Salut, mes chers lecteurs, comment ca va? So as you can probably guess, I've taken time out from my French revision to write this. My exams start in about a week, so yeah, things are getting a little hectic now, but I was missing this story and all of you – not to mention I just needed a break. :) I just want to quickly thank those of you who reviewed last chapter, and especially those of you who were really understanding about my revision and stuff, and who wished me luck. I really appreciate the support, so thank you – you get free chocolate frogs on me. :D Anyway, here's the next chapter, I hope you enjoy it! And it's refreshingly cliff-hanger free. :P
Disclaimer – Harry Potter is not mine, and nor will it ever be. Although I am going on the studio tour at the end of June! :D
Chapter 46 – Round Two
The words didn't hang, but sliced through the air – sharp and sudden and shocking. Hermione stared at him, looking as though she had just slammed face first into an invisible brick wall. Her eyes were wide, lips parted in surprise. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew her lungs were yearning for new oxygen, but she didn't quite feel capable of inhaling just yet. The breath was caught in her throat and her muscles had frozen up, making breathing impossible. If ever there was a moment that Hermione truly wanted the ground to swallow her up, it was this one. Anything could happen, anything at all. So long as she didn't have to answer his question.
What made it worse was that he didn't even look like he was enjoying this. There was no smirk on his lips, no dark glitter in his eyes. He looked deadly serious. At least if there was some indication of torture in his face this would be easier – she could be angry at him, avoid the question, shout at him instead. But no. This was the face of a man who wanted an answer, and who wasn't going to walk away without one.
I want to know why you kissed me.
Hermione couldn't help it. It wasn't a habit she indulged often, but just this once, she said the first thing that came to her lips.
Severus spoke slowly and clearly, measuring his words the way someone speaking to a small child might do when explaining something they don't understand. "It's a simple enough request, Miss Granger, and I refuse to believe that your hearing has become severely impaired within the past few minutes. I want to know why you kissed me."
"Stop doing that," she snapped, passing a hand tersely across her forehead, turning slightly so that she could avoid his gaze, avoid looking at him.
"Stop doing what?"
"Swapping and changing. One minute it's 'Miss Granger', then it's 'Granger', then out of the blue it's 'Hermione', and then you're back to 'Miss Granger' again. It's annoying."
There was a moment of silence, in which Severus did nothing but raise an eyebrow in slight incredulity. And then he said, very simply, and almost gently, "Stop avoiding the question…Hermione."
His tone caught her by surprise. He sounded almost…patient? That wasn't quite the right word, but it was close enough. Her head was spinning; nothing was making sense. He couldn't just ask her that out of the blue, he couldn't just… She sighed and pushed her hands into her hair, wishing it wasn't up in a ponytail so that it could hide her face. She felt vulnerable, exposed.
Inside, she felt ice cold, and she was sure her body was shaking but when she looked down at herself she was steady. Her stomach was churning and for a fleeting moment she thought about apparating away, before she dismissed the idea as quickly as it had crossed her mind, almost angry at herself for thinking it. She wasn't a coward – far from it. She had helped defeat Lord Voldemort, for God's sakes, she wasn't going to run away from a conversation with Severus Snape.
She heard, rather than saw, him take a step towards her. He spoke again, in that voice that was remarkably patient and calm.
Merlin how she loved and hated the way her name sounded on his tongue. She bit her lip, exhaled.
"I don't know, Severus," she said, still snappy. She still couldn't look him in the eye, either, or even at him at all. She was stood looking down at the floor, one hand at her forehead as though trying to shield her face from view. "I… I did it to shut you up, to make a point, to – I don't know. I was trying to-to…" Her voice faded away as the words vanished and slipped away from her with a sigh.
"You were trying to what?"
"I don't know!" Hermione wheeled round to face him again now, lips pulled into a tight line to stop them from trembling. She felt the irrational need to cry building up inside her and repressed it. If there was one thing in the world she didn't want to do, it was cry in front of him. She had done that once, and that was what had got them here in the first place. That and kissing him like…
"I was trying to prove a…" She sighed, shaking her head again. There were lines making creases in her forehead and she felt almost outside herself, like she couldn't quite believe they were actually having this conversation. "You can't just ask me this out of the blue," she said, trying but failing to stare him down. She averted her gaze again after just a few seconds.
"You were trying to prove a point?" Severus asked, staring blankly at her. He cocked his head on one side, eyes narrowed a little, as though trying to figure her out. "And what point was that?"
By this time, Hermione felt herself on the verge of tears, and she wasn't even sure she knew why. She just knew she had to push them back, had to swallow over the iron lump in her throat that was making it hard to breathe steadily. Her hands were visibly shaking, and she brought them up to bury her face in them, wiping her face as though trying to dispel the stress there.
"I don't know… We were arguing, and I just felt so… angry, Severus." She looked up at him, and suddenly found that she could hold his gaze again. She swallowed and took a deep breath.
"You were being so frustrating, you apologised but you wouldn't even explain why you had started acting like you hated me again in the first place! You'd treated me like shit for days and then all of a sudden you were apologising and expecting me to forget about it, I didn't know – I still don't ever know what to make of you. You don't explain anything, or let anyone in… I had thought that… That you were opening up, just a little bit… We were working together and I don't know, it was kind of good, I enjoyed it… But you wouldn't believe me when I said that. It was like you had just crawled back into this cage again where you were nothing but snarky and surly with me and I had no idea what I'd done wrong to make you act that way again! I wanted to work with you, Severus, I wanted it to work. And it frustrated me that you found that so hard to believe."
There was a long silence as Severus took all of her words in, stunned and wordless as he processed the sudden outpouring of thought. She was looking at him with a hint of desperation in her eyes – exasperation, too. A feeling was starting to dawn on him; a feeling that said he somehow was starting to understand what it was that had passed between them in the hotel room in Johannesburg, what she had been feeling.
Frowning, he asked: "And so, by kissing me, you were… What? Making a point? Trying to gain the upper hand?"
His eyebrows were raised expectantly, waiting for an answer. He tried not to think about the fact that the idea that maybe she just kissed him to get one over on him, to end their argument… that idea hurt him, somehow. He wasn't sure why, wasn't sure he liked that fact either.
"No!" Hermione exclaimed, hands gesturing now. "Yes! I – No, I… I don't know." She slumped again, arms falling to her sides. Her frustration was evident in both her face and her tone of voice. She took a deep breath and thought for a moment, closing her eyes. Her stomach was churning more than ever and she felt like she might pass out, the emotional turmoil going around and around her head like a whirlwind she couldn't control.
"I wasn't thinking straight, but… I suppose I was trying to make you feel something other than what you seemed to have convinced yourself you were only capable of feeling – all that bitterness and anger and damn snarkiness. I was desperate, and tired, and angry and… I don't know, in my exasperated head I thought… I thought that kissing you was the best way to do that."
Even to her own ears, she sounded like an idiot. Sighing and bringing a weary hand up to her face, Hermione turned away from him again, so that she didn't have to see his reaction. He had been remarkably calm for the past ten minutes, and she was just waiting for him to start shouting. She felt exhausted – like she could happily fall asleep right there and then and never wake up.
Severus stared at her – or rather, at the back of her head, bent at the neck as though trying to shelter from the world – from him. He frowned. She had been trying to… to make him feel something? To prove that maybe he didn't have to spend his life living in hatred and anger?
Sweet Merlin, he thought. If only she knew just how much she had made him feel, not just by kissing him, but… everything.
And he had to give her credit. She hadn't run away, like he had half expected her to. She had stayed, had faced his question with courage.
But then, what else did he expect of her, really? She would never risk being called a coward, not ever.
She heard his footsteps come about two steps closer, but didn't turn around. Pausing, Severus wondered if he should move closer, and then decided against it and stayed where he was. His expression was made of stone, blank as ever. He didn't know how to deal with this, didn't know if he could deal with this. But then, he had asked for it, hadn't he? He had been a bastard towards her and then…
He wasn't used to being particularly nice.
"Hermione, I…" He sighed – told himself that he could do this. Hell, if he couldn't be nice to her, especially now, then he never would be able to be any semblance of 'nice' to anyone. He tried again.
"Hermione, I'm sorry."
The sentence felt rusty and strange on his tongue, but once it was out, he couldn't take it back in. His voice was low, sincere and serious. She still didn't turn around.
"For what?" He saw her shrug. "You kissed me back, but I still kissed you. It's my fault, I shouldn't have done it because now…"
"I'm sorry for not explaining," he said, wishing she would just turn around and look him in the eye. Or maybe not. Maybe that would make it harder. He purposely avoided any mention of him kissing her back. He wasn't ready to discuss that, and didn't think she was either. Whatever 'discuss that' meant.
He didn't have time to work it out anyway because at that, she turned around – slowly, almost hesitantly, as though she wasn't sure what she would see once she had. When she was facing him, she looked up, chewing on her bottom lip, eyes uncertain.
"For not explaining why I treated you in the way I did." Severus felt awkward; he wasn't used to apologies, and he was even less used to explaining his actions. But there was something in her face, in her eyes, that encouraged him. He needed to do this, otherwise… Otherwise he really was going to lose her. And he only realised now that that wasn't something he wanted to happen. For once in his life, Severus had something he wanted to hold onto; somehow, even though he wasn't sure he'd ever exactly had hold of it in the first place. And that idea scared the hell out of him, but there it was.
"Are you going to explain now?" Hermione asked, still chewing on her bottom lip and feeling utterly stunned and exhausted. He was apologising to her. And he looked so… Not guilty, but remorseful? She was too tired to think of the right word, too emotionally drained.
There was a pause, and some of the blankness returned to Severus' expression, as though the wall was coming back up again. After a moment, he shook his head. Apologising was one thing, but telling her that… That… Hell he couldn't even think it, let alone say it.
She instantly frowned at him, mouth opening in protest.
"Not yet," he said quickly, voice serious.
He nodded once, quite stiffly. "Not yet." He paused, deliberating. He wasn't sure if this next move was a good idea or not.
Severus had two options open to him. He could tell her that this was enough, that that was all he wanted to know and that he was happy now to leave it. They could each carry on with their lives, forget all about the research they had been working on, and that would be that. A year ago – hell, just a few months ago – there wouldn't have been a choice. He would have walked away without a backward glance. But something inside him said that the second option – to let her back into his life again, to try and go back to being research partners once more, would be so much better.
He was frightened, and unsure, and he didn't like it.
But he liked the first option even less.
He took a breath and looked at her – saw that she was frowning slightly at him, trying to work out what exactly was going on in his head.
"I still need an assistant," he said eventually, his tone almost business-like. Hermione sensed that the emotional part of the conversation was over and almost breathed an audible sigh of relief. She still felt exhausted, and completely drained, but for some reason there was a feeling of happiness settling over her and her stomach had stopped churning.
He had apologised. Severus Snape had apologised. And no he still hadn't explained the reasons for his behaviour, but… Maybe, maybe he would, in time. All she had to do was start helping him again, working with him.
"I'll… I'll be on your doorstep at nine o'clock sharp tomorrow?" She said, phrasing it almost like a question, but she couldn't help the faint hint of a smile that briefly graced her lips.
Severus nodded, and smirked. It wasn't a cruel smirk though, or a sneer. It was…satisfied. "Don't be late. We have a lot of work to do."
"I won't be," she promised. "I'll…see you tomorrow then."
He nodded curtly again, and then left. For a few moments after he was gone, Hermione stayed standing where she was, stunned beyond all comprehension. She wanted to lie down and run over their entire conversation again in her head in order to properly work out what had just happened, but she was too tired. Right now, what she needed was sleep. And then in the morning, a shower and a proper breakfast.
She had work to do.
Whew… I can't tell you how emotionally drained *I* feel now. I've literally just written this all in one go, which I didn't sit down expecting to do, so there you have it. I really hope this is okay and all in character – I always try my best, but there does have to be some sort of progression and character growth in order for them to eventually come together. I really hope it comes off as that and not just as OOC-ness, but please do let me know either way. Thank you for reading, and be honest in your reviews!