Severus held his friend, as she sat on his sofa, her petite body wracked by terrible sobs. There was not much he could do to reassure her now, nothing more than holding her and murmuring words of comfort, because right now he had no idea how to proceed. He would have to wait for Albus’ findings from checking the wards on her room, and even then he did not feel like he wanted to leave Hermione by herself anytime soon. She was safest when she was close to him because she was right: just because his rooms were among the safest of the castle, did not mean they were safe. And that was a worrisome realization indeed.
It took a while for Hermione to finally calm down, but when she did she slowly straightened herself and leaned her curly head against his chest, looking up at him with huge, caramel brown eyes. There seemed a million questions hidden in them, and if their situation had been different, he could have gotten lost in them, probably forever. But given their current situation, there was nothing he could do or say, that would help her - or not be totally inappropriate. He could not promise her everything would be all right, not when he did not have any clue what was going on; he could not even tell her how he truly felt. And he most definitely could not kiss her.
Therefore he did not do anything, just held her while staring at her silently, and for a while she just stared back, her eyes searching for something he could not grasp. But finally, she turned back around with a sigh and said:
“Could we stay like this for a while longer? I know you probably have loads of work to do, but could we just chat for a bit? Just to take my mind off of… things.”
He nodded understandingly. “Of course. Just give me a topic - maybe not fashion - and I will do my best to entertain you.”
Hermione nodded. “I have wondered for a while now; why did you decide to become an Animagus?”
He looked at her with a gentle smile. “There are two reasons for that - at least. The first one was that James Potter and his little gang of bullies managed it, and as soon as I found out, I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it as well. I know it sounds petty when I say it like that now, but back then… things were… hard.”
“I understand,” the woman in his arms whispered, her head leaning against his chest, while her eyes were full of melancholy. “I was bullied in school too, but for you, it was so much worse. I am not sure if I could have lived through seven years of that. I would have probably given up at some point.”
“You wouldn’t have,” he said, closing his arms around her torso and pulling her closer. “You are stronger than you think, much stronger. You would have given those idiots hell, I am sure of it.”
Hermione did not reply right away but after a moment a little smile formed on her lips. “Did Malfoy ever tell you that, in third year, I punched him in the face and broke his nose?”
“He did not,” Severus replied, smiling fondly. “But I am sure he deserved it.” She nodded and for a while she was silent. But Severus was not finished. “You should do that more often; fight back, I mean. I feel like you’re taking too much shit from others, like from Weasley, that idiot. Tell me, if he came and apologized to you, even if it was only half an apology, would you just forgive him? Would you just take him back as your friend and act as if nothing happened?”
Hermione shrugged. “Maybe. Because that’s what you do. You forgive others. You try to be nice and helpful because friendship is important, right? Especially when one hasn’t that many friends…”
Severus sighed. “That is no reason to allow others to treat you like shit, Hermione. I’d rather have no friends, than constantly being used by them,” he replied, more vehemently than he intended to. “Which probably is the reason for me being alone for such a long time.” He snorted. “But it does not matter. What is a friend if you cannot rely on them, or if they will turn against you at the first chance?”
Hermione nodded with a sigh. “I guess you are right. It is just that Ron and I also had good times. How can I just give that up?”
He did not reply right away. “Have you told your parents what he did? Because I would love to hear what they had to say…”
“I told them we split up shortly after our first date,” Hermione mumbled shyly. “They assumed it did not work out between the two of us, which is the truth. He and I… we were just not right together. And it was not his fault I distanced myself from him.”
Severus closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You are still protecting him, after he treated you like shit. Why? You should have punched him in the face and broken his nose. Instead, you waited for Potter to do it.”
Hermione was silent, but the look on her face told him that she was considering his words. And so he continued: “I am not telling you what to do, Hermione, this is your life. But if you really accept him back as a friend, do not allow him to use you again, like he did before.”
At that, she nodded. “I promise. You know… ever since we became close, I have learned a lot about friendship, about how it’s supposed to be. And I think you are right.”
She did not clarify her words, but he assumed she was referring to Weasley, and therefore he smiled. For a while, neither of them spoke, and Severus just allowed himself to enjoy the physical contact, the smell of her hair, and the warmth radiating from her body.
Then, a while later, she said: “What was the other reason? For you becoming an Animagus, I mean…”
Ah, yeah. He had forgotten about how their discussion had started. “I was actually hoping for a more… dangerous... Animagus form. In my youth, I envisioned myself as a black panther, which would have been great when encountering a rat, a stag, and a stray dog. Unfortunately, that was not what I got and it took some time for me to see the advantages of being a raven, but eventually, I did.”
Hermione nodded. “You were just looking for a way to fight back,” she concluded, nodding understandingly.
“I did. As a student, I was involved in more duels than I could count. They were usually not one on one, and I rarely started them, but the Professors rarely asked after that little detail.” Severus laughed humourlessly. “Still, no matter how much I hated Potter and his lackeys for what they did to me, they taught me a valuable lesson, Hermione. They taught me to fight back, to not be a victim. And you aren’t a victim either, if you don’t want to be. You can always fight back and if you want to, I can help you to learn how.”
“You are right,” Hermione sighed, and even though her voice still sounded gloomy, she already seemed more like her old self again. Good. He would gladly protect her, if he had to, but it could never hurt to show her how to defend herself, even if it was by fighting dirty. But he would not force his help on her. He would give her time to contemplate his words and then hopefully she would ask him to teach her. And then he would teach her every dirty little trick that he was legally allowed to.
“I think it’s time for us to go to bed now,” Severus said after they had sat in silence for a few hours. He had been correcting a stack of essays he had collected from his students today, while Hermione sat silently at his table by the window, taking glimpses of the Black Lake while she did her homework. After she had gotten over her initial panic it was actually quite nice sitting here, enjoying the view and the fact that no one disturbed her in her work.
But now she could suddenly feel how tired she was. Her past injury and the day’s events had indeed tired her out. The only problem was that going to bed would mean being alone again, and she dreaded the moment she had to close her eyes, being alone in the darkness.
“If we must,” she mumbled, carefully putting her books aside. “I am not sure if I can fall asleep right now,” she admitted, getting up from her seat.
She could feel Severus’ eyes on her, as he slowly got up from his desk as well, walking towards her with measured steps. “You are tired, Hermione, have been for a while now. You need to try to rest, to restore your energy for tomorrow.”
“I know,” Hermione admitted defeatedly. “But I can’t help being afraid of the moment when you leave that room, wishing me a good night.” She stared at her shoes, afraid to look at the older man, as he approached her.
He was silent until he was standing right in front of her, his hands gently gripping her shoulders. “I understand,” he said, his voice soft. “After the recent events, I too feel uncomfortable leaving you behind. But I would rather avoid having another shared dream with you sleeping right next to me.”
Hermione shook her head, before she forced herself to look at him, her eyes trying to convey what she felt. “I’d rather wake up after sharing a dream with you, than not sleep at all, Severus. Yes, the last time it happened was… embarrassing, but nothing we could not handle. I trust you, Severus so, please…” She would not beg him, she decided, but she had made her preferences on the matter clear enough.
“All right,” her friend replied with a sigh. “Come to my room then. You can sleep in my bed if it makes you feel better. But we will work on our lucid dreaming skills before falling asleep. That is my condition.”
She beamed at him. “Thank you. We can work on it until we fall asleep if you like,” she said, determined to do her best to satisfy her friend. If she was allowed to sleep next to him, it was worth letting go of those dreams, even if that meant never feeling Severus’ kisses again.
“Good. Make yourself ready for bed then. You can use the bathroom first,” Severus said, and a moment later the physical contact with him was gone. Hermione saw him stroll towards what was probably his bedroom and she hastily turned around and walked towards his bathroom. Readying herself for bed in his quarters was something she had never expected she’d do one day, but now she was, and even though she could not help but feel nervous about being in Professor Snape’s quarters - in his bedroom - the domesticity of it made her smile.
Severus’ bathroom was simple compared with what she had expected for a Professor. She had been to it before, of course, but today she appreciated the simple design of the room even more. Making a quick decision, she opted for a shower, washing her hair and her newly regenerated skin, because even though Madam Pomfrey had kindly used some cleaning spells on her, it wasn’t quite the same as using water and soap. When she stepped out of the shower there was a fluffy white bathrobe waiting for her, and next to Severus’ mirror, a second glass with her toothbrush had appeared, and Hermione took it, quietly thanking the house-elves for assisting her so kindly.
It was about twenty minutes later when she finally emerged from the bathroom, a cloud of steam following her outside. She padded in her bare feet towards the living room, where Severus had sat down on one of the armchairs, casually reading a book. He had already removed his outer robe and shoes, Hermione realized, and smiled happily. She liked this more casual version of Severus, and she took the sight in greedily to be able to replay it in her mind later.
“I see you found everything you needed,” Severus said and turned towards her. Somehow his eyes looked even darker in this light, Hermione thought, even though she had not considered that to be possible. “I’ll show you the way to my bedroom, before freshening up myself. I won’t be long...”
“Alright. Thank you,” she replied, feeling suddenly shy. But Severus did not comment on it, and led her through a door at the other end of the room. The room lying beyond was cosy and even though the huge four-poster-bed with green curtains took up most of the room, Severus had crammed one more shelf loaded with books against the wall next to the door. Interestingly it did not hold magical books, but a variety of Muggle literature, mostly thrillers as far as she could tell. It took a moment for her to rip her eyes away from the unknown titles but Severus, of course, had taken note of her interest.
“You can borrow one of them and start reading it, for as long as it takes me to get ready. Some of them are quite gruesome though, so maybe not something you should read before attempting to sleep.”
“I am not much into thrillers anyway,” Hermione confessed with a smile. “I just did not expect you to read them. I do have a weakness for drama and science-fiction though. If ever you’re getting bored with those ones, I do have a little collection of books of my own.”
Severus smiled. “I will keep it in mind. Make yourself at home then.”
Hermione nodded and before she found a fitting reply, Severus had left the room, closing the door behind him silently. For a moment she stared at the bed undecidedly. Did he prefer one side of it? Probably. But as he had not told her which one it was, she opted for the side that was facing the back of the room, because having Severus between her and the door made her feel safer.
Some moments later she had shrugged off her bathrobe, put on her soft, tartan-coloured pyjamas and climbed into bed, noting that there was only one large blanket. She would not mind sharing it with Severus of course; she was even secretly looking forward to it; but somehow she thought that Severus would probably transfigure a second one for himself. With a sigh she turned on her back and stared at the bed’s ceiling, and with a startle she realized that it was charmed, and showed several trees, making her feel like she was lying in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. The trees were mostly dark now that it was night outside, and here and there she could see a star blinking in between the treetops, but Hermione could not help but wonder how those trees would look in the morning. Hermione did not know how long she was lying there, admiring the view and watching the leaves gently moving in the wind, but suddenly she could hear the door open and Severus strode into the room. She turned towards him with a happy smile, realizing that he too had changed into a pair of pyjamas, but his were dark green and made of a soft, silken fabric. Strange. She had always envisioned him in a long, grey nightshirt, but suddenly she realized how ridiculous that thought had been.
“I love the enchantment on your bed’s ceiling,” she admitted dreamily. “I could stare at it all night - I probably will.”
Severus smiled and walked over to the bed, sitting down on the mattress before lifting the blanket and climbing beneath. “I enchanted it myself. It was not very long ago that I had problems with insomnia as well. Sometimes I still have them, but staring up into those trees usually helps me to calm down. Maybe it will help you, too.”
“I am sure it will,” Hermione replied, turning towards him with a happy smile. “But first I promised to work on my skills for lucid dreaming. So what do you want me to do?”
Severus turned towards her with a smile and Hermione could catch a whiff of peppermint in his breath. “I think it would be best if we go about it like this...” he said, and then he started to explain.
Severus watched Hermione’s sleeping figure next to him with a gentle smile, taking in her beautiful features that sleep had finally relaxed. Her hair was still slightly wet from the shower and she smelled like peaches, he realized, and it took all his willpower not to stretch his arm out and bury his fingers in her curls.
The girl had trusted him enough to ask him to share his bed with her, and he would not dishonour her trust by risking another embarrassing situation between them. Still, this night was special, more special than Hermione would ever know, because Severus had never brought another woman to this bed, or even this room, and he had never intended to. Inside these walls was his sanctuary, the place he had retreated to whenever the outside world had gotten too much for him. Here in this bed, he had nursed his tortured body back to health, covering his sheets with his blood and sweat while the bed ceiling’s enchantment made him keep his composure and sanity as his body slowly recovered.
Severus had never wanted to sully those sheets by lovelessly fucking a woman here, but more importantly: he had never trusted anybody enough to show them this part of himself – until now. Now Hermione was here and the awe he had seen in her eyes when looking at his books, at his bed, at him, was tugging at his heart-strings and made him feel accepted in a way he never before had. It made him realize once more what a special gift it was to have found her - his soul mate - Hermione - the woman that had slowly but steadily wormed her way into his heart, and now into his bed. For a short moment, he wished she would stay here forever, sharing this blanket and warming his bed and his heart. But that, of course, was not possible... at least not for a very long while.