Hermione sat beside Harry's hospital bed and reread her transfiguration text. She sighed and set the book aside. The quiet in the hospital wing was soothing and conducive to studying but she longed for her friend to wake up and speak to her. Leaning forward she brushed Harry's soft fringe off his forehead in a gesture of fond exasperation. Her smile turned into a look of reflection as she gazed at his battered face and recalled the events of the previous day.
After Harry left for work Snape had summoned them to his cottage. Having found unexpected enjoyment in the work they did at his office, the three unlikely conspirators planned to organize the professor's home laboratory. Less than an hour into the task a young man had driven up in a cloud of dust and flying gravel on Harry's bike. Hermione had been terrified when she realized that Harry must be in trouble but now she smiled as she recalled Snape's reaction. The man had gone ballistic, grabbing the hapless boy and trying to shake the story out of him.
"Wait!" the boy gasped, "It's me, Kelly! I came as fast as I could, Ian needs help!" Brushing tears from his dusty cheeks with his forearm, the young man stepped away from Snape and gave him an injured glare. Hermione remembered admiring the boy's mettle, it wasn't easy to stand up to an angry, former death eater.
Once Snape realized the boy wanted to get help for Harry he listened to his account with mounting agitation. As soon as the story was out the potion master seized the teens in a frantic embrace and apperated the lot of them to the yard. Hermione brushed away a tear as she recalled her horror upon seeing the collapsed building. Dust hung in the air and the broken timbers were settling with sharp cracks that made her heart jump in her chest. Chaos reigned, boys carrying various barn implements yelled to each other and scrabbled ineffectually at the debris. One small boy was sobbing, "Ian! Ian, are you okay?" pulling at the rubble with tears tracking the dirt that clung to his face.
Snape immediately cast a charm to locate anyone still living under the ruins. Two spots of glowing blue light became visible in the crumbled building. "I've never seen Snape look so relieved, Harry," she whispered to the unconscious boy. Harry shifted, humming softly and Hermione searched his face for signs of arousal. With an eye on his furrowed brow she smoothed his hair again and continued her reminiscing.
The wizard began to levitate large pieces of wood and plaster off one of the areas where the charm had detected life signs. The teens shifted smaller bits of debris and within minutes they had uncovered a tall man. "That's one of the men who attacked us," cried Kelly. With a look of pure hatred Snape spelled ropes to bind the man who regained consciousness and appeared to be only shaken up.
Everyone attacked the next area Snape indicated and after a few breathless minutes there was a shout. A hand was uncovered and Hermione recognized that hand. "It's Harry!" she cried around the lump in her throat. Ron and Snape joined her as with painstaking care they exposed the injured wizard. Completely slack and covered with white plaster dust, he looked like he was dead. Only the mark from Malfoy's wand and wound in his leg showed any sign of life; both were seeping bright crimson.
After a long moment of silent horror Snape had lifted him gently and without a word he disapperated. Now that the excitement was over Hermione was able to marvel at Snape's ability to dual apperate so many times. She smirked and muttered, "That must have been some adrenaline rush, my friend." She and Ron had been left to their own devices for a short time but the magical reversal squad had shown up moments later to take care of the muggles. The Gryffindors had demanded to be taken to Hogwarts but when Mr. Weasley finally arrived he had produced a portkey to take them back to the Burrow.
As soon as they had staggered to their feet in the kitchen of Ron's home they had flown to the fireplace to ask about Harry. Professor Snape had answered their call and tersely informed them that Madame Pomfrey was still working on him. Before he could finish telling them to wait for news they disconnected and flooed to the Great Hall. By the time they arrived in the infirmary the mediwitch had completed her initial therapy and they were allowed to sit with the still unconscious Harry.
As soon as he was assured Harry would be all right Snape had left Hogwarts and apperated back to the yard. After getting the story from Harry's muggle friends and checking on Arthur, he had returned to the dungeons for a bit of rest. "I'll bet he nearly collapsed after all that apperating." Hermione said with a frown of concern but then she stifled a giggle. "I'd give a galleon to have seen their faces when Snape showed up," she whispered. The image of the potion master in full 'Snape' mode interrogating the boys kept cropping up in her imagination and setting off bursts of laughter. According to the professor only Harry and the three thugs who were trapped in the collapse of the building were injured. "Typical luck for you, Potter," she said aloud as she mentally cataloged his list of injuries. He had nearly joined Sirius behind the veil.
Hermione sighed. "You gave us quite a scare, Harry," as he stirred again. A shadow loomed above her and Hermione looked up into Professor Snape's scowling face. Undaunted by his expression she smiled and was rewarded by a deepening of his frown. The professor laid his hand on Harry's forehead and felt for tension in his limbs then turned away and sprawled in the other chair. Taking in Snape's more relaxed posture and the lack of acerbic comments, Hermione speculated to herself that perhaps Harry was not the only one to benefit from the events of the summer.
"Madame Pomfrey says it will be another day before he regains consciousness," she said in an effort to be helpful.
Snape smirked. "Our good mediwitch is not as familiar with Mr. Potter's habits as I. He will awaken soon I dare say."
With a slight frown Hermione said, "Ron said the same thing. He went to the kitchens to get some treacle tart for when Harry wakes up."
Snape responded to her look of confusion. "Once Mr. Potter starts to stir he will not stay insensible for long. Perhaps dreams are not the safe refuge for him that they are for most." The potions master steepled his fingers and gazed at the Gryffindor with a speculative expression. Silently agreeing with Snape's opinion, Hermione sat back and rubbed her tired eyes, wondering if it would always be so for her troubled friend. Harry stirred again and muttered something unintelligible. Eying her position near Harry's side, Snape smirked and said, "It would be wise to give the brat a bit of space. His awakening after such situations is often rather abrupt…"
As if on cue Harry sucked in a deep breath and struggled out from under the blanket, reaching frantically for his wand and glasses. The sudden movement must have kindled the pain from his still healing injuries as he curled up defensively as soon as he had his wand clutched in his fist.
"Fuck," he hissed through clenched teeth.
"…and punctuated by rather uninspired and repetitive obscenities," Snape said, finishing his interrupted statement.
Harry's eyes darted to Snape and he said, "Fuck," again only louder.
"Harry!" admonished Hermione. She was immediately remorseful for being critical and blurted, "Sorry, Harry, it's so good to see you awake at last." With a relieved smile she leaned forward to hug him. She felt his body go rigid in her arms and began to pull away but a look from Snape made her hang on. After few uncomfortable heartbeats he relaxed, his breath warm against her shoulder as he released the lungful of air he was holding.
Hermione settled into the embrace, ready to hold Harry for as long as he needed. His body felt different than it had on other occasions when Hermione had dared to hug him. The usual scrawniness was replaced by unexpected size and strength. It felt like the summer had somehow sculpted him, carved him into the shape of a man. The word 'honed' came to mind but she shied away from it, hating the connotation that Harry was indeed a weapon, as he so feared. As his arms came up around her, hesitant at first then wrapping around her smaller body with alacrity, she found herself encased in wiry steel. Unlike Ron's hugs, which were warm and comforting, this one had a desperate edge as if he feared she would try to escape. As suddenly as she had begun their hug he ended it, gentle hands on her forearms moving her away from him.
As she met his gaze she saw the same changes in his face. Now that he was awake it was apparent that the strong lines of a powerful wizard had replaced the rounded contours and soft chin of youth. She knew it was inevitable, and even necessary for his survival, but a part of her grieved for the passing of the boy she had known. She hoped this man would still be a friend to her and to Ron. A ghost of a smile drifted across his lips and her hope grew as she recognized the inextinguishable spirit she had grown to cherish like a brother.
Snape watched the two Gryffindors embrace and grappled with his feelings. Initially he had practically choked on the need to voice his revulsion at witnessing the mawkish display. But when he saw Harry's shoulders tense at what should have been a pleasant, friendly touch he nearly cast Imperio to keep the Granger girl from withdrawing. The brat's subsequent relaxation left him both relieved and ready to take house points for PDA. The emotional rollercoaster ride had Snape teetering on the edge of nausea so he stood as if to leave.
"Wait," Harry said, his voice still rough from disuse. Snape turned and waited for Harry to extricate himself from his clinch with Granger. "Professor, you and Hermione and Ron were right." He swallowed with a wince and Hermione wordlessly handed him a glass of water. "I've been a right arse about this whole mess with Voldemort," he rasped after a grateful sip from the glass. "I've been bigheaded and completely self absorbed. I want to apologize and thank you for putting up with all my crap. I know I need to let you all help, it's not just up to me."
Intrigued, Snape eyed the young wizard. Whatever had taken place in that stable yard must have been quite a revelation; perhaps they had gotten their miracle after all. He hoped that someday he might be privy to the details or at least uncover them in an Oclumency lesson. The idea of dragging the information from the brat's protesting mind still held some slight appeal and Snape smirked with anticipated pleasure.
He continued to watch as Harry sank back into the pillows and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. The boy's expression was carefully masked; Snape wondered if he was occluding. From the door way came a snort of laughter and the potions master shook off his musings to look. Weasley stood there with a tray of food and a grin worthy of his deranged twin brothers. "Don't you want to apologize to me too, you prat?"
Harry grinned and Snape watched most of the strain that had plagued the boy all summer melt away. "I figured you're such a wanker all the time that this just makes us even." The redhead's grin grew even wider as he walked over to Harry's bed and plunked the tray down on the table. Grabbing the front of Harry's pajamas he hauled the smaller boy upright in the bed as Hermione rushed to put pillows behind him. Snape caught a flicker of unease in Potter's eyes as his friend advanced upon him but he was gratified to see it was immediately extinguished.
"Hurry up and eat this before Pomfrey shows up and goes nutters over you, hero boy." As Harry dug into the tray he asked about Arthur and the stable lads. After Weasley reassured him that they were well the two began to discuss Quidditch and trade insults as if the summer apart had never occurred. With a smirk Snape turned and headed for the door but stopped short of his goal when he heard Harry gasp.
"Ron…" he stammered, staring at his friend with eyes round as a house elf. Snape was back at his side in an instant as Harry reached for Weasley's arm, pushing back the sleeve. The boy's fingers flinched away from his friends arm then returned to gently stroke the scars left by his accident in the DOM. Harry's eyes went to Ron's startled face and he asked in a low voice, "Doesn't this hurt, Ron?"
The redhead jerked his arm away and pulled the sleeve back down to cover the scars. "It aches a bit," he conceded, "Nothing to worry about. The healers said it just takes time." He rubbed his arm and an expression of distaste crossed his face as he repeated, "It'll clear up with time."
Harry fell back against the pillows and stared at his friend. An incredulous expression followed by one of indignation crossed his mobile features. Snape was still trying to figure out what was going on when Harry said, "Can you conjure another containment box, Professor?" Realizing what the boy was talking about, Snape quickly conjured a box and levitated it onto the bedside table. Meanwhile Harry snagged Weasley's arm again and was eyeing it with revulsion.
"What's going on, Harry?" the redhead stuttered, trying to pull away again.
"Hold still, Ron." Harry glared up at his friend. "Stop fighting me. This isn't going to go away on it's own." The freckled teen stopped struggling but continued to look fearful and his body was tensed for flight. Harry caught the other boy's gaze and held it. "Trust me," he whispered. Under the strength of that promise the boy nodded, giving his complete confidence to his friend, and when Harry muttered his freezing charm, Weasley didn't flinch. As shards of dark magic fell away Granger broke her unusual silence with a stifled gasp.
"What is that," she hissed as Snape levitated them into the box. For his part, Snape ignored her and concentrated on Potter. It was not a good idea to be doing magic so soon after awakening from a healing sleep but he knew it would be useless to ask him to wait. Luckily the extent of Weasley's affliction must have been mild as the boy finished quickly and sat back again after releasing his friend's scarred arm.
"Dark magic," Harry said with a look of distaste. "Probably been there since the DOM." He looked at Weasley who was examining his forearm with an awed expression. "Alright there, Ron?"
"Better than alright, Harry," he breathed. "It doesn't hurt anymore. It's been aching and burning the whole bloody summer." He raised his eyes from their scrutiny and looked at Potter with openmouthed wonder. Snape felt mildly ill at the adulation in his expression but banished the box without comment. "How'd you do it, mate?"
With a tired grin the brat said, "Just a little something I picked up over the summer." Both his friends appeared completely gobsmacked and ready to pump Potter for information but Snape took in the tired slump of his shoulders and stood up.
"You need to rest, Potter. Weasley, Granger, out." He didn't have the energy to muster a full Snape snarl but his words were effective enough. Both teens jumped up as if stung and scuttled toward the door.
"We'll visit later, Harry," the Granger girl called out as they shut the door. Harry gave them a wave and sank back in the pillows with his eyes shut. The words of complaint for the dismissal of his friends never came and within a minute the boy was breathing in the deep, slow rhythm of sleep. After looking around to make sure no one was watching Snape tugged the comforter up over the young wizard's chest and followed the two Gryffindors out the door. The Granger girl was waiting for him and he hoped she hadn't witnessed his lapse. He preferred to keep his membership in the Potter fan club as his own dirty little secret.
"Yes, Ms. Granger?"
"Thank you." A subtle lift of his brow was her only answer. "For taking care of Harry this summer. He looks a lot better, more like the old Harry. I know it's a lot your doing and I want to thank you." She nodded to the infirmary. "Merlin knows he never will."
Snape turned to fully face her. He glanced through the window in the door at the slumbering wizard. "I am sure he will appreciate your presence again today, perhaps at dinner time." The insufferable girl grinned at him and scurried off to join her red haired compatriot. He rolled his eyes and made a mental tally of the days until the meddlesome trio would be gone from Hogwarts.
As he stood and enjoyed the silence in the hallway Snape spoke softly to himself. "Well, Mr. Potter, we shall see what this year brings. Perhaps you are not so broken after all." He swirled his robes around himself and headed for the dungeons.
Well, that's the fic as I had it in my mind – hope you liked it! Thanks so much for coming along for the ride. I really had no intention of writing a continuation but as I was tidying up this last chapter some good stuff for later occurred to me and I made a start on it so I may carry on into sixth year a bit. It will take a while, I like to have the whole thing mostly mapped out ahead of time (don't see how people do it off the cuff!) so don't expect anything soon. But if you liked this keep me on your list for a while, there could be more to come.
I got a review from CannonFodder that's given me trouble fitting my head through doorways ever since I read it! She posed two good questions about the fic:
Why were DE at the race track? I had the DE telling Ron that they had been tailing them but somewhere along the way as I was cleaning up POV problems that got lost. Anyway, they were following R and Hr as they looked for H and had no idea he was at the track.
How would Harry take to horses so quickly? I always felt he took to Quidditch unnaturally fast so I figured this wasn't too much of a stretch! Plus as a student of riding for many years this is my secret fantasy!
Another reader asked if I went to Princeton – nope, I'm an Ohio State grad. Go Bucks! Spent many nights partying to that song… (drifts off in foggy memory with sappy smile firmly in place)
Thanks again for reading – I cherished every single review. I've kept them all in an email folder so I can read them again when I am feeling like my writing is crap!