Author's Note: Faith Accompli gets the blame... ahem, I mean, the credit for inspiring this idea. She pushed the pairing at me purely for her own amusement. There are a few nods to other fics about the two in later chapters, and I'll try to remember to point out where. Needless to say, none of the characters - except the Apothecary - belong to me, and I seek no financial rewards for their use. Just feedback.
It had been nearly three months since the war's final conclusion, and Voldemort's ultimate defeat. People were starting to get used to the idea of surviving again, making long-term plans - the birth rate was up, as always after a war.
And Hermione had just realized that nobody had seen Severus Snape - or, as far as she could tell, thought about him - since his release from St Mungo's. Which had been two full months ago.
After what Voldemort had done to him... well, Voldemort, at least, had obviously believed that he'd been a traitor. A hearing had been held while he was in a coma, under constant supervision at St Mungo's. With Ron... gone... and Harry in the hospital himself, Hermione had provided most of the evidence, including quite a few bits she knew the boys wouldn't have wanted included, like Snape's dash to save them from a werewolf and a convicted murderer in their third year, and Professor Dumbledore's repeated references, to Harry, about Snape's skill in Occlumency and Legilimency. The court had ruled that, on the balance of all the evidence, Professor Dumbledore's death could be ruled a heroic sacrifice, rather than a murder. By the time he'd woken up and his body had finally started to heal, Snape had been cleared. He hadn't been especially pleased, about either the tacit approval or the waking up. As soon as it had been permitted, he'd left St Mungo's and disappeared.
Around then, Hermione had finally stopped holding it together and spent over a month crying. Ron was gone, and some days it had seemed that even Voldemort's defeat hadn't been worth it.
When she'd finally started coming out of it, she'd started looking for 'her' people, trying to get them sorted out again. Harry was... well, he was feeling kind of lost and scared, right now, but Ginny was with him, and they would be okay. He was adjusting pretty well to the magical arm replacing the one he'd lost, that was good. The rest of the Weasley family were doing okay. Her parents, thankfully, had missed most of it, safe in the Muggle world. Luna was okay. Neville was okay. The teachers - except poor Professor Flitwick, whose loss had hurt almost as much as Ron's - were okay.
And nobody knew where Professor Snape was. Nobody cared, either.
She'd tried the school - no sign. The house-elves had told her that he'd taken away all his things and his books; they'd moved everything to the edge of the grounds, for him, and then he'd gone away. Where, they didn't know. But Winky had gone with him, they'd told her, to her surprise. She'd announced that he needed looking after, and certainly he'd looked very ill. The other house-elves seemed to think it was good that Winky had something constructive to do, and hadn't given it further thought.
Madame Pomfrey had, in the end, been the one to help. She had access to all the teacher's records, as well as the students, in case for some reason they should be needed over the holidays. She'd been reluctant to part with the information, but had eventually given in to Hermione's pleading and obvious concern, and given her Snape's summer address.
She apparated into what turned out to be the backyard of an abandoned house. Not just abandoned, but actively falling into ruin, actually. She picked her way through the jungly garden, wondering if she'd have far to walk... no. Right in front of her, leaning drunkenly, was a street sign. Spinner's End, it read. This was the right street... and, she realized, looking up along it, at least half the houses were as dilapidated as the one she'd just passed. Her eyes were drawn along and up, seeing the chimneys of a mill in the distance. Even now, in the middle of the day, no smoke issued from them. Ah. A mill-town, probably one of the many in which the mills had closed and the town, starved of income, had begun to die. There wasn't much left of this one, now, although it had probably been a lively enough place twenty or thirty years ago.
And this was where Snape lived. He never gave the angst a rest, did he?
She headed up the street, to the last house. Yes, there was the overgrown stone dragon in the front yard, and the house, though it didn't look especially reputable, was at least not falling down. It was small and shabby, though, despite the little touches that she thought were indications of Winky's presence... clean windows, a carefully swept front step, that sort of thing. She couldn't imagine Snape ever bothering to sweep.
She headed up to the front door, tapping rather cautiously. "Hello?" she called, in case Winky had been told not to open the door to Muggles. "It's Hermione Granger..."
A moment later, the door popped open, and she looked down to see Winky, her clothes shed, now dressed in a clean pink pillowcase. The small elf gave Hermione a deeply suspicious look. "What is you wanting?" she demanded. "Not needing clothes here."
"I didn't bring any clothes. Anyway, you don't need them. I was just..." Suddenly, she felt a little embarrassed. She'd started looking for Snape without ever really thinking about it. She'd just been finding everyone, putting them back into her badly shaken-up worldview, and when she hadn't been able to find him she'd looked harder, and... he hadn't been there. He'd just gone. And it was bad enough that people had died, and she had to make a new worldview without them. She wasn't going to have people disappearing, as well. "I was worried," she admitted, after a moment. "He left the hospital, and I couldn't find anyone who'd seen him since."
Winky relaxed a little, apparently relieved that the Mad Hat-Hiding Girl wasn't going to make a fuss about house-elf issues. "Master Snape is not well," she confided, giving Hermione a worried look. "The wounds the Dark Lord inflicted heal slowly.Winky worries about him."
Hermione nodded. "I'm glad you've been here to take care of him," she said, looking past Winky into the small, worn-looking sitting room. "He might have died here, for all the notice anyone took of him being gone."
Winky nodded, looking suddenly cross. "Nobody comes to visit Master Snape," she agreed. "Miss Granger is the first visitor he is having since we come here. No letters, and he not want the paper. He even tells Winky to go away, but she won't. Winky may be... free..." she shuddered at the word, "but she knows when someone is needing very badly to be looked after."
Hermione nodded. "He was very brave," she said softly. "He was the only one who dared to spy so closely on the Dark Lord." He'd done a lot of things that weren't at all admirable, but, to Hermione, his willingness to risk his life for a resentful and ungrateful wizarding world made up for a lot of it.
Winky nodded, still scowling. "And he is unappreciated," she said crossly. "He think he is unwanted. Winky thinks he would like to lie down and misery himself to death, but Winky doesn't let him."
"Good for you, Winky." Hermione smiled. "May I come in? I'd like to check on him, see how he's doing... I'm not a proper mediwitch, but I've had some training. Maybe I can help."
"If Miss Granger can help, Miss Granger is welcome," Winky said, opening the door wide. "Master Snape will shout, he always gets cross when he is helped, but Miss Granger must ignore that."
"I have for years," Hermione assured her, stepping into the almost cell-like sitting room. Her bibliophilac soul had a little private Moment over all the books. "Where is he?"
"Master Snape has not left his bed today," Winky said, a little worriedly. "He does that more often than before. He eats, when Winky brings food, but not much. Winky thinks..." her lip trembled. "Winky thinks Master Snape does not want to get well."
Hermione's lips tightened. "Oh, he doesn't, does he?" she said rather grimly. "Take me to his room, then. And Winky... don't warn him." She grinned suddenly. "A sudden irritation may put some fire back in him."
Winky nodded. "One good thing about being free," she admitted, opening a door hidden behind one of the bookcases and leading Hermione up a flight of narrow steps, "is that Winky can do what is good for Master, not just what she is told."
True to her word, Winky didn't warn Snape... just opened the bedroom door and trotted inside, making tutting noises and picking books up off the floor. At least one of them looked to have been thrown. Not a good sign... if he was far gone enough to actually risk injuring a book...
Then she stepped into the room and got a good look at him, and only the fact that the war had left her almost entirely immune to flinching kept her from doing it now.
Snape was lying back against his pillows, his eye closed. The scars across his face had hardly faded since the last time she'd see him, the one crossing his now-empty left eye-socket still purple and angry-looking. He'd lost more weight, she noted, and he hadn't had it to lose. As tall as he was, she and Luna had been able to carry him out of Voldemort's lair. She could probably have done it alone now. The loose nightshirt he was wearing didn't hide the scars around his neck, either, and as her eyes slid downward, she saw that the sleeves of the nightshirt had ridden up, revealing the burns on his arms as well as the mutilated hands... only seven fingers left, all told. Both thumbs still there, though, Voldemort had been saving them for later...
She moved again, and the unfamiliar step must have woken him, if he'd been sleeping, or caught his ear if he hadn't. His remaining eye opened, his maimed right hand fumbling for his wand on the bedside table, and he stared at her for a long moment, his expression unfathomable. Then the familiar contemptuous expression spread over his face, and he turned his head slightly, looking away from her. "Go away."
"After I spent a week trying to find you? I don't think so." Hermione walked over to the bed, making herself look him over with cool detachment. "You look like shit," she told him bluntly.
He blinked, turning to look at her in surprise. He'd never heard her swear before... few people had, actually. And certainly not at him. "Charming. Did you spend all week coming up with that pithy little comment? If so, it falls short of your usual over-preparation."
"No, that was an ad libbed insult. I could spend more time on the next one if you like." Hermione fished out her wand. "Now hold still."
"I most certainly will not!" He sat up, swaying a little. "Miss Granger, take yourself and your wand and your impudent prying and get out of my house this instant!"
"No." She smiled sweetly at him. "What are you going to do, Professor? Give me detention? Take away house points? Those don't work anymore."
His eye narrowed. "What do you want?"
"To know my impassioned pleas on your behalf to the Wizengamot weren't wasted," she said crisply. "I had to talk very fast to keep you out of Azkaban, Severus Snape, and I have no intention of letting you go into a decline anyway."
His eye narrowed. "So I have you to thank for my... release," he almost snarled. "Get out, Miss Granger. I do not want your interference, I do not want your help, and I do not want your pity."
"The first you are in no position to prevent," she said calmly, meeting his gaze. "The second you will get whether you want it or not. The third I have never offered, and I have no intention of starting now." She knelt beside the bed, giving him back the advantage of height, and waved her wand over him, thinking a simple diagnostic spell. "My gratitude, yes, but never my pity."
He hissed out an angry breath, but she'd been right. He was too weak to counter her spell, the wand he'd groped for lying all but useless in his hand. He was depleted almost to the point of being powerless, and that realization shocked her. She'd never especially liked him, but he'd always seemed so powerful, and so strong; to see him as being - well, mortal - came as a shock. She sat back on her heels, looking at his face again. Really looking, the way she never had at school. Pain and misery had etched deep lines in his face, lines that had deepened over the last few months, but which had been there all along. He was still sallow, the mark of constant stress and probably malnutrition as well. In short, he looked like what he was... a man of forty or so who could have passed as ten years older, exhausted and worn down by years of strain until the final blow had made him collapse, too weak even to drive her away.
"Winky?" she said quietly. "Is there another bedroom?"
"Yes," Winky said, as Snape gave them both a venomous glare. "Why, Miss Granger?"
"Make it up, please. I'll be staying for a while," Hermione said, her voice oddly calm. She didn't feel calm. She didn't know how she felt. Confused, angry, guilty, unhappy, determined... they were all parts of a turbulent whole.
"You will not," Snape hissed.
He sneered. "You make a particularly unconvincing and unattractive ministering angel, Miss Granger," he spat. "I suggest you give it up before you make more of a fool of yourself." She stood up. "No," she said quietly. "I don't really care what you think of me, Professor. But you are owed something. If nobody else will acknowledge the debt, then it's up to me."
Something in her tone silenced him, the one black eye gazing up with her that unreadable expression. She nodded, and turned, leaving the room without another word.
The silencing didn't last.
Over the next few days, Hermione was subjected to the full force and fury of Severus Snape's capacity for rage and viciousness. It was impressive, wide-ranging, and rarely got tired. He insulted her intelligence, her perceptiveness, her power, her training, her technique, her attitude, and her looks. It hurt, but she tried not to let that show, and she never let herself get angry back. When she responded, she did so calmly and honestly. When she didn't, she kept her face blank and ignored him entirely.
It puzzled him that she could do it, she knew. And she wouldn't have been able to, she suspected, if she wasn't muggleborn.
When she'd been very small, her father's mother had died after being ill for a long time. She remembered very clearly, when she was about six, tearfully asking Daddy why Granny was so cross sometimes. He'd explained that when people were in pain - especially if they had been for a long time - it wore down their self-control, so that they couldn't help lashing out. She hadn't really understood that, at the time, but it helped now... understanding why he was lashing out so desperately - why he always had - meant she could distance herself from it at least a little. Wizards rarely spent much time around the chronically ill... anyone so severely sick or injured that they couldn't be healed quickly were usually in a hospital, and then not for nearly as long as a muggle might be.
So she tolerated his outbursts, increasingly vitriolic though they were. And after nine days, a wonder... instead of shouting or snarling at her when she entered his room with a tray, he looked up at her and asked a question. "Gratitude for what?"
She blinked. "What do you mean, gratitude for what?" she asked, pulling a chair over to the bed and sitting down. She dipped a clean cloth into the bowl on the tray... a distillation of murtlap essence, centaury, and a few other things. Winky had done her best, but she didn't really know much about healing, and mostly all she'd been able to do was keep Snape, his scars, and his surroundings clean. It improved his appearance, she'd noted with grim amusement.
He didn't actually try to pull his hand away as she took it, pushing his sleeve up and smoothing the solution onto the scars on his arm. "You said, when you arrived, that I had your gratitude, but not your pity. Gratitude for what?"
"For a lot of things," she said, working her way meticulously down the thin arm. "Would you like a list?" He didn't flinch when she touched him anymore. She thought that was progress."
"A single example will suffice. Not that I expect you to be able to limit yourself to one," he added, his lips tightening as she worked her way down to the hand, anointing the stumps where his first and smallest fingers had been.
"A single example." She started on the other arm. "Very well. In my third year, you confronted a werewolf and a convicted murderer - who you knew wanted to kill you personally - armed only with your wand and a longstanding grudge, to protect three students who you didn't even like."
"A poor example. I would have confronted Black and Lupin whether or not you had been stupid enough to involve yourselves." He glared at her, but didn't pull away when she shifted her chair towards the head of the bed, opening the loose neck of his nightshirt a little to work on the thicker scars around his neck.
"Confront, yes. Run from Lupin's office to the Shrieking Shack in less than nine minutes, no." He blinked, and she smiled the smallest bit. "I used a Pensieve and a stopwatch."
He raised an eyebrow, startled. "Why? And what did that prove?"
"You both told us when you'd left, you know. Professor Lupin saw Ron being pulled into the tunnel under the Willow, when he was in his office. You saw him entering the tunnel from the same place. It was easy to go back into the memory and time you both." He was actually interested, and she kept talking as she dabbed the scars on his face gently. He wouldn't usually let her near them. "I tried it myself, walking and running... at a leisurely pace, but without stopping, it takes about eighteen minutes. Hurrying, maybe fourteen. Running for as much of it as I could, I managed to stagger wheezing into the shack at just under eleven. Professor Lupin made it in twelve, without wheezing, but he's in surprisingly good shape." She lowered the cloth, and met his remaining eye gravely. "You made it in less than nine. You must have sprinted most of the way."
"You underestimate my hatred for Black, Miss Granger," he said, but his voice was quieter now.
"Oh, no. If the only thing on your mind had been Sirius Black, you'd have collared Fudge, rounded up a few Dementors, headed to the Shrieking Shack by broom, and sat back to wait for the glory to roll in. It only would have taken a few minutes more." She shook her head. "And he'd been there for weeks. There was no hurry to capture him, or even Professor Lupin. The only time sensitive component was three very, very stupid children who were blithely walking into the hands of someone you had every reason to believe was a cruel and remorseless killer." He stirred restlessly, scowling, but didn't speak, so she continued. "And you grabbed your wand and you ran for that tree, probably cursing us with every breath for being such thundering morons. You would, I'm absolutely sure, have joyfully expelled all of us for that particular stunt, if you'd been allowed to." She shrugged, meeting his eye again. "But you wouldn't have let us die."
A muscle rippled in his clenched jaw, visible in his too-thin face. "Get out," he growled, turning his face to the wall.
She nodded. She'd expected that... he clung to his protective armour of Loathesome Greasy Gitness, and to have it perforated would infuriate him. She thought the sudden anger meant that she'd scored a definite hit. "I'll leave the bowl. Have Winky take care of the rest of the scarring," she told him calmly. "If she doesn't...and she will tell me... I'll come back up here and hex that nightshirt off and do it myself. I won't let you martyr yourself."
A trail of sulfurous curses followed her out of the room.
The night after, Hermione was woken by a terrified scream. Neville, her foggy mind prompted, as she scrambled out of bed, still mostly asleep. Harry, Ginny, Bill... they all had nightmares...
By the time she reached the door, she was awake enough to remember where she was, and who the nightmare must belong to. She sped up, racing down the short, narrow hall to his bedroom door. It was standing open and Winky was already there, but her frantic pleas weren't waking him, and her tone probably wasn't helping.
"Be quiet, Winky!" she whispered, pushing past the frightened elf to bend over the bed. His eye was open wide, but unseeing, and he was thrashing against the confining bedcovers, his hands moving in what she recognized as spell gestures. The screams had become terrified moans and whimpers, painful to hear.
She really wished it wasn't all so familiar.
"Professor..." No, that wouldn't work now, he was too far gone. "Severus," she said gently, keeping her voice gentle and soothing. "Severus, look at me. It's all right. It's only a dream." She rested her hands on his shoulder and cheek, touching only very gently. "Shhhh... shhhh, it's all right, Severus. It's not real. Look at me, Severus, it's all right. You're safe now, shhh..."
She kept repeating it, repeating his name, and slowly he relaxed, the dream losing its hold, until he blinked once, and looked at her. "W-what..." He took a shuddering breath. "Miss Granger-"
"Hermione," she corrected, withdrawing her hands slowly. "Under the circumstances... Hermione." She saw him tense, and realized how shamed he must feel by her presence. "It's all right," she said again, smiling a little wistfully. "Really. After... everything... none of us sleep through the night, every night, anymore. You can wake me, when it's my turn."
He nodded slowly, relaxing again. "I suppose it can't be uncommon, these days," he said grimly. "I... will do so, Miss Granger." He made a face as if tasting something particularly bitter. "Thank you," he ground out, clearly not grateful at all.
"Any time," she said softly, rising to go. "Let Winky bring you some tea or something. Something comfortingly normal. I find it helps." He nodded, looking suddenly rather surprised, and she slipped away, yawning. It wasn't until she got back to her own room that she looked down at herself, and smiled rather wryly.
Either this had been a very good night to wear a dainty ivory satin nightgown, or a very bad one. There was no telling what interpretation he'd put on her having such a thing, or wearing it, or wearing it in his house. Still, whether it raised or lowered his opinion of her, it had definitely surprised him out of some of his lingering panic. That was something.
She burst into his bedroom, she humiliated him by seeing him a moment of even greater weakness, she was infuriatingly calm about it all, she paraded around in a skimpy Muggle nightgown for god only knew what bizarre purpose... and then the girl had the utter gall to recommend TEA!
Severus realized he was actually grinding his teeth. He forced himself to stop - he didn't need the headache it always brought - and sat up, piling up his pillows until he could lean back against them properly supported. Winky reappeared with the suggested tea - biscuits, too, he noted with an internal sigh. She simply couldn't be broken of the habit. "That will do," he told her, and she gave him a worried look, but nodded and disappeared.
Winky had almost certainly been the only thing keeping him alive after he returned to this house. He wasn't particularly grateful.
A small, detached part of his mind was able to identify what he was experiencing as severe clinical depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder almost certainly played its part. Nerves strained to breaking point for years had finally snapped. The analytical part of his mind could understand why he didn't particularly want to live anymore. It couldn't change it, though.
Venting some of his helpless anger and misery at the Granger girl had helped, a little. It would have helped more if she'd responded better, but she wasn't always able to hide her hurt, and that was something. Mostly, though, his words seemed to simply roll off her, which was very annoying.
He sipped his tea, frowning. Why was she here, anyway? She'd never really explained, beyond her statement on that first day... that he was owed something. By who? And why did she seem to think that she was required to pay the debt off? Her presence was a mystery, and therefore an irritant.
She was a Gryffindor. Gryffindors were sentimentalists, and had romantic notions of honour. It was possible she thought that Potter owed him something, and was trying to repay the debt. Or the school, perhaps... or even the entire wizarding world. Yes, that would fit... he'd been a 'hero' (what a nauseatingly pitiful thought, he didn't know why it seemed so funny), and he was owed recognition and praise. He hadn't gotten it. So Hermione Granger, with her untidy hair and persistence and her sudden, strange maturity, had come to deliver it in person. To care for him in his weakness, to bear his temper and his insults, to offer him the care and respect he had earned and been denied.
It wasn't funny, now that he thought about it.
He would get up tomorrow. He would get up, he would get stronger, and he would throw the pushy, interfering little bitch out of his house. Bodily.
"Why does Hermione do this?" Winky asked, the next day. "Come here, and serve Master Snape like a house-elf?"
Hermione blinked. That was how it would look, she supposed, to a house-elf. "It's... complicated," she said, after a long pause.
They were polishing things. Winky had been a little shocked when Hermione had come downstairs to insist on helping, but had permitted it when Hermione had explained that she just needed to do something. Restlessness she seemed to understand. And she was finally using Hermione's given name.
"Complicated." She rubbed industriously at a brass candlestick. "Usually is meaning that someone doesn't know, or doesn't want to say. Winky will not ask, if it is the second, but if it is the first, Hermione should think about it."
Hermione nodded. "I suppose Hermione should," she agreed, rubbing a soft cloth gently over a silver picture-frame. The moving wizard picture within showed a thin, plain-faced woman holding a distinctly beaky, dark-haired toddler. Severus - after last night, they were firmly on first-name terms in her head - had been a surprisingly sweet child, although he had a stubborn look on his little face even then. "I don't want to lose him," she said softly, after a long pause. "Not that we've ever been friends... half the time we were allies, we didn't even know it. But he's... familiar, if you know what I mean. He's a part of my world, even if it's not a part I'm especially fond of."
Winky nodded. "The world is changed very, very much," she said seriously. "Especially this year. Many good things gone, many things changed forever. Winky is glad to have something familiar. Someone who needs taking care of."
Hermione nodded, her throat tightening. "A few months ago, I... lost someone I loved very much," she said quietly. "The only person I've ever been in love with. And there were other friends, who died too. And more who got hurt, and lost parts of themselves." Her voice cracked, and she looked down at the picture, her eyes filling with tears. "It's selfish, I suppose, but I won't let him just... disappear. It's bad enough that people go away when they die, but to die to the world when they're still alive..."
Winky reached over to rest a small hand on Hermione's arm. "Winky knows how it feels, losing people," she said very softly. "Winky is glad that Hermione is stopping Master Snape from losing himself."
Hermione shook her head. "I'd like to, Winky, she said quietly. "But I don't think I can. I want to help, but..." She huffed out a frustrated breath. "People are so difficult to fix," she said ruefully. "If he was a... a clock, or a potion, I could open him up or distil him down to his components, and find out was was wrong and fix him. But I can't. All I can do is... be here. Whether it helps or not. At least he knows he's not forgotten."
" Hermione is helping," Winky said seriously, and then suddenly she grinned. "She gives Master Snape something to think about, and someone to yell at. He is getting up out of his bed again, now, and he is throwing a teacup this morning. Making Hermione go away is good reason for getting better."
Hermione blinked, and then she laughed ruefully. "Well, if it works out that way, I guess that counts as helping." She looked at the baby Severus again, and put the picture down, reaching for a handful of thin silver spoons.
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