Now it was time to check on the potion, but before she could leave Snape's bedroom Dumbledore stopped her.
"Would you take me with you?"
"Of course," Hermione replied, surprised. "You don't want to stay?"
"I don't think that Severus would want me to witness what will happen here tonight."
"I see," Hermione said, thinking that he'd probably like her to witness it even less.
"No, he won't like it," Dumbledore said, who seemed to have followed her train of thought. "But he'll know that it was necessary."
Hermione felt not really convinced but knew that there was nothing she could do about it. She called Rose to look after Snape as long as she'd be gone, took Dumbledore's portrait, put it at its place in Snape's study and then went to the laboratory.
There she measured the pulverized amber,added it to the potion and started stirring. It felt strange doing all this again, but just like with doing magic everything returned easily, as if no time had passed at all. When Hermione was finished stirring, she looked around for a clock to take with her so she'd know when the next ingredient was due. Since Snape's laboratory was very tidy and well organized she found one without a long search.
Even after she had found the clock, Hermione still lingered. She wasn't keen on going back, on seeing Snape lying so helplessly in his bed. And she was even less keen to be with him when the potion would start working. The thought of seeing him suffer was disconcerting.
But this wasn't about her, was it? Her job was to look after him, to make sure that he got through this without having to suffer more than was unavoidable. And so after a few minutes she went back and took over from Rose. Snape was still looking as if asleep and Hermione sat down in an armchair in a corner of the room. She had brought a book with her and prepared for a long night.
It was shortly after two o'clock when the trembling started. Snape's eyes were closed, his mouth shut, but he shook violently. It was terrible to look at but Madame Pomfrey had told her that something like that would happen. There was nothing much Hermione could do, but there was also no use trying to read and she spent the next hour staring at her former teacher.
About an hour later the trembling stopped. Snape seemed asleep again, but his sleep was obviously troubled. He tossed and turned in his bed, his face very white and tense and sometimes twisted with pain. As Madame Pomfrey had instructed her, Hermione tried to make him drink the strengthening potion, but it was very hard to make him swallow.
It felt surreal to be there, in Snape's dimly lit bedroom, of all places, looking at him fighting the demons of his past. If during her schooldays someone had told her that she'd once be doing this, she'd have thought them nuts. And even more nuts if they'd told her that once she'd truly care for Snape…
Was it really nearly three years ago that we met in Stratford? Hermione thought. It's true, the older I get, the more time seems to fly. But much has changed in those years, hasn't it? If I'd never met him, would my life still be defined by grief for Ron and Harry? Probably not. But I'd never have had to chance to work with him, to fight lycanthorpy. To find out that there's another side to him than the snarling and cruel teacher…
Hermione suddenly noticed that she was gnawing at her right thumb nervously. She didn't fool herself, the fact of her being here in his house would affect their relationship. Snape wouldn't like it at all, Hermione was certain of it. And God only knew how he'd react when he found out that she'd seen him under the influence of the Memorate Potion. Hermione winced. Even if over the years they had reached some kind of tentative relationship, Snape had always been very careful not to let it get too personal. No, he wouldn't like it at all to wake up and find her so close.
Suddenly the memory of her leaning towards him, her lips touching his, her hand drawing his head towards her, flashed through her mind.
No no no! Hermione thought fervently, shaking her head in annoyance. I don't even know if that ever happened, and this is certainly not the time to think about it. Get a grip!
But afterwards it felt even more awkward to be there watching over him, to be in a situation so personal that it would probably have him recoil with embarrassment had he been conscious.
To distract herself Hermione called Rose and asked her for some strong coffee. There was actually no reason why the elf shouldn't take care of her master herself, but Hermione couldn't just leave Snape and go to sleep now. She'd let Rose take over in the morning, but for the moment Hermione felt better looking after him and the potion herself.
Snape's tossing and turning was increasing now. He was mumbling in a low voice, but even as she leant closer Hermione couldn't understand what he was saying.
Staring at his white face, Hermione was suddenly reminded of a conversation she had had years ago. It had been during the Christmas holidays in their fifth year when they had been staying at Grimmauld Place. Snape had visited to report to the Order. Hermione hadn't been present then, but later had come down into the kitchen where she had found Snape and Sirius still trading insults, Lupin watching them with a worried look on his face. After her entry Snape soon ended the conversation, leaving the kitchen with a disdainful snarl and the customary billowing of his robes. Hermione, Sirius and Lupin remained sitting at the kitchen table.
Hermione threw Sirius a worried glance. Every time she was present at a meeting between him and Snape she was shocked anew by the hatred and aggressiveness between them. What must have happened in the past to produce so much antagonism?
"You really don't like him, do you?" she asked tentatively.
Sirius threw her a burning look. He was still fuming and for a second she was afraid that he would lash out at her.
"Snivellus?" He gave a rough, barking laugh. "How ever did you realize that?"
Hermione cringed inwardly at the disparaging name. She didn't like Snape, far from it, but there were aspects in Sirius's behaviour towards him that were jarring, that gave her glimpses of dark sides of his character. She liked him very much, but she never idealized him the way that Harry did. Sirius might have been a great friend to James and Lupin, but she could just as easily see him as a privileged, arrogant boy who didn't mind bullying whomever he perceived as a freak.
"Why can't you just leave him alone," Lupin's voice cut through her thoughts. He sounded tired.
"Did you hear what he said?" Sirius growled, his voice full of frustration. "He's provoking me, boasting with how he risks his life every day while I am hiding away in here."
"So what? You shouldn't let him get to you." Lupin paused. "And no matter what you think about him, he is risking his life. I wouldn't want to change with him."
Sirius shook his head vehemently. "I still don't trust him, no matter what Dumbledore says." He turned to Hermione. "And you shouldn't trust him, either. He always messed with the Dark Arts, even as a child, and you can't tell me that he isn't still fascinated by them. He never had any friends apart from Death Eaters, and no wonder, who would want to spend time with Snape?" Sirius sneered. "He's as cold as a fish. Or did you ever see him show any emotions apart from arrogance and contempt?"
They both didn't reply and Sirius nodded. "I didn't think so. Perhaps he hasn't any. Or if he has they are probably really twisted. As I said, Hermione, be careful around him." And he got up and stamped out of the kitchen.
Hermione looked after him for a few moments, then turned towards Lupin. He looked even more tired and ill than usual and suddenly Hermione felt a wave of affection. She had always liked the gentle and intelligent man and seeing him like that gave her pain.
Lupin shook his head and smiled sadly. "I wished he wouldn't let Severus get to him so easily."
"Their antagonism is…frightening," Hermione said slowly.
Lupin sighed. "Yes, it is."
Hermione looked at him searchingly. "So what do you think about Professor Snape?"
Lupin snorted. "Do I think he is an unfeeling bastard who just waits for his chance to betray us? No, I don't. If Dumbledore trusts him, then I trust him – although I have to admit that it's sometimes hard."
He went up, fetched a decanter of water and poured Hermione and himself a glass.
"Snape didn't have an easy life when he was a student," Lupin continued when he had sat down again. "That doesn't excuse what he did, but it helps to explain it. He was an outsider, even in Slytherin. Sirius is right, he didn't have any friends… or hardly any." He seemed about to add something, but didn't. There was a thoughtful expression on his face but when Hermione threw him a questioning look he avoided her eyes. "I don't think he was all bad, though," Lupin finally went on, meeting Hermione's gaze again. "I suppose in a way he and I were kind of similar. Both freaks you might say. But I was lucky, I was sorted into Gryffindor and found great friends. You know, sometimes I think it's a great mistake to sort the children, especially at such an early age."
He took a long sip of water. "Severus is not an easy man to be around. Certainly not. He is bitter and insecure and unfair. Cruel sometimes. But he is also very brave. He needn't have gone back to work as a double agent. He's risking his life every time he answers Voldemort's call, and Voldemort is a cruel master. He hurts him, sometimes."
Hermione felt a cold shiver run down her spine as she listened to Lupin. "Do you know why he went back?" She asked.
Lupin shook his head. "No, I don't. And I'd really like to know. He must hate Voldemort very much. I just wished he weren't so cruel and unjust to Harry, Ron and you." He paused. "It's because of James. Everything remotely connected to him sends him over the edge. They hated each other right from the start." He hesitated and suddenly looked self-conscious. "To some extent it's understandable. We weren't very nice to him."
He stopped and Hermione threw him a questioning glance. "Children can be cruel," Lupin said with a bitter smile, and there was a faraway look in his eyes. After a few moments he focused on Hermione again. "But Snape was no angel, either." Lupin shrugged his shoulders. "To be honest I don't know what to make of him. When I taught at Hogwarts he wasn't friendly towards me – and I hadn't expected that – but he brewed me the Wolfsbane Potion every month so I would be spared the transformation. He could have declined to do it, or could have tempered with the potion to make me suffer, but he didn't. I thanked him for it, tried to establish some kind of relationship. But try as I might, I never got any real access to him. I suppose he must be rather lonely – or at least I'd be in his situation. But it's hard to say what's going on inside him, hard to read anything apart from anger and disdain in that impenetrable dispassionate face of his."
Suddenly Lupin smiled at Hermione. "I'm glad you're not as quick to damn and hate him as Harry and Ron are – not that I can't understand them, mind you, with the way Severus is treating them. But it's not as easy as that."
Hermione nodded slowly, her head spinning with new thoughts. During the following months she thought about Lupin's words a great deal, trying to keep an open mind about Snape. Although he certainly didn't make it easy for her. But Lupin had been right, there was more to the Potion's Master than met the eye. She tried to explain this to Harry and Ron a few times, but Harry didn't want to hear anything which he perceived as an attack on his father and Sirius, and Ron didn't care, really.
Ron… She had loved him, Hermione was certain of it. And she missed him still with a fierce ache. But during the last years she had wondered more and more if they would really have had a future. They had been good friends, and she never doubted that. But lovers? Livelong companions? Ron had a lot of qualities, but intellectual inquisitiveness had not been among them. He had never understood her thirst and passion for knowledge, her urge for meticulous perfection. At first Hermione had pushed these thoughts away, feeling as if she were betraying him. But she was far too honest to herself not to know that she was right, and not to eventually realize that she didn't mar Ron's memory by having such thoughts.
But by God did she still miss him and Harry. Missed the warm and secure feeling of belonging, of there being two people who needed and appreciated her and who would always be there for her, no matter how dark the times were.
Suddenly another memory came into her mind. The night when Snape had killed Dumbledore, the night that had changed everything.
Of course her life had been overshadowed by Voldemort before, but most of the time, Hermione had to admit, she had been more worried about school and her grades than about the dark wizard. This had changed after that night. Darkness had broken into her life and school had suddenly seemed almost trivial.
She remembered vividly how she was waiting in a dark niche outside Snape's office with Luna. Watching over Snape at Harry's behest so that he wouldn't try anything. Hermione snorted silently, staring out into the dimly lit corridor. It was getting late, the dungeons weren't the most comfortable of places, and she was convinced that Harry was getting paranoid. After all Dumbledore trusted Snape completely, didn't he?
She didn't even dare talk to Luna for fear that Snape would hear them and come out of his office. And what then? What was she supposed to tell him? That they thought he was a traitor and that they were there to stop him? Fat chance. Once again Hermione cursed Harry and his paranoia. What had he been thinking they should do? Any moment Snape could come out of his office to go to bed. He wouldn't spend the whole night in there, would he? As it was, Hermione was surprised at how long he was obviously working. And when he came out he'd probably detect them. Over the years Hermione had learned to deal with Snape's anger, but she winced when she imagined how he'd react to finding them lurking in front of his office. And even if he didn't see them, they couldn't just follow him to his quarters. But if they didn't, they'd never find them on their own to stand further watch over Snape because they had no idea where they were.
What had Harry been thinking?
It was nearly midnight when they suddenly heard hurried footsteps. Hermione and Luna looked at each other and quickly receded further into the dark niche. Was it Ron, Ginny or Neville coming to tell them that everything was all right and that they could go to bed now?
But when the person came in view they saw that it was Professor Flitwick. His usually cheerful face was white and he rushed towards Snape's office without taking any notice of them.
"Death Eaters!" he panted, and Hermione felt suddenly very cold. "Death Eaters in the castle!"
When he arrived at the office door he just burst in without knocking. "Severus," they heard him say, gasping with exhaustion, "there are Death Eaters in the castle. You have to go back with me and help."
They didn't hear any reply, just a dull thump. Then Snape hurried out of his room. Unconsciously Hermione and Luna had stepped a few feet forward, to be able to hear better, and when Snape came out of his office he saw them.
There was no reaction in his face, none at all. Afterwards Hermione tried very hard to remember it, to find out if she should have noticed something. It was very dim in the corridor, but she saw his face clearly, light from his office spilling over it. Snape stood very still and his eyes were very dark, but without the angry or disdainful gleam that they normally had when he was looking at her. In fact there was nothing in them at all.
He stared at them for a second, then said, "Professor Flitwick has collapsed. Take care of him. I'm going to help fight the Death Eaters."
"Yes Professor," Hermione replied, her thoughts racing, but he had already turned and was walking down the corridor very fast. That was the last time she saw him until the Battle of Hogwarts.
Hermione and Luna went into his office then and took care of Flitwick. None of them suspected that anything was not right. They tried to make Flitwick as comfortable as possible but weren't able to revive him, and eventually they set out to find their friends. But when they arrived everything was already over. And Dumbledore was dead.
Afterwards Hermione had recalled that night over and over, feeling guilty that she hadn't noticed anything, guilty that she hadn't trusted Harry. Perhaps she could have stopped Snape, could have prevented him from killing Dumbledore.
And then, when later she knew what had really happened, she still recalled that night again and again, wondering about Snape. He must have known what would happen the second Flitwick had burst into his office. Must have known that now he would have to kill Dumbledore. He probably had waited for this moment during the whole year…
Hermione shivered. Again Snape stirred restlessly in his sleep, and she stared down at his drawn face, so white it looked like marble, and at his long fingers which were clenching the blanket convulsively. How could he have lived with that knowledge? And would he be relieving that moment again now?