(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Language, possible magical induced feelings, mention of PTSD.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Severus renders aid to Hermione after a magical accident; in its aftermath, they can hear each other's thoughts. Of course, this causes complications. Are they unwelcome (SS/HG)?
Note: A massive thank you to my beta and alpha, and I also want to give lots of love and cuddles to the entire Hearts & Cauldrons discord. Their support has been invaluable.
Summary: Hermione and Severus get to know each other in a way neither one of them expected.
In central London on New Oxford Street, of equal distance between the Holborn and Tottenham Court Road Tube stations, lay a decrepit department store by the name of Purge and Dowse, Ltd. Thousands of Muggles walked past the red-bricked building every day, never so much as sparing it another glance. This was the entrance to St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. To gain access a witch or wizard simply had to speak their reason for wishing entry to the mannequin in the window, await her nod, and then step through the glass. Once inside, there was a large waiting area with rows of chairs and a reception desk where a Welcome Witch sat. On the wall next to the reception hung large signs which let the visitor know which floor was assigned to which department.
The fourth floor was home to the Spell Damage Department, which housed, among other things, the Janus Thickey Ward for long term spell damage. The long corridor that made up the ward was dotted with a dozen or so doors, and it was through one of these doors that a slim brunette just shy of thirty exited, sheathing her wand and rolling her neck. She was so ready for the weekend.
At the sound of her name, Hermione Granger looked up.
One of her colleagues was jogging towards her. Eli Russell was a terrible flirt, but he was a skilled Healer, and she enjoyed working with him.
Once he'd reached her, he flashed a toothy white grin that would have made Lockhart jealous. "When's your shift over? I'm going for a pint with a few of the Healers from Magical Bugs." He eyed her shamelessly. "I was hoping you'd join us."
Hermione laughed and shook her head. "I'm not going out drinking with you; I remember what happened last time."
He gasped, putting his hand on his chest in a wounded way. "The audacity. I'd say it worked out all right, wouldn't you?"
Hermione's face flushed as she recalled getting royally pissed and snogging him in the alleyway behind the Duke of York. In her defence, he was very pretty. "So you say. I'm still not going out drinking with you."
Eli shrugged and put his hands in his trouser pockets, showing off his muscular arms. "Your loss."
Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes. He was incorrigible. "Tell them I said hi, and I'll see you Monday."
Eli clapped her shoulder as he walked past. "Will do, Granger. See you!"
Hermione walked down to basement level 1, where the changing rooms and showers were located. Usually she wouldn't bother changing after a shift; the uniform navy robes (which had thankfully been changed from the lime green a few years ago) looked enough like Muggle medical scrubs that she didn't attract attention on her way home. But today was Friday, which meant she changed into her own clothes and went by the off licence on her way home. Once dressed, she glanced in the mirror next to the door to make sure her hair was behaving. She ran her fingers through her curls twice, then slung the strap of her bag over her shoulder and left.
The corridor was empty, but as she opened the door to the stairwell she heard footsteps coming from above. Black-clad legs appeared, and attached to those legs was a thin man with a hooked nose and curtains of stringy black hair. Hermione didn't bother to smile in greeting. The last time she'd done that, he had glared at her with such ferocity that she felt like an errant schoolgirl.
Instead, she moved aside and nodded shortly. "Evening, Snape."
Snape nodded back. "Granger." His voice was slightly deeper and raspier than when he taught at Hogwarts — getting your throat ripped out by a giant snake would do that to a man — but he could still command a room should he wish. He didn't spare her another glance as he continued down the stairs towards the lower levels of the hospital.
Hermione continued up the stairs, reached the Reception area and waved to the witch behind the reception desk before stepping into the Apparition alcove. Pushing her hair behind her ears, she closed her eyes and focused hard on the Apparition point in Goose Green.
Seconds later she appeared in the leafy area, and she took a moment to breathe in the fresh air to stave off the nausea before moving, she steered towards the High Street. Popping into the nearest Tesco, she picked up a few bits for dinner (as well as a bag of Maltesers), then went by the off-licence for a bottle of rosé.
The ground floor flat in East Dulwich that Hermione had lived in for almost five years — bought with the stipend money from the Order of Merlin, First Class she'd received after the war — was only a ten minute walk from the High Street in a quiet Muggle neighbourhood. It had two bedrooms — well, one and a box room where she stored most of her books — and a private garden. The latter had been what drew her to the flat in the first place. Crookshanks, bless his furry little face, would have loved it.
Going down the long hallway to the kitchen, Hermione opened the windows to the garden and turned on the wireless. With the sound of old jazz filling her kitchen, she began preparing dinner. She ate the prawn pasta and drank the rosé in the garden, seated on the wrought-iron bistro set that had once belonged to her parents. The sun was still high in the blue sky, warming her legs and face.
Sipping her rosé, she smiled to herself. This wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday evening.
Severus Snape grimaced as he gulped down the last splash of tea. There was truly no sin worse than cold tea. Even the Dark Lord himself, mad as he had been, would have agreed with that.
When one of the magical timers went off, he put his empty cup in the sink and went out to the main brewing area. The Invigoration Draught, modified and patented by him, needed the Scurvy Grass added, and Severus quickly tended to the potion. Surveying the other cauldrons as they were bubbling away, he was pleased nothing required immediate assistance. As skilled a Potions Master he was, not even he could tend to half a dozen potions at the same time. A pair of bright purple gloves laying on the worktop a few stations over let him know that Lisa Turpin was still on the premises.
On basement level 3, one level below the archives and one above the rare plants, lay the St Mungo's Potions Department, headed by one Severus Snape (recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class). It was the workplace of eight Potioneers that were hand-picked by Snape himself, and they did all of the brewing for the hospital — from bruise paste to advanced pain relief and healing potions. As well as overseeing the Department, Severus assisted the Spell Damage department with cases related to dark magic. Luckily, there was little of that going around these days, and it was rare that his expertise was called on more than once or twice a month. It was an arrangement that he was quite satisfied with, and he was protective of both his department and his staff.
The door to the loo opened and out stepped a blonde woman with a pointed chin, dressed in the same style of lab coat that Severus was wearing.
She smiled when she spotted him. "Evening, sir."
He nodded in return as he bent over a cauldron. "Turpin. How much time is left on the Blood-Replenishing Potion?"
Lisa Turpin — formerly a Ravenclaw with a knack for Transfigurations as well as Potions — cast a quick Tempus. "Two minutes."
"Once it's bottled, you can go on home," he spoke to the cauldron. "I'll finish the rest."
He missed the brilliant smile Lisa shot him. "Thank you, sir. Padma is coming down for the weekend, so it'll be nice not to get home too late."
Twisting his head up, one corner of his mouth twitched up. "Give Miss Patil my regards."
Soon after, the timer rang. Lisa emptied the contents of two of the cauldrons into eight-dram vials and set them aside on the cooling rack. The cauldrons were cleaned, the worktop wiped down, then she grabbed her purple gloves and bid Severus a good night and a nice weekend.
Once he was alone, Severus cracked his neck and undid the top button of his shirt with a sigh. Regardless of the quality of shirt or how much he charmed it, at the end of the workday the fabric would rub against his scarred neck. It was a miracle, really, that he'd survived the attack in the Shrieking Shack that night with no lasting trauma other than minor damage to his vocal cords and a fear of snakes. His trial — carried out in his absence since he was deep in a magical coma at the time — had resulted in six months of house arrest for the murder of Albus Dumbledore. On the other charges, namely his involvement in the Dark Lord's ranks, he had been found not guilty due to his work as a double agent (this was still baffling to him). A few months after his freedom — and with an Order of Merlin under his belt — he'd been contacted by St Mungo's to join the Potions Department. He'd been working there ever since, and had been the Head for the last three years.
Another timer rang, and Severus tended to the potion with a speed and skill that spoke of his many years as a Potions Master. He found it soothing to work on the potions with no one around; although he had both confidence and trust in the people he worked with, he was still a solitary creature at heart. As the different potions finished, more eight-dram vials — the standard size vials for most healing potions — as well as larger sixteen-dram ones joined the ones set up by Lisa. Each was labelled with block letters for easy reading and left to cool.
The brewing area was silent as he started to clean up. Sometimes, when he was in such a mood, he would put the wireless on the classical channel. He had a soft spot for Schubert and Rubenstein. Tonight, though, he enjoyed the silence. By the time he'd cleared up the brewing area and the separate kitchenette, the potions had all cooled down. He let his mind wander as he stoppered and crated them. He had a free weekend, but few plans to fill that weekend with. He supposed he could answer Minerva's owl; she had been pestering him for weeks about joining her for tea.
After putting the crates into the hatch that would send them up to be distributed among the floors, Severus did a final check of the room before turning off the lights and putting up the wards. He met no one on his trek upstairs, and the waiting room was equally empty and silent. Only the Welcome Witch remained, and her smile went unanswered as he stalked to the Apparition alcove.
He appeared at the end of a lush garden, shaded by large ash trees. The west-facing garden had rows of plant beds which housed both magical and non-magical plants and a greenhouse that contained some more volatile specimens. Producing a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, Severus lit a smoke (yes, it was a disgusting habit but he didn't care; he only indulged occasionally, anyway) and steered his steps to the curved bench by the side of the greenhouse. Sitting, he slung an arm over the back and took a drag from his cigarette. The exhaled smoke coiled in the air before dispersing into the evening sky.
Severus closed his eyes and angled his face towards the sun. This wasn't such a bad life, after all.
Leaning her hip against the healer's station, Hermione wrangled her hair into a secure ponytail and looked at the new admissions clipboard. There was the usual: cheating spouses getting hexed by their partners (recognisable by the location of the hex), the uncontrollable magic burst of a toddler or small child, and beauty charms gone wrong. The last entry, though, was an interesting one. An unconscious wizard, approximately 50 years of age, had been discovered in Ripon earlier that morning. He showed no outward signs of hexes or curses, and he had no wand or other identification.
Placing the clipboard back in the drawer where it belonged, Hermione went down the corridor to the room John Doe had been put up in. The lighting inside was soft, the curtains pulled shut over the window. On the bed lay a smallish wizard with straw-coloured hair and ruddy skin. His eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow. She approached the bed cautiously, and raised her wand to bring up the runes that would show his state of health.
She scanned through the first layer, and finding nothing out of the ordinary, she peeled it back to view the second layer. A small cluster of runes stood out, sickly green against the reds and oranges of the rest, and she leaned in closer to view it better. The cluster seemed to pulsate, and Hermione frowned. That was unusual. She poked at it with her wand to dissect it further. A sharp pain ignited in her wand hand and travelled up through her body. It felt like her body was on fire. A blood-curdling scream pierced the air, and she realised it came from her. It took all the strength she had to pull her wand away from the runes. The pain raking through her body was too much, and she lost consciousness.
Severus was preparing an anticholinergic when the alarm was raised.
The ewe Patronus burst through the wall, and from its mouth came the voice of Healer Leveret. "Mr Snape, your assistance is urgently required on the Spell Damage floor, room 417."
Cursing, Severus put down his knife. "Haywood, finish this!"
Tossing his lab coat over a chair, Severus practically sprinted out of the room. When he reached the fourth floor he silently cursed, and not for the first time, the Apparition ban that meant he had to run up six bloody flights of stairs. As he was catching his breath, he spotted three healers standing by an open door further down the hall. One of the healers, a short woman with a thick red braid, cried softly and was comforted by the other two. They looked up when he approached.
"She's in there," said Healer Russell, eyes worried and face pale.
They moved aside so Severus could enter, and as he did, he noted two things. The first was how much he hated the muted peach colour of the walls. The second was the unconscious Hermione Granger lying on the bed. He found it peculiar their paths should cross twice in one week; he only ever spotted her bushy head occasionally.
"What happened?" He rolled up his sleeves and brandished his wand as he approached the bed. Healer Leveret, who was in charge of the Spell Damage floor, filled him in on the events leading to Healer Granger's predicament. As she finished talking, he looked up. "Has the condition of the man changed in any way?"
Her face paled slightly. "He's dead. We can't find any cause for it, his heart just stopped."
Severus sighed. There had most likely been a transference to Granger of whatever hex, curse or jinx had ailed the unknown wizard. What that meant for her condition, he was unsure. He cleared his throat. "You should go back to work. I will call for you if I need any assistance."
Glancing down at the woman in the bed, Healer Leveret nodded. "Whatever you need, Mr Snape."
As the healers left and the door closed behind them, Severus routinely put up his preferred wards. One could never be too careful. Waving his wand with a muttered spell, he went through his usual checklist. Her organ function was normal, as was her heart rate. Her magical core looked as it should as well. Huffing, he did a more complex spell to detect any obscure magic.
There was something there, hiding by her left temple. His brows knitted together as he leaned closer. What was that? The tip of his wand connected with the tanned skin of her temple, and her eyes flew open. A terrible scream left her mouth, and Severus found himself being forcibly projected backwards. He barely had time to cast a cushioning charm before his body hit the floor, and he groaned as the wind was knocked out of him. Eyes screwed shut, he did a check on all of his limbs. Nothing hurt, except for a headache which had lodged by his right temple.
He heard the rustle of bedsheets.
Standing gingerly with his back to the bed, Severus straightened his robes. "You were rendered unconscious by an unknown curse or hex." He cracked his neck. Merlin, he was getting too old for this. Maybe it was time to retire to some warm and sunny place.
Granger chuckled. "I didn't imagine you as a beachgoer, Snape."
Severus' head shot up. What the—
He spun around. Granger was sitting up, looking pale and shaken but with a hint of a smile on her lips.
"What did you say?"
Her smile vanished. "I didn't mean to offend—"
Shut up, Granger.
Granger's eyes widened almost comically, and her mouth dropped open.
Did I just hear what he was thinking?
Sighing, Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, Granger. You did. It would seem there's a pesky little side effect to your little accident."
Fuck, fuck, fuck. What are we going to do, what are we going to do?
He looked up and sneered. "Could you try to calm the bloody hell down, Granger? You're projecting so loudly it's a wonder they can't hear you out in the hall."
Granger swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood, albeit a bit shakily. "I'm sorry if I'm not handling the fact that we can hear each other's thoughts as calmly as you are!" Her voice was shrill, which wasn't doing wonders for his headache. "And I don't care about your headache!"
Severus inhaled deeply. He transfigured a piece of lint from his pocket into a small piece of paper. "Take the rest of the day off," he instructed while tapping his wand on the paper, "and meet me at this address in two hours." Handing her the note, he squared his shoulders and stalked towards the door. He needed a smoke if he was going to deal with Hermione bloody Granger all afternoon.
"I heard that!"
He rolled his eyes. Of course, she bloody did.
By the time Granger arrived at the bottom of his garden, Severus had smoked three cigarettes and was craving a fourth. The first thing he noticed was that she'd changed from her Healer scrubs to a Muggle dress and that her hair was shorter than what he usually associated with her, reaching just past her shoulders in a tumble of curls. The second was that she was quite attractive, and his eyes were drawn to her bare legs before he looked away and shut his mind down harder than he'd done in a decade. Merlin help him if she'd heard that.
He stood from the decking when she approached.
She shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand. "You made your house Unplottable? Isn't that a bit dramatic?"
Severus snorted. "No. It's perfectly reasonable."
I'd say paranoid over reasonable.
His eyes narrowed. "Frankly I don't much care what you think, Granger."
Her eyes narrowed slightly, and her face and chest flushed. He wondered how low that flush went.
Clearing her throat, she looked away. "This is clearly going to be very uncomfortable for both of us." There was a slightly pinched look on her face. It made her look like she'd been sucking on a lemon all day. Her head snapped towards him. "I have a headache, you berk!"
Severus shrugged and sat, resting his feet on the grass. "Not my fault."
Granger huffed and sat next to him, tucking her hands underneath her knees. "How are you so unaffected?"
He tapped his temple with his index finger. "Because I can control my mind."
Occlumency? Of course!
He smirked. "10 points to Gryffindor. Although it doesn't seem to be foolproof, as I can still hear you."
"Do you hear the hum?"
She gestured to the side of her head. "There's this constant hum, like white noise? It's really irritating, and not helping my headache."
His fingers flexed. Fuck, he needed another smoke. "No, I don't hear it." Gently, he lowered his shields. Immediately a white noise filled his brain. Hissing, he slammed his shields up. The noise vanished. "That's irritating."
Granger rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it. I suppose this means I won't hear your thoughts, if Occluding keeps the noise out?"
Severus shrugged. "Seems logical. Let's test it out. Let me know if you can hear me."
He started by listing the ingredients for the Draught of Living Death, then continued with every curse word he knew. There was no reaction. Huh. Changing tactics, he composed a dirty limerick involving Hagrid, a turtle, and a cheese knife before ending with thinking that Granger had a fat arse.
She gasped. "I do not have a fat arse!" Her shoulders slumped. "Oh. I guess that answers my question."
"Maybe even more than that," Severus answered, feeling both relieved and very unsettled. "I thought of a number of both mundane and scandalous things before I targeted you personally, which likely means you'll be able to hear the things I think of you. And vice versa, one can assume."
She bit her lip in contemplation.
Maybe he could teach me Occlumency? That would at least help with the noise until we find a way to fix this.
"I don't think so, Granger."
Severus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It took me the better part of twenty years to reach this level of Occlumency. It's not something that can be taught in a day or two." Even to an insufferable know-it-all like her.
Granger huffed. "I'm not a know-it-all. Okay, then. So I won't learn Occlumency. There has to be something we can do about this?"
Sweet Circe, what if we're stuck like this forever?
Hermione tried to breathe deeply. Okay, don't panic. They could figure this out; they were both smart people. This was not how she pictured this day turning out.
Beside her, Snape chuckled. "It's not my dream scenario, either, Granger."
"Help me figure this out, then, so we can get out of each other's minds!" They needed to fix this soon; her headache was killing her.
Sighing, Snape stood. "I'll get you something for your head. Wait here."
He disappeared into the house via a glass door, leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts. Well, she hoped she was alone with her thoughts. Maybe she should try some Occlumency shields when she got home.
Having Granger in my head is more tolerable than the Dark Lord's presence. Thank Merlin for small mercies.
Hermione chuckled. Snape could be quite funny when he wanted to. Who knew?
The door opened behind her, and Snape retook his place on the deck. He thrust a vial of headache relief towards her. "Drink."
Complying, she felt her headache lessen immediately, though the noise still remained. "I'm preferable to the Dark Lord?"
Snape looked amused. "I believe the term I used was tolerable. That brings up another question; what is the range of whatever this is? I was in the loft when you heard what I was thinking." He rubbed his finger over his bottom lip, seemingly pondering something. It was both a blessing and very unfair that she couldn't hear him.
Catching her eye, he smirked. "Life isn't fair, Granger. Where do you live?"
"Hmm. That's roughly 17 miles from here. Apparate home, and think something outrageous enough that I'll remember it when you come back."
Standing, Hermione smoothed out her skirt. "See you in a bit, then."
She Apparated straight into her sitting room. A photo of her, Ron and Harry served as inspiration. Thinking as loudly as she could, she grinned and Disapparated.
Snape looked slightly queasy as she reappeared. "Harry Potter has an enormous cock? I said outrageous, not sickening."
Shrugging, Hermione sat. "You remembered it, didn't you?"
He huffed. "My turn." He Disapparated with a pop.
Belatedly, she wondered if he had any wards on his garden, since this seemed to be a Muggle neighbourhood. Oh, who was she kidding? The man had made his house Unplottable; of course he had wards on his garden. She startled slightly when he appeared.
He looked expectantly at her. "So?"
Hermione frowned. "No, nothing. The hum disappeared too. Where did you go?"
"Oxford." He scratched his nose. "So we know the limit is somewhere between 17 and 50 miles. That's a bit helpful, at least."
"Helpful? We work in the same building, Snape! That's far less than 50 miles." She buried her face in her hands and sighed. This was a nightmare — a complete and utter nightmare.
"Can't say I disagree."
Sitting up straight, she shook her hair out of her eyes and looked at him. "Right. We need to figure out what caused this, so we can undo it. We've no idea if hearing thoughts is the only thing whatever we were cursed with does."
Snape nodded. "Given that the man who is the source for this mess is dead, I think it's best to err on the side of caution."
If Granger and I both die, the bloody press will definitely spin it so it's my fault.
"No one's dying!" Her headache was returning, and she rubbed her temple. "I've taken the rest of the week off work, so I suggest we start researching this quickly."
"The archives at the Ministry would be a good place to start." His eyebrow arched. "I think we're both in agreement that we should keep this between us."
Hermione nodded. "Of course. I need to go lie down, my head is killing me. Should we meet in the Atrium tomorrow morning, at say 7?"
"That sounds acceptable." Snape hesitated. "I'll seek other accommodations until this is solved — somewhere further away than 50 miles. It should help with your headache."
Oh. That was uncharacteristically thoughtful of him.
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'm a right Mother Teresa. We'll be doing heavy research until this is solved, and you need a clear head for that. I'm not going to do all the work seeing as it's your fault I got dragged into this shit show in the first place."
Hermione huffed and stood. "Oh, piss off. I'll see you in the morning. Don't be late."
Once back in the safety of her own flat, Hermione allowed herself ten minutes of hysterical sobbing before she washed her face and took a few deep calming breaths. The hum was still present, which meant Snape hadn't found another place to stay yet. No time like the present to practise her shields. She went into the box room where she stored her books; she had one on Occlumency that she'd acquired back when Snape was trying to teach Harry the craft.
Grabbing it — wedged between Necromancy: The Dos and Don'ts of Raising the Dead and One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi — she went to the sitting room. Truth be told, it had stung when Snape had dismissed her thoughts about learning Occlumency. She had (largely) outgrown the need to prove herself, but that didn't mean she enjoyed being belittled in that way. She wasn't suggesting she'd be as proficient an Occlumens as he was, but if she could make an adequate shield it could help with the hum. Well, she hoped it would, since it was likely to drive her insane before hearing Snape's thoughts did.
After reading the chapter on shields and clearing the mind to refamiliarise herself with the concept, Hermione folded her legs and closed her eyes. She imagined her mind as a lake. A vast, calm lake with only a gentle ripple across the surface. All her thoughts were buried underneath the calm surface. She inhaled deeply. Every once in a while a thought made it up to the surface, but she gently guided it down again.
When she opened her eyes, the light was dim. Blinking slowly, she realised that the hum was gone. She sighed in relief and slumped back against the sofa. Thank Circe. Whether it was due to her shields (not likely) or Snape having gone somewhere far away (more likely), she was still grateful.
A stag Patronus burst through the wall and reared up on its hind legs.
"Hermione, are you all right?" Harry's voice was bordering on frantic. "I've been trying to reach you for hours! I heard about what happened at St Mungo's. If you don't answer this Patronus, I'm coming over." The Patronus dissolved in a silver mist.
Hermione chuckled and cast her Patronus. Her otter waited patiently as she composed her message. "I'm all right, Harry. Honestly. I've been resting all afternoon, it really got to me. You don't have to come over, I'm fine. Give my love to Ginny."
The Otter floated away. She felt guilty about lying to Harry, but she'd promised Snape. It was for the best that they kept this on the down-low until they figured out what this was. Thankful that her thoughts would be safe at least for tonight, Hermione stood and went to prepare dinner.
Severus was late.
Technically he wasn't late, but it was almost five to seven and that was practically the same thing. Striding across the Atrium, he could see the back of Granger's not-so-bushy head, and by extension the rest of her body, standing by the fountain. She was wearing light blue robes that hugged her figure and when did he start caring about Hermione Granger's body?
She looked up suddenly, and he was close enough now that he could see the faint flush in her cheeks. Bugger. She'd heard him.
"Good morning," she said a tad too brightly when he approached, hands curled around two take away cups from a nearby shop — one of those chains that everyone seemed so fond of. "I got you a coffee. I hope black is all right."
Severus accepted the proffered cup and took that first glorious sip with a contented sigh. "It's perfect, thank you. How's your head?"
Granger smiled softly. "Better, thank you. The hum is back, of course, but I did some shield exercises yesterday. Hopefully, it will help some."
After registering their wands at the security desk they headed towards the lifts. As they entered on along with half dozen Ministry workers, they were practically pushed against the back wall, shoulders touching. She smelt faintly like orange-blossom and another more earthy tone he couldn't quite identify. Was it a perfume or the scent of her shampoo? From the corner of his eye, he saw her fight a smile. Salazar's saggy ballsack, this was mortifying. He was reacting like a ruddy teenager.
Don't think about Snape, don't think about Snape, don't think about Snape.
Granger bumped his shoulder. "Shut it."
The archives were located off the main corridor on sublevel 2, down a corridor so narrow that two people couldn't comfortably walk down it side by side. It was for completely selfish reasons that Severus walked ahead of Granger. The last thing he needed was her catching him checking out her arse. There was no clerk working in the archives, only a check-in point to gain access, and the archives themselves consisted of hundreds of bookshelves and cabinets, sorted by subject.
"Wow," Granger said, looking around in awe. "This place is enormous."
"Which makes it more difficult to find what we're looking for." Severus walked over to the catalogue desk and started scrolling through the thick catalogue. Ah, there. Hexes and Curses, row 86, section 25 through 47.
Granger was already halfway down row 86 when he looked up. Once he caught up with her, she was already balancing four heavy tomes in her arms and pulling out another. She looked up at him, and her light brown eyes looked almost amber in the light.
His eyes really are black. I hadn't noticed before.
Granger looked away and cleared her throat. "Maybe we should start with these?"
It took them three days to check every book and piece of parchment in the Hexes and Curses section back to the 9th century, and they had found absolutely nothing.
Hermione groaned and fisted her hands in her hair. She was losing hope. And her head was killing her. As her concentration slipped, more and more of her thoughts projected to Snape, which was decidedly mortifying for both of them. He'd already found out her obsession with trashy Muggle TV and that she thought his appearance striking. In return, she now knew Snape thought she had a great arse and she was unsure what to make of that information.
"Why aren't we finding anything?" She lifted her head. "Are we going to be stuck like this forever?"
Snape snorted and closed the book in front of him. "Fuck, I hope not. If I have to Occlude this much for the rest of my life I might move to bloody Antarctica."
Hermione smiled. "That sounds lovely. I might join you."
Snape chuckled, a deep sound that she found she rather enjoyed. What was wrong with her? "You absolutely will not. It would defeat the purpose of my moving in the first place."
"Oh." She winced. "Didn't think of that. Sorry, I'm not being much help. My headache is really bad."
Snape tilted his head. "You tried using a shield?"
Rubbing her temples, she hummed in response.
"What visualisation did you choose?"
"A lake." Hermione pushed her hair back from her face. "It was keeping the hum at bay this morning, but it has stopped working and it makes the headache I had yesterday seem like a piece of cake."
A lake? I figured she'd use a library visualisation.
She smiled. "I thought of a library first, but I've always found lakes calming. You never know what goes on underneath the surface."
His gaze didn't waver. It was with a start Hermione realised that she had described Snape himself. On the surface he was calm, collected and perfectly controlled. The fleeting notion that she wanted to know what he was like underneath that surface took her by surprise, and by the way his cheeks pinked slightly it took him by surprise too.
Snape cleared his throat. "I think it's time for a break. Tea?"
The Ministry canteen was busy, and Snape's face was dark as he sipped his tea. Even without access to his thoughts, Hermione could see why. Several people had shot them disdainful looks when they entered, and even as they sat Hermione could feel eyes on them.
"How do you stand the staring?" she asked, dunking a biscuit in her tea. It made her extremely uncomfortable, and she fought the urge to smooth down her hair.
Snape's fingers flexed against his cup. "Your hair looks fine, Granger. The staring, while tedious, is something you get used to."
Hermione tilted her head. "It took a few years before the staring stopped for me. I'd just started my Healer training." She chuckled. "I'm not as interesting as Harry, or Ron. Or you, apparently."
You're plenty interesting.
She hid her smile in her teacup as Snape looked increasingly uncomfortable. Maybe a change of topic would be for the best. "I think Hogwarts has to be our next stop. I have a feeling the Restricted Section is going to point us in the right direction. I'll owl Minerva when we're done here."
His face betrayed nothing, but the panicked thought was practically screamed. "That's fine."
She raised her eyebrows. "You can't lie to me, Severus." Leaning in, Hermione lowered her voice. "I won't ask why you're so averse to going to Hogwarts, but we really need to."
His eye twitched. "Insufferable know-it-all," he muttered, then sighed.
She'll find out anyway, might as well get it over with.
"The last time I was at Hogwarts was the night Potter vanquished the Dark Lord."
Hermione blinked twice. "Oh." That was the night he almost died. No wonder he didn't want to go back.
The corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "Indeed. I'd be lying if I said I wanted to, but you're right. The Restricted Section could very well give us the answers we're looking for."
Before she could stop herself, Hermione reached out and put her hand on his forearm. "Thank you."
Snape scoffed but didn't remove his arm.
When Hermione Apparated to the Gates of Hogwarts the next morning, Snape was already there waiting. He barely flinched when she appeared, and the furrow between his brows was deeper than she'd seen all week. He had to be Occluding like crazy.
"I am," he replied tersely, eyes not moving from the sunlit castle. "It would seem I am having some difficulty being here, and the Occluding is the only thing stopping me from getting as far away from this bloody place as I can."
Closing the distance between them, Hermione tucked a stray curl that the wind had grabbed hold of behind her ear. "I'm sorry this is so difficult for you."
He looked down at her with an arched brow. "Do not pity me, Granger. Let's get this over with. I don't want to spend a minute more here than I have to."
Being the middle of summer, the castle was empty. Hermione, who hadn't been back at Hogwarts since she took her NEWTs, found it strange. Not just being back, but being there when no one else was. Never before had Hogwarts felt less magical, and more like just a building. Pushing open the doors to the library, she inhaled deeply. Oh, how she'd missed the smell of the library.
Beside her, Snape snorted.
He grinned wickedly. "Nothing. I'd just forgotten how much of a swot you were."
Hermione laughed. The absolute nerve of him. "You're a git, Snape."
He shrugged and stalked away towards the Restricted Section.
At least I'm not a Gryffindor.
Hermione shook her head. He could be impossible sometimes.
Unlike the Ministry archives, a degree of caution was required here, as some of the books they wanted to look through were borderline sentient. There were at least three that Hermione, as a Muggle-Born, couldn't touch (why books like that were in a school library, even in the Restricted Section, she didn't know) and one that looked as if it had been written in blood.
Almost two hours later, Hermione perked up. "Here's one that might..." she trailed off, eyes still scanning the page. Then she slumped back in her seat. "No, it doesn't fit." She looked up at Snape. "Have you found anything about those Runes?"
He shook his head. "I even looked at the memory in a Pensieve, but I don't recognise them."
Her eyebrows raised. He owned a Pensieve?
No, but Narcissa does.
A heavy feeling settled in Hermione's chest. "Malfoy?"
Snape sat up, fingers flexing around the book in his hands. "Yes. I've been staying at Malfoy Manor while we suss this out."
Even though it had been a decade, Hermione could still recall how the rug in the drawing room felt against her back and hear Greyback's voice in her ear as he whispered all the things he would do to her when Bellatrix was through with her.
Is she all right?
Her vision narrowed, her breath loud in her ears. Bellatrix' breath had been sour on her face, eyes wide and manic.
She felt a pressure on her arm.
She blinked, and the world came back into view. The sunlit library, large piles of books around them. Snape sitting opposite in his shirtsleeves, face open and eyes worried, hand on her arm. When their eyes met he pulled his hand back swiftly.
Hermione cleared her throat and looked away. Merlin, this was mortifying. "Sorry. I've bad memories of that place."
"You were tortured there?" his voice was softer than usual.
Her hand came up to her throat, where the scar from Bellatrix' knife was only barely visible. "Bellatrix Lestrange used the Cruciatus Curse on me."
She was only a child.
"I'm sorry that happened to you."
Hermione did not want to have this conversation any longer. She picked up the top book from the pile on her right. "Have you checked this one?"
Ultimately, Hogwarts proved as fruitless as the Ministry, and Severus was in a foul mood. Not only had he nearly gone into a full blown panic attack as soon as he set foot on Hogwarts grounds, but the Occluding had given him a migraine. His only comfort was it seemed most of his thoughts hadn't broken through the Occlumency. Over the past several days he'd come to the unfortunate realisation that he found Granger utterly lovely, with her crazy hair and her amber eyes and the way she didn't tolerate any of his bullshit.
He went into work on Monday morning feeling deflated. They were no closer to finding out what the hell had happened to them, and he didn't like it. Severus rubbed his forehead. Where else could they go to find answers? The magical library in Alexandria could maybe yield something — it had one of the largest collections about dark magic in the world.
Severus pushed the door to the stairwell open and descended towards the Potions Department. Getting an international Portkey would cost them an arm and a leg, and most likely raise more questions than they could answer, but they had little choice. Halfway to his destination, he stopped. There was one place they hadn't checked, that should have been their first stop.
Granger, meet me on basement level 2. If you're not here in five minutes, I'm sending a Patronus.
Less than two minutes later he heard the door slam open from above, and hurried footsteps on the stairs.
Circe, what's happened? Is he all right?
Granger came into view, eyes wide and hair flying around her face. "What's wrong?"
Severus' eyebrow arched. "Thanks for your concern, Granger. If it's not too much trouble, may I suggest we try to get rid of this hex?"
She flushed. "Git. What's the urgency?"
He gestured to the sign by the door, and was momentarily distracted by her bouncing curls as she turned her head.
Oh, shit. Basement Level 2: St Mungo's Archives. We're idiots.
"Agreed." He pulled the door open. "I don't know why we didn't think of checking here in the first place."
The archives weren't much bigger than the average broom closet, and wherever Severus stood it seemed some part of him brushed against Granger. With the way she was flushing and loudly reciting medicinal runes in her mind, he came to the — quite pleasing — conclusion that she minded as little as he did. A strange notion.
He was browsing through a Healer's journal from 1867 when she gasped.
"I think I found it!"
Severus crossed the small space in a long stride. This had better be what they were looking for. "What is it?"
Granger held up a bound piece of parchment. "This was written by a Healer Augustus Roc in 1379. Listen to this: It was decided today by the Elders that Cognitio Sermonis is too dangerous a spell to use. They have proclaimed all records of the spell and its uses shall be destroyed. Elder Passel has been chosen to lay the hex which will affect any who, from this day, try to use Cognitio Sermonis. I have tried, to no avail, to persuade them otherwise. Merlin have mercy on us all."
She looked up at him, amber eyes worried. "It was a healing spell, used to communicate with those who could not speak. It says that the spell was being misused, and caused serious harm."
Things were slowly beginning to clear up. The wizard, whoever he was, had somehow gained access to the spell without knowing it would hex him. "Does it say what the hex does?"
Turning the pages, Granger shook her head. "It doesn't. But since the original spell was used to hear the thoughts of those who could not speak, I'm sure the hex somehow ties into that." Her brows knitted together. "The man who was brought in was unconscious, but the runes showed no abnormality except the cluster of green runes that somehow transferred the spell to me."
Fuck, what if he was aware of what was happening?
Severus shuddered. He could scarcely imagine a worse fate. There had to be a counter-curse, or something that would help them undo this mess.
Granger sighed and closed the book. "There's nothing." She closed her eyes and rubbed her temple, which meant she had a headache again. "According to Healer Roc, all documentation of the spell, and any counters, were destroyed." When she opened her eyes next, they were shiny with tears. "Severus, what are we going to do?"
Without his permission, his hand reached out and curled around the crook of her neck. "We are going to figure this out. You are the brightest bloody witch of your generation, Granger." Her skin was warm underneath his hand, and her curls still smelled like orange-blossom. What would those curls feel like wrapped around his hand, he wondered.
Her mouth opened slightly as she exhaled, and Severus flinched. Bugger. Bugger, bugger, bugger.
Sweet Circe, I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.
He stepped back as far as the room would allow. "Now that we know what we're dealing with, we should start working on a counter-curse."
Granger discreetly wiped her eyes. "I'll take the rest of the day off, and you should do the same. We can meet at my flat to work on the counter-curse."
Severus nodded. "I've got a few books that could be of use. I'll meet you in an hour, or two at the most."
After giving him her address, Granger practically fled the room. Severus tilted his head back and sighed. This was all going to absolute shit.
As soon as Hermione appeared in her kitchen, she rummaged through her cupboard for a headache potion. Circe's left arse cheek, she was stressed. As if being hexed wasn't enough, now she was starting to get chummy feelings about Snape. She glanced at the clock by the fridge. She had about an hour to calm herself down.
Leaning against the kitchen worktop, she closed her eyes and drew her lake visualisation to the forefront of her mind.
When she heard the sound of someone Apparating into her garden, she opened her eyes and hurried out. Snape stood frozen at the end of her garden. His onyx eyes — the only part of him capable of moving — glared at her.
What the fuck, Granger?
She waved her wand to release the spell "Sorry, I'd forgotten I have an automatic body-binding curse linked to anyone trying to Apparate here."
Snape's eyebrow arched as he stepped towards her. "And you say I'm paranoid?"
"It would have worn off in a couple of hours."
They relocated to the sitting room. He was a strange feature, dour and dark, on her light sofa. From his pocket he pulled out several shrunken books, and as they regained their original size on her coffee table she saw they were all on dark magic and ancient runes.
Snape reached for the top one. "I'll start on identifying the runes."
Hermione nodded. "I'll see if I can work out wand movements."
The sun was setting by the time Hermione stood and stretched her back. She winced when there were several pops in her spine. Things were slowly but surely going their way; Snape was making headway in identifying the rune sequence used, and she was tentatively confident about the wand movements she wanted to try first.
Merlin, I need a smoke.
She looked down at Snape, who was leaning back with his eyes closed. Her mouth twitched up in a smile. He really was rather lovely.
He opened his eyes. "It's getting late. We should reconvene in the morning. May I use the loo before I leave?"
"Of course. It's down the hall, third door."
Hermione leant against the wall in the narrow hall whilst she waited for him to finish. Her headache, which had mercifully been absent for the past few hours, was starting to return.
The bathroom door opened, and Snape looked surprised to see her there. "How's your head?"
Hermione smiled. "It's all right. I've got more headache potion if I need it."
He nodded. "That's good."
The dim light cast dramatic shadows over his form, making it difficult to read his face. Not that he was an open book in the first place. This incident had been both a blessing and a curse; Hermione very much doubted she would have got to know him like this in normal circumstances. Now she had, and she found him utterly—
Her eyes snapped to his, and she inhaled sharply.
Then she pushed off against the wall and he stepped forward and they came together in an explosion of hands and lips and teeth. He cradled her face in his hands and shoved a knee between her legs, pressing her against the wall. She gripped his collar and opened her mouth against his with a gasp. His body was warm against hers and he smelt of herbs and his tongue made her nipples tighten uncomfortably against her shirt. Gods, but he felt amazing. She was barely aware that her fingers were starting in on the buttons of his shirt until he pulled away.
Merlin, what have I done?
Snape backed away quickly until he hit the wall. He stood there staring at her, mouth open and eyes wild. That look in his eyes made her want to kiss him again.
He let out a strangled sound. "Hermione, no."
Bloody fucking hell, I'm making a right hash of this.
Her stomach dropped. Had she misjudged him so badly?
"You have not."
Hermione straightened her rumpled shirt. "It's because of the curse, isn't it?"
Snape sighed, leaning his head back against the wall. "I don't know. On the off chance that it is affecting our judgement, I don't want us to do anything we'll regret."
I couldn't stand having her look at me with regret.
She wet her dry lips. "I think maybe that we should work on the counter-curse separately. For a few days, at least." Some space would do them both good. She hoped.
"I think that's wise." Snape looked unsure, and the furrow between his brows deepened. "If you discover anything you think may be useful, don't hesitate to contact me." He took a hesitant step forward, lifting his hand as if to touch her. Then it fell back against his side and his fingers clenched into a fist. With a silent nod, he Disapparated.
Hermione remained against the wall for several minutes, head tipped back and the taste of him still in her mouth.
Severus put down his quill and sighed. It had been four days since he'd snogged Granger — Hermione — in her hallway, and he'd not heard a word from her since. He'd yet to decide whether or not that was a bad thing. It was strange not having access to her mind anymore, but it felt like a blessing. You weren't supposed to be able to hear another person's thoughts in the first place. Not having to Occlude was also a relief. It was bloody exhausting.
Narcissa swept into the library, pale robes swirling around her ankles. "You've been locked in here for days, Severus," she said, raising a perfectly sculpted brow in his direction. "Still got your mind on the Granger girl?"
Severus scoffed. For all the Slytherin she was, Narcissa could be as blunt as a Gryffindor when she was in the mood. "I'm working on a counter-curse, not making wedding plans."
She flicked a piece of blonde hair over her shoulder. "So you say. Couldn't you at least join me in the drawing room instead? You're practically a recluse."
His fingers flexed slightly. "I prefer the proximity to the books. If I were to join you, you would complain that I was rushing to the library for a new book every ten minutes." Truth be told, he'd found it hard to stomach being in the drawing room since his and Granger's conversation at Hogwarts.
Narcissa sighed. "Fine. Draco and Astoria are coming by for dinner at 7. Don't be late."
She swept out of the library as silently and gracefully as she'd entered it.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. He wished he could figure out these bloody runes. At first glance they weren't too difficult, but the way they were combined was a different matter. Not for the first time in the past few days, he missed Granger. He needed her input on this. Taking out his wand, he was about to send off a Patronus when a silver otter burst through the wall. He lowered his wand.
It stopped in front of him, and did a few flips in the air before opening its mouth. Granger's voice filled the library. "Severus, I think I got it. The counter-curse, I mean. Can you come to my flat?"
He was on his feet as soon as the otter dispersed into a silver mist, and he practically ran towards the arrival room. Two minutes later, he stood in her garden. Granger — Hermione —, cup in her hand, practically flew up from her seat at the sight of him. A waved wand later, and he found he could move.
"That was fast," she smiled, shielding her eyes from the sun.
Oh, I've missed him. Bloody buggering hell, shut up, Hermione!
Severus' mouth twitched upwards. "I thought it best we deal with this as soon as possible, don't you?" Merlin, it was good to see her.
With the way her cheeks flushed, it was safe to say she'd heard him. Great.
She smiled softly and gestured to the open door. "Come on then."
Severus followed her through the kitchen and down the hallway — and tried his best not to think of Granger's tongue in his mouth in that hallway — and finally to the sitting room.
"Right," she said, picking up her wand from the overflowing coffee table. "The incantation is Cognitio Quiescis, and I'm thinking this," she demonstrated a series of wand movements, "for the wand movements. It's mostly a mixture of movements from healing spells and different counter-curses."
"And you think it'll work?"
"I do." She chuckled. "Well, I'm mostly sure it'll work. Creating spells was never my strong suit."
Severus tilted his head. "Show me the movements again."
Her wand cut gracefully through the air.
"Maybe try a down stroke instead of up on the third movement? It could work better with the second movement, and adds some more strength to the healing aspect."
Oh, that's clever.
Granger tilted her head and did the modified movement. "Yes, that makes more sense." She lowered her wand. "Should we try it?"
Severus shrugged. "No time like the present. Do we need to do it at the same time, or?"
She bit her lip, and his eyes followed the movement. He wanted to bite that lip.
She promptly released her lip and cleared her throat.
He winced. "Sorry."
Granger's fingers flexed around her wand. "It's okay. I, uh, think that it should be enough for you to do the counter-curse on me, since I got it first. Do you want to see the wand movements again?"
"No, I remember them." Severus took out his wand, pointing it at her. Was that a slight tremor in his hand? Taking a deep breath, he did the movements and called out, "Cognitio Quiescis!" A jet of pink light left his wand and hit her square in the chest.
Granger gasped and stumbled back a few steps. Panting, she grasped the shelf next to the fireplace, rubbing her chest.
Circe, that hurt.
Severus sighed. "Are you all right? It didn't work, by the way."
She rubbed her forehead. "Damn. Yes, I'm fine."
Maybe the other option would work.
He frowned. "What other option?"
Still rubbing her chest, Granger let go of the shelf and squared her shoulders. "I think simply placing the wand at my temple should work, since that's where the rune cluster was located originally. It's worth a try."
Severus hesitated. Using a spell at such close range could potentially be dangerous, especially when used on someone's head.
She moved forwards until they were almost toe to toe. "It's all right, Severus. I trust you."
Oh, right. That small detail. Looking down into her amber eyes, the need to kiss her rose up within him. It would be so easy, just lower his head a few inches and she would be there, willing and waiting. He cleared his throat. Better not. Not yet. When he kissed her the next time, he wanted her consent. An enthusiastic, uninfluenced consent.
"Are you sure?"
Hermione nodded. "I'm sure."
Severus took a deep breath to calm himself down. Then he slowly brought his wand up and connected it carefully with her left temple. She gave an encouraging smile. Pouring all his focus into his magic, he spoke the incantation.
This time he was ready when she gasped and stumbled, catching her around the waist. Her own hands fumbled feebly before grasping his arms. His treacherous brain, the part that he tried to keep under control for most of the time, was screaming at him to kiss her.
Her amber eyes seemed to stare right through him, and with a sigh she leaned in and pressed her mouth to his.