Disclaimer – JK Rowling owns these characters, I'm just borrowing them for a while. There are some (mostly minor) spoilers for 'Order of the Phoenix' so be aware of this if you haven't read it.
A Choice of Roads
It was with ill will that Severus regarded the feelings for Hermione that were in his heart. Where had this…..this….softening of his attitude towards her (that he realised he had had for a while now) come from when he looked upon her countenance and heard her spirited questions? When had she become important to him?
Damn him too, for caring. For being alarmed when yet another miscalculation on Neville's part a week ago resulted in a magical explosion in the nearby Hermione's direction, causing the eighteen-year old woman to be tossed to the ground, unconscious.
Imbecile! Severus had snarled at the cowering Neville, silently cursing Hermione for her foolishness in persistently helping Longbottom, when it was obvious that he couldn't tie his own shoelaces without a manual. That sickening lurch within his heart when he believed that she lay in the stillness of death, her cheek spattered with the caustic potion from Neville's cauldron. His heart…..that until then had beat out its own cold rhythm, unmoved by sentiment or foolish emotion towards the female of the species.
He was merely reacting this way because he was thinking of the indignity of a student dying in his class, he had told himself swiftly, barking at the others to keep their distance, including you, Potter!
But the knowledge had revealed itself within his mind, striking swift and merciless as a serpent's bite, that it would matter indeed to him if she were dead. That if this intelligent, quick-witted Gryffindor with her bushy hair, intent brown eyes and sweetly curved mouth that just begged to be kissed was dead, then what remnant of his soul that still resided within him would soon die as well.
When he had swiftly knelt down beside her to check her pulse and felt its faint beat, relief that was almost painful in its intensity had swept through him – for a second his hand had trembled against the warm, soft skin of her neck. He had loathed himself for this…..weakness, and for a moment had loathed her, too. He had no earthly use for these feelings and besides; it was assumed that Hermione would eventually marry either Potter or Weasley.
Neither of who were fit to be breathing the same air as her had come the thought, unbidden. Why had he not seen that his recent irritation over Hermione being courted by Potter and Weasley had been the sign of something he had not wished to admit to himself?
There had been a grim pleasure in giving Longbottom a fortnight's detention of cleaning toilets.
After summoning a stretcher for Hermione and hissing at the other seventh-year students that if he discovered any misbehaviour upon his return that punishment would be without mercy, he had taken her to the sickbay.
A grave face from Madam Pomfrey, the summoning of Dumbledore. Whispers, murmurs.
A silent vow to give another weeks detention to Longbottom.
"….time is of the essence……your expertise in potions may be the only thing that will save Miss Granger, Severus. Will you assist us?"
It was unthinkable to say no.
Returning to his classroom. "Be gone!" he had snapped at the students. No, he did not know when she would wake up, he had growled at Potter and Weasley.
Slicing, chopping, mixing, brewing. Add this, and then this. This would do. This would not.
It was vexing and oddly soothing to recall Hermione's attitude towards him throughout the years; so persistent and annoying in her constant questions but her manner nevertheless respectful and polite.
It had amused him to mock her throughout the years in return, deliberately giving her poor grades at times even though she was reaching the point where she could brew potions blindfold and with one hand tied.
But now it felt as though the universe was mocking him.
She had recovered now and went about her days unaware of the turmoil she generated within him when he saw her. Yearning for her.
As usual, it seemed, the credit for the work he had done had gone to others, in this case Madame Pomfrey and Dumbledore, who had been there when she awoke. He was used to being in the background, working behind the scenes and doing what needed to be done. Making a fuss in this instance would draw undue attention to him, as to why it mattered so to him that he had been the one to help her.
She would never know his feelings, he had told himself grimly. It was better this way. In a few months she would be leaving Hogwarts forever…..and Severus inwardly flinched at how that fact made him feel.