Hermione Granger sat on the end of a cot in the Hogwarts infirmary and sighed. She didn't have time for this. In three weeks, she would begin her first year as Arithmancy Professor and she had far more important things to do than sit in the infirmary being gawked at as if she were a pickled specimen in a jar.
Besides, she didn't feel bad. She had no aches, no pains, no fever. There was nothing to indicate that she was ill; nothing except the bright blue spots covering her face.
Poppy leaned over, peering at her, as Albus and Minerva stood to one side. Finally, Poppy straightened up and shook her head.
"If I weren't seeing it, I wouldn't believe it. The Ministry Medical Regulatory Department issued a statement several years ago that indicated this was simply not possible."
Minerva made a tsking sound. "Are you really surprised that the Ministry is wrong?"
"Not really." Poppy shrugged. "Still, I've been a healer for a long time and I've never known it to happen."
"What?" Hermione finally interrupted, exasperated. "You've never known what to happen? What's wrong with me?"
"You have the measles," Poppy said.
Hermione frowned. "I do not. I've had the measles. These are not measles."
"They are if you're a witch," Albus answered. "Although, most magical folk have had them by the age of eight or so. I've never heard of a Muggleborn contracting Wizarding Measles. This is very unusual."
"Well, is there a cure or..." Hermione's voice trailed away as three heads shook in unison.
"No," Poppy replied. "There's nothing to be done for it except drink lots of fluids and get plenty of bed rest. It will run its course. I've sent word to Severus and asked him to start preparing a potion that will help lessen the symptoms."
"I would like to be rid of the spots," Hermione said, touching her face, "but I don't feel bad."
"You'll feel bad soon enough," Poppy answered, her tone brisk. "In fact, within a few hours, you may feel very ill, I'm afraid."
"Ill? But... But... I can't be ill." Hermione went from mildly frustrated to agitated. "I have things to do. I have to get ready; the new term starts soon and--"
"And you're lucky that the term isn't in progress or we'd have to quarantine you," Poppy finished. "Fortunately, everyone currently in the castle had them as a child and is immune, so a quarantine won't be necessary."
At that moment, Severus Snape walked into the infirmary. "Poppy? Why would you want--" He stopped in his tracks at the sight of Hermione. "Good gods, you have the measles." His upper lip curled in distaste.
"Yes, well, thank you so much. We've established that fact." Hermione knew that she sounded petulant, but she wouldn't apologise. She didn't have time to be sick.
His eyes narrowed. "I didn't think that Muggleborns--"
"Neither did we," Minerva said, shaking her head, "but obviously they can."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "How fitting that you would prove everyone wrong. You always were a show-off."
"Now look here, I can't be held responsible for a virus mutating!" Hermione exclaimed, indignant.
Severus smirked at her and turned to Poppy. "I'll begin brewing the potion." With that, he swept out of the room, his robes billowing dramatically behind him.
"How does he do that?" Hermione asked, her eyes narrowed. "My robes won't do that."
Albus smiled and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I suspect a charm of some sort, but I've never asked."
Hermione allowed herself to be settled into the infirmary, although she thought it was pointless. If she were to suffer through this, she would prefer to do it in her own rooms. At least she could work there.
Poppy gave her the potion that Severus had prepared and then promised to check in on her regularly. She also told her that Severus was preparing a Soothing Potion since the spots on her face had begun to itch slightly.
Hermione asked one of the house elves to retrieve the lesson plans from her office and tried to work on them. When Professor Vector had retired, she'd recommended Hermione for the position and had shared her syllabus, but Hermione had a few changes that she wanted to make. However, no matter how much she tried to focus on it, her thoughts kept turning to Severus Snape.
When Harry had defeated Voldemort in their seventh year, the necessity of Snape's role as a spy for the Order had ended. Hermione had expected him to change, but he had not. He hadn't become congenial or relaxed and he hadn't stopped blatantly favouring his Slytherins over the Gryffindors; although, she admitted, he'd started correcting the Slytherins, even if it never cost them house points. Otherwise, he was as he'd always been, quick-tempered, acerbic and demanding.
Still, in those first few months that she'd apprenticed with Professor Vector, Hermione had realised that Severus Snape didn't treat the staff in the same caustic manner that he demonstrated toward his students. The first time that she'd seen him smile in the privacy of the staff room had been a disorienting experience.
She'd thought the grim man had absolutely no sense of humour, but she'd been wrong. His smile caused her to realise that no matter what her previous experiences with him had been, she didn't know Severus Snape at all.
Therefore, while she'd always respected Severus' bravery for spying on Voldemort, she slowly came to also appreciate the intelligence and quick wit that lurked under his scathing remarks. Gradually, Hermione overcame the innate fear that he would take points from Gryffindor if she spoke to him and began to talk to him at meals. Those opening gambits quickly grew into full-fledged conversations that were sometimes more intense debate than discussion, but were always interesting.
By her third year as an apprentice, Hermione had begun tentatively flirting with him, but when he failed to react to her overtures, she'd finally given up. Regretfully, she'd accepted that Severus Snape simply wasn't interested in her.
Four hours later, Hermione didn't care if she never amended the syllabus. She was running a high fever and suffering from chills and body aches. She finally drifted off to sleep, but bright, intense dreams immediately took over. Several times she thought that Severus had been at her bedside and had talked to her, but Hermione couldn't be sure that she was truly awake. It was possible she was only dreaming she was awake. After all, she was fairly certain that Albus Dumbledore had not flown through the infirmary in full Quidditch gear and she'd thought she'd been awake then, too.
The fact that sometimes Severus was there when she cracked open her eyes and sometimes he was not seemed reasonable in her fever-induced haze. After all, he was always sweeping in and out of rooms. Why should her dreams be any different?
This time, when she opened her eyes, she regarded him for a long moment and finally asked, "Are you really here?"
He arched an eyebrow in surprise. "Yes. I've brought your Soothing Potion."
"I go to sleep, but when I wake up, I'm not sure if what I've dreamed is real or not. Sometimes I'm not even really awake," she explained.
Severus nodded in understanding. "Fever dreams can be particularly vivid." He gave her a vial filled with greenish liquid. "Here, drink the potion."
She swallowed it and grimaced. "Ugh. It tastes awful."
"Yes, I know, but it should stop the spots from itching."
Hermione frowned at a sudden thought. "This doesn't prove that you're here, you know. I may still be dreaming."
He reached out to take the vial from her and, on impulse, Hermione caught his hand in hers.
"You've always had such nice hands," she whispered, examining his long fingers with their neat, square cut nails. She turned his hand over and slowly brushed her palm over his, lingering at the calluses that had formed after years of grinding and chopping potions ingredients. Releasing his hand, she glanced up and smiled wistfully. "Now I know I'm dreaming. Because you would never let me do that if you were really here."
He hesitated and then said, "Perhaps I'm humouring you because you're ill."
She snorted. "See? That proves it. You've never humoured anyone in your life."
He smiled faintly. "Go back to sleep."
She closed her eyes. "Don't you mean 'wake up'?" she murmured.
Hermione's fever continued to climb and she woke from a horrid dream in which she stood at the front of the classroom attempting to teach whilst the students ignored her completely.
She sat up abruptly and looked around, confused. It was dark in the room, but she could make out the rows of cots, their white bedding gleaming in the faint light cast by the single candle burning at her bedside. Her head felt as if it was stuffed with cotton wool and she couldn't quite remember why she was in the infirmary.
Weak and dizzy, she threw back the sheet and slid her legs over the edge of her cot.
The darkness beside her bed stirred and she recoiled in surprise, overbalancing and bracing her hands on her pillow to keep from swaying back and forth.
A silky voice cut through the darkness. "What do you think you're doing?"
Severus? Hermione thought. What's he doing here?
"I need to write out the seating charts and finish putting up the posters in my classroom," she explained.
She struggled to stand and Severus placed his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her back down onto the bed. "You'll do nothing of the sort; you need to rest."
Tears filled her eyes and there was a part of Hermione that was dimly aware that something wasn't right, that she was ill, but another part wanted nothing more than to curl up into a tight ball and sob for her mum.
"But I have to finish getting ready. I want everything to be perfect." Her voice shook and the tears overflowed and slipped silently down her cheeks.
Severus handed her a clean white handkerchief. "If it involves students, it will never be perfect. You should accept that now."
She blotted her eyes. "But what if they don't like me? It's going to be first year all over again and no one will like me." As she spoke, her voice rose and by the end, Hermione was practically wailing and she'd twisted the handkerchief in a stranglehold.
"What are you going on about?" Severus frowned. "You were thick as thieves with Potter and Weasley from the beginning."
Hermione sniffed. "No, I wasn't. Ron said..." She took a shuddering breath. "Ron said..."
"He said what?" Severus asked, his tone curious.
"It's no wonder no one can stand her. She's a nightmare, honestly," Hermione quoted flatly. "That's what he said. I've never forgotten. And Harry didn't disagree. No one liked me. And then they only liked me because I lied about the troll."
"Ah, I knew you were lying about that troll." For a moment, Severus seemed almost triumphant and then he sighed. "Perhaps that began the relationship, but I doubt it sustained it. That was almost fifteen years ago and you're still friends with Potter and Weasley, aren't you?" Severus sneered slightly as he said their names.
"Yes, we're still friends," she answered, her voice going small. "But..."
"But?" Severus prompted.
"No one else likes me."
He shook his head. "What about your previous position? You worked for the Ministry until recently. Surely, you had friends there?"
"No. Arithmantic Applications is a very small department. There was only one other person besides me and he was my supervisor. He just let me do all the work and then got angry if I took a holiday."
Severus snorted. "Well, you're obviously well-liked here. Minerva positively radiates joy at your presence; she always gloats when one of her Gryffindors does well. Albus dotes on you--"
"What about you?" Hermione interrupted, tilting her head to look into his face. "Do you like me?"
He raised an eyebrow and his eyes gleamed in the candlelight. "I suppose that I find you... pleasant enough."
"No, you don't." Hermione knew that she was wibbling, but she couldn't seem to stop. "I used to flirt with you and you would never flirt back."
Severus gave her a startled look. "When?"
"The last year of my apprenticeship. I flirted with you for weeks!" She tried to sit up again and he briefly shook his head in warning. She subsided, but did her best to glare at him. "Don't you remember? When I asked if I could help you with the wolfsbane potion? All those times that I asked to borrow your books?"
Severus narrowed his eyes slightly, but a small smile began playing on his lips. "That isn't flirting, Hermione. I thought you simply wanted to learn how to make the potion. As I recall, you also asked to help Pomona trim the Whomping Willow and you borrowed books from Minerva at an astonishing rate. Am I to assume that you were flirting with them as well?"
Hermione frowned. "Of course not, but those were the type of things the book said to do."
"Yes, well..." Hermione was suddenly reluctant to answer this question. "I was always too busy to do very much dating. I knew that I didn't have a lot of practice in flirting, so I read--"
"--a book," Severus finished for her. His tone was odd, some mixture of resignation and amusement, and he pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. When he opened them, he regarded her silently for a long moment. "When you are well, we will discuss this further. However, right now, you are to go back to sleep."
During the next few hours, her fever skyrocketed and Hermione occasionally heard voices that she vaguely identified as the other staff members. Sometimes they talked to her and sometimes they seemed to argue amongst themselves. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, she listened to pieces of their conversations.
"...risen dangerously high..."
"...Filius performed the cooling charm himself, but..."
"...mediwizards at St Mungo's, however they don't..."
"...has gone on too long! I refuse to stand by and watch..."
"...difficult for everyone, Severus..."
"...best to bring Fawkes here, I think..."
"...hear me, Hermione? You must sit up..."
Hermione was dimly aware of being shifted into sitting position, of being cradled against something warm and solid. She tried to burrow closer to that warmth, but her head was tipped back and a small amount of liquid poured into her mouth. Then a velvet voice was rumbling in her ear, urging her to drink while callused fingers stroked against her throat.
Two days later, Hermione had just finished brushing her hair when she heard a knock on the door to her rooms. Suddenly nervous, she opened the door to find Severus standing there. She'd been dreading speaking with him privately. Even now, she could feel herself flushing as she remembered the things she'd said to him during her bout with the measles.
"I went to the infirmary, but you had already been released." he said.
"Yes, just this morning. Um, would you like to come in? I was actually going to come down and see you in a bit. I wanted to thank you, Poppy said that you were the one who suggested using the phoenix tears."
Severus nodded slightly and entered, looking around her rooms, obviously curious. When his eyes returned to hers, he said, "Before I came here, I went to your classroom. I was surprised that I didn't find you there working."
"Poppy wanted to be certain that I was well, so I've been instructed not to overexert myself. She won't let me do any real work for three more days."
"And you're following instructions instead of sneaking off?" He smirked. "How very responsible of you. Are you quite certain that you feel well?"
"She had Albus ward the classroom against me and I couldn't get in," Hermione said, exasperated. "And don't look so smug. You know you wouldn't have listened, either."
"Of course not, but that doesn't mean I don't find your circumstances amusing." The edges of his mouth curved up slightly.
Hermione fidgeted and cleared her throat. She might as well get this over with. She stiffened her spine and said, "Speaking of circumstances, I believe I also owe you an apology. I may have said some things while I was ill that could... Well, I believe I made some remarks that were inappropriate. I hope that you can forgive me. I certainly would never want you to feel uncomforta--"
His eyes met hers. "Don't you want to know why I'm here?" he interrupted.
Hermione blinked in surprise. "All right. Why are you here?"
"I begin brewing Lupin's wolfsbane potion tonight. I thought you might want to assist me." His tone was casual, but he watched her intently.
Hermione's mouth dropped open. Could he possibly be saying what she thought?
"Well, of course, I'd--" she started.
"I would also like to borrow a book," he said, tilting his head toward the bookshelves filling one wall of her rooms.
A sense of elation filled her and Hermione began to smile.
"Which one?" she asked.
Severus smiled in return.
"It doesn't matter," he replied.