If the choice were mine to make

What friends are for

After Snape had apparated to Hermione's rooms in Cambridge he placed her on her bed carefully. A quick glance at her alarm clock told him that it was nearly 7 p.m. It seemed that he'd been in the void much longer than he had imagined. Darkness had descended outside and a strong wind was rattling the windows. Turning back to Hermione again, he performed a number of spells to sooth the effects of the Cruciatus curse.

She was still unconscious but Snape was glad for it. She'd have too many questions, questions he didn't have the time to answer anymore. He needed to go now, disappear before she woke up and started wondering about what had happened. And before the poison started working. Snape hardly felt it yet, only from time to time there was a short, sharp pain in his chest. But he knew that it wouldn't be long until it would set in with its full power.

She mustn't find out what had happened. Especially mustn't know that he had taken the poison to save her. He knew Hermione, she'd feel guilty for the rest of her life and he didn't want that. And so he had to leave before she woke up and realized that anything was wrong.

And yet Snape lingered, looking down on the unconscious young woman. He scolded himself for this weakness and still he didn't leave.

Hermione opened her eyes slowly. Her whole body hurt like mad and for a moment she had no idea where she was or what had happened. Then she saw Snape who was looking down on her in a somewhat alarmed manner.

Suddenly she remembered. She jerked up and winced with the pain that caused her.

"What happened?" Hermione asked, her voice hoarse.

"Everything is all right," he said. "How do you feel?"

"Terrible," she replied, trying to get off her bed but stopping when the movement brought new pain.

Snape drew his wand and performed a quick succession of spells, each one lessening the pain a bit more. It didn't disappear completely but it was bearable.

"Thank you," Hermione said, leaning her aching back against the headboard and looking up at him with a grateful smile.

"I'm sorry I couldn't prevent Livia from hurting you," Snape retorted in a matter-of-fact tone.

Hermione tried to catch his eyes but he was evading her gaze. There was so much she didn't understand. "What happened?" She asked again. "Last thing I remember Livia was performing the Cruciatus on me," she shivered. "And then everything went blank."

"I overpowered her," Snape stated. Finally he was meeting her eyes, but his expression was guarded. "And as you can see I was able to escape."

"But how did you get out of the barrier?" Hermione furrowed her brow. "And what happened to her? Did you…kill her?"

"Livia won't harm you again."

Hermione looked up at him, not knowing what to make of that. But it seemed that this was all the information he would give her, at least for the moment.

"Thank you," she said softly. "You saved my life. Again."

Snape looked at her in a strangely distanced way. "Don't worry about that. I need to leave now."

"Wait," Hermione exclaimed, startled. "You can't just go. I mean I have lots of questions. How did you know where I was? How did you even know I was in trouble?"

Hermione thought that Snape looked a bit shifty. "I was informed that you might be in danger."

"By whom? I was in Rome and no one knew that anything had happened."

Snape looked decidedly uncomfortable now. "Some spells were placed upon you, spells which would react if you got into trouble."

"What?!" Hermione felt confused. "By whom?"

"By me." He turned away from her. "I need to go now."

Hermione got up from the bed, ignoring the pain that caused her. "Wait – you placed spells on me? Without telling me?"

He turned back to face her, his expression stony.

Hermione stood only one step away from him. "Do you mean to say you knew that would happen?" she asked, an irritated edge in her voice. "That you knew I was in danger and you didn't tell me about it?"

He met her angry gaze unflinchingly. "I suspected that there was a possibility, yes."

Hermione was so taken aback by his revelation and the calm way he stated it, she didn't know what to say right away. "Why didn't you tell me?" she finally asked, her eyes boring into his.

"Oh I did, remember?" He replied composedly. "I told you you could be in danger because of your association with me. But you wouldn't listen. And I didn't want you to get more involved than you already were. This wasn't your fight."

Hermione was feeling far from calm. "And so you just kept me ignorant? How could you do that?!" she asked, her voice rising with anger. "You had no right to make this decision for me. I'm no longer a child, and I'm certainly able to take care of myself."

He only looked at her with a strange, distanced expression which irritated her even more. Suddenly an idea crossed her mind. "Wait. Was that the reason why you threw me out in September? Why you were so cruel to me? Because you thought I was in danger due to my association with you, and you wanted to keep me away?"

Snape's mask slipped for a second, but then his face turned to stone again. "I thought it the best way to keep you safe. If I hadn't made you…leave…, you'd have acted like a true Gryffindor and done something stupid to help me."

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. She was silent for a few moments, her mind reeling with what she had just found out.

"Do you have any idea how much you hurt me?" she finally asked, angry at the pain in her voice and yet not able to hide it. "How it felt when you pushed me away? I am your friend, Severus. That's what friends are for. They help each other. They certainly don't lie to each other, hurt each other..."

Hermione's voice trailed off and she stared at him, but his face was still absolutely dispassionate.

"This isn't about me being Gryffindor, is it?" She eventually went on, her words harsh with emotion. "It's about your fear that any kind of human relationship, any sorts of...feelings...for someone could make you vulnerable."

Hermione stopped. Tears had come into her eyes and she blinked them away furiously. She wouldn't cry in front of him. "Of course I would have tried to help you," she finally said laboriously. "But it seems you just don't want that." The anger she had felt at his revelation was abating and left only an aching emptiness.

Snape had half turned away and his hair had fallen to cover his face. "I need to go now," he said flatly.

Hermione felt very weary. "Will I see you again?"

He turned back to face her. There was something in his face now, but she couldn't interpret it. "I don't think so," he replied. "As you have just noticed, I am not good with friends."

Hermione felt a sudden stab. But she certainly wouldn't start begging. "Well, in that case, thank you. For saving my life. Again."

Snape nodded and raised his wand.

"Wait!" Hermione called out. What was happening here? She didn't want him to go, not like this and after all that had happened. Why was he so cold? Hadn't he come for her, comforted her in that terrible void? But how could she break through to him, get past his dispassionate shell? She stared at Snape, at his rigid body and tense, guarded face, feeling frustration and aching tenderness. And suddenly she knew what she had to do.

"Before you go there's something I have to tell you." Hermione paused for a moment, her heart beating fast. But if this truly was the last time she would be seeing him it was now or never. She raised her chin in defiance, her eyes fixed on his face. "I don't remember everything that happened in Stratford. But I remember clearly that when I kissed you, I didn't do it because I was drunk." She paused, but Snape's expression had only grown stonier. "And I certainly didn't do it because I thought you were Ron. Or Thomas. Or anyone else. I did it because I wanted to."

When she stopped it seemed to her that the world was very still, as if it was holding its breath. She met his gaze but there was no reaction in his face.

"I see," Snape said quietly. "I really need to go now."

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. "Is that all you have to say?" she blurted out before she could stop herself.

Suddenly there was a deep sadness in his eyes. "Hermione, I can't..." he said, then abruptly his face was contorted with what she first thought was anger, but quickly realized was pain. Snape doubled over and clutched at his heart.

"Severus?" Hermione was rooted to the spot for a second, then rushed towards him. He stood bent over in a cramped position, breathing laboriously, his right hand pressed to his breast. When he looked up Hermione was shocked by the pain in his eyes which for once was not hidden. He tried to straighten up but staggered. Hermione swiftly reached out and held his forearms to prevent him from falling.

"What's happening?" she asked anxiously. "You need to sit down. Do you want some water?"

Snape shook his head in a jerking movement. After a while his tense body relaxed and he straightened up again, lifted his head and met Hermione's worried eyes. He stood more securely now but didn't let go of her forearms. "No, I'm fine. I just need to get home." His voice still sounded hoarse, but the ghostly white was leaving his face. "This is just a side effect of some of the spells Livia performed on me. There are certain potions I need to take, then I'll be all right again."

Hermione looked at him doubtfully. "Let me come with you. You're in no state to be on your own."

He shook his head again. "Believe me, I can handle this. I have survived much worse."

Hermione held his gaze and he returned it unflinchingly. Finally she nodded. "If you insist. I…I am sorry I kept you so long."

"Don't worry. I am glad we talked." His dark eyes were riveted on her face, as if he wanted to commit it to memory. Suddenly he broke the eye contact and looked down on their hands which were still clutching each others forearms. He released his grip and only then did she notice how tight it had been.

"Will you let me know that you're all right?" Hermione asked. "Please, I would worry otherwise."

He nodded reluctantly. "I'll send Rose."

"Thank you."

Snape stood close to her for a few more moments, looking at her as if he was debating with himself if he should add something. "Goodbye," he finally said.

"Goodbye, Severus," Hermione replied, and he stepped back and disapparated.

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