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A Simple Kindness

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Life has a way of changing a person, but this goes doubly for anyone who has met death and lived to tell the tale. When Severus awoke to the blindingly white and sterile ceiling in St Mungo's, his first thought was one of confusion, which rapidly slid into bafflement and then utter horror. The antivenin (which he himself had created in case Potter should need it, and, irony of ironies, since he had never intended to survive) was being pressed against his wound in an evil-smelling poultice and dripped down his nose twice daily, a sensation which he likened to having molten lava forcibly injected into his sinuses.

Despite morbid predictions of a second untimely demise on the part of the mediwitches, Severus responded well to the treatment. Remarkably, he healed quickly, and was discharged after another two weeks in hospital. He learned that he'd been in a coma that had lingered on for months, helpfully allowing society to pick itself up from the war and move on with things. There had been a few who had called for Snape to be dragged before the Wizengamot, but Harry Potter had shut all of that down with redeeming evidence from the old Headmaster's Pensieve.

Upon learning of this, Severus wished it were possible to die a second time to spare himself the mortification that seemed to permeate down to his very bones. Now everyone knew every tiny, humiliating moment of his life— every secret joy, every moment of emotional weakness. They went mad for this newfound "softer side of Snape" in the Prophet, and Severus found himself inundated with fan letters, which he promptly burned. When they finally released him from the recovery ward, Severus could hear the roar of a crowd of his "biggest fans" from the other side of his room. Taking his wand in hand and scowling furiously, Severus Apparated away to Spinner's End.

If anyone believed that Severus Snape, upon being rescued from the icy grip of death, would become a changed man, this notion would be swiftly debunked by close proximity to the man himself. Severus remained as dour and unpleasant as ever, finally ridding himself of the damned Muggle row home that he'd grown up in (he was all too happy to take advantage of some ridiculous "mega-fan" who wished to have the "authentic Snape household" as their very own) and combining this with the sum of his remaining wealth, (the only good thing to come of his so-called "redemption" was the gold attached to his ridiculous-looking Order of Merlin) to buy himself a small cottage in the countryside.

To prevent himself from being discovered by hapless tourists, Severus took great pains to ward his home from pesky interlopers, yet he could not escape the fact that one cannot do everything by owl. From time to time, Severus would have to go to town to get more supplies or to pick up ingredients for a new potion he was experimenting with. Severus was no longer happy with going by the book; years of teaching the same potions over and over had soured his interest in the known. Instead, he wished to grow an epic garden filled with unusual crops that could be used to usher in an entirely new generation of potions. There would be a smaller one for his own foodstuffs, but Severus was careful to plant the two fields on opposite sides of his home.

No, Severus did not want to be remembered as a bloody hero. Even thinking the word made him wanted to make his lip curl with hatred. What he'd done had been painful and messy and humiliating and more than a little soul-draining. If that was what being a hero meant, then he would tell them all where to stuff it!

It was gray and cold on the morning that he realized he was down to the last of the butter and clear out of any fresh bread to make suitable morning toast. With a grumble on his lips and irritation in his heart, Severus dressed quickly and wrapped a traveling cloak over his whole body covering himself down to his chin with the hood.

He had almost gotten down to the town proper when he passed his closest neighbor's house

"Good morning!" greeted his neighbor, a portly woman who reminded him a bit of Professor Sprout, but whose name was Darlene. She was trimming roses in her garden, a healthy glow on her cheeks.

"Bah!" Severus spat, "I see nothing good about this morning, seeing as I am forced to be out in it!"

I'm sorry to hear it," Darlene replied, a bit more shyly than before. "Well, I hope that it gets better for you!"

"Doubtful," Severus muttered, not bothering to return her farewell wave.

When he reached the town, Severus nearly tripped over a boy and a dog running full tilt down the street.

"Watch it!" he shouted, startling the grubby child, who looked up at him with a stubby nose and a missing front tooth. "I should grind you up for potions ingredients!"

"Awful sorry, Mister!" the boy squeaked back, obviously terrified.

"Nasty little buggers, children," Severus muttered darkly to himself, as the boy ran away as fast as his legs could carry him.

At the shops, he decided to stop in and do his regular shopping in person, since he'd already bothered to come all the way down. He went to the open-air market first, choosing produce and sneering at the poor shopkeepers that dared to ask him if he needed any help. Then he went to the butcher, and rolled his eyes when the butcher had tried to strike up a conversation about the next Quidditch world cup. Finally, he picked up milk, eggs, and some non-perishables he was getting low on, narrowly avoiding the good-natured chatter of the proprietor of the store, one Max Gallatian, who was known for his epic gossip.

"Just put a sock in it and ring me up," Severus growled, making even the normally friendly shopkeeper look as though a lemon had been thrust into his mouth.

Severus grinned nastily on his way out. The look on that git Gallatian's face was almost worth the trip.

On his way out of town a familiar voice called out to him.

"Professor—er, I mean, Severus!"

Severus merely walked faster.

"Please! Wait!"

Severus walked faster still.

He could hear her huffing and puffing, forcing herself to move doubletime to keep up with the strides of his long, thin legs, and smirked cruelly at the pleasure it brought to bring her misery.

Finally, he heard the telltale sound of a wand being pulled from its sheath and he turned, his wand already out to create a shield charm.

CRACK! Severus turned back around to see the huffing, puffing red face of Hermione Granger, town mayor, glaring up at him.

When she'd lost at her bid to become Minister of Magic, she'd retired from politics only to be elected by the local council as the mayor. She'd feigned surprise, but Severus knew it had all been a front. She loved the power of being in control of things. She loved knowing her hands were on every project and movement of the community. Things had, admittedly, gotten better with her at the helm. Sometimes Severus wondered if the local council regretted putting Hermione there, but it was far too late to undo the damage. The citizens (Severus excepted) loved her, and she was popular with the youth as well. The little town shone like a coveted jewel nestled in the little valley, the picturesque mountains and forest rising around it like a protective wall.

Severus wanted to gag at how smarmy and perfect it all was.

"Se-v-er-us," she wheezed, catching her breath.

If there had been any space to pass her or another path back to his home, Severus would have taken it. Alas, with a bramble bush on one side and roses on the other, Severus did not wish to exert his limited remaining energy to fly over her, especially since he was carrying eggs.

So, he waited.

"I only meant to wish you a good morning," she said, finally.

"A bit out of shape, aren't we?" Severus replied snarkily. Hermione was now around thirty years of age, and it was obvious that her metabolism and daily activity wasn't what it used to be. "Too many breakfast pastries can do that, and it appears you know from experience."

Hermione reddened, her eyebrows scrunching in irritation. "Unlike you," she retorted. "You do know that some of the citizens speculate that you don't actually eat. They think you just come down here to pass on as much misery as possible for your own twisted pleasure and then return to your lair to plot your next trip."

"Then it is a good thing that I don't give a flying fig what they think," Severus replied, sneering. "Now, if that is all, I should like to return to my, what did you call it? Lair? I quite like the ring of it. I think I shall call it as such from now on."

Hermione took a deep breath and let it out before looking back at him, her scowl mostly gone. "There was something else."

Severus scowled. Of course there was. There always was something else. "Out with it, then!"

"It's just… the autumn harvest festival is only a few weeks away," Hermione said, looking a little uncomfortable. "We wanted to...well...invite you to it."

"I imagine it's less of a we and more of a you," Severus said with a sniff. "And even that seems a bit more like a formality than a true invitation."

"In any case," Hermione said quickly, moving aside to let him pass, "please think about it, Severus. We would love to see you there."

Severus narrowed his eyes. Her tone and body language was obviously forced and he wondered for the millionth time why she constantly pushed herself into situations like this when everyone would be much happier if she left things alone. He doubted that she even wanted to be there speaking to him, but as mayor, of course she'd consider her duty to be more important than the pesky truth of things.

"I think...not," he said as he passed her, enjoying her disappointed look.

That night, the trees roared as the wind swept up the hillside into the forest. Rain clattered heavily against the roof and rattled the windows while lightning arced menacingly against the sky.

'All in all, a good evening to be inside,' Severus thought.

Just as he had finally tucked into a nice book and was half-dozing by the fire, he heard a loud knock on his door, startling him to full wakefulness.

"But who the devil could be out on a night like this?" he thought, hoping for a moment that he half-dreamed it. "Perhaps it was just a branch—"

The knock came again, and Severus stood, moving quickly toward the door. He drew his wand, hiding it in his other hand, and then opened the door a crack with his free hand.

"Yes?" he said, trying to sound threatening and unpleasant.

An old man, hunched with age and a beard that nearly dragged on the doormat, looked up at him and gave him a gummy smile. An ancient pack, overgrown with moss and tiny flowers sat upon the stranger's back, and Severus wasn't quite sure if his robes were originally brown, or if they were simply dyed by the layers of dirt and mud that appeared to be caked all over his body. The man pulled his crooked pointed hat (also green with moss and what looked like a single spotted toadstool) from his head and held it at his chest. "I am but a humble traveler caught in this terrible storm. Might I come in and stay for the night so as to escape the elements?"

For a moment, Severus was stunned, but then he recovered. Despite the fact that he was unpleasant and coveted his solitude, he wasn't a monster.

"Just for the night," he said, opening the door slowly to let the little man in. "And no funny business!" he added.

"Of course, of course," the man said. "My name is Verdus, by the way. Verdus Squint, but you can call me Verdus; everyone does. I am on my way back from an expedition in the high mountains collecting rare potions ingredients. I am eternally grateful for your help tonight."

"Yeah, well, the toilet's this way," Severus said, ushering the man quickly towards the appropriate place and hoping the mud wouldn't get everywhere. "Take your time getting clean and I'll tend to your...belongings."

The man handed him the backpack, which thankfully had a Featherweight charm on it, and the dubious-looking hat. They smelled earthy and not altogether bad, but Severus still held them at arm's length and suppressed a shudder.

"I think...I shall put these in the mud room," he said, wrinkling his nose. He had built the room on the back of his cottage himself after tracking in dirt and debris from his own escapades into the forest. There was a wall of hooks for various bags and tools on one side, and Severus made sure to hang both of them up carefully before returning to the main room of the cottage and casting cleaning charms on the floor to rid it of the mud and debris that had been tracked in. Then, he grabbed an old gray nightshirt and threw it in the door, demanding the man give him his dirty clothing.

"It's simply no state for a wizard to be in!" He grumbled as he went out back and scrubbed up the filthy garments in hot, soapy water. The clean robes were a light brown, but they looked significantly better than they had before, and Severus hung them up with a feeling of something like pride in his heart at having gotten them so clean.

When he returned, the man had finally emerged from the bathroom and was sitting on the couch. A mug of tea was in his hands and he was dunking a chocolate digestible in it.

"I hope it isn't too much of an imposition, but I noticed you'd made something hot to drink," he explained. "I helped myself to the mug from your kitchen."

"I see," Severus said, feeling his eyebrow twitch with irritation. It wasn't that the man had done anything wrong, per-se, but Severus had a daily routine, and the appearance of the man and his subsequent actions had thrown off the entire evening.

The man's beard had been tamed a bit, but it was still very long, and to remedy this, the man had braided it and twisted it up to his chin in a bun. His wrinkled, tanned skin spoke of a lifetime outdoors in the sun, and for a moment, Severus thought of his father, whose many years in the sun had become like well-worn leather.

But his father had been dead for decades, now, and the man looked altogether unlike the traveler before him anyway.

"Verdus, was it?" Severus asked, trying to control the rising irritation in his chest. "I can make a bed for you on the couch, but I warn you, I have a way of doing things in the evenings here, so I would like that you not disturb it if at all possible."

"Naturally," Verdus said good-naturedly, "And who might I thank for such hospitality? I must say, I haven't had a good scrubbing for at least a month."

"Is that so? Hard to believe," Severus said, his tone of voice somewhat sarcastic.

"Indeed," replied the man, seemingly unaware of Severus' sass. "So, once again, thank you!"

"Certainly," Severus said, feeling a little bile rise in his throat. "Are you quite comfortable, then? Perhaps you need a manicure? Or a feast in your honor?"

"Well, if you're offering something a bit more substantial, I won't say no," Verdus replied, smiling his gummy, disarming smile.

Severus was struck with the sudden desire to humor the man. "Would a sandwich be fine? I have some leftover pasta in the icebox," he said, feeling at odds with his words.

In the end, Severus ended up making two sandwiches, which they sat and ate together, though Severus didn't initially feel inclined to conversation, and he realized that his appetite for both was quite a lot more substantial than he'd thought. The fact that Verdus had a background in potions meant that they had plenty in common, and soon they were talking almost like old friends. Verdus even showed Severus the charm he wore around his neck, which could sense and notify the wearer of the purity of substances by glowing a different colour when exposed to it.

Severus had never seen anything quite like it and mentioned that he should like to know where Verdus had gotten it so that he too might be able to purchase one. Verdus smiled in that infuriating way of his, but did not divulge the secret.

By the time he went to bed, the fire had died down to coals, and the storm had quieted down quite a lot.

The man smiled at him from the couch, where he was wrapped up tightly in a blanket. "You are a good man, Severus. Perhaps you simply need a better attitude to serve your needs better."

"Hah!" Severus said, shaking his head. "It is far too late for a dog like myself to learn new tricks, regardless of how much I may wish it were so."

"You may be surprised what you are capable if you simply put your mind to it," Verdus replied, smiling in a manner that reminded Severus a bit too much of Albus Dumbledore.

Without another word, Severus swept out of the room, collapsed onto his bed, and quickly fell into a dreamless sleep without even warding his bedroom door.

The next morning when Severus woke up, he saw a plate with a lid sitting on it in the dining room. Lifting it, he saw that Verdus had cooked him an entire full English, along with a pot of tea that had been steeped perfectly. There were no dishes in the sink, and indeed, no Verdus either. Severus checked the hooks in the mud room, but the backpack and hat had gone too. The blanket was neatly folded and the dishes used to make the breakfast were drying in the drying rack. Even the door was locked, but Severus knew the old man was a fairly adept wizard as well, and it was a simple task to lock a door from the outside.

In fact, he didn't notice it until he had finished his breakfast and went back to the fireplace with his half-finished tea.

There, on the mantle, lay the silver charm and chain.

Severus picked it up, marveling at how clean and shiny it looked. He knew Verdus could not have left it accidentally— the man had told him that he never removed it from around his neck when they'd talked about it the night before.

"Perhaps it is a gift," Severus said aloud, as though trying to convince himself that it really was fine for him to place it around his neck.

In the end, though, he put it on. 'After all,' he thought, 'I can simply return it to Verdus if it turns out to be a mistake. And why not use it in the meantime?'

Severus was working in his garden when Darlene came up the road looking a bit lost. Severus wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and opened his mouth to say something snarky, such as "You idiot, the town is the other way!" but instead all that came out of his mouth was a very uncharacteristic, "Good afternoon, Darlene!"

Darlene stopped in her tracks and stared at him as though she'd just caught him running around clucking like a chicken.

"Did you need some help?" Severus said, nearly clasping his hand over his mouth at the unfamiliar words escaping his lips.

"Um...I didn't want to bother you…" Darlene still looked utterly shocked.

"No! It is no imposition whatever!" Severus put down his shears and came around the side of his garden wall, pulling off his gardening gloves. "What, exactly, do you need on this fine afternoon?"

"…" Darlene hemmed and hawed for a moment, which internally made Severus want to scream. Still, he stood without betraying his irritation until she finally recovered. "It's a bit of an emergency, you see. I've run out of pest poison spray, and I just went out to find that there are thousands of horned worms everywhere eating all my prized plants! As you can imagine, with the Autumnal festival only a few weeks away, I'm in a bit of a pinch and owl delivery takes at least a few days. I know you're a Potions master with a garden of your own and was hoping you might have some extra you could spare?"

Severus thought for a moment and then smiled disarmingly at her. "Yes, I do believe I might have something that will do the trick."

Darlene stood rooted to the spot with her face frozen in shock.

WIth that, he ran to his potting shed and pulled out some of his own personal stash, a long with a bag of diatomaceous earth and returned, with each under his arms.

"Oh, thank you!" she said, looking even more alarmed as he came around the wall and stood next to her.

"Well, then, we best get going before your prized pumpkins are reduced to nothingness," Severus said, and with that, set off down the road towards her home with her jogging confusedly behind him.

They spent all afternoon dealing with the bug problem, but in the end, they saved most of her garden from damage, and when Severus left that evening, he had a large bundle of fresh vegetables and a hand-picked bouquet of roses from a very grateful Darlene.

"Hmm," Severus mused to himself, wondering just what had gotten over him. "Why did I do all of that? I certainly didn't have to, and it was highly out of character. Or...was it?"

He thought back to Verdus' words the night before, but shook his head, feeling silly. Maybe he was just having an off day, is all.

He resolved to sleep on it and start off in the morning to test a theory that was building in his head.

The next morning, Severus realized that, thanks to his full English and his guest, he was once again low on meat. He resolved to walk down to the butcher shop and see if he could replicate his experience from the day before.

Severus started off, resolving to be as unpleasant as possible. But, when he finally got into town, it was a different story. He waved gaily to everyone who wished him a good morning and asked kind and flattering questions— all quite unlike himself. Some people seemed utterly shocked, while others, who had the fortune not to know the true measure of his bitterness, were very glad and responded in kind. The young boy with the dog even rummaged in his pockets and handed Severus a bezoar that he'd found with a grin when Severus had given the boy some pointers on the best places to fish up along the river.

Severus had such a good time gabbing with the butcher about freshness charms, that he didn't realize that it had grown late in the day. The butcher gave him an extra cut of meat despite Severus' protests, and sent him on his way. Severus decided to go to the local cafe for a quick snack, as he knew he wouldn't be getting home in time to convince his growling stomach to wait to eat until dinnertime.

Already, he found kind words easier on his tongue than the sharp or the sarcastic. He actually found himself in much higher spirits as well. It was though a cloud had lifted over his head, and he found himself walking with a spring in his step that he hadn't known for as long as he could remember.

He'd just sat down with his drink and a rather decadent-looking pastry when he looked up and there she was, staring down at him with an odd expression on her face.

"Good afternoon, Severus." Hermione Granger was wearing a burgundy cable knit sweater that seemed to hug all of her curves in quite flattering ways if he did so say himself.

So he did.

"Good afternoon, Mayor," he said, his lips turning up in a small smile. "You are looking quite fetching today, if I do so say myself."

Hermione's eyes went wide, and a flush began to rise on her neck. "I-is that so?"

Severus smiled back. "I hope I am not being presumptuous, but that particular colour is flattering with your natural colouring."

"Are...are you feeling alright, Severus?" Hermione had gone from looking gobsmacked to slightly concerned.

"Never better, my dear, as you can see," he said, holding up his pastry. "I decided to take your advice."

If Hermione had looked shocked before, she was now looking almost alarmed. "Severus...while I do appreciate attitude, you must understand that it's rather sudden. I can't help but be concerned."

"Well, if me being happy is something to be concerned about, then I don't know what to tell you," Severus replied, shrugging. "Perhaps I've spent so long being gloomy and bitter that spending a little time trying something different is a welcome relief."

"At least let me join you," Hermione said, calling over one of the baristas and making her order.

"Be my guest," Severus replied, and thus began a conversation that lasted many hours and necessitated them to leave together when the cafe closed for the evening.

"At least let me walk you home," Hermione said, her expression somewhat concerned.

"Be my guest," Severus replied silkily, though in his head, he was beginning to wonder exactly why he wasn't simply telling her to leave him be.

On the way back, Severus realized that he actually quite liked her company, and he felt somewhat embarrassed about having pushed her away simply because he'd known her all those years ago as an annoying know-it-all. She was, after all, an adult now. If she judged him based on dumb things he'd done as a teenager, Severus quite doubted that she'd want to spend ten minutes in his presence.

"Well, I guess this is it…" Hermione stood on Severus' doorstop with her hands in her pocket looking around a bit nervously, and as he opened his mouth to wish her a good evening, he realized he did not want her to go.

"I enjoyed our talk today," he said smoothly, trying not to let on how flustered he truly felt. "Perhaps we could...pick up where we left off tomorrow? My library has large picture windows that get plenty of cheerful sunlight, and I am interested in seeing what you think of my collection." Part of his mind began to wonder why he would say such a thing, especially since he tended to keep the heavy velvet shades drawn.

Hermione's eyes lit up and she impulsively leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly for a moment before letting him go.

"Oh, that would be absolutely brilliant!" she gushed, her mind obviously filled with the thoughts of seeing his collection.

"See you at elevenish, then?" Severus said, his voice squeaking ever so slightly on then.

"It's a date!" Hermione replied, waving as she turned to go.

As Hermione disappeared around the bend in the road, Severus began to wonder just what he'd gotten himself into.

The next morning, Severus found himself increasingly unsettled as the time he would be meeting with Hermione grew nearer, and that was putting it mildly. The truth was, he was bordering on a nervous wreck and it wasn't even ten in the morning. As he nervously stroked the pendent, a sudden thought popped into his head. When he'd tried to think of what could have brought on his sudden cheery disposition, he'd forgotten about the damned thing. He began to fiddle with the clasp on the back when the doorbell rang and his mind went blank with panic.

He ran to the door, brushing off his robes, even though he knew full well that there was nothing on them to brush off. With shaking hands, he took a deep breath and opened the door.

"Hello, Severus!" Hermione bustled in through the door, her arms clasped around what looked like a thick plastic binder and a rather thick book. From the scent of the leather, it was rather old and full of magic. "Since you invited me to look at your library, I thought I'd bring you a gift!"

She held out the old book, and Severus hesitated for a moment. Before he could control it, his mouth opened and he said, "What a kind thing to do, Hermione. Thank you."

By this point, Severus wasn't sure if he'd meant to say it or if he was being weirdly forced to do so by some mysterious spell. It sounded right, so he opened the book and leafed through the pages a bit. It was a book on spell-creation from a well-known Spellmaster named Samara Windspeck. He'd actually looked for this very book a few times, but had been unsuccessful in finding a complete copy in good enough condition for him to warrant dropping the galleons on it.

Hermione fixed him with an odd look, then seemed to recover. "Is there a place where I can put my scarf and jacket?"

"Yes, of course," Severus said, pointing out the coat rack at the right side of the hallway.

He helped Hermione by holding her things while she hung up her jacket and scarf, then led her to the library.

Normally, Severus was incredibly stingy about allowing guests into his library. Many of the books were old or had dangerous enchantments woven into their pages. Severus did not wish to have grubby fingers on his coveted collection. However, as he watched Hermione gingerly handle a book on 12th century household hexes, he realized that he had nothing to fear. She was as gentle with them as though they were her own.

"What was that?" He suddenly became aware of the fact that Hermione had just said something, and he'd been staring at her like an utter git.

"I said, I promise that I'll be careful with your book," Hermione said, looking up at him. "It's obvious how well-cared for they are."

"Yes, well, that is largely in part to the lack of guests that I receive." Severus said, the words escaping his lips effortlessly, "It's a lot simpler to be alone."

"But lonely too," Hermione replied, placing the book back on the shelf.

"I suppose."

"Severus, may I ask you a personal question?" Hermione was looking at him intently again, and Severus could feel the flush rising up his throat.

"C-certainly…" He stepped backwards and found his back pressing lightly against the wall. How had he not noticed? Hermione stepped closer, her eyebrows furrowed slightly and Severus found that it was dangerously endearing. "Hermione, I—"

"I think you're enchanted somehow," Hermione interrupted, pulling out her wand. "Don't worry, I'll get you sorted. Between you and me, I've always wanted to try this diagnostic charm."

"You—uwahh!" Severus spun around as Hermione silently cast the spell. A strange tugging sensation at his neck filled him with realization. The pendant! He couldn't let her have it!

"Ah, there we go," Hermione mused, and Severus abruptly stopped spinning in place. The pendant jutted out vertically, pulling the chain a bit tight against the back of his neck and was encased in a soft green light.

"What a kind thing you have done for me, finding that blasted thing," Severus said, but his thoughts were in turmoil. Why had he simply forgotten that he'd been acting strangely? After years of being so suspicious of everything and everyone in his life, he'd finally let down his guard once and paid the price for it. The worst of it was that he couldn't even growl and rage properly about it. The pendent was forcing him to have such a good attitude, that the best he could do was thank Hermione for having found it!

"Don't worry," Hermione said again, "I've seen something a bit similar before. Though this is the first once I've seen that seems to be emitting positive energy." Hermione cast a few more diagnostic spells on the pendant itself, and Severus watched intently as they flashed a pattern of different colours. Whatever sort of magic this was, it was far out of his area of expertise.

After a few more spells, though, it became obvious that Hermione, too, was growing frustrated. "Merlin's pants," she lamented, "None of these spells are working! It's because the books on the subject that I studied the other night were specifically on cursed objects, not...whatever this is."

"It's not cursed?" Severus found this hard to believe.

"Well, not traditionally cursed," Hermione said. "The clasp won't open and the pendant is attuned to you, so you're the lucky one who seems to be under its effects."

"The only luck I appear to have at this point is your company," Severus said, hating how the pendant twisted his words into the positive. It was almost worse that it was technically true. He was glad for Hermione's company. But now that he knew that his good mood and kindness had been forced upon him, he became almost desperate to say something harsh and cruel.

"I promise I'm going to get you free," Hermione said, her expression resolute. "In fact, I won't leave until I do."

Severus wanted to groan, but the pendent wouldn't let him.

"Hm, that makes me wonder…Severus?" Hermione was giving him that intense look again that Severus was slowly realizing was the look she got when she was getting some sort of idea.

"Yes?" His voice was hoarse from being held back by the magic.

"I just thought of something." She rummaged in her bag and then returned with a ballpoint pen and a pad of paper. "Here. Can you write honestly?"

Severus grinned unnervingly at her. "You are absolutely brilliant!" He exclaimed.

On paper, however, he wrote, Don't let it get to your head.

Hermione snickered. "Thought so. Welcome back. I must say, I'm a bit relieved that you haven't been replaced by a jolly Snape imposter. For a while, I was growing concerned that you'd been abducted by the fae or something and replaced with a poorly-made facsimile."

The Fair Folk want nothing to do with me and you know it, Severus wrote furiously.

Hermione smiled and shook her head. "Are you sure? Have you done any favours for anyone unusual lately?"

Severus thought. There had been someone, but whenever he tried to think about it, the details got all fuzzy. "I think...I had a visitor the other night...or did I? I'm sorry, I wish I could be more helpful."

On the paper, he wrote, Bugger it all, my memory has been tampered with!

Hermione laughed out loud. "I'd almost forgot how much I missed that!"


Hermione smiled. " Honesty, I suppose."

"I am being...honest!" Severus was obviously struggling against the enchantment, but it did little more than make him red in the face. Quickly he wrote, anyone who says they like my particular brand of honesty is obviously lying. Present company included.

"Suit yourself, Severus. Oh, and don't fight the compulsion. It's obviously draining your energy," Hermione chided. Severus tried to frown but instead he nodded and clamped his mouth shut.

"Well, I suppose this is an improvement," Hermione said, obviously trying to hold back a giggle.

It may not look like it but I. AM. SCOWLING. AT. YOU! Severus slammed the point of the pen down on the dot for the exclamation point.

"Noted," Hermione said, "so how about that tour, then?"

"Absolutely!" Severus said, springing to his feet, but then he wrote something on the paper and turned it to Hermione to read.

"Must we? Yes, I think we must," Hermione replied. "Unless you absolutely just want to sit around all day long."

"We could engage in a fun morning of studying together," Severus suggested aloud. He hated how chipper he sounded now that he knew that it wasn't real. To emphasize the truth, he wrote, That was a lie, so disregard it.

"Indeed," Hermione replied, "however, it might be a good idea to first look around your home and surrounding yard in case there are any other magical abnormalities."

"Good point. I'll lead the way, then." Severus instantly felt like an idiot. He'd not even considered that something else might have been tampered with by...someone. Again, his mind could only grasp the fuzzy recollection of having had a visitor a few nights prior.

Hermione pulled out her wand and they made their way cautiously through the house. Every so often, Hermione would cast a detection spell, give a satisfied nod, and then they would continue onward. Severus would have helped, but he didn't trust himself completely in his current state, so instead, he merely acted as though he was actually giving her a tour. Truth be told, he'd imagined doing something similar earlier that morning, but now that he wasn't completely sure if his thoughts were his own or if they were being influenced by the pendent, it was harder for him to enjoy himself. Still, Hermione was a gracious house guest and she commented regularly on various knicknacks and art pieces, most of which had been languishing in his mother's vault, but held little more than sentimental value. Still, he fondly remembered when she would take him to Gringotts as a child and she would tell him riveting tales about growing up in the Wizarding World.

Severus found that despite his limitations, Hermione was a good conversationalist, and he begrudgingly admitted to himself that, pendent or no, he was actually enjoying himself. The only problem was that, in the absence of sarcasm and cruel one-liners, Severus was having trouble masking his discomfort in socializing. It hadn't really been anything he'd had the occasion to put into words, but now that he was in a situation where ghoulish silence wasn't really an option, he was forced to admit that he simply didn't have a lot of confidence in himself.

Sure, he knew that he was intelligent and well-read, but really, anyone could be if they just took the time to apply themselves. It didn't make him special. All the doubts he kept at bay began to crowd in around him.

"I'm a bloody trash fire of a person when it comes down to it," he muttered to himself.

"What was that?" Hermione's eyes were wide.

"And here we see a painting of the Black Lake at dawn by Ismelda Prince!" Severus said brightly, trying to hide his embarrassment at having said something so personal aloud.

"No, not that," Hermione pressed, "I caught 'bloody trash,' but that was it."

Severus reeled back, his lips pressing closed even as the compulsion pushed back to force him to tell the truth. 'She hasn't actually directly asked,' he thought desperately, relaxing as the compulsion began to fade a little.

"Severus," she said sternly, "please tell me what you said. It may be important."

"I said that I was a bloody trash fire," Severus repeated reluctantly. Hermione had asked him directly, and the magic had acted swiftly upon him. He could feel his cheeks colouring with embarrassment. "I..didn't want to tell you that."

"Why is that?"

"Because...because when I am robbed of the ability to make pithy, sarcastic remarks, there's nothing left of me but self-consciousness and magically-induced cheerfulness." Severus slumped forward, his face lowered in defeat. Now she'd see just how pathetic he was and leave. Or worse, give him that pitying expression that he so detested.

Of course, now that he'd shown her weakness, it was only a matter of time before she repaid his past favours of cruelty tenfold. He couldn't even make her to go away thanks to the damnable pendent, and she'd already told him that she had no intention of leaving.

"Oh, Severus…" Hermione placed her hand on his, and he looked up, every cell in his body wanting to to turn tail and run as far away as he could.

Don't pity me. I can't bear it, he wrote.

"This isn't pity, though. This is me trying to help you."

Even though all the things I've said are because of...this? He underlined this twice and then gestured to the pendant.

Hermione nodded. "Why is that so hard to believe?"

"Then what about the fact that I've been a huge git for nearly all of my life, including all of the time I've known you?"

"You may have been awful in many ways in the past, but it does not mean you deserve to be hurt in kind. Nor does it mean that you're doomed to be the same forever. Everyone is capable of change, Severus. Even you."

Severus was stunned. Normally, he would just brush off her words, but from the open expression on her face and his utter inability to dismiss them with a rude quip, he found himself speechless. Finally, he flipped the page on the notepad and wrote, But what if I don't want to change?

"Is that true? Do you really not wish to change anything at all?" Hermione asked.

The words burst from his lips even as he tried to hold them back. "I...I honestly didn't think it was possible. And yet, before you figured out that I was being compelled to act, it was actually beginning to feel...comfortable."

"You know, you don't have to always be nice, just like you don't alway have to be acerbic and cruel," Hermione said with a shrug. "Well, after we get you free, that is. The truth is, I had hoped that you'd had a change of heart. After the other day...I..." She trailed off, and looked down at her feet, her cheeks going pink. "I'd kind of hoped that the very least...that you changed your mind about how you felt"

She gave him a nervous smile and Severus realized that he'd been such a fool to assume that she'd only invited him out of professional decorum. Why else would she have welcomed him to chat with her only a day after being so soundly rebuked? She'd spent so much time "bothering" him over the years that he'd stupidly dwelt upon how annoying it was that she came to check on him and that she was constantly ambushing and interrupting his plan to be as quick as possible when he braved a trip to town.

In reality, though, he'd simply ignored every little indication that she'd actually cared about him this entire time.

"Nobody should waste their time caring about me, though," he muttered, his thoughts spilling out into words. "I'm not worth it."

"That's not true!" Hermione rushed forward and grabbed his hands in hers. They were somewhat smaller but also thicker and rougher and infinitely warmer than his ice-cold scrawny digits. Severus resisted the urge to purr with pleasure at the heat of her. "You are worth being cared about, Severus! I've tried and tried so many times to tell you, but you refuse to listen every time!"

"Everyone else gave up on me. They were right to do so. I am alive, but for what? I'm useless and awful, and even when you attempt to be kind, I simply hurt you for your trouble. I'm just...I'm not worth it. I'm better off alone." Severus hung his head, but he was still unable to pull himself away from her touch. She was the first person who had touched him with kindness in ages, and already he could feel his skin humming greedily with the desire to have more of it.

"Odd. You did it again, Severus." Hermione's voice made him frown and look up.


"You put yourself down!"

Severus stared at her for a moment as he tried to swallow the vapid words his mouth was attempting to say back down his throat and then scribbled, I fail to see how this is progress.

"Well yes, it's not ideal," Hermione admitted, "but don't you see? You were honest without being saccharine, which tells me that you're speaking from the heart. Do you know what that means?"

"That as long as I say that I'm a giant hunk of dragon dung that I can speak candidly?" Severus asked.

"That's not quite what I was getting at, but close." Hermione made a funny face that Severus supposed was her attempt at trying not to giggle at his pithy observation. "What I mean is that however this compulsion works, it seems to stop when you speak honestly about yourself. In fact, if my hunch is correct, it only seems to affect you when you would use cruelty or negativity to push others away. Because regardless of whether you think it's true, it's actually a kind of lying."

"Then I am an even bigger idiot that I thought I was," Severus said, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"See?" Hermione squeaked excitedly.

"I am positively chuffed that this fact gives you joy, but where might we go from here?" Severus' tone was positively pleasant, but Hermione didn't look impressed. In fact, Severus was secretly pleased at how unimpressed she looked.

"There are a few artifacts that might help to destroy this item, but I've detected a few traces of wild magic that may very well have something to do with your current predicament." Hermione stroked her chin in a scholarly sort of way and nodded to herself. "Might I see your library again and see if the book I am thinking of resides within?"

"But of course," Severus purred, feeling as though the compulsion charm was making him lay it on a bit thicker than he would otherwise do of his own accord, but also eerily echoing his true sentiments. He wanted to have her company to himself, especially if it meant spending time talking about magical research together.

"I can't share everything, unfortunately, not until I know for sure…" Hermione trailed off, her cheeks growing pinker than usual. "I...I have a feeling, though."

"This way, please," Severus said, leading her back to the appropriate room.

He sat down on one of the overstuffed loveseats by the fireplace, his hand going for the book he'd left on the rounded oak end table the last time he had been in the room. He pretended to read, but it was hard to ignore Hermione's form as she flitted about the library with her eyes full of wonder and her body practically vibrating with excitement. Soon, however, he noticed that he was not the only one sneaking glances. She, too, was finding reasons to cross behind or in front of where he sat, and even brushed against his knees a few times in what could certainly be written off as accidental, but Severus doubted that very much due to the fact that there was no real reason for her to need to come to his side of the room at all.

Somehow, she crammed all the books onto the opposite end table and, to his delight and shock, sat next to him. By this time, he could practically feel the nervous energy radiating off of her body, and he began to feel it as well- it fluttered in his belly and buzzed in his teeth.

"I...have a confession," she said, her voice almost breathless as she kneaded her fingers together nervously.

"Yes?" Severus replied, his voice quiet and almost as breathless.

" not think that my earlier hypothesis is completely correct," Hermione said, leaning forward excruciatingly slowly, her head tilted up to look at him, amber eyes huge and shining in a strange yet marvelous manner.

Severus swallowed very slowly and dared himself to breathe. " that so?"

"There's something...something I want to do," she said haltingly, "Something that is either going to be bloody brilliant or an utter disaster."

"And...this...something…" Severus leaned forward as well, his nose nearly touching hers. His hands hovered above her shoulders and a roar of need threatened to burst out of him all at once. "Would you say it constitutes a danger to life or limb?"

"I'm beginning not to care if it does, to be honest," Hermione said, her voice going down to a whisper. "Please, Severus. Do not hate me."

He opened his mouth to ask her what she meant only to find his lips covered with the sweet, insistent warmth of her own. Somehow, without realizing it, his hands were gripping her shoulders, and in a frantic flurry of motion that seemed to take moments or perhaps hours, they were free of their clothing and moving in ways that Severus was sure neither of them had dreamed were possible before that moment.

Her fingers seemed to raise invisible trails of sparks as they ran down his back, gripping him against the warmth of her body until they cried out in completion. There was more there than mere sexual satisfaction, though— something still and sated hummed in the afterglow as his mind and body grew sluggish with sleep. She sighed, her breath puffing against his neck as she nuzzled into him, breathing in his scent and purring with contentment.

And Severus pulled his discarded robes over the both of them, not even realizing that something that had been there before no longer was.

They slept.

Severus awoke to the warmth of Hermione's lips nibbling on his earlobe and trailing expertly down the nape of his neck and kissing his scarred throat with such reverence that his eyes went all teary for a moment and he was glad they were still closed. He gasped when she licked his lips and pulled her tightly against him, composing himself in the time it took to kiss her silly and pay her back tenfold for the teasing she'd given him.

When her gasps of delight were nearly too much to bear, she pulled him up until his lips were against hers, and again they moved in such symmetry that he could scarcely believe that there had been a time when he'd thought that she would never touch him except out of pity.

"The...the pendant…" Hermione whispered, after. They lay on the plush carpeted floor, half-twisted in his robes and Severus was certain he'd never seen anyone lovelier in all his life.

"What?" It took him a moment to understand what she meant, and in that time, his hand flew to his throat. She had kissed him there earlier, but he hadn't the presence of mind to realize what it had meant.

'And why would I?' he thought to himself, 'I was in the process of having my brains shagged out.'

But it was true. The pendent was well and gone, and even after, when they searched the house, they could find no traces of it. The magical signatures all turned up inconclusive, and despite their mutual conclusion that it had influenced them a bit in their first encounter, it did not stop them from spending the rest of the weekend finding creative uses for each room in Severus' home.

In the end, Severus attended the festival, and even he had to admit that it wasn't half bad. And when Hermione finally moved in with him the week after the first snow, Severus freely admitted that he didn't have to think twice about asking her if she would. And as they snuggled under the thick winter blankets, her heart beating surely against his own, Severus slept with a contented smile upon his lips.

And, while Severus would always be a grumpy old wizard and his sarcastic streak remained as sharp as ever, he found that when he gave himself the time and the presence of mind to be kind, there was much to be gained in his heart from the smiles and kindness he received in return.

For he had learned that as long as he never closed his heart to love, there would always be a way for it to grow anew.