"At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me."
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
She was standing on the edge of the platform with her arms wrapped around herself when the pop of apparition sounded. Only one person would know to find her here. Hermione turned to verify that it was him. It was - pale skin, long nose, dark robes, dark hair, startlingly dark, intense eyes and all. It jumbled her insides, but she didn't know precisely what she thought or felt.
Severus looked at her warily as if he was afraid she was about to jump. Hermione felt the barest hint of confusion and dark humor at that. She turned back to face the void. After a moment he recalled her from it. His presence at her back warmed her and his hands on her shoulders spun her gently around. Severus brushed a strand of hair out of her face with his long, graceful fingers and cupped her cheek gently in his hand. His gaze, his touch, and his words cracked something in her and she felt tears well up from somewhere she thought had dried up.
"Come here, little one," he said, and she allowed herself to be pulled into his embrace. It was gentle at first and then tight, almost desperate feeling. "I'm so sorry, Hermione. Please don't leave again," he said and she felt him kiss the top of her head which was tucked under his chin. "Please don't leave me again." This was said more quietly.
"I don't know how to come back," she said miserably.
"I know," Severus said. He looked at her again. "You're cold…and hurt. Will you come to Poppy with me?"
Hermione stiffened and shook her head. "No….not yet…please?"
Severus nodded his acceptance, cast cushioning and warming charms and sent a Patronus message. "Will you allow me?" he asked, indicating the sliced fabric at her side and back.
When she nodded numbly, he helped her take off her coat and lifted her shirt just high enough to see her back and side.
"You should have gotten dittany on these sooner." He sounded gentle but he looked angry.
Hermione glanced down and saw four parallel marks running across her side and, she presumed, to her back. It felt like it when the dittany caused them to hiss and burn. She shrugged.
Severus sighed and repaired her clothes before helping her put her coat on and tugging her by the hand to come sit with him. She was mildly surprised when he once again said, "Come here, little one," sat and tugged her down with him, practically in his lap. Then he cupped her face in both his hands, looked her in the eyes and said, "Take your shields down, Hermione. I'll…catch you. I promise I'm not going anywhere and I won't send you away…ever again." It was almost a whisper.
She searched his dark eyes that swirled with emotion. He brushed away the silently brimming tears softly with his thumbs, and then she felt him in her mind. He gently but relentlessly helped and sometimes made her take down the shields that had been damming the flood. His presence, both physical and mental was the closest thing she'd felt to home in weeks. If he hadn't been there to anchor her to shore when the walls came down, Hermione knew she would have been swept away. As it was, she felt completely overwhelmed.
Hermione didn't realize until Severus pulled her close against him and began speaking soothing, shushing words to her that she was sobbing and making noises like a wounded animal. She grabbed him closer and he let her.
Severus may not have had any experience with comforting anyone in this way, but at the moment, he was so selfishly glad to have found Hermione that cradling her in his arms felt like the most natural thing in the world. He actually had an impulse to never let her go. If it wasn't for the broken sounds she was making, it would have been better, but he was thankful even for those. Even if it physically hurt to see her this way, even if it meant tears were leaking out of his own eyes.
Letting it out was better than existing in the cold, dead place where she had been. He had reason to know. He'd had experience enough with occlumency not to go as far and get as trapped as she had done, but he had skirted the edges of it. Harry was right – it took the human out of you. Hermione had also been right – it didn't really help in the long run; it made things harder to deal with when they finally broke through. And that's where she was now. And likely would be for a while.
Severus didn't blame Hermione for what had happened. A better handle on occlumency would have helped, but there were other driving factors and she was a novice occlumens, really. That fact added with the depression he had compounded tenfold and the trauma she was already dealing with, it had been almost unavoidable. Severus castigated himself on several fronts: for getting busy and not continuing her occlumency training, for not recognizing her state and forcing her to accept his help sooner, and most of all, for being such a miserable excuse for a human that he'd hurt her and turned her from his side in the first place.
Hermione's sobs were slowing down to snuffles. Severus brushed her hair out of her face and looked down at her. Her reddened, puffy eyes were still open and staring and not yet closed in exhaustion.
"Come, let's get you fed and warmed up so you can get some rest," Severus told her. Hermione got up and made to protest, but he cut her off with a tone that would brook no argument. "Hush, I'll take you to Spinners End today."
She turned her head and glared at him. Her squint of anger was somewhat mitigated by her splotchy face and swollen eyes. 'Uh oh. Angry kitten,' Severus thought. He was pleased to see it but he wondered what he was about to face.
"You called me Miss Granger, told me I was over-familiar and sent me away like you never wanted me to come back," she accused angrily.
"I know," Severus answered. "I should not have done so...I was already angry when you came, it was a bad day, and you..." he wiped his expression blank and came to a stop.
Hermione quirked an eyebrow. When Severus didn't respond, she looked at him seriously. "Don't do it again."
Severus quirked his own eyebrow and said, "I already told you that I was sorry and that I would never do such again. Are you playing deaf in an effort to get me to repeat myself?"
She gave him a scathing look. "You think your control over your temper has improved that much, do you?"
Severus swallowed, considering, then quipped, "Touché. I would rejoin, 'Hark who talks,' but I think you have recently demonstrated, to ill effect I may add, that your control can be absolute when you wish it. To use your own words: Don't do it again."
Hermione wrapped her arms around herself again and looked frightened. "I...I might need help with that."
Severus answered, "And so might I." "With my temper," he answered her questioning look. "I pledge my help, and you will accept it, and when I err..."
Hermione snorted. "You'll what? Accept my help when in a fit of temper? What does that entail, exactly? Allowing me to whop you upside the head when you yell at me to go away? Hex you maybe?" she challenged.
"I'll endeavor to listen to reason...give you leeway to say what you must," he responded.
"Only when we're alone, I imagine," Hermione said with dark humor.
"Preferably, yes," Severus answered.
"Finish your sentence from earlier," she commanded. "It was a bad day and you...I what?"
Severus sighed and turned his head. "You had been avoiding me."
"I'm sorry about that," she said quietly. "It wasn't what you thought." After a moment, Hermione looked up at him again. "Make that part of your deal," she insisted. "If you're piqued at me, have the guts to say something true instead of lashing out at me in anger."
Severus sighed and nodded. "And you'll reciprocate," he challenged.
"Fine," she answered blithely.
There was something true that she still wasn't telling him - something that didn't originate with pique but something else. Severus sensed it immediately. There had been a flavor of something to do with him when he was in her mind earlier - not pique, not anger...hurt and broken trust, certainly, but something else deeper and hidden.
"I have your journal," he prompted.
Her look turned dark. "Use it if you want to. I don't want to talk about it."
Severus raised his brows at her. "And how is that reciprocating?"
"I wasn't piqued. I'm not the one who lost my temper and sent you away," she defended.
"True. However..." he led.
"Back off, Severus," she growled.
"For now," he conceded, amused at the angry kitten again.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him again. "If you start digging, I'll consider it an invitation to do the same," she threatened. "I was under the distinct impression that was a no-no where you're concerned. And what, exactly, do you find so amusing? Quit smirking at me. There is nothing remotely funny about this."
This turned his smirk into something closer to a smile. "You are once again the angry kitten. I find it much preferable to all the...moping you were doing. In fact, I find humor in the reversal of our positions. I recall my unpleasant moods improving your own this summer, and finding your irritating smirks ever present when I wished you miles away."
Hermione's hair was fluffing out in her indignation. "Was it this irritating?" When his look denoted, 'definitely,' she mumbled, "I should've done it more often then. And I wasn't moping, I was...gone." She looked momentarily blank and then distress took over. "And now I'm everything! Angry, relieved, anxious, sad, confused, maybe happy, and everything else too...all at once. This sucks!"
"I know," Severus answered. When she looked at him questioningly he said, "I've been close enough to where you were to know what it feels like when it all comes rushing back. It….overwhelms at first, but passes eventually, and new perspective comes."
She looked like she was trying to picture him in such a state and failing. Thankfully his control was better than hers - iron enough to forestall visible evidence until he was alone, absolute enough to ensure there had been very, very few witnesses to his moments of weakness. But he did have them, those moments that proved him embarrassingly, fallibly human, same as her.
"'O brave new world, that has such people in't!'"** Hermione mocked quietly, shaking her head.
Severus wasn't sure if her scoffing Shakespearian reference alluded to the wonder of him finding perspective after emotional upset or her doing so at his admission of emotional vulnerability. He refrained from rolling his eyes but drawled, "You're not going to wax on about the beauties of mankind again? Pity. The opportunity was so ripe."
Hermione did roll her eyes, and scowl…impressively. Finally, she wailed in frustration. "Arg! How long does this last!?"
"In your case, I would assume at least a week before it starts to improve," he answered honestly.
"Lovely!" she spat and then turned on him. "And you want to be around that do you? Take me to Spinners End? Are you insane? It'll be like the worst week of PMS ever, times five."
"Oh, I plan on taking you back to Grimmauld Place tomorrow and sharing the...wealth," Severus said.
"If you're taking me there, you're coming with! I'll need someone to yell at, and it's not their fault." Hermione insisted in a tone that told him if he didn't comply she would go elsewhere.
Severus chuckled quietly. "Ah, and there is the irony of role reversal again. You have now become your angry, target-seeking Potions Professor, have you not? Save that your chosen target is perhaps slightly more deserving of the mark. It is now my turn to grin and bear it, I suppose?" Hermione's scowl increased. Severus surmised it best to placate her...a bit. "However tempting the idea, I had no intention of simply dropping you off and leaving Boy Wonder and the Ginger-Haired Menace to deal with the maelstrom and its aftermath. They would likely go tattling to Minerva and she would chew on me more than she has done already."
As it turned out, Harry and Ron suffered 'Hurricane Hermione' more than their deserts. Severus mostly found this amusing, however. Hermione had come back to Spinners End, eaten, showered and slept like the dead. After a breakfast at which Severus was treated to a veritable spectrum of emotional displays from Hermione, he escorted her to Grimmauld Place. The boys, who at first had been pleased and relieved to have Hermione back with them and among the living, quickly found themselves on quicksand. They never knew from one minute to the next if Hermione would be laughing, crying, irate or some combination of all three. Calm was a rarity.
Harry mostly sighed and took it or offered her an arm and a hug. Severus was highly amused each time he caught Harry and Ron cornered somewhere as if trying to hide. Ron was frequently heard muttering, "Bloody hell!" Once he had even sworn and asked Severus, "Whaddya bring her round here for? Next time you piss her off, leave us out of it, would you?" Harry tried to warn him, but Ron brushed it off and said, "What? He finds it all so bloody amusing and then she changes her target and here we are. Or haven't you noticed?"
Too bad the ginger idiot hadn't heeded Harry's warning. Hermione, having heard the exchange, enacted her rage with a hail of yellow birdies. Severus then received of the same for his laughter, but quick use of a shield charm saved him from the scratches that covered Ron.
Unlike the boys, who grew steadily more wary of her, Severus continued plodding steadfastly through the eggshells and even prodded her into anger on purpose at times..
"Are you mental?" Ron railed at him after one of these instances. "You're actually trying to make her angry aren't you?
"No and yes," Severus answered.
While Ron was still trying to work out which response answered which question, Hermione narrowed her eyes at Severus and growled, "Why?"
Severus looked her in the eyes and said, "Because you would rather be angry than cry," which prompted tears until he told her to dry it up and held his arm out to her - which made her laugh...and eventually settle. The boys began giving him looks of awe at his ability to wade into the fray and manipulate her into something like calm.