A part of her returns because it’s expected of her. Hermione Granger; studious, overachieving, loner. The other part returns because it is (or was) home. With her parents gone and no where else to go, she readily accepts Professor McGonagall’s proposal to return to apprentice in Potions, of all subjects. It was by some miracle that Severus Snape survives the war and even more shocking that he agrees to mentor her and she finds herself in a state of disbelief at the beginning. The whole thing seems a little ridiculous; surviving the whole war just to get back on the Hogwarts Express come September to finish her studies but hey ho, life goes on.
It takes Hermione two weeks to have her first full nights sleep and even then she’s up at the crack of dawn. She lies awake at night, willing herself to sleep with clenched eyes but all she sees are flashbacks of the war. When her tent gets attacked and Harry and Ron have been captured, Hermione has to force herself to wake up before she sees their bodies lying on the forest floor; a hard lesson she learnt after the second night. Luckily, she has her own room so no one hears the sobs echoing through the bedroom at two thirty in the morning. When morning finally comes, Hermione heads down to the Great Hall and picks a seat away from the prying eyes of the lower years and even away from the dozen students returning to complete their seventh year. They’re her peers, she knows, however maybe that’s what makes it so painful. There should be more. So many more.
She hides her fears through false smiles and eventually gets so good at it that she believes herself. Hermione falls into a cycle of hiding from her dreams at night and reality during the day. The only people she has any real interaction is with Professor Snape whom she sees three times a week for tutelage and Hagrid, whom she makes a point to visit out of familiarity. He makes her feel better to an extent and the hours she spends with him give her a vague sense of comfort. She listens to him talking about his magical creatures and sometimes trails off, however he’s patient with her. He has to bring her out of her daydreams more times than she can count and a part of her feels guilty for not giving him her full attention. Hermione feels the tears prickling her eyes as she says goodbye and the guilt turns into dread and the dread turns into sadness and by the time she’s back to her room, she’s crying uncontrollably on her bed. She eventually cries herself to sleep and thus begins a new day.
The next evening, she is due to meet with Professor Snape for brewing and she hasn’t slept well at all. She stares at herself in the mirror; the dark circles highlighting the bags under her eyes as she attempts to use glamour to mask the signs. She pulls her hair back in a low ponytail, looks at herself once more (still not content) and makes her way to the dungeons. It’s funny, she thinks, before she used to feel a chill every time they had a lesson down here. Perhaps she has grown accustom to the cold, she thinks, as she runs her hand along the frozen wall before she enters.
She knocks, waits to be admitted, and proceeds to make her way to the bench. They’ve fallen into a routine whereby she is required to brew a batch of potions as he oversees the production. The ingredients are laid out for her as Professor Snape is at his desk, marking essays no doubt. He doesn’t look up when she enters, nor acknowledges her after. She has, however, come to realise it’s not just her he’s avoiding; it’s everyone.
Hermione begins Draught of Living Death and it’s ironic how she feels the exact same. She chops, dices and slices the ingredients and remembers how difficult she had previously found this. She briefly wonders if Professor Snape also remembers and is playing a practical joke on her. She shakes the thought out of her head as she watches him, head down surrounded by a stack of paper. If she can’t brew a simple potion, how does she expect herself to graduate, let alone be a potions mistress? she thinks as she stirs the rod in the cauldron. Hermione inhales deeply, anticipating the overwhelming sense of anxiety which is creeping in. Without realising, her hand begins to shake which ends up jolting the rod against the cauldron and it’s not until he’s standing beside her does she shake her head and look at him.
“I said, it needs to be stirred at a medium pace. Did you miss that on the instructions?” He says, with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“I’m sorry I-“ Hermione drops the rod and takes a step back.
He looks at her with a raised eyebrow and the disappointment forming on his face is enough to set her off.
“I can’t do this. I can’t- I’m sorry.” She turns around and leans her hands on the table, her head down, focusing on her breathing.
“You’ve barely started your apprenticeship and you’re giving up?” He enquires. She can’t pinpoint the emotion in his voice, whether it be confusion or disdain.
“I don’t want this- I don’t want any of it. I’m not... clever like people think. I’m... useless... really” she replies shakily.
Hermione can feel it rising, the panic spreading through the pit of her stomach. Her ears are burning and the lump in her throat is forming. She apologises once more as she grabs her bag and runs out of the room, ignoring her name being called behind her. It’s lucky it’s late and there are a lack of students around, most settling in their common rooms for the evening. She doesn’t really know where she’s going but her feet are carrying her away.
Air. She needs air.
She climbs the vast amount of number of rapidly before she finds herself at the Astronomy Tower and braces herself on the railings. She takes big gulps of air into her lungs but it does nothing to alleviate her breathlessness. She feels her legs give way and collapses, leaning against the cold stone wall. Her breathing is increasing at a rapid pace and the tears are fogging up her vision. Her hands are on the floor either side of her; the anchor holding her in place. The tears turn into sobs and she’s alternating between deep breaths and crying. She’s sad and alone and for a minute she wishes with all her might she is back with Harry and Ron at the Burrow. She should have accepted their request to take the apprenticeship at the Ministry; at least they would be together. She longs for the warmth and laughter with the Weasley’s, long before the war took so much from her. She shuts her eyes tightly but it doesn’t help so she brings her knees up, wrapping her arms around herself to stop the violent shakes. With her back pressed firmly against the wall, she wishes with all her might to shrink. Or disappear. Or to jump off-
Hermione can’t tell which makes her feel like her throat is closing, but she’s momentarily distracted by a shuffle next to her, followed by a hand thrusted in front of her. She lifts her head, wiping her face with her sleeve to see Professor Snape, crouching beside her. He’s saying something and shakes his hand gently again.
“You’re hyperventilating. Squeeze my hand. It’ll help.”
She looks down, looks up at him once more to confirm his approval and takes his hand in hers. It’s cold but hers is colder and she can feel the callousness of his knuckles. She squeezes tightly and drops her face so he can’t see her continue to ugly. Her eyes are no doubt red, face blotchy and her chin is dripping with moisture. If it hurts, he doesn’t show it and she feels him move slightly until he’s also seated on the floor.
“Try to count to 10,” he urges and she nods in acknowledgement. Sitting upright, she lifts her head gently facing straight on and makes an attempt to steady her breathing.
1. 2. 3.
She’s conscious of his presence but he remains silent throughout.
4. 5. 6.
His breathing is so low, if he wasn’t next to her she wouldn’t believe he was there (a skill he no doubt acquired as a spy in the war she muses).
7. 8. 9.
Her gulps begin to steady as she listens to his pace and after a while, the distraction works. She’s no longer crying but the remaining tears trickle down her cheeks. With her free hand, she wipes them away and exhales slowly through her mouth.
She releases his hand and mumbles an apology but he waves her off. Professor Snape wouldn’t have given her his hand if he didn’t mean it, she thinks. They sit there for a few minutes before she speaks.
“Tell me something.”
He pauses for a moment as a number of thoughts run through his head. Too personal. Too boring. Too sad. Too painful. He settles on a fact.
“Before modern magic, beaver hearts were used in headache potions. As they were not so frequent to come by, you can imagine the casualties from simple head pain.”
She tilts her head slightly to look at him before cracking the faintest smile.
“Only you could recite Potions trivia as a pick-me-up, Professor.”
He doesn’t respond but knows she means no harm. They sit in silence, neither making a move to leave. Presumably, both wrapped up in their thoughts.
“How did you know what to do?” She asks a short while later.
He stares blankly ahead, distracting himself from the building vortex of his own memories.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
His eyes are closed tightly and his hands are firmly covering his ears. He can feel the vibrations through the floor and he brings his bent knees further into his chest. It’s uncomfortable how tightly he has wrapped himself; but maybe that’s the only thing keeping him together at this point.
6. 7. 8. 9. 10
He practices his breathing. In, out. In, out. It does nothing to alleviate the lump in his throat or fear seeping through his veins. The muffled voices pause and he almost believes it’s over. Almost.
He’s hesitant when he drops his hands and rightly so, as he hears the unmistakable sound of a thud, followed by a drop to the floor.
He growls in frustration and punches the floor next to him again, this time drawing blood. He wishes with all his might that he could do the same to his bastard father downstairs. He winces in pain but it’s nothing compared to the rage inside of him. Unfortunately, the only outlet right now is the sobs that course through his body as he bows over, helplessly waiting for it all to end. He wishes he was braver and stronger and bigger and-
“Instinct” he says and doesn’t dive deeper although when Hermione looks at him, it feels like she knows.
“I feel so lonely,” she admits. She looks at her hands which are folded in her lap. This is a familiar feeling to her; not just recently but from when she was a child. Unfortunately for Hermione, being smart and having friends does not go hand in hand.
“You are not alone,” he states.
She doesn’t know if he means generally or right this second but either way, it’s a little comforting.
“Why did you follow me?”
He turns to look at her and she wonders what he sees. Does he see the pain she’s become so good at hiding? Or does he see the same annoying know-it-all from years before? His eyes glance over her but his expression remains the same. She almost imagines the glimpse when his eyes crinkle ever so slightly before slipping back to his usual demeanour. He takes a slow deep breath, exhaling almost at the same pace as if to steady his voice.
Maybe they have the same mask, she thinks, until he speaks.
“We have all lost so much from the war, Hermione. It is not worth your peace too.”
Her eyes prickle again, however this is not the same feeling as before. She nods gently, looking at him with her big brown eyes and he swears he can see a hint of hope. Hermione turns back to lean against the wall before closing the gap between them and daringly drops her head to lean on his shoulder. He stills under her presence however does not make an attempt to move. Unknowingly, they both close their eyes at one point or another and have taken comfort in each other’s company.