Beta(s): velveteenbunny, whispergypsy
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: It's not that he has an aversion to cleanliness - he's terrified of the water and Cleansing Charms work just fine. Why (if you choose to go into it) is up to you, as is how Hermione chooses to help him get over/accept it (SS/HG or SS & HG with potential for more).
Summary: Hermione is given a rather unpleasant task at the monthly staff meeting. Little did she know it would open the door to love.
"So we are in agreement then?" the headmistress asked, and several heads around the table nodded. "Now, we just need to choose someone to confront him." Minerva's gaze shifted to Hermione.
"Not me!" Hermione gasped as she realised the implication of Minerva's statement. "No way!" she spluttered. "Absolutely not. Do you think I have a death wish?" Now she knew why Minerva had scheduled a staff meeting while Severus was at St. Mungo's. The man had survived the ravages of the snake bite rather well, but he still had some residual effects that required regular examinations and follow-up treatments.
"But Hermione, you seem to know him best, surely—"
"I'm his apprentice, that's why!" she nearly shrieked.
Filius piped up, "I can't imagine the smell when you are brewing in such close quarters." He shuddered comically, causing Professor Vector, seated beside the diminutive man, to chuckle.
Hermione started to say that she didn't notice his smell because of the often overpowering odours of brewing, but she had to admit, there were times when she knew what a potion should smell like, but couldn't figure out what seemed off about it. She shrugged, but said nothing.
"Well," said Minerva briskly, "that's settled. Hermione will talk to Severus about his bathing habits. Now, on to the next item on the agenda..."
Hermione sat shell-shocked throughout the rest of the meeting. She had noticed Severus seemed to have less than strict hygiene habits, no matter the obvious obsessive cleanliness of his lab. And, however much their relationship had changed—they were friends—it did not mean that she was close enough to him to tell him that he, frankly, smelled. Before she realized it, the meeting was over, and the other professors were quickly gathering their things and heading for the door.
"Hermione," said Minerva. "Hermione!"
"What?" she responded dazedly.
"The meeting is over, dear. I believe you have a class, do you not?"
"Erm, yeah, a revision class." She rose from her chair and made her way out of the door. How the hell was she going to tell Severus Snape he needed to take a bath?
It wasn't until a week later that Hermione finally, albeit reluctantly, got her chance to speak to Severus. The school had just broken up for the Easter term, and the pair had drawn the duty of seeing the students off on the Hogwarts Express.
Late April was very warm, and as they walked back up to the castle, Hermione pulled off her cardigan, huffing about how hot it was.
"Severus, how you stand to wear all your layers in this heat is beyond me." The pair approached the lake as they walked.
"I am used to it," he replied glibly.
"But don't you get hot and sweat?"
"There are cooling charms."
"They aren't always strong enough."
"They are strong enough," he insisted.
They reached the shore, and Hermione conjured a bench for the pair to sit and enjoy the sunny afternoon. She placed it to take advantage of the occasional breeze that blew. They sat side by side, knees touching, and just gazed at the lake. Occasionally the giant squid rose to the surface, slapped at the water with a tentacle, and then went back under.
Hermione turned her head toward Severus when she realised the wind was most definitely not blowing away from her. She moved over as unobtrusively as possible.
Another few minutes went by when she realised the smell still lingered, so she moved over again. This time, she was not as unobtrusive.
"Are you all right, Hermione?"
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"You seem to be sliding farther and farther toward the edge. Do I repulse you in some manner?"
"No, never; you know that." She hesitated and then asked, "We are friends, are we not?"
"After a fashion, I suppose," he said. They both turned to look out at the lake.
"Severus," began Hermione, "may I, erm, be honest with you about something?"
Severus answered, "Of course."
"Well, the thing is," she stammered, "it's like this. You weren't at the last staff meeting and well—"
"Just spit it out, woman! You know I hate it when you stammer," exasperation flavouring his reply.
Severus huffed in annoyance. "There's no need to be childish. Just tell me what it is you need to tell me."
"Well, that's just it. You, erm, smell."
Severus' reaction did nothing to further endear his already grumpy countenance to Hermione. With dignified offense he rose, his robes snapping about him and stalked off.
Hermione had only a moment to react before she was off the bench and chasing after him. "Severus! Severus, wait! Please!"
He stopped and she ran into him, falling on her backside. Quickly leaping up, she dashed in front of him so as to keep him from going further.
"Please, Severus, just listen to me."
He folded his arms, and Hermione took that as a good sign. Whenever they argued, if he was unwilling to listen to her point of view, he would just stomp off, but if he was willing he simply folded his arms and waited for her to continue. "Look," she began, "I know you have a reputation for, erm, being a--"
"Greasy git," he supplied.
"Well, I wouldn't have said that," she answered.
"Get on with it, Miss Granger," he sneered.
The return to her surname made her nervous. "Please come back to the bench," she pleaded. "There is something I need to say to you, and it would be easier if we could do it more...peacefully."
They turned back toward the bench and as they sat, she made sure to be upwind.
"Pray, Miss Granger, say what you need to say."
"Professor Snape...Severus...I don't know what your grooming habits are, but they seem to be...sketchy. There are days when it is obvious you haven't had a bath in a long while. The staff have noticed."
"Oh, they have, have they?" he drawled. "Perhaps they take bets on how long between hair washes? Wonder if I bathe before bedding a woman?"
"No! That's not it at all!" She closed her eyes in the hope of removing the image of him bedding a woman from her retina, unless it was her, but she was not going there. "But they have noticed and well, as we work so closely together, they asked me to, erm, speak to you about it," she finished in a rush.
Severus was very angry. "I use cleansing charms and Scourgify religiously."
"Well, that's fine for the odd occasion, but surely you bathe at least weekly?" Hermione watched his face closely for his reaction. She knew that Severus still practiced Occlumency, and she recognised the signs of him retreating behind his protective walls. "Severus, please talk to me. We've become friends haven't we? You certainly have gotten me through quite a few emotional upheavals...Ron, for instance."
"Mr. Weasley was a fool, I will always say that."
"And I thank you, but that isn't what this is about, is it?"
Severus sighed. "Come; let us get a drink at the Three Broomsticks."
He offered no other explanation for his abrupt behaviour, but Hermione knew from experience that he would not speak until he was ready.
The Three Broomsticks had modernised a bit since the war; they now had patio seating and lighting along the side of the building. The removal of a few trees at the back of the property allowed for a clear view of the Black Lake. As a result, business in the evening picked up, and Rosmerta had plans to increase the number of tables outdoors.
Hermione and Severus stepped inside and gave their drinks order, asking that they be delivered to the patio.
They settled themselves, rearranging their chairs to face the lake. Rosmerta brought out their drinks and after a bit of small talk, left the couple with their drinks. They sat quietly, drinking and chatting about inconsequential things.
Hermione's initial bravado seemed to have fled because she could not bring herself to speak of the issue again. Finally resolving to do so, she turned her in chair to face Severus, her elbow knocking her drink over, landing it right in Severus' lap.
The reaction from her colleague stunned her. Severus leapt from the chair, frantically slapping at the liquid as it soaked into his trousers. A strangled sort of noise came from his throat, and as Hermione reached toward him to help clean up the mess, he visibly flinched and begged, "Please don't! Please don't touch me!"
"Severus! Severus, it's only me! Calm down, it's all right!"
Severus seemed to come back to himself, but he was still panicked. His breathing was rapid, and his eyes rolled in their sockets. Without another word, he fled.
As soon as Hermione processed what happened, she started after him. "Severus! Wait! Stop, it was only me, Severus!" She finally caught up with him and grabbing his elbow, forced him to face her. "Severus, please...it's me, Hermione. I am not going to hurt you. It was only a spilled drink."
Severus stared at her for a long minute before speaking. "I am sorry. I don't know what happened. I know it was only a drink, but when you reached for me..." he broke off, unable to go further.
"Let's get back to the castle," Hermione said. "We'll go to your rooms and have some tea and talk. Or not, whatever you'd like to do."
Severs nodded his head in agreement and allowed Hermione to lead him back to the castle.
The fragrant scent of tea reached his nose, and he welcomed the cup that Hermione handed to him. "Thank you."
Hermione settled down on the sofa beside him and took up her cup. "Would you like to talk about what happened?" she asked.
After several minutes, Severus spoke. "Do you know I've never been swimming in my life?"
Blinking at the apparent non sequitur, Hermione remarked, "Never? Not even as a student?"
"Never. Tell me, Hermione, have you ever seen me go out in the rain, even on a Hogsmeade weekend when I've had duty?"
"Now that you mention it, no. You always seem to get someone to cover for you. Me usually, you rat." She smiled at the man beside her and punched him lightly on the arm.
"Besides getting water from the tap to use for potions, have you ever seen me use water to clean the lab or cauldrons?"
"Well, you usually save the cauldrons for detentions, but you're right, I don't see you use water that much." A light popped on in Hermione's brain. "Severus, are you afraid of water?
The dark man did not answer for a moment. Very quietly, he responded, "Yes, I am. I haven't touched water since I was six years old."
Hermione's mind filled with curiosity, wondering just what did happen that sparked this fear. On occasion they spoke of their childhoods, and in light of Harry Potter's revelations at the end of the war, Hermione was aware of certain aspects of Severus' growing up. "What happened?" she asked as tactfully as she could; Severus would not always answer personal questions if she seemed overeager.
"When I was six, my father had come home from a pub, drunk again. I was having a bath in the kitchen; we had only toilet as far as an indoor privy in those days, so my mother would set the tub in the kitchen and magically fill and heat the water.
"I was just learning to control of my magic, and my mother would help me practice whenever my father was out of the house. When he saw me floating a few toy battleships above the water, he was furious. In his fury, he screamed that he would drown the magic out of me and held me under the water."
Severus shivered at the memory. As he continued to speak, his voice was flat, as though he sought to repress the actual horror of the moment he was remembering. "My magic reacted instinctively, and a white light rushed from me and threw him across the kitchen. My mother snatched me from the water and was checking me over when my father recovered and rushed toward us. He threw me aside and began to beat my mother, screaming how it was all her fault he had a useless, gormless, ugly freak of a child for a son."
Severus was silent and Hermione placed a hand on his arm. "Oh, Severus, I am so sorry."
He continued, "He beat my mother so viciously she needed to be hospitalised. I haven't touched water since. My mother tried and tried to get me to bathe, but to no avail. I think she understood why. She taught me Scourgify, Tergeo and a few other miscellaneous cleansing charms.
"With a bit of Slytherin cunning, I was able to avoid activities at my Muggle school involving water, and at Hogwarts, I would hide in the library until curfew and then stay up in the common room so that none of the other students would realise I didn't shower. After a while, it was second nature for me to avoid water situations and bathing, so I never thought about it. Even Lily never knew, and we spent a lot of time together in the summers, as you know."
"But as you grew and you understood the reasons, couldn't you overcome your fear?"
"Oh, I understood, but like so many others with psychological fears, I could do nothing about it. I still can't."
Hermione was quiet for a long while. "It must be time for supper. Shall we go up?"
"You've nothing to say? No nuggets of know-it-all wisdom?" he asked sarcastically.
Hermione looked him directly in the eye. "Severus, you have just shared one of your deepest secrets. I believe it would be rather immature of me to blow it off or offer contrite platitudes. I would like to think on it for a bit."
"You plan on making me your next project, don't you?" he asked in a resigned manner.
"Not a project, no, but I would like to find a way to help you."
"Let it be, Hermione."
"I will for now. But just to let you know, I always help my friends...Always."
In her true know-it-all approach to any problem, Hermione spent the next few days researching in the Hogwarts library. She even popped into Edinburgh to visit several of the libraries there. She was frankly surprised he did not suffer from any number of the classic psychoses given his history, but she did conclude that he seemed to be suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. She even chatted with her parents who dealt daily with patients who had a fear of the dentist. They offered some very good advice about re-acclimating her professor to water, but urged her to take it very slow; he was not a child that could be bribed with toys.
One evening, the pair was making potions for the hospital wing in preparation for the spring term. The quiet bubble from the cauldrons was soothing as was the rhythmic noise of the pair chopping ingredients.
"You're quiet tonight," Severus began. "Everything all right?"
"Yes and no," she answered. Severus only raised an eyebrow at her, prompting her to continue. "Yes in that I've got all my grading done, had a nice visit with my parents, and finished my Master's project for the apprenticeship."
"And no in that..." Severus prompted.
Hermione sighed. "And no in the fact that I haven't found a spell or potion that would help with your 'issue'."
"The only way to cure you is to reintroduce you to water."
"Hermione," he said hesitantly.
"No, really, Severus. My parents deal with fear in their practice every day." She giggled and continued, "Although they did say bribing you with a toy wouldn't work."
"No, it won't," he said crisply.
"But, they did give me some other tips and I did some-"
"Research," he finished. "Can't you just leave it be, Hermione?"
Hermione stopped chopping and looked at Severus compassionately. "No, I can't. Not in this at least. Look, I could do it slowly, over the course of months, if you'd like, but the fact of the matter is, you need to bathe. Even if it's just using a basin of water."
"Months, you say?" Severus asked, continuing their conversation.
"Yes. We would start slowly...perhaps just learning to wash your hands. We would do it in a very safe area for you...we could use a clear basin so you could see everything your hands are doing."
Severus looked at his hands as he considered this. "Your suggestion has some merit. May I think about it?"
"Of course, Severus. We'll go at a pace that is comfortable for you, and we'll make sure to do it privately."
"Thank you, Hermione."
"But..." she began
"We need to do something sooner rather than later about your—"
"There's no need to say it!"
"I know a way to increase the strength of Scourgify. That will have to do for now." With his eyes on the cutting board, he began to chop again. "Do you really think you can help me?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, I do, but I'd rather think of it as both of us helping you."
"You are better to me than I deserve, do you know that?" he murmured somewhat reluctantly.
"You've always had my respect, Severus. And you deserve far more than you've gotten. We'll start tomorrow by washing your hands, all right?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"You always have a choice, but I think that on this occasion, I will help you make the choice."
"We shall try tomorrow, then."
The next morning at breakfast, the pair made plans to begin Severus' reintroduction to water. Hermione suggested that they begin with simple hand washing. She also suggested they find a place that was as unlike the original scene as possible so there would be no bad memories to associate with the action, but she was adamant that it also be in a place he was familiar and comfortable with. Severus suggested his lab and Hermione agreed.
The couple entered his lab and sat on two stools, side by side. She conjured a clear basin, flannel, soap and a towel to dry his hands on.
"I want you to fill the basin with water, but not with magic." Severus stared at the basin, agitation clearly showing on his face. Being careful not to touch him so that he would not associate the water and touch as something horrifying—no matter how gentle her touch—she said, "It's just a basin of water, Severus, you're very safe here. You simply can't fit in it. I will stand on the other side of the table so that there is no way I could grab you." She stood and walked around the table.
"Now, go and turn the tap on; you've done it before when you needed water for the base of potions. In fact, why don't you fill a beaker with water, just like you're starting a potion?" she suggested. "That is something very familiar to you."
Severus reached to a shelf above the sink where empty beakers stood. "You are correct, Hermione; this is something I do all the time and have no problem with it." What he did not tell her was that he usually wore gloves when filling any beaker with water to avoid getting wet, so while he might have spoken confidently, he was a bundle of nerves. Taking a deep breath, he quickly filled the beaker and returned to the table.
"All right, now pour the water into the basin just as though it were a cauldron."
Although Severus sneered at the child-like tone in her voice, he did as she instructed. "There, the water is in."
"Okay," Hermione said. "Now you should probably turn your cuffs up so you don't get them wet. Once you've done that, I want you to just set your hands on the side of the basin. Don't put your hands in yet."
Severus slowly turned up his cuffs up. Hermione could see the trepidation in his face and his hands were shaking slightly. Quietly, she said, "Remember, you are in a safe place, Severus. There is no way I can reach you from this side of the table and certainly no way you fit in that basin."
Severus nodded in agreement and with an audible breath in for courage, he placed his hands on the side of the basin.
Hermione continued her instructions, quietly and soothingly. "Okay, now turn your fingers inward, and let the touch them the water." She watched as Severus slowly lowered the tips of his fingers to the water. The surface of the water rippled slightly as the long fingers on both hands touched the water.
Severus looked up at Hermione. "How do you feel?" she asked.
"I am all right, I think."
"You're doing well," she said, smiling at him. "Okay, now hold your hands, palm side down, over the water and then when you're ready, lower them to the water, but don't submerge your hands yet."
Severus began to do as she suggested, but at the last moment, he pulled his hands back. "I can't, he said angrily. "I will not do this. Why am I letting you treat me this way?" he barked.
Hermione's eyes widened, but she bit her tongue so that she would not snap back at him. She knew this was not easy for him. She knew she would not get him over his aversion in one simple session.
"Do you want a break?"
"No," he mumbled.
"Would you rather I was doing something else while you tried this? Am I making you nervous?"
Severus looked at Hermione and was momentarily struck by the compassion in her eyes. He knew she never pitied him for all he had gone through and had been his most vocal advocate. In the three years of her apprenticeship, they had become friends, and although Severus might wish it turned into more, he would not hold her back. She was so young, and he was a broken, old and apparently smelly man. In that moment, he stiffened his spine and dug for the courage and bravery she told him he had. He would do this for her. With another deep breath, he said, "I think if you were to prepare some ingredients that would be helpful. I feel like you're just staring at me and yes, it is making me nervous."
"Oh, all right." Hermione scurried to the store cupboard and pulled out some violets she knew were in need of crushing. Violets were used in the soothing crème they used in the hospital wing for eczema. Snatching a mortar and pestle from the drawer beneath the prep table, she got to work. From the corner of her eye, she saw Severus lower his fingertips into the water.
She giggled silently when he wiggled his fingers in the water obviously being careful not to splash. Instead of hovering his hands over the water as she suggested, she watched as he slowly lowered his hands in, a bit at a time, until his hands were covered.
He looked at her, clearly unsure what to do next. Setting the pestle down, she asked, "How do you feel?"
"Okay, I think. This isn't bad."
Hermione made a sudden move and he flinched. "Don't come near me," he cried, pulling his hands out of the water.
"Severus! Please; I just had an itch on my leg I needed to scratch! I wasn't coming to you. It's all right."
He stared at her a moment.
"I am not your father, Severus. I look nothing like him! I am simply Hermione."
Head hanging down, he mumbled, "You are never 'simply Hermione', but you're right, you are not him." Gathering himself again, he started the process over and soon had his hands submerged in the water.
"Now, I want you to practice lifting your hands in and out of the water."
"Really?" he asked snidely.
"Well, if you think you're ready for a swim in the Prefect's bath, then go for it," she snipped back.
Grunting, he reluctantly did as she instructed. After a few minutes, she said conversationally, "Go ahead and get the flannel and soap. You've used flannels, cleaning potions accidents so you should have no trouble with that. Wet the flannel, rub on the soap on it, and wash your hands. Then rinse them in the water and dry them."
Because his hands were wet, he dropped the cake of soap into the water, causing it to splash. He leapt away in alarm.
"Would you like me to fish it out for you?"
"No, I think I can."
"It will likely fall again and splash into the water, but the water won't hurt you; it hasn't so far, has it?"
He sneered as he, without thought, plunged his hands into the water to get the soap, "You are really irritatingly bossy, do you know that? Must you treat me like a child?"
"You're right. I do sound like I am treating you like a child, but I only wanted you to feel safe and comfortable."
"I know, I know," he sighed, rubbing the soap on the flannel. He carefully set the soap down and wiped his hands with the flannel. Once he was done, he dropped the cloth on the table and carefully lowered his fingers into the water and then his entire hands. As the soaped sloughed off, his breathing rate increased as he could no longer clearly see his hands. He pulled them out quickly.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes. I couldn't see my hands, and I had a moment of panic."
"Are they still attached?" she teased.
"Oh, very funny." He picked up the towel and dried his hands. With a small smile of accomplishment, he smiled. "I've done it!"
Hermione smiled in return. "So you have. How do you feel? How do your hands feels?"
"Going to psychoanalyse me now?"
Hermione huffed. "No, but I was curious as to how you feel now."
"My hands feel strange...like I had layers of skin removed. It feels...nice. But it's only my hands, I don't know about the rest of this." He gestured over his body.
"Well, we have time. I am staying at the castle this summer...I'll have you swimming before September!" She smiled as she finished her proclamation.
"Gryffindors always did dream big," he sulked.
"Yes, we do! Now empty the basin."
"Pretend you're pouring out a potion from a cauldron."
Severus picked up the basin and carefully carrying it over to the sink, slowly poured the water out.
"Now, let's go get a drink."
"Your quarters or mine?"
"How about mine for a change?" Hermione answered. "I've got nibbles, too."
"Very well, let's go."
By the end of the first week, Severus was very comfortable washing his hands and had even progressed to washing his arms up to his elbows. Although he and Hermione were friends, he was not about to disrobe in the lab in order to do his upper arms. They agreed to work on other areas first.
The students returned much too soon in Severus and Hermione's opinion. They had only progressed so far as his lower arms and face, and even then, he had moments of fear and refused to participate in his 'therapy'.
Hermione was unsure how to proceed further, but she was certain that he would not be amenable to wading in the mud puddles left by the rain that had been falling over the past few days. She giggled at the thought of a barefooted Severus splashing around in the water and mud. When she had suggested it, she was met with the most evil of glares.
The students return also meant the end to their using Severus' lab for their meetings. During term time, Severus would have office hours as well as detentions, and the seventh years usually had projects to monitor out of the usual class hours.
A thought occurred to Hermione as she contemplated their situation and how to continue in private. She remembered she had teased Severus about going for a swim in the Prefects' bathroom if he was so sure he was ready to 'jump right in', so to speak. Perhaps that was the answer? The Prefects' bath was equipped with not only a nearly Olympic sized pool, but showers and sinks. Yes, the perfect idea! Now to just talk him into it.
"No. Absolutely not," Severus growled his response as he shifted bottles of ingredients around. Hermione had cornered him in the student store cupboard to talk to him about her idea.
"And why not? It's perfect! We'll have privacy, there is everything we need. Why don't you want to?"
Severus slammed a box of lacewing flies down onto the shelf and stormed out of the cupboard, Hermione scurrying after him.
"Did it occur to you, Miss Granger, that there is a particular item in the prefect's bathroom that I might have an issue with?" he growled, enunciating each and every 'T' in his statement.
Hermione mentally slapped herself around the head when she heard him return to the use of her surname. "The pool," she said quietly.
He whirled around to face her, a sneer on his face. "Yes, and it is very much like a tub, very much bigger than a tub, and I don't think..."
"I see your point, Severus," Hermione said contritely. Her brain scrambled to find a way to make this work. "What if..."
"What if what?" Severus huffed.
"What if we put up a barrier around the pool to keep you from falling in? You could cast it yourself so that you would be sure of its strength. We could use the sinks there to continue your therapy and then move on to the showers. We could even progress to sitting at the edge of pool to dangle your legs in!" she said enthusiastically, a smile widely showing on her face.
Severus wanted to say no. He hated being cornered into situations—even if they were to his benefit—and he had spent twenty years being backed into corners. However, Hermione had wheedled her way into his life and, as he was coming to understand, his heart. He would deny her nothing, he knew it. Part of that came from his patent need to belong. Whether belonging to a person, group, or himself didn't matter, he only knew he could easily give himself to the woman now looking at him so compassionately. She truly did want to help him, he knew.
"I will try," he mumbled.
Hermione bounced over to him and bussed him on the cheek. "Thank you, Severus. I know it is not easy for you, but you are my friend, I want to help."
"When do you want to try again?"
"I have a detention on Saturday morning," he said. "We can go afterwards. I'll cast a deflection charm on the door before we enter to keep any students away."
"Oh, good idea!" Now that the next therapy session was settled, she looked around the room. "Do you have anything I can help you with?"
"No. Wait, yes I do."
Hermione should have been alerted by the silkiness of his voice, but she was still giddy about the therapy sessions and his willingness to do them and failed to notice the hint of evilness in his tone. "What do you need?" she asked.
"The student store cupboard needs to be cleaned and readied for lessons tomorrow. Perhaps I could have a hand? I was working on the left side; you could finish that up while I begin on the right side."
"Oh, I'd be happy to!"
"Remember, no magic."
"I know, I know," she huffed and entered the cupboard.
Severus waited a moment before he entered the cupboard. What he did not tell Hermione was that the left side of the cupboard tended to be the perfect nesting ground for spiders. He could hear her moving the phials around to wipe them off. A sudden shriek from the witch made him burst out laughing.
Hermione ran out of the cupboard yelling, "Get it off! Get it off!" Her hands flapped at imaginary spider and their webs, all the while frantically babbling and hopping up and down.
"Hold still!" Severus chuckled as he used his hand to wipe away the dust and cobwebs. "There are no spiders, Hermione."
"You are a rat!" She slapped him repeatedly on the chest. "You knew that corner of the cupboard was full of spider nests. I should have known by the tone of your voice!" She stamped her foot in frustration.
Severus continued to laugh, waving his hand in a gesture of dismissal. "Get along, Hermione. I can finish here. I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow."
Mumbling something about retribution, Hermione left the room, leaving behind a smiling Severus. He wondered if he would ever get the courage to tell her how much he cared about her or even loved her.
In the end, it was unbelievably easy to tell Hermione he loved her, and he was smugly pleased to hear her say she loved him too, even if everything was rather...wet.
They had been using the Prefect's bath for nearly two months, and Severus was doing well. He could easily wash his hands, arms, face, neck and legs. He and Hermione had become comfortable enough with each other for him to leave behind his usual wardrobe and wear swimming trunks.
Severus knew Hermione had hoped he would progress to a shower, but he was rather reluctant. Washing from a basin was one thing, but standing in or even under a spray of water was simply too much.
One afternoon, as the pair entered the bathroom for another session, Severus began to cast his barrier charm around the pool when Hermione tripped over some uneven flooring. She fell into Severus, causing the pair to land in a heap on the tile. Once the pair ascertained the other was all right, Severus finished his wards and began to remove his outer robe, revealing his swimming trunks.
Hermione was facing the shower as she undressed and decided today was the day Severus should finally enter the stall.
"C'mon, Severus. You could just step in with your trunks on. You wouldn't have to wash or anything, just stand there."
"No. I won't do it."
"What if I went in with you?" she asked innocently enough.
Severus' brain ceased to function momentarily as he tried to comprehend being in the small shower, nearly naked, with Hermione. He felt his cock react, and if that bit of his anatomy had had a larynx, it would have shouted 'yes, yes, yes!'
"Hermione, please," he implored. "I am not ready for a shower. Isn't it enough that I can handle washing in a basin? Haven't you noticed an improvement in my overall hygiene?"
"Well, of course I have and so have the others, but we still need to work on your hair. Cleansing charms leave it looking..."
"Greasy," he muttered.
Severus turned and walked away. He needed a moment to adjust his trunks and find a way to convince Hermione to not push him.
Hermione, in her eagerness, hurried after him, tripping for the second time over the uneven flooring. She again fell against Severus, but this time, instead of landing on the floor, the pair fell into the pool.
There was only the sound of the splashing water at first and then the yelling began. Severus flailed in the water, not knowing how to swim in addition to experiencing flashbacks of that pivotal moment when he was six years old.
Hermione watched in horror at first as she heard him screaming,"No, Father stop! Mum save me! Father no!"
She quickly gathered her wits and swam over to him. "Severus!" she hollered. "Severus, stand up. It's not deep here, you're feet can reach. It's me, Hermione! Severus!" He would not respond, pushing at her hands as she tried to grasp him and comfort him as well as bring him to the steps of the pool. Finally, because he was near hysterics, she slapped him hard in the face.
There was instant silence save for the dripping of water from their hair and arms. "Severus," Hermione said soothingly. "Severus, you're all right. I am right here beside you." Hermione put a hand on his arm, but did not wrap her fingers around him so that he would not feel as though he might be pushed under the water. She could feel the tension in his muscles, and he was breathing heavily.
"Can you feel your feet on the floor of the pool?" she asked. He mutely nodded. "Good. So that means you can control whether or not you stay in this pool. Look," she pointed toward the steps, "the steps are right there, only about twenty feet away. You can easily walk over to them and get out. I will walk beside you if you want."
Severus again nodded mutely. "But think about this while we walk, okay? You are fully wet for the first time since you were six. You are standing up, you are not drowning, and you are in total control. You weren't then. You didn't know how to be in control then, but now you do. You have control here, love. You can simply walk out of the pool."
Severus seemed suddenly less wooden and fearful. "Yes, I am in control, and I can walk out of here." He began to walk, although he was awkward about it never having even waded in a puddle before. He stopped just short of the steps. "It is rather nice, the water. It is warm, too."
"Yes, it is," Hermione answered, smiling.
"If I opted to just stay in here for a bit, would you stay with me?" he asked.
"Of course I would. Look, there's a ledge around the side of the pool that you can sit upon. The water should just come up about mid chest on you. Would you like to try sitting on it?"
Severus nodded. "Yes, I think I would like to try."
The pair waded over and Severus sat on the ledge first, Hermione standing to his side in case he needed help. When he was settled, Hermione sat next to him. She carefully watched him for signs of panic, but was delighted and indeed had to stifle a few giggles when he started to play with the water with his hands, making little splashing noises. Suddenly he stopped, and Hermione prepared for a flashback.
"You called me love," he said.
"Did I? When?"
"Just after you slapped me. You said 'you have control here, love'. Do you?"
"Do I what?" asked Hermione, her heart rate increasing. She had thought she kept this a secret from him.
Hermione looked fully into his eyes. They were hopeful looking. She knew then he wanted her answer to be yes, and she knew that for once in his life, he was about to get his wish. "Yes, I do. I have for quite a while, but I so cherished our friendship, I didn't want to ruin it even if you didn't feel the same way."
"I do feel the same way."
"You do?" she nearly squealed.
"Yes, I do." He looked away for a moment, gathering his thoughts before finally asking, "May I kiss you?"
Hermione shifted her body closer. "Yes, you may, Severus."
A first kiss is always a bit awkward, no matter how deliciously perfect it looks in a well rehearsed film or described in a perfectly executed romance novel. In reality, there's always a bit of 'do I keep my eyes open or not', 'what if he wants to use his tongue right away', or 'I hope our noses don't bump'. Nose bumping was inevitable given that Severus Snape was involved, but once the pair figured out the angle, their lips met and nature took over.
Once the kiss was over, the pair sat close, Severus' arm around Hermione's shoulder. The silence was enjoyable, but Hermione, being Hermione, addressed the final aspect of Severus' reintroduction to water; washing his hair. She gave him a quick kiss and ran her fingers through his hair. "May I wash your hair?"
"Well, since you seem to be all right with the water, I was wondering if I could wash your hair. It's really the last thing we need to help you with."
"I am not sure...I don't know how I would feel with having to lean down into the water and your hands on me."
Hermione thought for a moment. Her eyes were drawn toward the mermaid window through which she could see it was raining outside. With a flick of her wand, rain began to gently fall in the bathroom.
"Hermione, what are you doing? We're getting wet!" Severus said stupidly.
"We're already wet in case you hadn't notice. Just relax and tell me how you feel in a moment."
Severus leant back, Hermione snuggled next to him. He realized that all that was happening was his head was getting wet, but no other traumatic feelings surfaced.
"I suppose," he began carefully, "that we could try washing my hair, but I think I will do it. If I am controlling the action, perhaps I will not feel as though I would be pushed under the water."
"All right," said Hermione. "I believe that tap to your right has shampoo. Here is a cup." She snatched up her wand again and conjured a cup. "You'll be able to rinse your hair without putting your head under the water. I'm afraid the rain won't rinse it out unless I make it rain harder, and I don't think you're quite ready for that."
Hermione watched as Severus carefully washed his hair, probably for the first time ever. He worked the lather in and with the cup, rinsed out the suds. He had a moment of panic when the water sloshed down his face, but Hermione, quick again with her wand, cast in Impervious charm on his face and the water ran down the barrier of the charm instead of his face.
"Next time," Hermione offered, "tilt you head back and let the water rinse off that way. You would do the same in the shower, too."
"Thank you," he said, leaning in to give her cheek a kiss.
Hermione smiled widely and replied, "I'm getting all pruney. Shall we get out now? How about some tea in my quarters?"
"That sounds acceptable."
The pair got out of the pool and dressed. Making their way through the castle toward Hermione's quarters, they talked quietly about Severus' progress. It was agreed between them they would continue to use the Prefect's bath until such time Severus was able to shower completely on his own.
"Besides," Severus said, smirking as they reached the door to Hermione's quarters, "who wouldn't want to take a bath with such a lovely woman."
"Go on with you," Hermione giggled as she said the password. They entered the room, and Hermione shut the door only to be pushed against it and kissed passionately.
"You are beautiful; I do love you and thank you."
"You're very, very welcome," she whispered and pulled him in for another kiss.
The next staff meeting was filled with excited tension. The other professors were anxious to see how Hermione was getting along with Severus' problem. Heads turned as the pair entered the room together.
Hermione and Severus stood side by side, amused at the sight before them. The men and women around the table gaped, open mouthed.
What they could see was not only Hermione looking her usual tidy self, but also Severus who was, for the first time in their remembrance, clean. His hair was glossy and combed, his face finally free of the ever present greasy sheen they remembered. What they could not see was the pair holding hands as they stood. Severus robes were voluminous enough to cover their hands.
They strode to the table and took the empty seats next to each other. Professor Vector was to Severus' left. With as much cunning as she dared, she leaned slightly toward him and inhaled.
Her eyes widened, and she immediately turned to Flitwick, who sat across from her. With a slight nod of her head, he grimaced and rummaged in his waistcoat pocket, pulling out a galleon.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity as galleons and knuts changed hands. Hermione was shocked.
"Wait; what did you all bet on?"
Minerva was sheepish with her explanation. "We weren't sure you'd really do it, to be honest," she said. "We figured Severus would go along for a while and then toss you to the door."
"You bet on something this serious? You asked me to approach Severus, knowing full well he'd probably hex me dumb, and bet on it? Are you all mad?" Hermione was fuming.
"Hermione," Severus said. "It's all right. After all," he took Hermione's hand in his own, "look what it's brought us." He smiled down at the woman beside him. "Besides, it's tradition for the staff to wager on all sorts of things. As I recall, there was a wager in your sixth year about whether or not Miss Brown would succeed in her desire to snatch Mr. Weasley from you grasp."
Hermione huffed. "Well, that's all well and good, but—"
"Let it go," Severus said. "Let's get this meeting over with."
The meeting finished, and Severus and Hermione were the first to leave. As they left, they heard the other staff members excitedly talking and placing bets on when they would have their first fight, who would take the most points because of the fight and a few placed bets on when they would marry. Severus swept Hermione into his arms, laughing. "Who do you think will win that bet?"
Hermione laughed. "Who cares!"
Still holding Hermione in his arms, he began to walk toward the fourth floor. "Let's go have a bath, shall we?"