The next morning
Hermione scrambled up from the makeshift bed in which she found herself, her heart and thoughts racing, and her eyes fell on Snape who was sitting in a chair on the other side of the room. He had been reading a book, but now lowered it to look at her.
"What am I doing here?" she asked in a tense voice.
"You fell asleep," he replied, got up and brought her a glass of water. "The alcohol, probably. How's your head?"
Hermione turned it around gingerly. "I have a headache, but I'm fine."
Snape nodded, took out his wand and cast an anti-headache spell while Hermione took a long sip of water. She felt better immediately.
"I'm so sorry," she said, rather embarrassed. "I really didn't want to impinge on you like that. You should have just chucked me out."
A smile tucked at his mouth. "I thought about it but you seemed to sleep so deeply, I didn't want to disturb your rest."
Hermione grimaced, feeling rather awkward about the whole situation. "I hope I didn't snore?"
Hermione started to extract herself from the folds of the blanket, trying to tuck up her wild hair at the same time. "What happened? I remember you gave me the invisibility cloak." She looked down on the table. Yes, there was the box with her hairpins on it. "And then I drank some more wine – which I definitely shouldn't have – and then we talked…but it's all rather hazy…"
She shook her head, trying to remember. Actually she had done most of the talking, hadn't she? Had she really told him about Thomas? Hermione cringed. Great, she thought, blabbering to Snape about being dumped by your boyfriend. How embarrassing! It was all very blurred, but she was sure they had gone on talking about personal things, hadn't they? She must really have had a lot of alcohol to forget so much. How embarrassing. She just hoped she hadn't done anything stupid. Hermione furrowed her brow, trying to remember what had happened later on. And then her breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened in shock. She stared at the man in front of her, suddenly remembering how she had reached out for him, how she had kissed him and how he had responded.
This couldn't be true, could it? She would never…and certainly he wouldn't… He couldn't look at her with such polite disinterest if she had done something like this, could he?
"Severus," she said, trying to control her voice. "I didn't do anything…improper last night?"
"What do you mean?" He seemed mildly surprised at her question, and yet Hermione thought that for a split second his gaze had flickered and he had averted his eyes. But perhaps she had only been imagining this.
"Just…I had some weird dreams."
His face was unreadable. "No, don't worry. You did nothing more improper than to fall asleep while listening to me talking."
Hermione felt relief, but there was still the nagging feeling that there was more to her memories. "I'm sorry I behaved like this. I should go now." She got up and gathered up the box and her hairpins. "Will I see you at breakfast?"
A strange look crossed his face but was gone immediately. "If you want to. How long do you need?"
"Give me 45 minutes."
"Very well, I'll meet you in the breakfast room."
Snape was relieved when she left his room. She remembered far too much. He should have performed a stronger memory charm, but these spells were notoriously imprecise and he hadn't wanted to tamper with her brain too much.
He had seen the very moment she had remembered. Her eyes widening with sudden shock, the incredulous expression on her face. And that was no surprise, really. What else should she feel but shock and revulsion?
And yet this had given him a sudden stab of pain. And later he had felt a disconcerting wave of pleasure when she had asked him to meet her for breakfast. Snape shook his head in annoyance. I have to stop this, he thought sternly. This is leading nowhere, nowhere at all. He hoped he had been able to convince her that nothing had happened. In any case, even if she remembered some of what had occurred, she would never be sure if it had been real or just a dream. That would have to be enough.
Hermione stood in the shower, trying to chase away the tiredness and confusion with cold water. Whatever had happened? She didn't think Snape would take advantage of her in any way. She wouldn't put a lot of things past him, but not that. But something had happened – or hadn't it? She was pretty sure that she had indeed told him about Thomas. But everything after that was so hazy she just couldn't be certain if it was real or only a dream.
And the question was not just if it had been real or not, but what she would prefer. Hermione stared at the tiles in front of her, oblivious to the water running down her body. It had been a good kiss, that much she was sure of. A very good kiss. Had it been just a fantasy, born of alcohol, frustration and loneliness? And if not…if she had really kissed him…and if he had responded in that way… Good Lord, then I really am in trouble…
But it seemed that even if it had been real, Snape didn't want to acknowledge it. And she certainly wouldn't go down to the breakfast room and ask "Severus, did we snog last night?"
Finally Hermione realized that the water was getting cold, switched off the shower and got ready for breakfast. She supposed there was really nothing she could do right now. At least as long as she was so uncertain about what had happened. She would watch Snape closely, and apart from that would play along.
Hermione observed Snape all during breakfast, but there was no indication that his behaviour towards her had changed in any way. He seemed perhaps a bit guarded, but when did he not.
"I'll leave in half an hour," she said when they had nearly finished. She hesitated a little, then asked, "shall we meet again in London, Friday in two weeks?"
Snape's face went rigid but then relaxed quickly. "I'm not sure I can make it. I'll keep you posted."
Hermione felt disappointed. But she certainly wouldn't thrust herself on him. "Very well. But if there's anything I can help you with, just send me a message."
She held his gaze and it was Snape who looked away first, ostensibly reaching out for the teapot to pour himself another cup. He was torn between his instincts which told him to keep away from her, to break the contact once and for all, and the need not to raise her suspicion. And, worryingly, the need to see her again. What he required was time to get himself together, then everything would be fine.
When he was certain that his face wore the customary dispassionate expression, Snape looked up again. He had noticed how searchingly Hermione had observed him and had found it quite hard not to betray anything in front of her. But I shouldn't worry, he thought bitterly as he met her eyes squarely, I'm good in wearing masks, am I not?
"I think I kissed Snape," Hermione said, looking at Ginny apprehensively.
Ginny gaped at her. It was two days later and Hermione had come to London to see her friend. Whatever had happened – or not happened – wouldn't leave her alone and so she had decided to go and tell Ginny. Heaven knew she could need some advice.
After a few moments of shocked silence Ginny found her voice again. "What do you mean, you think you kissed Snape?"
Hermione told her everything she remembered. When she had finished, Ginny shook her head incredulously. "Great Merlin, I don't know what to say."
Hermione grimaced. "I know. What really kills me is the uncertainty. If it was only a dream, well, then it's worrying enough but nobody can be held responsible for their dreams. But if it really happened… I have no idea what I should do then."
Ginny looked at her intently, her bright brown eyes full of pity. "This is serious, Hermione, no matter how you look at it. You're not the girl to kiss just anybody, even in your dreams or under the influence of alcohol." She hesitated, then asked. "Do you have feelings for Snape?"
"That's the great question, isn't it?" Hermione replied with a weak smile. She was playing with some strands of her hair, noticed it and stopped. "I…I'm not sure. I must have, mustn't I? But it sounds impossible."
Ginny looked at her for a while, then said slowly. "Perhaps not. Forget that it's Snape, for a moment."
Hermione snorted but Ginny went on. "We're talking about a man who is considerably older than you. But that's not such a big deal in the wizarding world, and as long as you don't mind… Anyway, he is very intelligent. And very courageous, nobody can deny that. Fiercely loyal as well. All qualities that you have and value, too. Some might even say he has a sense of humour, if a rather twisted one. And he looks not too bad, apart from his hair and you told me that got better. Besides that," she paused, "he was there at the worst moment of your life. He probably even saved your life. Why should it be impossible for you to have feelings for him?"
Hermione stared at her friend but eventually shook her head. "You're right. But he is Snape, nevertheless. He…he was a Death Eater once, he was a terrible, terrible teacher, and it wasn't all for show. He admitted it to me. He really hated Harry. And he did terrible things, voluntarily and involuntarily, and while I can admire him for his work as a double agent I can't ignore what it must have done to him. I…I can respect him, admire him. And I certainly feel pity for him. But I don't know if I could deal with the…darkness that is part of him…the darkness that he chose and that was forced on him. I don't know if I could…love him."
Ginny smiled crookedly. "You know as well as I do that you can't willingly decide whom to love or not to love. If you do, you do."
They stared at each other for a while. Suddenly Ginny started to giggle. "I'm sorry, but you know, it's kind of funny."
Hermione huffed. "Easy for you to say, you're not the one having either erotic dreams about Snape or thrusting yourself upon him trying to snog him senseless."
Ginny burst into laughter and after a few moments Hermione joined in. There was an edge of hysteria in it, but it felt good nevertheless.
"Take some chocolate," Ginny finally said when they had calmed down again, reaching for a box of chocolates and holding it towards Hermione. "It always helps. And keep me posted," she added with a mischievous glitter in her eyes. "I want to know all the saucy details."
Hermione grimaced. "I really don't know if I want there to be any… And after all, whatever happened, it doesn't seem that Snape wants to go for it, does it?"
Ginny shrugged her shoulders. "Not surprising, really. If you actually kissed him, he's probably even more surprised and shocked than you. After all you're his former student and were under the influence of alcohol. It would be a bit worrying if he'd immediately tried to ravish you, wouldn't it?"
"I suppose so. I just wished I knew for certain what happened."
As soon as he had said good bye to Hermione after breakfast, Snape had done his best not to think of what had happened any more. He hadn't been very successful, though. Try as he might, over the following days he had a hard time holding the memories at bay. It didn't help that Dumbledore was extraordinarily curious about the premiere. Of course Snape told him nothing and gave no indication that anything special had happened. But Dumbledore's look was especially scrutinizing. Or was he starting imagining things? This was clearly getting out of hand.
The only thing that helped was to work even harder. That however also made the problem of what to do about Hermione and their relationship even more urgent. For a while Snape thought about stopping all communication with her. She didn't have any way to find him, so he was safe. But he had to admit that he didn't want that. It would tell her that something was amiss, that something had actually happened. And it would also mean losing a valuable research partner – and that he'd never see her again. Which shouldn't be a problem, really. But somehow, enervatingly, it was.
So one week later Snape sat down and wrote a letter about the progress of his work and also asked if they could meet in London the next Friday.
Hermione was relieved when she got it. A part of her had been worried that Snape might stop writing to her – which would also have been an admission that something had happened. Now she was glad to hear from him, but none the wiser. The letter seemed rather cold and impersonal, but that was nothing new, really.
And so they took up their routine again, Hermione still fretting to know what had happened while Snape knew it all too well.