Severus Snape began to cast a network of privacy spells, like laying one sheet on top of another, and then blankets spread to catch warmth between them, rough sides put together - and a Notice-me-not as a comforter above.*
Hermione looked like she very much wanted to ask questions about the spells - to the point where she was visibly restraining her curiousity.
As Snape finished, he looked at Hermione, and drawled, "You realize I could ask you to take all of my rounds indefinitely? Ten years into the future, you could still be walking the halls of Hogwarts... as a special deputy."
Hermione grimaced, and then smirked, "I have more faith in my ability to annoy you than that. By the same token, I could continue asking you to explain petty minutiae about Houses - or marriage. In fact, I could ask you questions that you do not know the answer to-"
Snape gave her a look, as if the very idea that he wouldn't know the answer offended him in some way.
Undeterred, Hermione continued, "and you'd have to do research, which would compromise your ability to complete your professional obligations."
"Point taken," Snape drawled, "However, in the future, word your bargains with a greater degree of care. Not everyone finds you as wretchedly irritating as I do."
Harry had to hand it to Snape: when he was acting, he was acting. It took a certain willingness to look past his words, his body language - to see his actual deeds. If Snape truly found Hermione that irritating, he could have just told her to ask someone else. There was very little reason for him doing this, after all, bribe or no bribe.
"When negotiating, it is of paramount importance to know your position. Miss Granger, what do you think your position was, entering into this contract with me?"
"We were equals," Hermione said promptly, "I needed information, and I proposed a fair trade."
"Is that what your gut was telling you?" Snape urged.
"Well," Hermione said, as if temporizing was so out of character it had to struggle to get through her bravery, "No... I was worried you'd say no."
"Worried? And why were you worried?" Snape drawled.
"I was concerned that my fair trade would not be enough." Hermione said.
"Allow me to clarify: you wanted the information more than you thought I'd want the free time." Snape said.
Hermione eventually nodded.
"Yet, there's another curious aspect to this - you choose to ask me, of all people... Could you not have gotten your questions answered from any teacher in the school?"
Hermione's lips thinned, and one of her eyes twitched, just once. "No. These questions are not merely academic, and there are certain things that it would be best for them not to be bandied about."
Snape studied Hermione for a moment, before nodding, "All in good time."
Snape continued, "Always know your position. Here, you were as a pupil, come before the master - with something manifestly inadequate, and yet costly enough to yourself to be... enticing." Snape paused for a moment, "If, that is, the goal is merely to increase the cost of your questions, so that you don't cheapen my time."
Harry blinked, letting that fall into place.
"When I first approached Albus Dumbledore, as a disaffected Death Eater, he took me as a desperate man, willing to do anything for absolution. To ensure my loyalties, he wanted me to take an Unbreakable Vow." Snape said, a mirthless laugh rattling out from between his lips.
"I laughed in his face, because I understood that he needed a spy, quite desperately. I told him that I'd return in two days, and so I did. He suggested that I swear on my membership to House Slytherin - a vow that, while breakable, would do incalculable damage to my reputation.** I then crafted the wording to channel my energies into the defeat of Lord Voldemort." Snape said.
"Your membership in House Slytherin?" Hermione prompted, as if a young puppy chasing a wily rabbit.
*It was possible that Harry's had too many beds to make in his young life, and that this analogy makes more sense to him than it does to the rest of us.
**Snape's oversimplifying. Were breaking a vow to Albus Dumbledore to get out, it would do damage to his reputation (what sort of Slytherin can't out maneuver a Gryffindor?).
[a/n: And the surprisingly elegant start of an infodump. I'm actually proud of the crafting of this, because it patches holes that I made. To reiterate: we have two kisses on the table: Malfoy's with Granger, and Potter's with Parkinson. From the dialogue above, you should conclude that Snape didn't know about Malfoy's kiss. Of course, there's always the chance he's lying...
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