Author's Notes:This story was written in response to challenge #144 on the LJ community 30minutefics. It was written in approximately 24 minutes.
The challenge: "Many HP characters have scars, both physical and emotional. Write a piece that shows someone dealing with some aspect of their own scars or someone else's"
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Snarkyroxy.
It was painfully silent in the library. That was exactly how Hermione Granger loved it. There was no one knocking over books or tossing them like Frisbees while she was trying to work. No foolish and pointless conversations about the latest couples and their pathetic and often failed romances. There was nothing but silence, the smell of books and new knowledge to be learned.
Everyone else was off in their common rooms while she sat alone. She wondered if Harry and Ron even noticed her absence. They had been far too busy talking about the afternoon's Quidditch match and how Ravenclaw had slaughtered Hufflepuff for a second time.
Hermione had been all too happy to slip out of the room and head to the library, much to poor Madam Pince's dismay. She had feigned a warm smile as Hermione entered the library.
For well over an hour, Hermione immersed herself in a stack of the latest journals. She currently found herself reading new techniques for chopping, slicing and dicing potions ingredients.
She became so lost in her reading, she did not notice that Professor Snape had entered the library as well. He found himself the darkest corner in the library, only two aisles away from where Hermione sat in the Restricted Section. No one would bother him there...or so he thought.
"I thought I might find you here."
Hermione jumped at the voice, which shattered the silence. She raised her head quickly and opened her mouth, prepared to answer only to find that no one was directly in front of her.
She heard a snort toward the corner of the room and realized she was no longer alone. She did not really intend to eavesdrop or spy, but she was curious who else was in the library on a Saturday evening.
Quietly rising from her chair, she peered through the shelves of books to see Headmaster Dumbledore and Professor Snape. The Potions Master had a book in his hand and the Headmaster had obviously interrupted him. She wondered how long Professor Snape had been there.
"I did not see you at the match this afternoon nor at dinner," Dumbledore continued when Professor Snape made no move to reply.
"I had no desire to watch Ravenclaw slaughter Hufflepuff again. It does grow tiring."
"Ah, so you have chosen to hide in solitude amongst the books. Funny how some people change so little over the years."
Snape's dark eyes slanted in anger.
"Is there something important you wanted, Headmaster, or is the only purpose for your visit your desire to taunt me?"
Hermione's jaw dropped in surprise at the arrogance in Professor Snape's voice. While he was short with many of the other staff and always with the students, she did not remember hearing her Potions Professor talk like this to the Headmaster.
"I expect I deserve your sarcasm. Especially after what I have put you through recently," Dumbledore replied.
"Recently." Snape chuckled darkly.
"Your point, Headmaster. I have things to do." He tossed back some of the dark hair covering his face, his eyes flashing with impatience.
"Yes, your books." Dumbledore paused and suddenly looked every bit his age. "I wanted to make certain that you are all right."
"I'm fine," Snape bit out immediately.
"You are not fine, Severus. You barely eat at meals, and you have become even more withdrawn than usual."
Snape picked up his book and sat back in his chair. "There is nothing to concern yourself with, Headmaster. Tend to your precious students. I'm sure a certain few Gryffindors could use your concern and attention. At least one of them must be getting in trouble at this very instant and could use your help in saving them."
Hermione grit her teeth in anger. Did he always have to pick on her, Harry and Ron?
Headmaster Dumbledore sighed and Hermione was shocked to see him step away, defeated so easily. She heard his footsteps and his quiet "Goodnight" directed toward Madam Pince.
Hermione watched Snape try to read for a few moments before he angrily slammed the book on a walnut colored table nearby. Several books came down off a neighboring shelf, and Hermione was certain Madam Pince would come running over, hollering about her precious books. But she never came.
Professor Snape lowered his head and raised his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose with his fingers. He bent forward, very unlike his usual rigid posture, and ran his long fingers through his greasy, dark hair.
The young woman watched mesmerized as her normally snarky, collected teacher dropped his guard and appeared very distressed.
She watched him through the small space between the bookshelves and realized not for the first time that Professor Snape was human, too.
Hermione knew he had been through much over the years. She knew he had been a spy and that he was most likely still spying for Professor Dumbledore. It was obviously affecting him, judging by his current posture.
She wondered what it would take to cause this man to break. How many days, how many months or years would it take to push him to the edge and then over it, past the point of no return?
She soon received her answer as his head dropped into his hands. His dark hair hid his face and any true emotion from her behind its curtain. His lithe body, devoid of his teaching robes, began to shake just slightly. It was obvious what was happening.
Tears clouded her eyes at the sight before her, and Hermione suddenly felt as if she was intruding, even though she had been there first. She felt concern, fear, compassion, and anger all at once.
How could Headmaster Dumbledore allow one of his own to reach the breaking point? He had given up so easily on making sure Professor Snape was truly well. It disgusted her, and she was surprised to find her hands balled into fists.
There was no way to get past the silently sobbing man without him noticing, and she was afraid that if she sat back down in her chair he would hear her.
So, she stood silently watching her bitter Potions master bare himself to the world for a while. The black armor was gone for the moment and in its place were all the scars normally so well concealed beneath it.
Hermione knew that not all scars were physical, though she was certain her professor wore a few of his own on his flesh. Right now, he was bearing scars of a different kind... Emotional scars that proved he was truly no different than anyone else.
She wondered what was on his mind at this very moment. Was it something that took place recently that caused him pain or shame? Or something he was reliving from the past?
She sadly realized that she would never know.
The sudden urge to go and comfort him washed over her. A moment later, she nearly laughed out loud at such a feeling. What was she supposed to do? Walk right up to him, clutch his head to her chest, rock him in her arms and tell him everything was going to be okay?
A tear trailed down her cheek. If only things were that easy. He would never accept comfort from her. He would have an absolute fit if he knew she had seen him in such a vulnerable state. She hated when Harry and Ron saw her cry, so she could only imagine how Professor Snape would feel at discovering a silly little Gryffindor girl intruding on such a private moment.
As quickly as he bared himself, he was concealed again in full armor. He stood to his full height and murmured something she could not hear. She recognized magic on the air. She watched as his hair floated around him as if a breeze had lifted it from around his face before it drifted back down to rest upon his shoulders. All evidence of his tears were gone. The bitter, unfeeling Potions Master had returned.
He replaced the books he had knocked down and strode away from his corner in long strides as if nothing had happened.
Hermione held her breath as his footsteps died away and released it when she was certain he was gone. Her heart pounded in her chest and she stood completely still until its rhythm slowed.
She packed her parchments, quills and ink into her bag and returned the journals to their shelves.
She nodded numbly to Madam Pince when the woman bid her an enthusiastic "Goodnight". Then the young woman walked slowly back toward Gryffindor tower.
Hermione would always remember what she had witnessed in the library that night. How even the strongest of men buckled beneath the weight of their armor and bared their souls and scars for a short while. And how then they bent and broke and somehow found a way to mend, to don their armor again.