Hermione got sick in her second to last year of Hogwarts. It started as a cold that wouldn't go away. The unbreakable fever, a constant rawness in her throat, and her body ached where her glands were; around her neck and under her arms the most. She was always tired and had trouble focusing with the intensity that she was used to. She tried not to complain about it much. She went to see Madame Pomfrey a few times but the mediwitch just gave her all the normal tests and a few generic potions and sent her on her way.
Finally, when Hermione botched a relatively easy potion in potions class, Professor Snape asked her to stay behind.
"Miss Granger," he drawled, "you'll receive a zero for today." He waited for her to protest but she coughed demurely into her hand instead. Her coloring was off and he noticed her leaning into a desk for support. "How long have you felt ill?" he asked, his voice sharp.
"I'm fine, Professor," she said.
"Do not lie to me, girl," he barked.
"A few months, I suppose, from the very first moment of feeling unwell," she answered promptly, not wanting a late night detention to bog through.
"What does Pomfrey say?"
"Overexertion, stress, a particularly adamant bug," she said, ticking off her fingers. "I don't think she knows what's wrong."
He nodded, looking her up and down but not in a suggestive way. He looked at the time; classes were over for the day.
"Come with me," he said, standing and walking briskly for the door. He slowed his pace when she couldn't keep up; she was already short of breath after one flight of stairs.
He entered the infirmary with her in tow. He was carrying her school bag for her. She looked as white as one of the very clean sheets strained over the mattress of an infirmary bed. As much as Hermione Granger annoyed Severus Snape on a daily basis, he could see that this was not a bug. The girl was seriously sick. Pomfrey entered their field of vision and tsked at the sight of Hermione. The mediwitch saw her all too often these days. Snape pointed to the nearest bed and she sat without verbal instruction. He set her bag next to her and stepped away to have a word with Pomfrey. Hermione watched half-heartedly, not really even trying to guess what Snape was saying. Pomfrey was nodding and went to her cabinet to retrieve a potion.
"Miss Granger, dear, I want to perform another test and it's better if you are unconscious while I do it," Pomfrey said. By now, Hermione was used to this and complied without comment. She threw back the bitter brew and lay down against the overly starched pillow. Her vision swam, and she saw Snape lean over her with a concerned expression before everything went dark and she fell into a dreamless sleep.
It was a new day when she awoke. Her uniform had been folded neatly on the chair beside her and she wore a white, generic nightgown. It was early because the castle was quiet and still in the gray, early morning light. She didn't feel much better – only marginally more rested. She lay quietly contemplating what Snape may have said to Madame Pomfrey. About 30 minutes passed and the infirmary doors were unlocked from the outside. Pomfrey bustled in.
"Good, you're awake," she said, though she didn't sound at all glad. She pulled a chair over to Hermione's bedside and sat down stoutly.
"Did you perform the test?" Hermione asked, softly. "Was it successful?" Pomfrey looked at her hands in her lap, as if gathering her thoughts. Her usual brisk manner was suspended for the moment.
"We figured out why you've been so under the weather, Professor Snape and I, yes," she said.
"I don't quite know how to… it's cancer, dear," she said. Hermione froze.
"I'm sorry, what?" she asked.
"Cancer, in your bone marrow. It's an early stage so it's good we've caught it, but the coming months will be hard."
"Cancer," Hermione said, looking down at her skinny arms. "I thought it was just a cheeky cold."
She dressed slowly and went back to Gryffindor tower lethargically. She'd been excused from her classes for the day so the common room was blessedly empty. She took a shower, put on jeans and a sweater. She sent for some breakfast but ate very little of it. She checked the class scheduling posted on the notice board to see when Snape had a free period. When that time came, she made her way to the dungeons to see him, wrapped up in an old, gray cable knit sweater for warmth.
She knocked and he snapped a dour, "Come in!"
She closed the door softly behind her. The room smelled like old gym socks, from whatever potion the third years had botched not very long before. "You missed class this morning, Miss Granger," he said, by way of a greeting.
"I have a note from Madame Pomfrey," she said, reaching into her pocket but he waved it away.
"Have a seat. Was there something you wished to discuss?"
She sat, a little nervous. Snape was being awfully decent.
"Apparently I'm very sick. But you knew that, didn't you sir?" she asked.
"I suspected. My mother died of cancer," he said.
"So there isn't some cure that the wizards discovered?" she asked.
"No, had we cured cancer we would have given it to the Muggle government as well," he said. "It's a nasty disease."
"I thought as much," she said. "I have to go to St. Mungo's every weekend for treatment, starting tomorrow." There was a short silence. She stared at the blackboard and he down at the papers he'd begun to grade. He felt sorry for her. She felt a little sorry for herself.
"Where is it?" he asked. "The cancer?"
"Didn't you stay for the test?" she asked.
"In my marrow," she said. His face remained impassive but they both knew it wasn't a hopeful place. They could remove tumors, they could remove breasts. She looked at her fingers, her elbows, her feet. She wondered if it was everywhere. He watched her for a bit; watched her watch herself.
"If there's nothing else, then," he said, stern again. "I'm quite busy."
"Would you like some help?" she asked, suddenly desperate not to be alone with her thoughts which were rapidly becoming more and more morbid.
"I would like to be left alone," he said. She nodded, not really expecting him to be any different, and let herself out of the classroom to the scratching of his quill against parchment. In the Entrance hall, beside the staircase to the second floor, Dumbledore was waiting patiently.
"Miss Granger, hello," he said, smiling at her. "I was hoping to run into you."
"Hello, Headmaster," she said dutifully. "How are you this morning?"
"I'm fine," he said, "Just fine."
"Was there something you wanted?" she asked, wishing to avoid the conversation they were destined to have for just a bit longer.
"Let's go have a seat in the Great hall for a moment," he said. She nodded and followed him into the abandoned dining room where the long wooden tables were spotless and gleaming. She felt a little cold and sat at the Gryffindor table near the fire. He sat across from her, the table between them. "I'm sorry to hear about your diagnosis, Miss Granger."
"As am I," she said.
"Poppy tells me you'll need to go to London once a week. I'm afraid you're going to get worse before you get better," he said. "I wanted to offer you the option of taking a leave from your studies for the duration of your recovery. You should get well, Miss Granger, and then finish your education. I don't want the stress of exams to slow your progress."
She was aghast. "You want me to leave Hogwarts?" she said, her voice rising.
"Now, now, I said your studies. We live in tumultuous times and I don't believe that returning to your parent's home would do you much good. The muggle process of fighting cancer is much worse then the wizard way and with Voldemort on the horizon, the only safe place for a friend of Harry Potter's is within these walls."
She relaxed a little; she didn't have to leave, but then immediately clammed up again at the thought of informing her parents. They would surely try to make her come home. She hadn't really told them about the impending war and they wouldn't be able to understand how she could more safe at school then at home with then. Her father would probably blame the magic inside her as the cause of the disease. She wondered, briefly, if muggle-borns weren't equipped to handle such power – if perhaps the magic was the cause.
"Well," she said, unsure of her place now, "What do I do next?"
She moved from Gryffindor tower to her own set of permanent quarters. She was no longer required to wear her uniform during school hours and she fought tears when she placed her prefect badge into the palm of Dumbledore's hand. The new rooms were nice and she suspected they were guest quarters or maybe even staff quarters. She had a bedroom with a queen size bed instead of a twin one. There was a sitting room with a fire place and some lounging furniture and a private bathroom with a tub as well as a shower. The windows were large and let in a lot of light and they were an improvement from the small, circular room she'd shared with the same four girls for six years. She didn't have much to her name other than clothes and books. And most of her clothes were uniforms. She had a few pair of jeans and some tops. One nice Muggle dress and one set of formal robes. A pair of trainers, her black Mary-Jane's she wore with her uniform, and a pair of slippers. She had two nightgowns, one pair of flannel pajama pants, her grey sweater, her cloak, and her Muggle jacket. In the over-sized wardrobe, it looked rather sparse.
She went to the sitting room to see about putting her books into the shelves when she noticed a small female elf waiting for her.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello, Miss, I is Wally," the elf said, shyly. "I is to be your personal servant." Hermione fought the urge to roll her eyes. It would be nice to have an elf at her beck and call when she was sick but she didn't want a servant.
"Thank you, Wally," Hermione said, too nauseous to launch into any lectures about elfish welfare at the moment. "I don't need anything at this time." The elf nodded and disappeared. She had little to do for the first time in years. There were no essays to write, no classes to attend, no prefect duties to see to. She had yet to inform Ron and Harry of her diagnosis and swift move. In only a few hours they would trudge up to the common room – probably wondering if Hermione had taken another sick day – and call up the stairs to her dormitory. She wondered how long it would take them to realize she was gone.
It was useless to worry about it now – there was still another two hours until dinner. Instead, she fished out a clean piece of parchment and sat down at the desk positioned under one of the windows and set about the tedious task of writing her parents. How could she start? Dear Mum and Dad, I have cancer but it isn't safe for me to leave school? That was hardly tactful. She inked in the date at the top of the page, and set her jaw.
Dear Mum and Dad –
How are you? I miss you both very much and wish I could see you right now. I have something important to tell you and it would be best to do it in person but that isn't an option so I am writing you this letter instead. I've been unwell the past few months. I think I've mentioned it in my weekly letters. I thought it was a persistent flu but one of my Professors suggested I get tested for… well, the thing is, I have cancer.
I didn't even know witches and wizards got cancer! And I assumed that they'd cured it if they have but apparently it is just as serious here as in the Muggle world. I don't know what to tell you to stop you from worrying. I know you're going to want me to come home but I can't. It isn't safe for me to leave the safely guarded walls of Hogwarts. I am to go into the wizard hospital once a week for treatment. Headmaster Dumbledore told me that the wizard treatment is a lot more comfortable then the Muggle treatment, another reason to stay at school. I am taking a leave from my school work, however, to focus solely on getting well. I am against falling behind but I want to fight this, to win.
I can't imagine what you must be feeling. I promise to keep you updated – to write you daily when I can. I wish I could see you. I love you both.
She looked at the parchment. If she were to receive this letter she would be furious at the lack of details but she wanted to go to her first appointment at St. Mungo's before she told them anything of her condition. She rolled up the parchment and sealed it with her wand. She pulled on her sweater and slowly made her way to the owlery. She wanted to believe that a mistake had been made but she was only half way there and already she was winded; the hand that clutched the letter was trembling. Something was definitely wrong with her. She caught her reflection in a suit of armor and her eyes looked sunken and black against her pallid skin. Her hair was limp and tangled, and her frame looked angular and small. She'd been losing weight. She sighed, trying not to feel sorry for herself.
She entered the darkening owlery – the sun was beginning to set. Soon students would start spilling out of classrooms heading towards the great hall for dinner. Dumbledore had told her she could keep attending meals whenever she felt strong enough – he didn't want to quarantine her. The staff already knew and she assumed he would make some sort of general announcement to explain her prolonged absence. She didn't really want to be there for that. She called down a barn owl and attached the letter and watched him soar off into the dusk sky. She turned to head back towards her new rooms to eat dinner by herself and rest up for her trip to London tomorrow. She was startled by the figure leaning against the door frame, watching her send off her letter.
"Good evening, Professor," she greeted.
"Miss Granger, I see we are on the same errand," Snape said, snapping his fingers. A dark owl flew down and extending his leg dutifully. Snape attached the letter and the owl flew off swiftly.
"The unfortunate task of informing my parents," she said, nodding towards the open window. "I don't expect it to go well."
"I imagine not," he agreed. "Shall I escort you to dinner?" he asked, extending his arm.
"I wasn't going to go," she said, looking down. "I just… I've not told anyone yet and I look a fright and…"
"I understand," he said. "To your rooms, then."
"I will be all right on my own," she said.
"Put your hand on my arm, Miss Granger, and allow me to make sure you return safely or I shall be forced to deduct house points," he said. She nodded and rested her hand on his elbow.
"Thank you, Professor. It is very kind of you to offer your assistance," she said.
"I would do the same for any ailing student," he said. She snorted. "Well, perhaps not Potter or Longbottom," he reconsidered. "Or any of the Weasleys. Well, none of the males, Ginny perhaps…"
"Either way, I will refrain from getting used to your kindness for when I am well and back in your potions class, being the know-it-all that I am," she said, cutting him off before his list of exceptions grew to include the entire school.
"I look forward to that day," he said. She was quiet for the rest of the way back to her rooms and he left her there with a swift goodbye. She watched him sweep down the hall towards dinner until she couldn't see him anymore for he had turned a corner. She locked herself in her room and thought about the encounter. Snape had still been Snape, of course, but he'd been particularly kind to her. She wondered if he had been with his mother throughout her bout with the disease. She didn't want to think of the road ahead of her – something so bad even Snape had pity on her.
She called Wally for her dinner but ate very little of it as food tended to upset her stomach more than hunger these days. After the meal, she figured she'd better go to the Gryffindor common room to have a word with the boys. She made her way slowly up the stairs and muttered the password to the fat lady.
"Midnight Sky," she said and climbed into the portrait hole.
Some people were not yet back from dinner but Harry and Ron were already playing chess by the fire. Both jumped up to see her when she walked in. Ron threw his arms around her and Harry smiled.
"We were worried about you, Hermione! You weren't at meals, in class, and you weren't in your dorm. What's up?" Ron asked.
"Why don't you guys sit down," she said, softly. Harry's face fell.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"You both know I've been sick," she said and proceeded to tell them the events of the last day. They were both speechless.
"Cancer in wizards is really rare," Ron said, looking into the fire.
"Not in Muggles," Hermione said, "And I'm both. Professor Snape's mother died of cancer."
"How do you know?" Harry asked, immediately bristling at the mere mention of the loathed Potions Professor.
"He told me is how I know," she snapped, suddenly defensive of Snape. She refused to take his uncharacteristic kindness for granted. She was not naïve enough to think she could get better without the support of others. Still, it was hard for the three of them to swallow. It was not a situation the trio could solve with an invisibility cloak and a bucket full of courage. Their friendship and loyalty to the good wasn't going to cure her.
"I'll go with you, tomorrow," Harry said, defiantly. She gave him a sympathetic look and shook her head. He wanted so badly to save her.
"It's barely safe enough for me to leave the grounds. You'll never be allowed out. But thank you, I appreciate the sentiment."
"Who is taking you, then?" asked Ron.
"I don't know. Madame Pomfrey, I suppose," she said.
They spent the rest of the time quiet and the boys walked her back to her new quarters just in time for curfew.
In the morning, she showered and dressed. She separated her wet hair into three sections and braided it firmly; the Muggle way even though she knew the charm. Magic took a lot of energy and she found she was less tired if she just set her wand down when she could and did things the long way. She went down to the entrance hall in her school uniform. She didn't want to go to wizard London in Muggle clothes. She wanted to look respectable.
Beside the wooden doors stood not Pomfrey but Snape.
"Miss Granger," he greeted.
"Professor," she replied, "What are you doing here?"
"Poppy thought it prudent to stay on the grounds today since Slytherin and Gryffindor have a quidditch match," he sneered. "Potter has a tendency to injure himself, after all." She noted he said nothing about Draco plowing straight into the ground going for the snitch on three separate occasions.
"You're taking me, then?" she said but it wasn't really a question.
"I need to go into London anyhow. A matter of convenience."
She nodded, wanting to be braver than she felt.
"Headmaster Dumbledore has provided us with a portkey since you cannot yet apparate," he said. In his hand was a small tea cup. "Hold on, it should activate momentarily."
She reached out and touched a tentative finger to the delicate handle. They stood quietly for a moment and then the immense disorientation set in. She felt her knees give and she stumbled against him. He quickly put the cup away and pulled her up right – his hands on her arms. She lost her color and had to talk herself out of throwing up all over his front.
"All right, then?" he asked softly and she gave a curt nod. She opened her eyes. They were in the waiting room of St. Mungo's. There were so many oddities that no one really noticed the pair appearing. She looked down and noticed they were in a circle, painting onto the linoleum. A designated arrival and departure area. There were several lining the wall and she saw a man step into one and apparate away. Snape stepped away from her, out of the circle, and their contact was severed. She looked around for a bit but he started walking without speaking to the information desk like Mrs. Weasley had last year when they'd come after Mr. Weasley had been attacked. He seemed to already know what floor they wanted. When she'd been here previously, they'd taken the stairs but now he stopped at a bank of elevators. She was glad when they went up several floors. Stairs tired her out too easily. The area of the hospital that they entered next was quiet unlike the bustling waiting room into which they appeared. He wove down a maze of hallways and finally they entered a much smaller waiting room with only five chairs and a bored looking witch behind the desk. "Go on," he said, motioning towards the witch. She nodded and approached the window.
"I'm Hermione Granger. I have an appointment, I believe," she said. The witch glanced down at something in front of her.
"Ahh, yes, the Hogwarts student. I suspect we'll be seeing much more of each other," she said with a faint smile. She couldn't have been much older than Hermione her self. "It will just be a few minutes. I need your wand for the duration of the visit. A safety precaution," she said, reaching out her hand. Hermione glanced back at Snape who nodded and handed her wand over. The receptionist put it into a slender cubby hole at her side. Hermione moved to sit next to Snape. It really only was a few minutes before the door opened and another mediwitch motioned her forward. This times her robes were light blue instead of the general lime green of St. Mungo's employees. Hermione gathered this to mean she was specialized in something. Probably fatal diseases. She tried not to think about it.
"Granger?" The mediwitch asked and she nodded – looked over her shoulder at Snape.
"I'll be here to get you when you're done," he assured her and she suddenly wanted him to go in with her desperately, as if she were a child being lead to get a shot but she wasn't a child any longer and this was much more than just a shot. She nodded at him, looked forward, and walked.
They put her in an exam room but it was different than a Muggle hospital. There were no metal instruments, or boxes of latex gloves, or blood pressure devices bolted to the walls. There was a cot, a few chairs, and a locked cupboard she presumed was filled with salves and potions. Soon an older witch came in and sat in the chair across from Hermione.
"I'm Healer McKinney," she said. "You must be Hermione."
"Yes," she said. "Nice to meet you."
"I suspect not." The healer laughed. "It's never good to have to treat a Hogwarts student. They're so young. A Prefect, at that," she said looking at the yellow "p" stitched into her robes to show where the badge was to go. She'd already given it back to Dumbledore. She reached up and felt the stitching with her finger.
"I'm not doing my classes right now," Hermione said, softly. "I'm to concentrate on getting better."
"Let me tell you about what is going to happen. You'll be put on a regiment of daily potions and come in once a week for intensive spell casting that should help your bone marrow regenerate. The potions focus on killing the sick cells. There are some side effects. The potions will make you dizzy, weak, and nauseous. Your body will need all its energy to fight and so doing magic will be difficult and your spells won't be as powerful or precise. I suspect that is part of the reason you'll need a break from your lessons," She told Hermione.
"Will I lose my hair?" she asked. It was a vain question but she wanted to know the answer all the same.
"Goodness no, why would you think that?"
"I'm Muggle-born and when doctors treat cancer, the process makes hair fall out," she said.
"That is preposterous," she said. "I'll give you written instructions on all of your medication. Let's get started, shall we?"
Hermione woke up on the cot some hours later. She felt as if she'd been hexed to within an inch of her life and then trampled by elephants and then shot a few times for good measure. She didn't even want to open her eyes but did. There were no windows in the room so she couldn't gauge how much time had passed. She was cold; she wished she had a blanket. Her uniform felt itchy and the tie was too tight around her throat. She reached up to loosen the knot, and her arms felt as heavy as lead.
She could recognize that voice in a heartbeat and she opened her eyes to look at Snape who was looming over her bed.
"It's time to go," he said.
"Just leave me here to die," she said, coughing a bit over the sarcasm. She wasn't sure if she was even being sarcastic.
"I'll help you up, we'll take it slow," he promised, offering a hand. She ignored his offer and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The sudden motion was too much and she leaned over the side of the bed and threw up. Snape's face remained impassive as he took a step back to avoid getting any of it on his shoes and the mess was gone as soon as it came with a wave of his wand.
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She felt a little better.
"No matter," he said, and she stood shakily. He lifted her cloak from the chair and placed it around her shoulders, fastening it for her. Then, with a hand on the small of her back, he led her back to the waiting room and retrieved her wand for her which he didn't immediately give back, but put it in the pocket that held his own. She didn't protest – she'd not be able to do anything with any how, short of poking someone. "We need to go back to the main waiting room for the portkey to work," he informed her, ushering her into the elevator. The ride made her turn slightly green but they made it without more sickness. In the waiting room, he fished the same tea cup out and lifted her hand to it. Soon, they were outside the gates of Hogwarts and Hermione was on her hands and knees, throwing up once more. Her whole body ached with the act of being sick and she felt as if she was not just throwing up the contents of her stomach but her actual stomach as well. Finally, the retching stopped and she shakily rose to her feet, only to feel her knees give and she sat back on the ground, shivering.
"I didn't know," she said, "it would feel like this." She looked up at him helplessly and he actually looked concerned as opposed to the mask of indifference he'd worn earlier (still an improvement on his regular expression of contempt).
"The first time is always the worst," he said and she nodded, grateful. It was something to hold onto. She didn't know how they were going to get to the gates when she couldn't even stand. He could float her body only if she was unconscious and she wished for unconsciousness but it didn't come on the cold, rocky ground. Instead, he scooped her up into his surprisingly strong arms and strode purposefully towards the castle. She wondered if Ron and Harry were watching this pathetic display from Gryffindor Tower through the windows but she found she didn't care.
"I'm so embarrassed," she muttered softly. She was close to him – she knew he could hear her whispers.
"I'll only use it against you when you are well," he said, dryly and she wanted to laugh but she couldn't. The doors seemed to know they were coming and opened accordingly. Their timing was something awful, however, as it was just as dinner was getting out and the main hall was filled with people all warm and happy, stuffed with food. Hermione vowed never to eat again.
It was the thing Hogwarts legends were made of. A few people even shrieked when the front doors banged open and the setting sun silhouetted the intimidating form of Professor Snape holding a woman who clung feebly to him, her arms around his neck. The students parted like the red sea as the doors closed behind them. He snarled at anyone who dared to make eye contact with him and she just closed her eyes. If she couldn't actually be unconscious, she would fake it. Finally she felt them ascending the stairs and she didn't know how he knew where her new quarters were but she opened her eyes when he asked the password.
"Restricted Section," she said and the portrait swung open. He wound his way around furniture, deposited her on the bed, set her wand and a package on her night stand and left without a word. She wanted to call out a thank you but she slept instead.
When she woke (though she fought valiantly to stay asleep), she reached for the package Snape had left. She untied the string and removed the heavy brown paper. The potions were inside. Enough for the week – until her next torture session at the hospital. The spells the healer had performed were so strong that they had sent her into convulsions. She didn't want to go back.
Next to the bottles were instructions as promised – what vials to take on what day and whether she should take them with or without food. Reading the complicated instructions, she felt like a magical geriatric. Underneath the curly script was the small, spiky writing of Snape.
Call Wally when you wake.
He didn't have to sign it. She cleared her throat and said the elf's name. Wally appeared within moments.
"Madame Pomfrey wishes to see you," Wally said, "After you've eaten." Food sounded like a punishment but when she pulled on her robe and crawled out of bed, there was a covered tray on the table. Inside was some soup – mostly broth – some bread, pumpkin juice, and tea. All foods she could probably keep down. She ate slowly and the soup made her feel a bit better. She brushed her teeth and felt more human. She didn't particularly feel like traipsing across the castle. In fact, she was pretty sure it was the middle of the night. She looked at the clock – 5:16am. She wasn't sure curfew didn't apply to her still. Then she saw the floo powder near the fire place. She threw a pinch in – Wally must have lit the hearth – and the flames turned green.
"Madame Pomfrey," she called, clearly.
"Come on through, dear," she heard and so she stepped into the flame. It was much less painful than portkeys. She wondered if they could floo to London. "I was beginning to worry. I would have come to you in another ten minutes," she said.
"Wally said to eat first." Hermione explained.
"Yes, indeed. Now, how are you feeling?" Hermione had to think about how to answer. She felt better than when she'd woken up the first time and emptied her stomach but she still felt exhausted and wrung out.
"I threw up in front of Professor Snape," she decided on lamely.
"So he told me," she chuckled. "I wouldn't worry about it, dear. It probably won't be the last time." Hermione looked up sharply.
"He is going to keep bringing me?" she asked.
"Heaven knows I offered but it's on Dumbledore's orders," she said, shrugging. "I expected to never hear the end of it from Severus but he just nodded," Pomfrey said and Hermione immediately understood. Dumbledore's orders. He wanted someone from the Order to accompany her. To keep her safe outside the walls of the castle. She waited patiently for Pomfrey to test her and tell her to take it easy before she went back to her room through the fireplace. She waited a few hours – bathed and changed her clothes. When it was late enough, she flooed to the Gryffindor common room and slowly climbed the stairs to the boy's dormitory. Since it was Sunday, all the boys were still asleep at 8:00 am. She crawled into Harry's bed and lay down next to him.
"'Mione, what's wrong?" he asked, reaching for his glasses.
"Nothing, just go back to sleep," she said. She'd come to tell him of her experiences but instead just fell asleep next to her best friend.
They spent the day walking slowly around the grounds. Ron told her that Dumbledore had announced why Hermione had been so absent – that she was sick and probably would not return for the rest of the school year to her classes.
"Most people seemed sad," Ron said.
"Except for the Slytherins," Harry muttered.
"Did they make a new prefect?" she asked, sadly.
"Rachel Rochester – a girl from Ravenclaw," Harry said. Hermione knew her. At least she wasn't a Slytherin. Finally, the boys had to run off to quidditch practice and so she was left on her own to make her way slowly home. The younger students knew of her but didn't speak to her. A few Slytherins shot nasty glances or snickered. She saw Neville on his way to the greenhouses and he shyly hugged her and wished her well. Once in the castle, she saw Nearly Headless Nick and he – like a gentleman – floated by her all the way to her portrait.
By day four, she was going stir crazy with boredom. She longed to go back to class but she was hardly able to do a sustained wingardium leviosa spell, let alone transfigure anything. But she could do potions or history of magic or ancient runes all without a wand. She decided to ask Professor McGonagall if she could resume an altered, lightened schedule. She was also beginning to wonder if the magic in her body was simply inaccessible or if it was gone. Where did magic reside? Within the witch or wizard or somewhere else? In the earth? She would go to the library. Reading quietly was something she could do without tiring herself out. She spent most of the day in the library reading history books and books on elemental magic – filling rolls of parchment with her cramped notes.
When the bells chimed for dinner she decided to join the rest of the student body in the Great Hall. Several Gryffindors greeted her despite her perpetually disheveled appearance. McGonagall nodded approvingly at her. She stood out in the sea of uniforms – her blue jeans and grey jumper were stark in the sea of dark colors. She always used to let her hair hang free – always too busy and distracted to bother with it but now (with time so abundant) she plaited it every day; two buoyant braids down her back. She was considering cutting it short.
Harry and Ron immediately made space for her. She wasn't very hungry for the potions kept all of her insides churning. Still, she nibbled as best she could. She was still losing weight and Pomfrey was already talking about putting her on weight gaining protein shakes. Hermione had never been skinny, or fat. She wasn't slender – she was well proportioned but thick and a little sturdy. Now, she was thin – she'd lost her healthy glow. Everyone asked how she was and most people watched her pretend to eat her dinner. She glanced up to the head table where Snape stared into his food, glumly spooning mashed potatoes in past his thin lips. She'd not seen him since he carried her to her bed. She wanted to thank him but she doubted he would appreciate it. She could perhaps mention something on their next (dreaded) outing. Suddenly, he looked up and met her gaze. They stared at each other, each unwilling to look away first. It grew uncomfortable. Finally, he nodded as if she had earned a greeting, and resumed the intense contemplation of his dwindling dinner.
She waited for McGonagall to rise and timed her exit to correspond.
"Good evening, Miss Granger," the Scottish woman greeted warmly.
"Good evening, Professor. I was hoping to have a word with you?" McGonagall nodded. "I wanted to know if I could perhaps attend my classes that didn't require the direct use of magic. Potions, or History…"
"Miss Granger, I thought you and the headmaster agreed on this?" she said, cutting off Hermione's excitement at the quick.
"I'm bored, Professor!" Hermione cried. McGonagall smiled sympathetically.
"I'm sure you'll figure something out." Hermione could tell that her request to rejoin her classmates, albeit part time, was denied. Her irregular presence, McGonagall told her later in her tower office, would be a disruption and should the occasional need of magic arise – Dumbledore didn't want the temptation to strain herself overwhelm her.
"We need you, Miss Granger," he said softly, sitting on the edge of McGonagall's desk. She was too scared to ask why and she wondered vaguely if there was a prophetic glass orb somewhere with her name on it on a dusty shelf. She didn't want the responsibility so soon. Instead, she was granted permission for an independent study project.
"Do you think Professor Snape would be willing to sponsor me?" she asked, suddenly timid. Dumbledore winked at her.
"Perhaps for you," he said. "though that will be the true challenge – not the academia." Hermione wisely chose not to respond.
The next weekend, the wait in the waiting room was much longer and Hermione decided to broach the subject of an Independent Study Project with him. She was sitting quietly in her uniform that now hung off of her in the most unattractive manner, especially next to Snape whose clothes were always so well tailored to his willowy form. She had her hands between her knees and her shoulders hunched in the anticipation of the horrid hours ahead of her. But now she squared herself and looked up at him. He had buried himself in the Daily Prophet.
"Professor," she stared and then lost her words. The paper lowered just enough so his eyes showed, looking her.
"Yes?" he asked, drawling the 's' out so that it was hissed.
"I had a word with the headmaster the other day and he thought that, perhaps, a project would be a good way to spend my recovery period. Something I could work on at my own pace… a subject of my choosing," she said.
"Oh how marvelous for you," he said sarcastically and lifted his paper again.
"Yes, I agree," she barreled on, ignoring his disposition. "As you know, in my… restricted state, there are only a few subjects I can study that take little to no magic and while I find Muggle studies and the history of magic to be fascinating subjects, I would much rather…"
"I see where this is going, Miss Granger, and I can assure you the answer is no," he said, folding up his paper briskly, in a way that suggested the tepid conversation had ended.
"I wouldn't even need to interact with you directly, sir, just a space in your classroom when you didn't have a class and your signature on my weekly progress report," she argued, frustrated she'd not even gotten to ask before he refused her.
"I already give up the majority of my Saturday for you Miss Granger and I believe that to be quite enough," he said and she was saved having to think of an answer because her name was called and this time as she followed the healer, she was glad he wasn't coming in with her.
When she came to, he was not waiting for her like the previous week. She felt just as awful but she managed to be sick in the bin instead all over the floor. She had to leave the mess, however, because she couldn't magic it away like he had. It was a foul color, all pinks and greens from the potions she'd ingested and the yellowish tint that was her stomach's digestive acids. Dry heaving was the worst really. She was covered with sweat and she wanted to stand and wet a paper towel to clean off her mouth but there was no way she could stand; even sitting up caused her vision to swim dangerously. She started to panic, realizing just how helpless she really was. Anyone could stroll in and murder her and she could do absolutely nothing to defend herself. Her wand was out in the waiting room, but she doubted she could even extinguish the lights let alone hex anyone even if she did have it. She was, she realized, only a slight step up from a squib. She started to cry now, in earnest, big tears of self-loathing and self-pity. She was scared and disappointed in herself, she couldn't get her hands to stop trembling and her hair was matted to her face. Her teeth chattered uncontrollably and she needed a restroom rather badly but couldn't do a thing about it except continue to sit there and cry. She'd been Muggle for longer then she'd been a witch but she didn't think she could go back. She adored magic.
She looked around, trying to see if there was a way she could call a nurse but there was nothing to indicate how. She, thankfully, didn't have to wait long before there was a light knock and a mediwitch she'd not seen before came in to check on her.
"You're awake!" she said, looking horrified at the girl's disheveled state. "What's wrong?" Hermione, not trusting herself to speak, pointed across the room to the loo and the nurse relaxed visibly and moved to help her up. They walked slowly across the room and the woman held her up while she shyly sat on the toilet and relieved herself. That made her feel a bit less desperate but still embarrassed as the woman led her back to the bed.
"Where is Professor Snape?" she asked, her voice raw and uncertain.
"Who?" the nurse asked, looking confused. She spied the bin and wrinkled her nose, removing the mess with a swish of her wand. Hermione was suddenly insanely jealous and would have scowled at the woman had she been able to do anything but lie there helplessly shaking.
"My escort. Tall, all in black, hard to miss," she said, through clenched teeth.
"Oh, well, yes, I did see him. Healer McKinney suggested that you stay the night so I suppose he will be back in the morning?" she said, but it was obvious she had no idea. Her lime green robe – just a regular nurse then – stretched taut around her thick form made Hermione's head ache.
"I don't think he would leave me here," she said, but she wasn't sure if she believed her own statement. She didn't believe that a member of the Order would leave a friend of Harry Potter's on his or her own in a very vulnerable state but she did believe Severus Snape would leave Hermione Granger to fend for herself. She remembered her third year, his arms wrapping around her to protect her from Lupin as a werewolf. Would he leave her? She wasn't sure.
"I'll check for you," the woman said. "But first we need to get you changed." She waved her wand and Hermione's robes transfigured into a hospital nightgown. Blankets were pulled up to her chin and a dreamless sleep draught was given to her. "I'll be around in a few hours," the nurse promised. "Just rest."
"But I want… Snape," she said, trying to stress the importance of finding out where her Potions Professor and weekend guardian went to but the nurse just extinguished the lights and closed the door behind her. "Snape," she called but no one answered and she slept against her own will.
She felt a cool, dry hand upon her forehead and it pulled her from her sleep.
"The girl is wrought with fever," the voice was deep and distant. "Give her something; she is not fit to travel. I don't want her to be in pain." Hermione struggled to open her eyes. The cool hand left and she mewed her disappointment. She felt warm, uncomfortably so and she wished someone would pull the scratchy blankets off of her. She wanted her mother who always gave her ginger ale and white crackers when she was ill. Her mother read to her and lay cool washcloths on her forehead when she was feverish. She held her hair back when she was sick and rubbed her back. She wanted her mother. She opened her eyes to ask for her mother but saw light blue robes and a black shadow hovering above her.
"I cannot give her a fever reduction potion, Mr. Snape, you know it conflicts with her treatment." The woman who spoke sounded impatient. "This to and fro from Hogwarts business isn't good for her. I don't understand why she can't check in to the hospital."
"Albus Dumbledore wants her at Hogwarts. If the travel isn't good, then you will come to her," the male voice demanded. Was that Snape, as the woman said? He sounded so far away. Her vision couldn't clear.
"I am far too busy for that," the woman snapped.
"Then our present arrangement will have to continue," he said. "Prepare her for leaving; I will see to it that she makes it back unharmed."
She felt arms slide underneath her and lift her up to carry her away from the bed. She looked up at the dark shadow she knew to be Snape blearily.
"They told me you left me," she said, her own voice sounding foreign, like listening to herself on a recording.
"No, Miss Granger, I was here the whole time," he said, but she shook her head and tried to squirm out of the grasp of whomever held her.
"You weren't there when I woke up!" she screeched as his figure shrunk, they were moving away from him.
"I'm sorry," he said, and he sounded sincere. "I had to wait in another room."
"Promise me!" she said, twisting to keep him in her vision. He loomed in the distance now, his form growing and shrinking – never still. She was delusional with fever. She didn't know what she wanted him to promise. "Promise me," she said again, anyway.
"I promise you," he said and then he was gone, a wooden door behind her. She closed her eyes, content with his word. They undressed her; put her in a tub of cool water. The woman from earlier, the same one who did her magic in front of Hermione so uncaringly, ran a washrag over her skinny, naked form, washing the fever away. They dried her, and put her clothes back on, the uniform not nearly so crisp now, and set her in a wheel chair. She couldn't keep her head up. She let it droop down and closed her eyes, the fever shunning her into unconsciousness once more.