A/N: Cannon up until the end of OotP with two major deviations. Sirius did NOT die & Lucius Malfoy managed to escape with the Prophecy. This will deal with mature themes & be a very slow burn. While I LOVE Alan Rickman's portrayal of Severus Snape it is important to remember that in Canon he is much young than Rickman, being only in his early thirties at the start of Philosopher's Stone. So try picturing him as a younger man ;-)
Severus wondered how no one else seemed to notice the slow deterioration of Potter's muggleborn friend. She had come back to school after the disastrous events at the Department of mysteries a changed witch. He supposed that many would merely attribute it to her being nearly a year older than most of her classmates, and assume she was simply coming into her maturity a bit before them. The girl had always been studious after all, but she seemed to be drawing away from her friends and into herself.
She was paler than usual, and to his eyes had lost weight even more so in the last couple of months. There was a faint shadow under her eyes, dark circles poorly disguised with muggle make-up he imagined. He'd attempted to broach the topic with Albus, but the man had merely patted him on the head and suggested that perhaps she was still having bad dreams from her brush with death at the hands of Dolohov. He had admitted that it was a possibility, and had resolved to simply monitor her condition.
Today was the third day since he had seen her consume anything more substantial than a piece of toast and he decided he'd let it play out long enough. His sixth year students had Potions today, and he'd been forced to allow Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley to continue, against his very vocal protests. He set the day's potion on the board and settled back to observe. Normally his Newt classes were an excellent opportunity to get caught up on marking, but today he needed to try and parse out what exactly was eating Miss Granger. He watched her pull out her quill and amend her text with the day's alteration. She was one of the few students that had ever noticed that his written instructions varied from the text. He saw the slightest tremor of her hand and he narrowed his eyes. All the pieces came together into an all too neat, but disturbing picture. A quick look at her nail beds confirmed it. There was a slight bluish cast to them, and he was quite sure if he pulled down her eyelids he'd see a similar pigment there. Foolish, foolish girl.
As class came to a close and everyone came up to turn in their efforts, he looked up. "Miss Granger, come to my office this evening at 7 o'clock. There is something I need to discuss with you." He said.
Hermione blinked. "Of course Professor." She looked confused as to what she'd done but left with her two friends. He plucked her vial out of the basket and sighed. It was not her usual standard of work, and he wondered how badly she was slipping in her other classes. He resolved to speak to some of her Professors discreetly to try and ascertain how she was truly managing.
Severus was back at his desk when he heard the tentative knock at his door. "Come in." He said and the door opened to reveal his current conundrum. "Please take a seat Miss Granger."
The girl crossed the room and sat down in the chair across from his desk, her body language screaming discomfort. "Was there something wrong with my potion Professor?"
"Yes, though that is not the reason for this meeting, merely a symptom of it." He sighed. "I've spoken with several of your other instructors and we've noticed a disturbing pattern over the last several months. Your grades are slipping, and from my own observations I have my suspicions why. This would normally be a matter for your Head of House, but Minerva seems largely ignorant." He rubbed his temple. "I simply do not understand how someone as intelligent as you could do something so dreadfully stupid. Dreamless Sleep is highly addictive, even a second year student knows that."
Hermione's eyes fell to the ground. "It was the only thing that would stop the nightmares…" She whispered. "And now it doesn't even do that." She closed her eyes, feeling tears stinging them.
Severus stood and went around his desk. He pulled a chair over and sat in front of her. "The more you rely on it, the less effective it becomes over time to the point where the amount you need to consume in order to get any sleep starts to poison your system. That is why your hands are shaking, and why I noticed the discolouration in your nail beds." He had struggled with this addiction himself for years after Lily's death, so he was intimately aware of what this girl was going through.
"I can't even eat without feeling sick." She whispered.
"I can help you Miss Granger, but you will need to remain here over the Christmas break and you cannot tell anyone that you have remained behind. You will take the train to King's Cross with everyone else, and I will give you a portkey that will take you back to Hogsmeade. I will meet you there and sneak you back into the castle. You cannot be seen. Withdrawal is not a pretty process, and at the end of it…you will owe me a favour Miss Granger. Your only other alternative is to admit yourself voluntarily to St. Mungos and that will be reflected in your permanent record and might even forfeit your prefect's status." Severus laid it out to her in black and white.
Hermione lifted her head and looked at him. "Why do you even care?"
"Because without your assistance I highly doubt Potter will survive what is to come, and because I hate to see a talented mind brought low by addiction." He said softly. "What is your decision Miss Granger?"
"I'll accept your help, in return for a later favour." She said quietly. "No one else can know." She hated that it sounded like she was begging, but she was.
"You have my word." He stood and went to his cabinet and pulled out two bottles. "You will need to continue to take Dreamless sleep until next Friday when the train leaves, but take a sip of the pink liquid before meals, and a sip of the blue afterwards. It will allow you to eat without feeling ill, and settle the tremors."
Hermione took them and put them in her book bag.
"Now if you start vomiting blood you will come here immediately. If I am not in this office tap that statue with your wand and I will come." He pointed to a beautiful raven carved from Onyx. It was a secret only his more troubled Snakes knew, but in such a situation the girl's life would be in danger. "Now, you'd best return to your dormitory and try to get some rest. I'll slip you the portkey and instructions before you leave."
Hermione nodded, utterly ashamed by how far she'd let things go. She headed back up to the common room. She saw Ron sitting with Lavender Brown and she felt ill in a way that nothing to do with food. She just walked right by them and went up to her room, laying back on the bed. She was so tired, even getting undressed felt like too much work. She couldn't close her eyes without seeing his face, and she hadn't told anyone about the letters. She'd started receiving them the first week back. She'd burned them at first, but then for some reason she kept saving them. They were disgusting, filthy, and scared her, but she didn't feel like she could tell anyone. They were just letters and Dolohov was in Azkaban. He couldn't hurt her. She said that to herself every night, hoping that one day she'd believe it.
"Hermione?" Parvati said as she came in. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah, just not sleeping very well." Hermione made herself sit up and give the other girl a smile. "Snape hauled me into his office to warn me that my work was slipping." She sighed.
"At least you'll get to go home for a couple of weeks, that should help." The other girl said.
"Yeah, it'll be nice." She said. "I should grab a shower and then I think I'm going to call it an early night."
"Yeah, you look really tired. If you need anything, you know you just need to ask right?" Parvati said.
Hermione nodded. She and the other Gryffindor girls had never been particularly close, and that she was looking rough enough that Parvati was reaching out meant it had to be bad. "Thanks Parvati, I really appreciate it."
"Ok, I'll let you get some rest." She stood and slipped out of the room.
Hermione went to the bathroom and had a quick shower before going and opening her trunk, slipping a vial out of a warded section and taking a long swallow. It burned against her stomach but she felt the drowsiness settle over her. She crawled into bed and set a basic silencing spell before falling back against the pillows, hoping that at least tonight to get a few hours of sleep before the nightmares started.
"You're sure you don't want to join us at Grimmauld Place?" Harry asked as they all piled into the carriages to take them down to the train. "I'm sure your parents would understand."
"I'm sure they would, but I miss them Harry." She said gently. "I know how little time you get with Sirius on your own too, this should be your time." She reached over and squeezed his hand. "How's he been recovering from the battle?"
"Good as new he claims, the hearing to clear his name is going to be in January. He's pretty nervous about it, but that man Scrimagour seems fair. He was good enough to lend Dumbledore those three Aurors for the DADA class. It's been the most consistent year we've had if I'm honest." Harry said, glad to actually be learning things in class rather than just trying to figure it out on his own.
Hermione nodded. "Yeah, though I still think we should resume the DA in the new year, just for practice." She brought it up again.
"I'll think about it." Harry said quietly.
Hermione nodded and soon they were arriving at Hogsmeade station. They found a compartment with Neville and Luna, and Hermione excused herself to make a quick trip up to the Prefect's compartment. She entered and nodded to Draco, the only other Prefect in the compartment so far. "Malfoy." She said and sat down.
"Granger." He said simply, and he seemed to hesitate over something. "You should get your parents out of the country before the summer." He said quietly.
Hermione raised her eyebrow. "What do you know?"
"I overheard something…they're targets. The Dark Lord is hoping to take you along with them this summer." He looked almost ill. "After what I heard, you don't want that to happen Granger. You should talk to Professor Snape when you get back after Christmas, see what can be done."
"What are you going to do?" She asked.
"Don't worry about me Granger, we have a plan in place." Draco said. His mother was just waiting for the Dark Lord to leave the Manor, and then they would be gone. She hadn't told him everything, but he knew when it happened they'd need to move quickly.
She nodded. "Thank you Draco." She said quietly.
He nodded. "We may not be friends, but you at least deserve a warning." He met her eyes for a long moment.
She was saved from responding as the Ravenclaw prefects arrived and they all agreed to do a couple patrols up and down the train. As they pulled into King's Cross, Hermione found an empty compartment and pulled out the little chess piece that the Professor had given her. She gripped it tightly and whispered 'Portus'. She felt the sharp hook behind her navel and the sickening tugging sensation as she was dragged through space and deposited into a secluded spot behind the Hog's Head. She managed to land on her feet, but she very nearly lost her lunch. Gaining her composure she straightened and turned, feeling eyes on her. She nodded to the Professor, standing quietly against the building.
"Professor." She said respectfully.
"Hold still." He said and applied a powerful disillusionment charm on her. He watched as she shimmered out of view. "Stay close and do keep up Miss Granger." He said and turned on his heel heading back towards the castle.
Hermione had to almost jog to keep pace with the potion master's long stride, but she managed it. It was eerily quiet on the trip back, and she pulled her cloak tighter around herself against the chilly December air. They entered the school and she followed him down into the dungeons. There were many twists and turns and finally they came to a dead end. There was nothing to distinguish it from any other hallway. She watched as he pulled out his wand and tapped a specific stone and whispered something. A beautifully carved wooden door appeared and he opened it, gesturing to her to enter.
She walked in and felt a shiver as Professor Snape removed the disillusionment charm. His sitting room was nothing like she'd expected. The walls were lined with bookshelves and filled with old and obviously well perused texts. There was a fire going in the grate and a couple of comfortable arm chairs in front of it. There was a game table between them and a game of wizard's chess in progress on the board. She turned to face the Professor.
"Follow me Miss Granger." He said and led her through a door to the left. It lead to a narrow hallway with three doors off of it. He opened the first one. "This will be your room for the next two weeks." It was a decent sized bedroom with a four poster bed, hung in Slytherin colours. There was a desk to the side and a comfortable chair at it. There were a couple of book shelves and a side table. She took her shrunken chest out of her pocket and resized it.
"I suggest you get changed into something comfortable. I'll return with the first potion. We only have two weeks so I'll need to accelerate the process." Severus said. "The bathroom is the next door down the hall." He left her to get settled and went back out to the living room. The normal process for detoxing off Dreamless Sleep could take weeks, and upwards of two months. Slowly lowering the dose and letting the body adjust to having it out of the system. It was usually paired with therapy to address the reasons for taking the potion in the first place. This method was not recommended. He'd give her a series of potions to purge the toxins from her system and then help her ride out the side effects. It would be messy, but it would break the addiction cycle.
He opened the box and removed the vial filled with amber liquid. It brought back unpleasant memories of his own. Three long years, knowing what it was doing to him and not caring, almost hoping that the next dose would finally kill him, end his pain. It hadn't been Albus that had pulled him out of that deadly downwards spiral. No. It had been Lucius who had all but kidnapped him at the end of term and locked him in a room for weeks, no wand and no way out. He'd nearly killed his friend at one point when the cravings had been at their worst. Lucius hadn't left him, even at his lowest. He owed him a debt he could never fully repay. He sighed and sat down, waiting for her to come out.
Hermione came out, having changed into a pair of pajama pants and a long sleeved flannel shirt. She saw the Professor sitting by the fire and went over to join him.
"Please sit." He said and then handed her the vial. "I will be needing your wand Miss Granger." He said, pleased when she handed it over. "Now, I will be setting wards to keep you inside these rooms. This potion will accelerate your recovery, but it will also intensify any of the withdrawal symptoms. I will not hold anything you say, or do against you during this process. Now do you have any questions?" He asked her.
Hermione looked at the vial in her hands for a long moment. "How bad is it going to be?" She asked softly.
"There's no way to know for certain. It's a very individual thing. The only thing in your favour is that you've only been abusing for months, as opposed to years. It could be a mild as severe nausea, fever, and moderate hallucinations for a few days…or it could be much worse. Regardless I will be here to help you through it." Severus leaned forward in his chair.
Hermione nodded and unstoppered the vial and drank it down. It was cloyingly sweet and sat funny in her stomach. She pressed the back of her hand to her lips and just tried to keep it down.
Severus called for some mint tea for her, and added a touch of honey to it. "Drink this, it will help with the nausea." He pressed the cup into her hand.
Hermione accepted the cup and sipped it, feeling the mint do its job and coax the urge to be ill back. "Thank you Professor." She said and opened her eyes, surprised to see that actual concern in his.
"Now can you tell me about these nightmares?" He asked.
She bit her bottom lip and looked down into the pale liquid in her tea cup. "They're always about him…Dolohov." She said quietly. "They weren't that bad at first, but when I got back to school I started getting these letters. They're never signed but I know they're from him. Somehow he's getting them to me. The things in them, what he writes about," she shuddered and shook her head. "I tried burning them without reading them and they'd just reappear on my pillow. I know he's in Azkaban. I KNOW he can't hurt me, but every night in my dreams he's there and he does." She couldn't look up and see the judgement there, the scorn. She nearly jumped through her skin as she felt his hand come to rest on her knee.
"Did you keep the letters?" He asked quietly.
She nodded. "They're in my trunk." She whispered.
"May I examine them?" He asked her.
She just nodded. "I can go get them."
"No, I'll retrieve them. Just drink your tea Miss Granger. There are some ginger biscuits there as well if you feel up to them." He stood and headed back to her bedroom, opening her trunk and casting a quick diagnostics spell, seeing a pulsing red light where the letters were tucked away. He levitated them out and in short order identified the curse on the letters. He dismantled the curse and then pocketed the letters. He would read them later. It was a compulsion curse, the longer the item was in the victim's possession the more it would occupy their mind. It was an insidious piece of magic, elegant and cruel. Left alone it would have slowly driven her insane, rendering her useless to Potter, trapped in her own nightmares.
He went back out to the living room and saw that she was nibbling at a biscuit. He came and sat down. "There was a curse on the letters Miss Granger. What's been happening to you was not of your mind's making." He poured himself a cup as well. "The more letters you received, and the longer you kept them in your possession the greater the effect on you."
She lifted her eyes then and met his. "Thank you. I think I'll be saying that a lot."
"I prefer it to the swearing I know will come later." He smirked a bit, grateful for a moment of levity before things really got started.