passion for books or for studying and by what you’ve just told me he … does.”
Hermione nodded with a small smile. “Yeah.”
“It’s just all so… strange. He’s our Professor and during classes, he’s still pretty much a git, even though his behaviour has somewhat improved. You know, it’s actually really considerate that he let you read his books as a birthday present. I bet you loved that.”
At that, Hermione could not help but start smiling. Their shared evening at the Timeless collection came back to her mind and suddenly she wished they could go back there, maybe for an extended vacation or something. And who knew? Maybe they would, one day?
“I did,” Hermione admitted, her voice taking on an almost dreamy tone. She did not see the strange look in Harry’s eyes as he saw the little smile playing on her lips, especially as it was gone a moment later.
“Good. But if he hurts you, I’ll get the twins’ help and make his life a living misery,” her friend promised, before pulling her into a spontaneous hug. “You’re the only sensible friend I have, Hermione. You’re almost like a sister to me. If Snape hurts you or uses you for some nefarious scheme, he’ll wish he was never born. You hear me?”
Hermione let go of Harry and looked at him with a confused expression. “I don’t think I know what you’re saying, Harry…”
At that, the boy dug his fingers through his hair. “He’s a man , Hermione, a grown man . Who says it’s only friendship he wants?” He shook his head with a sigh. “I’m not saying that’s what he’s doing, Hemione. Just, be careful, please. And if he as much as lays a finger on you, you tell me or McGonagall, alright? I won’t stand by and watch you being taken advantage of.”
Hermione nodded, even though the whole conversation suddenly seemed somewhat awkward to her. Severus would never take advantage of her like that. He was an honourable man and sometimes, when Severus left her in the evening and her bed still smelled like him, Hermione wished that he wasn’t. But that was something she hadn’t better tell Harry, not when he had just taken the news of hers and Severus’ friendship so well.
Severus spent the next weeks closely watching Draco and making a plan on how to get those damned memories from Slughorn. Ever since the old man had mucked up his patrols at Hogsmeade, he had seemed to avoid him like a plague. During dinners he usually sat at the other end of the table now, his eyes watching over his Slytherins with an almost haunted expression. Maybe it was the guilt making him act this way but considering the fact that Severus still needed those memories, it was most inconvenient. But in the end, it did not matter, as Severus could always go back to using Legilimency on him and obliviate the old fart afterwards. Dumbledore had handed him a Carte Blanche here and he was not too shy to use it, if the man did not leave him any other choice.
The relationship between Hermione and her moronic friends still seemed pretty strained. The redhead was usually glued to Miss Brown’s side, or actually her face, but after a while, most people had just started to ignore those two, all except Minerva. She glared at Weasley like he had personally affronted her and more than once the older witch was reported to keep him for detention or take points whenever she found his work too sloppy.
Potter, on the other hand, seemed to at least try to improve his relationship with the girl. He sat with her for meals and he could see them having conversations of sorts, even though both of them looked like they were trying too hard. But they were trying, both of them, and even though Severus did not like Potter, he knew that the boy was important for Hermione and that she would never abandon him.
In DADA Severus mostly concentrated on Hermione and Potter now. Sometimes he ordered Longbottom as well to duel him, but the boy was surprisingly stubborn and had much more backbone than Severus had deemed possible. And even though the boy hardly dared to throw anything more dangerous than a stunner at him, his shielding skills were truly remarkable. Maybe it was the boy’s wish to protect himself from Severus’ attacks, but Longbottom was as concentrated as Severus had never seen him before. Maybe the boy wasn’t a total disappointment, after all. There was more of his parents in him than Severus had realized so far.
Draco was an entirely different matter. Severus could tell that the boy was watching him. Twice more he had found him close to the seventh floor, but mostly the blonde wizard kept his head down and avoided trouble whenever possible. Severus would have been relieved about it, if he didn’t have the distinct feeling that the boy was up to something. He couldn’t tell if his godson had been the one attacking Potter, but Severus was sure that whoever tried it the last time, would try it again. They could only hope that Potter’s luck held or they found the attacker before he had the chance to strike again.
“ I think Neville is really improving in defence, now, ” Hermione told him mentally, while holding their current book for the both of them. “ Even though he’s still scared of you, duelling you really helps him. And I think he’s aware of it and appreciating the effort you are making… unlike others. ”
Today Hermione was just lazily lounging on her bed, Severus’ Animagus form seated on her pillow, right next to her head, which was resting only a few centimetres away. He was always careful not to touch her, but he could still feel the warmth radiating from her body and he found himself enjoying it way more than he should. Today had been a hard day, the progress he was making with Slughorn frustratingly non-existent, and those one or two hours of peaceful reading were what he had been most looking forward to.
“ He has definitely improved ,” he found himself replying. “ He will never be a grand dueller as he is still too hesitant with his attacks. But his shielding skills are decent, which could indicate that he has more interest in protecting himself or others than hurting people. It would speak for his character, if you ask me. ”
“You think so?” Hermione answered, her voice almost hesitant. He could feel her roll over a moment later, until she was lying on her side, her forehead almost touching his feathered chest. “It’s really hard for me, too. I think I could do it, when faced with a real enemy. But I really don’t want to hurt you and I think that’s why I’m not really trying. Even though I would probably never be able to land even a single hit.”
“I’ve had many years of duelling practice,” Severus replied, while his eyes studied the different shades of her curls. Some of them were almost golden, he thought, and felt the urge to touch them again. Luckily he was only in his raven-form now and therefore the urge was much easier to control, as his feelings were partly overlapped with what he called his raven-self. He barely acknowledged it, as those Animagi that were more beast than human had always been a warning to him. But right now it was good to have wings instead of fingers, because those he could not bury in her hair. As a bird he could not kiss her - thank Merlin, as upholding propriety got more and more difficult as the days passed.
“ Being a Death Eater for two decades came with an abundance of violence , fighting and being bullied at school was also a hard but helpful lesson in self-defence ,” he explained calmly. Somehow, with Hermione, he did not mind talking about his past because he knew she would understand. Hermione would not judge or think less of him for the things he had done or experienced.
Hermione nodded, her brown eyes focussing him with an intensity that made his skin prickle. “Harry told me what his father and his friends did to you,” she admitted and a moment later he could feel her fingers gently stroking the feathers of his back. He did not move, did not dare to lean into her touch, even though every fibre of his body wanted to. “For some time I thought Professor Lupin to be a bit like me,” she mumbled, her voice suddenly speaking directly to him, instead of in his mind. “I thought our shared love for books made us alike, but I was wrong. I would have never stood by and watched, while Ron and Harry did such a terrible thing. And I am sure you wouldn’t have either.”
“ Of course not ,” Severus mentally answered, his heart aching when Hermione removed her hand a moment later, as she got distracted by her large, orange cat, which had just jumped on her bed and walked towards them, its tail proudly raised into the air. Somehow the beast had just ignored the wards Hermione had erected, or better, Hermione had designed them in a way to let the disruptive beast pass. Severus could have sworn the cheeky bugger knew exactly what he was doing, as a moment later the cat rubbed his face against Hermione’s belly, making her hand wander from Severus' head to Crookshank’s fur.
Severus looked at the beast with small eyes and for a moment he was almost sure that the cat looked back at him with an almost smug expression on his ugly face. Cheeky bugger!
“ I would have loved to witness you having a go at Black and his consorts, ” Severus admitted, his Animagus form unable to reflect the smile he was feeling. “ I would have loved going to school with you, having you as my friend back then. Things could have been so different. ”
He rarely looked back at his past but right now he could not help it. He envisioned Hermione there, with him, facing Potter and Sirius with fire in her eyes and her hair prickling with angry energy. It would have been brilliant, he thought. ‘I would have dated her, married her, maybe even sooner than Potter had convinced Lily to do so.’
“I know,” Hermione said, no longer bothering with the mental connection. And even though her fingers were stroking that orange beast of hers now, her eyes remained fixed on him, saying much more than her mouth did. He could have sworn the girl had similar thoughts as he had, but there was no use in mulling over what-ifs. She had not gone to school with him and even though they were still kindred spirits, he was also still her damned Professor.
For a while they just stared at each other. Severus was not sure what else there was left to say and slowly he could feel the tension between them growing thick with… something. It was probably best if he removed himself from the situation, as staying would probably start being painful… for both of them.
“ I should probably go now ,” he said, shaking his feathers before taking some steps back. “ I still have some work left and then I do have some things to research, for the Headmaster. ” His words were true and still they were only an excuse right now. Usually, he would not have cared how much work there was left, if it still felt like he could stay with her a bit longer.
“Alright,” Hermione said, her eyes trying to hide the sad glint in them. She wanted him here, he realized, but right now he thought it was better if he left anyway. He did not want to destroy the friendship they had just built up and make things awkward between them. “I actually also have some homework left to do.”
She got up from the bed and offered him her hand. Making a quick decision he leapt into the air and landed on her palm. If someone unexpectedly entered that dorm, they would just see Hermione carrying a messenger bird to the window.
“ Good night, Severus, ” Hermione told him mentally, while opening the window.
“ Good night, Hermione ,” Severus replied gently. Following an instinct he carefully rubbed his beak against her fingers before he took off into the night, missing the cat’s knowing look from the bed.
Crookshanks waited for his mistress when she returned to the bed, throwing herself onto the mattress with an emotional sigh. Those humans were really strange sometimes, dancing around each other like a cat would dance around a mouse… no, a snake. A mouse would just be watched for a while until one would pounce at her, but those two had watched each other for ages and by now they should have easily made the decision to pounce at each other or look for a better mouse. But neither of them made a move, and instead they skittered away as if afraid that the other one might bite only to start with the watching game anew. Was this a game of sorts? If it was meant as one, it wasn’t overly successful. His mistress was getting more and more agitated the longer the circling and stalking went. It was really tiresome to watch sometimes. Today he had tried to give the raven-man a little nudge, but all it did was drive his mistress’ potential pouncer away. Very strange and confusing. Those humans were strange, dismissing all the right persons for all the wrong ones, like the smelly redhead his mistress had been licking just recently. He could not let that happen again, as that particular human had never liked or even accepted him. No, the raven man was nice enough, he had gotten him back to his mistress, after their house had been destroyed. The raven-man would have to stay and with a bit of finesse he could even teach him how to stroke his fur with those long fingers of his just right .