For all that Snape's reputation had him as a mean, nasty teacher, he was being remarkably patient, waiting quietly as Hermione hiccupped in his office, still distressed and upset over the dementor discussion in Lupin's office and Harry's words.
It took a couple minutes for Hermione to completely calm down. She made herself take several deep breaths, even focusing on her magic, though she wasn't casting anything. Focusing on her magic had long become a way to calm her emotions before a ritual, and it worked the same here, helping to slow her thoughts and mind. After a bit, she opened her eyes again, and Snape was waiting patiently.
Hermione took a deep breath.
"The coven and I," Hermione began. "That is to say, the coven – I'm part of it, after all – we were all—"
"Your diction is fine," Snape said, rolling his eyes. "Don't worry about being proper. Just spit it out."
"We were learning the Patronus charm with Professor Lupin," Hermione said, managing to keep her voice even. "After the lesson today, Harry asked Professor Lupin what's under a Dementor's hood."
An expression flitted across Snape's face, too quick for Hermione to catch it.
"Did Professor Lupin answer Potter's inane little question?" he sneered.
She took a shaky breath.
"He did," Hermione said steadily. "He then told Harry how—how Sirius Black's been condemned to the Dementor's Kiss, should he be caught. And Harry—Harry said—"
Snape was watching her curiously now, his eyes narrowed.
"—that he thought he deserved it!" she finished, her tone no longer calm. "That he deserved to have his soul destroyed!"
Snape's eyes glittered.
"And I take it you do not feel Black deserves such a fate?" he asked silkily.
"I don't think anyone deserves it!" Hermione said. She could feel tears gather in the corners of her eyes again, and she dashed them away, frustrated. "It's not a question of deserving, it's a question of ethics and morality!"
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Explain."
Haltingly, Hermione did, the entire explanation pouring out.
Snape's face remained impassive as Hermione went on about souls, the afterlife, ghosts, and how the destruction of the soul was the worst, most evil magical act that could ever be done. His eyes flashed when she mentioned Sirius Black, but she couldn't help it, arguing that no one – no one – should have the power to destroy someone's soul.
Snape's eyes were narrowed in thought when she finished, and she took a moment to steady herself, catching her breath.
"If dementors exist, Miss Granger," Snape said, "and they are evolved to swallow the soul—"
"They're not," Hermione objected. "Professor, dementors are made beings. The Dark wizard Ekrizdis created them out of the muggle sailors he lured to his island – the place that is Azkaban now. Dementors aren't natural, Professor – they're just evil."
Snape raised an eyebrow.
"You seem to know a lot about Dark wizards now, Miss Granger," he commented. "Something I should worry about?"
"I know a lot about dementors, Professor," Hermione retorted. "Given the evil wraiths are surrounding the castle and invaded the school grounds during a Quidditch game, I think such concern is warranted. Don't you?"
A smirk flickered on Snape's lips.
"So the Ministry is evil, then," Snape said succinctly. "You believe the use of dementors to be unethical and evil, and the capital punishment of the Dementor's Kiss to be an unspeakably evil act."
"Yes," Hermione said viciously. "And I can't believe Harry actually supports it…"
"What would you do, then, instead of Black receiving the kiss?" Azkaban?" Snape asked. "He cannot be returned to Azkaban – he would escape again. Would you rather just have him killed, Miss Granger?"
"Throw him in Nurmengard," Hermione said quickly. "They've got Grindelwald locked up in there, don't they? Surely there's room for another."
Snape raised an eyebrow.
"Another Dark wizard you know about," he commented, and Hermione groaned.
"That's not even fair," she objected. "That's practically on the back of Dumbledore's chocolate frog card! Everyone knows that."
"I believe Dumbledore used Grindelwald's own magic at Nurmengard to seal him there, trapping him in his own fortress," he told her. "I don't believe it would work for another."
"Then we'd do something," Hermione protested. "But professor – surely you can see how unspeakably evil the Dementor's Kiss truly is?"
Snape's eyes darkened.
"I do not disagree with you," Snape told her. "It is an unbelievably cruel act, to destroy the soul. And yet—"
He broke off, looking into space, and Hermione gaped at him.
"You think it's evil, and you want it to happen to him anyway," she said flatly. "You want his soul destroyed anyway."
Snape gave her a curt look. "Miss Granger—"
"No. You do," she cut him off, her temper flaring. "Go ahead – deny it. Tell me you don't want Sirius Black to receive the Kiss."
Snape glared at her, saying nothing, and Hermione clutched her head, shaking it.
"I can't believe this!" she despaired. "You actually believe he deserves it – you would actually condemn a man to have his soul destroyed because he was your childhood bully—"
The change in Snape was immediate. His head jerked towards her, his eyes narrowed to slits, his eyes glittering dangerously, and the change in aura around him made it feel like the room itself had gone cold.
"What do you know about that?" he demanded, his voice deadly.
Hermione sniffed, uncowed.
"Nothing," she spat. "It was a guess, honestly. But it doesn't take a genius to see that you loathe Lupin, and it's hardly difficult to look Lupin up in the yearbooks and see Lupin, Black, and James Potter all hanging out together in the photos, and to see that you were in their year, too. And combined with your loathing of Harry, telling him how arrogant his father was – it hardly required a leap of faith."
Snape's face contorted for a moment; Hermione could tell he was furious at himself for giving anything away.
"Black—" Snape broke off, frustrated, and he grappled for words for a moment. Expressions and emotions warred across his face, and Hermione watched quietly, still sniffing and rubbing at her nose. When Snape's expression settled, it was hard, but his eyes were glinting.
"I will tell you this," Snape told her, his voice quiet and deadly, "because you have already figured out the general idea, but not the specifics. The specifics may change your mind, or help you understand." His eyes glittered. "In exchange, you are not to breathe a word of this to another soul. Do you understand?"
Hermione's eyes widened. She hadn't expected this.
"I won't breathe a word of it to another soul," she promised. "I will keep your secrets, Professor."
Snape regarded her for a long moment, before pinching the bridge of his nose.
"What do you know of Professor Lupin, Miss Granger?" he asked.
"I know he's a werewolf, if that's what you're looking for," she offered cautiously. "I thought I indicated as much when you were substitute teaching…"
"That's right; you did." Snape's voice was suddenly resigned. "You were trying to goad me into outright telling you to try to slay Lupin."
Hermione's lips quirked, but she didn't deny it.
"As you know, Remus Lupin was in my year at Hogwarts," Snape told her, his hands steepled. His eyes were dark, glittering. "What you may not know is that he was a werewolf even then, having been bitten as a child."
Hermione gasped. She'd presumed he'd gotten bitten after graduation as an adult, while he was out fighting Dark creatures or something. Snape nodded grimly.
"Dumbledore, in his infinite mercy, decided it wasn't right to deny a child his education, regardless of the reason." His expression darkened. "However – this was before Wolfsbane was created. There was no docile, human-minded version of Lupin to be found on the nights of the full moon – merely a raging, bloodthirsty monster."
Hermione looked at Snape with wide eyes, horrified.
"But—the other students—" Hermione couldn't find the words. "How could Dumbledore—?"
"Oh, Dumbledore thought he had mitigated that risk well enough," Snape said darkly. "A secret passage on the grounds leads to the Shrieking Shack. Once a month, Lupin was led to the Shrieking Shack to transform, where he couldn't escape or hurt anyone, and Madame Pomfrey would go back in the morning to retrieve him when it was safe once more."
Hermione recalled the Shrieking Shack, when she'd seen it up close – a decaying, creepy house with boarded-up windows and no doors, as if no one was ever supposed to go in or out.
"Potter and Black were best friends with Lupin, along with another boy called Pettigrew," Snape said flatly. "Together, they bullied me and were absolutely awful to me my entire Hogwarts career."
"Why?" Hermione asked. "Why did they bully you?"
Snape's face tightened.
"Why do bullies bully anyone?" he said lightly, though his eyes flashed. "They invented reasons, in the beginning. Later, they pretended to justify it by spreading rumors that I was going Dark. Of course, their bullying pushed me closer to Dark magic than anything else ever had…"
Hermione's eyes widened. Snape's lips twisted.
"One day, Black was goading me about something or other," he went on, his voice dark. "I had noticed something was odd about Lupin, and Black was taunting me about it. He dared me to discover the truth for myself, if I was brave enough, and told me how to get past the Whomping Willow and into the secret passage that led up to the Shrieking Shack." His eyes flashed. "He called me 'a coward, a scared, slimy Slytherin, one who wouldn't do his own dirty work'."
Snape's pronunciation and quoting of Sirius Black's words were so precise, so clipped and distinct, that Hermione wondered how often Snape had replayed this memory over and over again in his head. Her own eyes were wide, her mouth slightly agape.
"And he told you this," she breathed. "He told you this on a night where—"
"He did," Snape confirmed, eyes glittering. "And so I went, fool me, grateful for the light of the full moon helping me find my way. I got past the Whomping Willow, and up the secret passage, just as Black had intended. And I was only stopped at the last second, pulled back moments before Lupin mauled me."
"You were pulled back?" Hermione asked, surprised.
Snape's lips tightened.
"Black let slip to Potter what he'd done," he said, his voice strained. "Potter seemed to think sending me to my death or dismemberment was just a step too far, and he came running after me to stop me before I got to Lupin."
Hermione's mouth fell open.
"I saw Lupin, in his full werewolf rage," Snape said quietly. "It was one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever had in my entire life." Emotions played across his face and in his eyes, and Hermione held her breath as Snape continued. "I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I was convinced I was about to die. Potter grabbed me and yanked me back just as Lupin lunged, yelling at me to run while he held him off. I have no idea how he managed to do so, but he did – went right up into the Shrieking Shack to battle him or something, I heard the noises – but he emerged from the secret passage not long after me, panting but unbitten."
Hermione wondered how that was remotely possible. Everything she'd read about werewolves indicated that they'd go after human flesh, regardless of whose it was, while they were transformed.
"The next morning found five of us in the Hospital Wing." Snape's lip curled. "Me and Potter, for injuries and scrapes gotten in the underground tunnel and from the Whomping Willow; Lupin, brought back by Madame Pomfrey and in a state of exhaustion, and Black and Pettigrew, summoned by Dumbledore, who stood there as well." Snape closed his eyes for a moment, reliving. "Dumbledore wanted to know what had happened. I didn't need much prompting – the whole story came pouring out."
As Snape opened his eyes again, his face seemed to transform – where he was once tightly reigned in with his anger and memories, now his face was twisted with hatred, his eyes practically glowing with rage.
"And Dumbledore punished me," he spat. "Me! For being out after hours. Took twenty points from Slytherin. Potter earned pointed for 'saving my life', and Black – Black got detention!" Snape gestured violently, furious. "Detention, for attempted murder!"
Hermione could only watch, horrified as Snape went on with his tale.
"When I objected, protesting that Black should be expelled, Dumbledore accused me of overreacting," he said viciously. "Overreacting, to attempted murder! After all, no one had been hurt," he sniffed, "so no harm, no foul." His eyes glowed. "He then extracted a promise from me not to tell any of my classmates of Lupin's condition, so he could finish out his schooling with his secret intact."
"Wait. Lupin almost killed you," Hermione interjected, eyes wide, "and Dumbledore kept him there? Even though it was clear his safety plan hadn't worked?"
"Well, if no one tried to murder someone by telling them about the secret passage, his little plan worked fine, didn't it?" Snape said, his voice bitter. "So Dumbledore admonished his little favorites, telling them not to tell anyone else about the tunnel, and they all eagerly promised to never tell anyone else about it again. And Dumbledore patted them on the head, called them good boys, and sent them away with treats in their pockets and smiles all around."
Hermione could tell Snape was being sarcastic, but she imagined the truth probably wasn't far off.
Snape's eyes were dark, glittering with hatred as his voice went from bitter to furious.
"Black tried to have me killed," he hissed. "I was sixteen, and he tried to have me murdered. Because I dared to be a Slytherin and fight back against their bullying, and that was apparently worthy of death."
Hermione bit her lip, listening.
"So rationally, morally, I understand your argument about the Dementor's Kiss," Snape said, turning to meet her eyes directly once more. "I even agree with it. It's repugnant. But emotionally—"
He broke off, staring at the wall.
"Some part of me wants to see Sirius Black utterly destroyed," he said. "To see him finally receive a consequence for his actions, for him to finally be punished for the hell he put me through and the attempt he made on my life."
Hermione had absolutely no idea what to say.
They sat there in silence for several long minutes, both of them lost in thought.
"…I think I understand, professor," Hermione finally said quietly. Snape turned to look at her, but her eyes were lowered. "About why you'd want to see that happen."
Snape didn't say anything. Hermione swallowed hard, before continuing.
"That first year, right after they left me bleeding on the dungeon floor, I would have done anything I could to get rid of them," Hermione admitted, her own tone bitter. "Time and distance has managed to dull the edge of my resentment toward them, but I remember wishing I could kill them, could get them expelled, that they would pay for what they'd done to me somehow."
She looked up, meeting Snape's eyes.
"If I'd been bullied for years," she said, holding his dark gaze, "and one of my bullies attempted to kill me, and they weren't punished for it…" She blew out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "I'd probably want to see them utterly destroyed too."
Snape didn't say anything. His eyes glittered at her, but Hermione thought she saw a flicker of satisfaction flit across his face, and his manner eased ever so slightly.
"Thank you for telling me," Hermione said, heaving a sigh. "I still don't like dementors, and I still think the Dementor's Kiss is barbaric and evil and cruel, but – it helps to understand why you want to see Black destroyed." She gave him her own half-twisted smile. "Ironically, it helps me think better of you for it."
Snape's lips twisted into a smirk.
"Yes, well," he said. "I could hardly have you thinking me evil and heartless, if you're to trust me as your Head of House."
"But sir," Hermione said, batting her eyelashes, "I thought being evil and heartless was practically required for Slytherin?"
Snape laughed, an abrupt, sharp barking sound, and his eyes glittered when he looked back at her, amusement lingering in them.
"Get to bed, Miss Granger," he told her. "And if you breathe a word of this to anyone—"
"You'll see my intestines strung about like holly, my eyes used as Potion ingredients, and my sweetbreads used by the House Elves for a feast," Hermione said, standing. "Don't worry, professor – I know. I won't breathe a word of this to anyone."
Snape stared at her for a long moment, before he started to laugh – a low, dark sound.
"I was merely going to say, 'you'd regret it', but yours is so much more creative and clever," he said. His eyes glinted. "I hardly think intestines would make a good replacement for holly, dripping all over the place as they would."
"Then I'll just have to keep your secrets to keep your classroom clean," Hermione quipped with a smile. She nodded to him respectfully. "…thank you again, sir, for taking me into your confidence."
Snape raised an eyebrow but waved a hand at her.
"You're dismissed, Miss Granger," he told her. "Go and get to bed."