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Chapter 23 : xxiii.
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For the next two days Severus completely avoided Hermione. He hadn't been in The Great Hall during meal times, he didn't visit the library, he never showed up to the Potions classroom, and she hadn't spotted him in the corridors, or any other part of the castle. Monday evening, in a moment of pure desperation, she even decided to try the Room of Requirement, not entirely sure if he knew about the room or not. After searching for over an hour with no result, she finally gave up and left. She was crushed.
By Tuesday afternoon, she was finished waiting and decided that she would write to him. She was sitting by herself in the common room, with only several younger students there as well, while the rest of her friends were out wandering the castle. Hermione summoned some parchment, a quill and a bottle of ink, and began to write.
I do not understand what is going on.
Why are you avoiding me? Will you
meet with me in the abandoned
classroom we use to practice in, on the
first floor? I'll be there waiting for you.
Please, Severus. Don't ignore me
any longer. We need to talk.
After leaving the Owlry, she headed directly to the empty classroom. Waving her wand, she lit some lights, then summoned a pillow to sit down on. Time went on and on, and Severus was still nowhere in sight. Her eyes started to water, and not before long, Hermione had her face cradled in the palms of her hands while she cried.
She worried about him. Not only because of him not speaking to her, but she also worried about his wellbeing. The fact that she hadn't seen him the entire day that she was in Hogsmeade still nagged at the back her mind. The defeated and angry expression on his bone-white face, after he'd overheard her conversation with Lily formed behind her closed eyes.
The door opened, yet Hermione did not hear it, nor did she hear his footsteps over her sobs. When she felt his hand on her shoulder -- even without looking, she knew it was his -- her entire body froze.
“S-Severus?” she hiccoughed.
He removed his hand from her, and she heard him take a step away.
“Hi,” he said lamely.
Just hearing his voice again seemed to fill her with an energy she hadn't even realized she was lacking the past few days. She quickly wiped her face and stood up from the floor. Severus was looking down, twisting his fingers around one another.
Hermione didn't care if he was angry. She didn't care if he hadn't spoken to her. All she cared about in that moment was feeling the warmth of his body. Without any hesitation, she lunged forward and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him so tightly that both of them staggered.
It took several seconds, but tentatively, he put his arms around her, and returned her hug. Then suddenly she pulled away, and looked up into his hesitant black eyes.
“Severus, where have you been? Why have you been avoiding me? Do you realize that I've been-”
Hermione’s rapid bombardment of questions was cut off when he placed his index finger on her lips.
He sighed heavily then took her hand.
“Let's sit,” he suggested, before pulling out his wand and sending a pillow to land opposite the one Hermione had just vacated.
Even in that tense moment, Hermione was impressed to see how far his non-verbal magic had come from when they first began practicing together.
Once seated, she watched him carefully. It had only been a few days, but he looked different. His normally pale face seemed to lack even more color, which she wouldn't have thought possible. The dark circles around his eyes only accentuated the whiteness of his skin. His hair was extra stringy, and his clothing looked wrinkled, almost like he hadn't changed in some time. She felt an ache in her chest at the sight of him.
“Severus…” she breathed out. “Are you alright?”
Avoiding her gaze, he shrugged.
“I -- I don't know how much you overheard the other evening, but...but Severus, I don't care what happened in the past.” She started speaking rapidly once more. “You made a mistake. People make mistakes all the time, and it's alright.”
She stopped, due to the fire she saw in his eyes, as his head snapped up at the word ‘alright’.
“It's alright?” he repeated in a chilling whisper.
“Well, no. I mean, yes. What I've meant to say was, making a mistake is alright. Not what you said, perhaps-”
He snorted angrily. His nostrils flared.
“I called my best friend a Mudblood, Hermione. If you were Muggle-born, I'd hardly think you'd feel the same way. That it's alright,” he sneered.
Hermione unconsciously cupped her left forearm with her hand, as her mouth popped open to speak the words which would have contradicted what he'd just said. She'd never been closer than she was in that moment to telling him the truth. If only she could have told him what she was… But considering she was posing as the niece of their Pureblood headmaster, it wasn't an option.
“I'm sure I would,” she mumbled obstinately.
Severus rolled his eyes. “I highly doubt that.”
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. “Doubt it all you want to, Severus, but that doesn't make it any less true.”
“How could you possibly know how you would feel, Hermione?” he spat with an ugly twist to his face. “You come from a family of wizards. You couldn't know what it would be like to hear that word as a Muggle-born.”
A wave of anger heated Hermione’s blood. Of course she knew how it felt. Not only had she been called a Mudblood, it was permanently carved into her flesh!
She inched her pillow closer to him.
“Severus Snape, I want you to listen to me, and listen to me right now,” she spoke in a low, firm voice. “What happened between you and Lily Evans is none of my concern. I was not in this school when it happened and I do not, even for a moment, believe that you are the kind of person who holds the types of views that others who use that word do.”
He snorted. “And yet the word fell from my lips. It's thrown around in my common room daily, and I say nothing to stop it. I'm no different than those who do hold those views. Being complacent is just as bad as guilty...perhaps worse.”
“I'm sure you do what you have to in order to get by in Slytherin,” she said. She didn't agree with it, but she understood. Especially with that group of Slytherins -- most of them would go on to become Death Eaters.
He grunted noncommittally while turning his head from her.
Hermione extended her arm to reach for his hand, yet the moment her fingertips brushed against his, he quickly pulled away. She tried to ignore the lump that grew again in her throat.
“I've had the opportunity to get to know you over the course of the last few months, and my opinion of you, or how I feel about you has not changed one bit. I'm sorry that your old friend will not forgive you, but I am not her.”
“Severus, really, this is just silly at this point. So I suggest you quit sulking and quit avoiding me”
He didn't answer her right away. His shoulders slumped and he exhaled deeply. When he finally looked up and locked eyes with her, she felt slightly better when she saw them soften just a hair.
“I'm not sulking,” he denied with a small pout.
The contrast between his expression and his words caused Hermione to burst out laughing.
“Of course you're not,” she giggled.
The corners of Severus’ lips twitched as he fought a smile. “Insufferable,” he grumbled.
“Severus, I mean this. I'm not going anywhere…” she said, although an unspoken yet sounded off in her mind, which she chose to disregard for the moment.
Slowly he shook his head as he looked into her eyes. “You're so...unlike anyone else I've ever met, Hermione,” he told her in a voice barely above a whisper.
A small flash of heat filled her cheeks due to his words. She could feel that the tension between them was dissipating.
“I just believe that communication is vital to a healthy relationship. If we don't speak, we can't fix what's wrong.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose.”
“You still haven't answered me, Severus…are you through hiding from me now?” she asked.
She watched him chew his bottom lip, and waited for him to respond. Several seconds went by and then he nodded.
“Good.” She smiled.
Unable to control herself any longer, Hermione leaned forward and locked her arms around his neck, before pressing her lips against his with more force than she intended. While they kissed, Severus pulled Hermione onto his lap and held her tightly to his chest. There was an edge of desperation to his kiss, she noticed. Almost like they had gone months without one another, as opposed to a few days.
When they broke apart for air, Hermione cupped his cheek in her palm. “I've missed you. Don't ever do that to me again,” she pleaded.
Severus wrapped his hand around her fingers, before leaning down to rest his forehead on hers.
“I'm sorry, Hermione,” he whispered against her lips, before kissing her once more.
“It's alright, Severus,” she said. “Please promise me, if something like this happens again, that you'll talk to me about it.”
A small crease formed between his eyebrows as he looked away.
“I won't avoid you again,” he promised.
Hermione hoped that another situation like this would not occur again, but if it did, she felt assured that he would at least speak with her, instead of hiding himself away for days.
After leaving the classroom shortly after, they walked together to the Great Hall, hand in hand. Although they had settled everything, something else was still bothering her.
“Where were you Saturday before…” she trailed off, not wanting to bring up the Lily incident again.
She noticed his posture stiffen briefly before he answered.
“Shopping,” he responded immediately, then gave her a half-smile.
Hermione smiled back, even though she had an uncomfortable feeling that he was not giving her the entire truth. The tone of his voice was off and he appeared to be deliberately avoiding eye contact. As she opened her mouth to interrogate him further, something inside of her forced her to stop. Severus was not one to handle being cornered very well and she assumed that if it were something important, he would eventually come to tell her on his own. And there was always the possibility that it was nothing more than just Christmas shopping -- although her gut told her it was probably something other than that.
As they rounded the corner to the Entrance Hall they came to a sudden stop, just nearly avoiding a collision with the Headmaster.
“Ah, Hermione. Mister Snape,” he said to them like he'd been expecting their arrival.
Dumbledore’s eyes briefly traveled to their interlocked hands. A small frown formed on his lips, before immediately replacing it with the smile he greeted them with.
“Professor.” Severus nodded.
Dumbledore fixed his eyes on Hermione.
“How serendipitous. I intended to request a brief meeting with you in my office after dinner, Hermione. There are some matters in which I wish to discuss with you,” he said lightly.
Surprise quickly jolted through her body, she hadn't requested to see him, and she could only remember one other time he had called for her. That was to discuss the progress being made with the Time-Turner. Yet she attempted to hide it by keeping her face friendly and her tone of voice steady.
“Of course,” she agreed, hoping he had good news.
He quickly looked down at their hands once more before speaking again.
“Wonderful. Shall we say, seven o'clock?”
Hermione nodded. “That would be perfectly fine, sir.”
Dumbledore said his goodbyes to each of them, while Hermione and Severus stayed in the corridor.
“What do you reckon he wants to talk about?” Severus asked the moment Dumbledore was out of earshot.
Honestly Hermione had no idea. She knew what she hoped for, but she wasn't entirely sure. Something about the way he kept looking at their joint hands did not sit right with her.
She shrugged. “No idea, actually.”
When dinner was finished Severus walked with Hermione to the entrance of Dumbledore’s office. Hermione gave the stone gargoyle the password and waited for the spiral steps to appear.
“I don't know how long I'll be,” she said turning back to Severus.
“It's alright. I'll come back in an hour?”
He looked disappointed, and truth be told, so was she. They'd spent days apart from one another, the longest they'd been apart since they had begun their relationship, and she was hoping that they could have had the evening together.
“I'll wait for you. If you arrive, and I'm not here, then I'm still in his office,” she said.
The gargoyle huffed impatiently behind her.
“Well? Are you going up or not?” it grumbled at her.
Hermione rolled her eyes and glared at it over her shoulder.
“In a minute. Why? Do you have somewhere you need to be?” she snapped at it.
Severus chuckled softly as she turned back towards him and stood up on her toes to give him a kiss.
“See you soon,” she said, then walked to the stairs.
“Finally,” the gargoyle hissed under its breath.
“Oh shut up,” she whispered while the stairs began to rise.
When she entered Dumbledore’s office, he was sat in his usual spot, behind his desk.
“Have a seat, Miss Granger,” he said, not unkindly, but lacking the lightness to his usual jovial tone.
Her anxiety started to climb as she sat in the same armchair she normally used during her meetings with the headmaster.
Hermione looked up at Dumbledore. He reached for a small dish filled with little brown candies.
“Toffee?” he asked.
“No thank you, sir.”
The question of if wizards could possible get diabetes crossed her mind, considering the amount of candies Professor Dumbledore seemed to consume.
After setting the dish back down, he folded his hands on top of his desk and looked down at her through his half-moon glasses.
“You have been spending quite a great deal of time with Severus Snape, I have noticed,” he said without anymore preamble.
Hermione felt a wave a shock race through her. She wasn't quiet expecting the conversation to head that way, but after their brief conversation in the corridor earlier, she shouldn't have been surprised.
“Yes, Professor. I really should not go into any details, considering…” she trailed off, but knew Dumbledore would understand.
He nodded. “Considering,” he repeated quietly.
After several seconds of silence, he spoke again.
“Miss Granger, please forgive me if I am out of line, but am I correct to assume that you have begun a romantic relationship with the boy?” he asked, his eyes seeming as if they were looking into her very soul.
She knew she couldn't lie. Her heart pounded.
“Yes, sir,” she admitted in a small voice.
His lips formed a line to rival Professor McGonagall’s. Hermione suddenly felt ashamed, since she knew why he looked so disappointed. Anything that he was about to say to her wouldn't have been anything different than the thousands of doubts and thoughts she already had run through her mind, from the moment she decided to choose him over the dangers their relationship could potentially cause.
He leaned back in his chair and regarded her carefully over the top of his glasses.
“Miss Granger, do you believe it to be wise to involve yourself with him in such a manner, considering your...unorthodox situation?” he asked in an even tone.
Hermione suddenly felt like a small child being scolded for being caught with her hand in a tin of biscuits before supper.
“Probably not, sir,” she mumbled with her eyes cast to the ground.
It wasn't wise, she knew that was true. But that didn't mean that she'd stop. The thought of cutting Severus out of her life was too painful, she knew as much from the few days they'd spent apart from one another. Severus Snape had slowly carved a spot out for himself in her heart, and a part of her felt that perhaps it was meant to happen. That she was sent back in time to show him love. Wasn't that what Dumbledore always championed? The power of love, and how it could overcome even the darkest situations.
She straightened her back and lifted her eyes from the ground.
“It may not be wise, sir. However, that doesn't mean that it may not be right.”
“Miss Granger-” he began. Hermione held up a hand to stop him.
“Please, sir. Obviously you have sent me here for a reason. Neither the present you, nor myself are entirely sure of what that reason is. I had only anticipated traveling back hours, not years.”
She heard his sharp intake of breath, as it was the first time she had given him that information.
“Perhaps this is part of it. Maybe this was meant to happen, or already happened in the time I had come from. I can't explain it, sir, but whatever this is, it feels right. I've been studying Time-Travel these last few months, and I've read that if a person has been sent back to a specific time, that they should follow their instincts. And, sir. That is exactly what I am doing.”
Professor Dumbledore remained silent after her speech. He looked down and away from her, appearing to be in deep thought. She stayed sitting straight in her seat and waited patiently for him to speak.
“Your circumstance are unusual,” he finally said. “And I do wish that I had given myself more information as to the reasoning behind your visit. I do not agree with your decision, Miss Granger. However, I will not stop you. I do only ask that you reconsider and think this through more thoroughly,” he said with a piercing look.
She already had thought it through. Many, many times. Regardless, she agreed that she would to placate the man. Yet, he did not look convinced or relieved by her promise.
Before he dismissed her from his office, he let her know of his progress regarding the Time-Turner. Things had been going well, and he was hopeful that she would definitely be able to return to her own time, which was what caused his concern about her relationship with one of his students from this time period, he told her.
When she left his office, for the first time, the news of returning home caused her a slight pain of sadness.
Her meeting hadn't lasted as long as she assumed it would, so when she reached the bottom of the spiral staircase, she was alone. Severus wouldn't be there to meet her for another ten minutes or so. She spotted a bench across the hallway and decided to wait for him, as she said she would.
About five minutes passed and her head whipped up after she heard footsteps coming down the corridor. Yet when she lit her wand, she couldn't see anyone at all. Alarm started to creep in as the footsteps grew louder, still with no one in sight. Then suddenly she heard them right in front of her, accompanied by someone breathing and the stench of stale alcohol. Her entire body went cold.
“Ah, Hermione,” a rough voice purred through the darkness.
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