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'I understand the need to be punished, but don't you think he's going a little overboard with it?'
Harry hadn't been able to put it behind him for days now. Every time they met, he would go on and on about his punishment, unable to leave it alone. Hermione could sympathise. It was a harsh punishment. She too had been thinking a lot about Snape's motivations these last few days. It was unusual in the extreme for Snape to punish one of his own students so severely. The only conclusion she had reached was this, which she scrawled on a piece of parchment and showed to Harry:
Maybe he's using the punishment as a way of getting closer to you?
Harry read the words, then frowned thoughtfully.
Hermione wrote some more: You did say he seems to have some sort of fascination with you. Possibly something to do with your parents? Maybe they were friends and he just wants to look out for you?
Harry shook his head. 'No, that can't be it,' he replied. 'Snape was in Slytherin. My parents in Gryffindor. It's highly unlikely they were friends. And if they were, why not just tell me? Why be so shifty about it?'
True, Hermione wrote, but he might have his reasons for wanting to keep it to himself. You're a Slytherin and we're still friends, right?
'Yeah, but I'm different.'
Maybe Professor Snape is different as well.
'It's al maybe. Maybe. Maybe.' Harry scowled. 'I hate not knowing. I don't get him. He hardly says anything to me, but I feel his eyes on me all the time, watching like a hawk.'
Hermione lowered her head, feeling sorry because she couldn't help Harry. He was her only friend and what good was she? She couldn't even put him at ease. She heard him sigh.
'Hey,' he said, and she glanced up at him through her eyelashes. He shook his head and forced a smile to his face.
Hermione could tell it was forced because his eyes remained full of hopeless anger – green pools of rage that she hated to see. When they were together, she hardly ever saw them, but when she had seem him on his own, or caught him in a moment of weakness, she had glimpsed the rage in him, and it frightened her. She wasn't afraid of him. She knew he would never hurt her. What she feared was what he might be capable of doing to other people. What darkness lurked inside him?
'I'm okay. Don't worry about me.'
I can't help it, Hermione wrote with shaky hands.
'I promise you Hermione. I'll be okay. I'll figure him out.'
Hermione nodded, not knowing what to say. She didn't doubt that Harry would figure everything out. He was so smart and tenacious. What he put his mind to, he accomplished. What she feared was that he wouldn't like what he found out, and what might happen if that was the case. There must be a good reason for Professor Snape to be so secretive, after all.
Hermione snatched up the parchment and scribbled, promise me you'll come talk to me as soon as you figure it out? Promise me you won't do anything without talking to me first?
Harry read. His face went blank as he realised just what Hermione had been thinking. He looked down, expressionlessly staring at the table, then looked up and spoke with no inflection. 'I promise.'
Hermione didn't know if she felt reassured or not.