CHAPTER 3: Overture
It seemed as if Hermione blinked and it was the end of October. A silent chill had fallen over the normally drafty dungeons and the wind whipped over the grounds. It was a week to Halloween, a holiday Hermione had once enjoyed with her friends. She smiled sadly as she remembered her first year and getting trapped in the girl’s toilet with a mountain troll. Then came the memories of second year and Nearly Headless Nick’s terribly depressing Death-day party. Her smile faded as she realized there would be no more memories of Harry and Ron in the castle. The chill of the room settled down to her bones, making her feel more alone than ever before.
Hermione was sitting at the desk in her office late one afternoon and grading essays when she heard a reluctant knock on the door. It was open and it was unusual for someone to knock rather than simply let themselves inside. She waved her hand at the door absently in a gesture for whomever it was to come in. A chill ran down her spine when she heard a velvet voice speak from near the door.
“The Headmaster would like me to inform you that there is a meeting tonight in the staff room after dinner,” Snape purred as he gazed around his former office.
Gone were his multitude of preserved specimens that lined the walls. It appeared Hermione had given the shelves a good scrub before filling them with a plethora of books on a thousand different subjects. Muggle and magical alike, they lined three walls of the room from floor to ceiling. A warm, welcoming fire crackled in the hearth while the clock ticked soothingly. The room was brighter than he had ever managed to make it and it seemed so inviting. It looked like a gentle, loving person lived here and not an overgrown, sour bat.
Snape let his eyes travel back to Hermione to take in her form. He saw the shiver that ran through her and promptly dismissed it as the cold dungeon air. The light that filled the room seemed to collect in her chocolate curls and made her look as if she wore a halo. Her honey eyes drifted slowly up from the page she was grading to fix on him. She twirled her quill between her fingers; the feathered tip brushing her cheek every few rounds. She smiled faintly.
“Thank you,” she mumbled as she took in his tall, lean form resting lazily against the inside doorframe. His hair still looked greasy from her distance but it looked as if it were fuller somehow. It didn’t lay lank and dull against his head. A few strands still fell forward enough to shield his eyes, those eyes that could see straight through her.
That was when it hit her; Severus Snape had gotten a haircut! Not a trim, not an abysmal homegrown attempt to do something with his infamous locks, a right proper haircut. Was it that way when she had arrived in August? She couldn’t quite remember. She had been far too nervous about seeing him again that she hadn’t taken much time to notice how he looked. Hermione felt herself blush as Snape shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny.
“I shall see you at dinner them, Mi-…um, Professor Granger,” he said as steadily as he could muster. He turned on his heel and began to leave as he heard her small, unsure voice behind him. He turned just in time to see her smile, the first genuine smile he’d seen from her since she arrived. He felt his heart began to melt and his chest tighten from the sad beauty of it. How could I have been angry with her? he thought. She was so young, I never should have…
“Yes, I will see you at dinner…Severus,” she managed, mustering up a warm smile. He was speaking to her again, full sentences that meant something, even if it was from across the room. It was enough. She could smile, if only just for him.
Snape was in a less foul mood as he took his seat at the High Table that night. Perhaps it had been worth Dumbledore badgering him into taking her the message about the meeting. Her smile had been worth it; that smile that made his heart pound a little harder in his chest. That smile that made her sad honey eyes light up. If she had asked him for the moon at the instant when he saw her smile, he would have used every ounce of magic in his body to give it to her.
“Evening, Severus,” Dumbledore said as he took his seat a few chairs from Snape. “Delivered that message, I trust?”
The old man’s blue eyes twinkled when Snape sneered at him. “Of course, Headmaster. Professor Granger will be in attendance.”
Speaking of the angel, Snape thought wistfully as Hermione came through the doors of the Great Hall. Her eyes looked red and swollen, as if she had been crying. Snape’s chest tightened at the sight and he suppressed the urge to go and embrace her. He nodded to her stiffly as she passed in front of him to get to her seat. She graced him with another gentle, yet sad, smile.
“Ah, there we go,” Dumbledore said jovially. “First smile I’ve seen from her since she got here! Maybe she’s finally starting to adjust.”
Snape grunted as the students began filing into the Great Hall for dinner. A few seats away, Dumbledore was grinning madly and his blue eyes were twinkling in Snape’s direction. Oh, that can’t mean anything good, Snape thought as the murmuring in the hall rose to a deafening pitch of formless noise. Benches scrapped against the stone floor, girls squealed, and boys with varying degrees of cracking voices speculated about the Quidditch match set for the next weekend. The teachers were mumbling between themselves about having duty for the Hogsmeade trip tomorrow.
Snape smirked. I do enjoy listening to their misery. I have the day off and intend on taking advantage of the absence of these dunderheads. Ah, a relaxing day with a few good potions journals in a quiet corner of the Library. And maybe some tea service, Dobby does make an outstanding honey and lemon tea. Now if only I could get that irritating hawk Pince to leave me be!
The noise level of the hall began to fade as dinnertime approached. Hundreds of expectant eyes turned to the gold plates on the long House tables. Snape stared out over the hall, wishing like hell it were tomorrow morning already. With the noise level dropping to a dull roar, Snape could now hear voices from down the High Table. It was Professor McGonagall and Hermione.
“Albus and I thought you had enough on your plate right now without having to worry about Hogsmeade duty, Hermione,” McGonagall was saying. “You just get adjusted and then we’ll see about getting you on Hogsmeade duty next term.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Hermione answered sadly. “I feel bad about it though. I really don’t mind if you need me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, dear, but I doubt we’ll need you. You just enjoy your day off. And, do call me Minerva, you’re not a student anymore.” Professor McGonagall patted Hermione’s hand affectionately and turned her attentions to the headmaster, who was beginning to speak.
Snape allowed his mind to wander as Dumbledore began giving out notices about the Hogsmeade trip. It was the usual blather about which places were out of bounds and how the students were supposed to behave. Snape had heard this speech a hundred times. He settled himself comfortably in his seat and tried as slyly as he could to sneak a peek at Hermione. She doesn’t have duty either, he thought as he stared covertly at those sad honey eyes. Perhaps she would like some help marking those papers. Or maybe she’s running low on potions for Poppy or her own personal stores. Hmm, maybe I should ask her tonight at the meeting. Maybe we could work on something together to-…
Snape’s thoughts froze as Dumbledore’s words began to seep through his ears. “As you all know, next Friday is Halloween and I have decided to try something a little different for you all. On Halloween night, we will have a ball and not just any ball. We will be having a costume ball,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling with delight. “Everyone is invited to attend, in costume. The ball will last from seven to midnight and there will be a light dinner served. I have spoken to Professor McGonagall and she has agreed to spend the first class with each of you next week teaching you how to transfigure your normal robes into whatever costume you desire. If you continue to have trouble, I’m sure your Head of House would be more than willing to help you. And now, tuck in!”
At his end of the table, Snape looked like the first student who asked him for help creating a costume would get hexed six ways to Sunday. Immediately his mind began turning at a monstrous speed. Somehow, he had an idea as to why Dumbledore had called the staff meeting for later that night. Damn that man, he thought as he speared a piece of roast beef on the end of his fork. If he thinks I’m going to show up to this damn excuse to let the students gallivant around he’s finally gone off his fucking rocker.
No sooner had the door shut on the staff room a few hours later than Snape began ranting at Dumbledore at the top of his lungs. “Albus, you’ve gone off the bloody deep end! If you think for one solitary second that I am going to attend this blasted thing, you’re sorely mistaken.” Snape was livid and it wasn’t helping his temper that Dumbledore was grinning at him like that. “What, pray tell, is so funny?”
“Perhaps I have lost my mind, my boy, but I am assured that you will attend the Halloween ball. You see I am requiring all of the faculty to attend…” his eyes twinkled maddeningly, “…in costume.”
Snape was seeing red. He glared around the room, looking for someone else to object to this humiliating demand. Sinistra was looking out the window, carefully avoiding his eyes. Flitwick was bouncing on the balls of his feet in glee. McGonagall was trying desperately to hide a grin behind her hand. Dumbledore was staring at him with those damned twinkling eyes. Finally, his eyes fell on Hermione, who was leaning up against the mantelpiece and staring into the fire.
“Surely you see the absurdity of this…ah, Prof-…Hermione,” he said desperately.
Hermione turned toward him at the sound of her name. She smiled softly at him and looked into his flashing ebony eyes. She felt as if she could get lost in those eyes, if only she could get close enough. They could draw her in and hold her captive for the rest of her life and she wouldn’t fight it. She cleared her throat and murmured, “I think it’s a wonderful idea, Headmaster.”
Snape ground his teeth and turned away from them all. She was his one chance of making Dumbledore see how preposterous this idea was. Alone again taunted that annoying voice in the back of his head. He threw up his hands and sank angrily into a chair in the corner. “Fine, I’ll attend but only because I’m being forced. But don’t expect much.”
Hermione wanted to go to him and try to convince him that it could be fun to be someone different for a night. But something in those eyes held her back. She tried to force a smile for him and, as lightheartedly as she could muster, said, “I suppose a smile would be all the costume you would need, Severus.”
The words were no sooner out of her mouth than she knew she shouldn’t have said them. The other teachers were either trying desperately to stifle their laughter or they were doubled over in it, clutching their ribs. Snape was glaring at her, those eyes dark, merciless and cold. His posture stiffened and he crossed his arms over his chest, closing himself off. Tears tickled her eyes as Hermione turned away from him and found herself being watched by Professor McGonagall.
Dumbledore stood from his chair and tapped the side of his crooked nose, where the faint remnant of his battle scar was still visible. “Well, apparently you all now know why I asked you here in the first place. I am asking you all to be in attendance for the Halloween ball next Friday and to be in costume. I do not care what or who you dress as, that is, as long as it is appropriate to wear in front of the students. And if any of you feel as Severus does on the matter, then I suppose I shall have to be blunt. I ask out of politeness. However, I expect everyone to be in attendance for the entire ball. Now, if there are no questions, you are free to go about your evening as you so desire.”
With that, Dumbledore turned to hold the door open for the rest of the staff as they exited the staff room. Within a few minutes, only three others remained in the room besides Dumbledore. Snape was still sitting in his corner pouting like a spoiled child. Hermione was staring into the fire, wondering why she opened her mouth. Professor McGonagall was looking sadly at Hermione, her mind turning as to how to bridge the obvious rift between Hermione and Snape.
“Minerva, I suggest that we leave Severus to his little tantrum,” Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye. He held out his hand to McGonagall and waited for her to join him. It took him a moment to notice that her eyes were darting between Snape in his corner and Hermione, who was nervously twitching as if she wanted to get out the door quickly.
“I am not having a tantrum!” Snape thundered as he shot up from his chair. The sound of his angry bellows made Hermione jump. She didn’t want to be in the same room with him. She wanted to get out and go back to her room. She wanted to sob until she couldn’t breathe. Hermione turned swiftly from the fireplace and made a beeline for the open door… just as Snape was striding toward Dumbledore.
They met in a flurry of robes and angry curses. Snape quickly lost his balance and tried to grab onto Hermione’s shoulders for support, but gravity had already done its work. His foot slipped on the hem of his cloak and he lost whatever grip he had on her. He fell swiftly and landed face first on the stone floor with a sickening crunch.
Snape groaned and rolled onto his back, his hands coming up to cover his nose. Blood poured between his fingers and dripped down onto his black robes. He struggled to sit up before he choked on his own blood and glared at Hermione, who was standing above him dumbfounded. A long string of curses came out of Snape’s mouth. “Of all the damned, stupid, mother fucking, spawn of hell…”
Dumbledore tried to hide a grin as he squatted next to Snape, who was now sitting upright next to a pool of blood on the floor. “Move your hands and let me see. Oh, come on, Severus. Stop being a great child and let me see!” He struggled with Snape for a moment before he could get him to drop his bloodstained hands to his lap. Dumbledore looked at his dripping nose carefully before snorting slightly with laughter. “Well, my boy, I think you have broken your nose…again! Come on, up you go. I’ll take you up to Poppy, I’m sure she’ll set it without asking too many questions.”
With that, Dumbledore led a very reluctant Snape out of the staff room. As they made their way down the corridor, Hermione and McGonagall could still hear Snape cursing at the top of his voice. The two women grinned grimly at each other before McGonagall reached out to take the younger witch into a gentle hug. Hermione collapsed against the older woman’s chest and began to sob with all of her heart.
“Oh, my dear Hermione, what’s the matter?” McGonagall murmured as she soothed Hermione’s curls. “Please tell me, dearest.”
Hermione pulled back from the older witch’s grasp and swiped at her swollen eyes. “I’m a terrible person. The things I’ve done to that man… I don’t see how he could ever forgive me.”
McGonagall tried to stifle a laugh. “It’s just a broken nose, Hermione. I daresay Severus has had quite a few before this. He’ll be fine. Poppy will set him to rights.” She stared at Hermione as she wandered back over to the fireplace. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Hermione gave a short nod and buried her face in her hands. “I did a terrible thing to him before I left school. He came to me at the victory celebration and he… Oh, Minerva, I said terrible, horrible things to him. The things I said, they were worse than anything Ron and Harry could ever have said. I laughed at him! The look on his face, it has haunted me ever since. I see it all the time and I just want to cry for the evil things I said to him.”
She trailed off, staring into the grate. McGonagall’s mind began working in overdrive, trying to remember anything she could about that day. “Sometimes, I think that if I had treated him differently, if I had made different choices that day, my life wouldn’t be the way it is. His life wouldn’t be like it is. We would both be different people,” Hermione continued, swiping at her eyes again. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. What’s done is done and I only have myself to blame.”
McGonagall embraced the young girl again. She couldn’t remember if Severus had ever said anything about his exchange with Hermione at the victory celebration. Goodness, it had been three years since then. It must have been something, though, if it haunted Hermione’s every thought. The poor girl, McGonagall thought sadly. “There must be something you can do, Hermione. Go and talk to him, I’m sure the two of you can come to some agreement.”
“He’ll never let me near him now, Minerva. He’ll never listen to anything I have to say.” Hermione’s sobs came anew as she clung to McGonagall.
“If you care enough to cry over it, Hermione, I’m positive you care enough to make him listen to you. Albus does it all the time. Sooner or later, Severus will thank you for it.”
Madame Pomfrey looked as if she wanted to laugh when Dumbledore brought Snape up to the hospital wing to have his nose reset. The younger wizard had sank onto a bed near the back of the room and waited for the mediwitch to work her wonders. It didn’t take much, just a quick incantation and a sharp tap on the nose with her wand. Madame Pomfrey cleaned the blood from his face and robes and conjured up a bag of ice for him to put on his nose.
He sneered as he felt the bump on the bridge of his nose. “Damn that clumsy girl!”
Dumbledore smiled softly and patted Snape’s back. “It was an accident, Severus. Things like this happen.”
Snape turned his dark ebony eyes on Dumbledore and practically growled at him. “I think you need to learn to mind your own business, Albus.”
Madame Pomfrey bustled back over to Snape’s bedside and checked his nose one final time. “Everything has set back fine, Severus. You can go whenever you feel like it.”
“Thank you, Poppy,” he mumbled, looking as if he were twelve again. Madame Pomfrey smiled; remembering the first time James Potter had broken his nose in a fistfight. Snape stood and made his way to the door, Dumbledore dead on his heels.
“Apologize to the girl,” Dumbledore said as he fell into step beside Snape. “Open up and let her talk to you. It’s the only way you two are ever going to get past whatever is sitting between you. You have to let your guard down sometime, Severus.”
Snape wheeled around and stood nose to nose with Dumbledore. He sneered and clutched his hands into fists at his sides. “I DID!” he bellowed. “I opened up to her once, I let my guard down. And the wench laughed in my face. I’m not the one who should apologize! I WILL NOT DEAL WITH IT AGAIN!”
With that, Snape stormed away from the headmaster toward his rooms. Damn if I go down to see her now, he seethed. I’m going soft. One smile and I’m ready to forget that she ripped every ounce of pride I had to pieces. Bring on the potions journals and the biggest fucking bottle of Firewhiskey in Hogsmeade!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Chapter 3…I hope you like it. I thought I’d whet your appetite just a little about the victory celebration. I promise that I’ll get everything out in the open about the celebration in Chapter 4, which I will start on as soon as possible. Anybody want to venture a guess as to what happened? Oh, and the inspiration for this chapter is the song from the Phantom of the Opera movie that plays when they lift the chandelier up at the beginning of the movie. See you in a few days! Please review!!!
You Are Not Alone by ladysnarky