Disclaimer: Well of course I don't own Harry Potter or anyone else from the books! I couldn't even claim that I own their wonderful world, no matter how much I'd like to!
1. It's just a little bit I managed to salvage from a thirty chapter story which I'm currently rewriting to make it fit with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". I don't know how long it'll take. I've got a bunch of other stories I'm trying to work on but unfortunately I have a veeeryyy busy year ahead of me, one that will determine my entire future… to put it simply, I have exams in half a year and hopefully I'll get to go to University if I do well on them ;)
2. Crucial to your understanding of the story! ;)
Back to the story: Severus and Hermione are married (I don't think it matters now how that came to be) and Severus is spying for the Order. Dumbledore is alive, Harry didn't find out who had informed Voldemort of the prophecy in his sixth year, Severus is still a spy and the Potions Master at Hogwarts, there are no Horcruxes… generally, it's just based on the first five books, but it's set two years after the Trio graduates.
Ok, here goes…
"And where the Hell is that pet Death Eater of yours, Albus? Wreaking havoc among Muggles, no doubt? It's only a matter of time before he ends this game he's playing now and goes over to the Dark Lord fully!" As usual, it was Alastor Moody that voiced these accusations. While the ever suspicious and paranoid ex-Auror regularly grated on Hermione's nerves, tonight she was too anxious for any word from Severus to let him get away with it.
"My husband happens to be loyal to the cause! Your concerns are unwarranted and a waste of everyone's valuable time!" Hermione challenged coldly.
Harry and Ron moved closer to their friend, wanting to show support. They'd come to terms with her devotion to their former Potions Professor, even if they didn't understand it. Since Hermione had always defended Snape, starting in their first year, the two young men didn't think much of it now. Hermione's marriage to the overgrown bat of Hogwarts still seemed surreal to them.
"Yeah, Moody, lay off. What has Snape ever done to deserve this constant suspicion of yours?" Mundungus Fletcher said in exasperation before yawning loudly.
"Other than being a filthy, traitorous Death Eater you mean, Fletcher?" Mad-Eye growled dangerously.
"Enough!" Dumbledore called out, immediately silencing both men. "I trust Severus with my life, as I do with the lives of my students and those from the Order." Albus let his gaze travel over the faces of all his friends that were now gathered in Headquarters. It pained him to see how few had enough respect for Severus to agree with Hermione. Mundungus Fletcher's opinion didn't count for much among the members of the Order and Hermione's position had been shaken by her connection to the Potions Master. "You should learn to trust him as well. The boy most certainly deserves it. More than you think." He told them with a note of sternness. He was rewarded with a look of gratitude from his Potions Master's wife, but he also didn't fail to notice the bitterness and sadness in her brown eyes.
A loud pop was heard in the hall – the sound that always accompanied a Portkey. Utter silence followed. Dumbledore's face turned deathly pale as he strained to hear something more. After a few seconds of intent listening, the old warlock got to his feet and quickly walked to the door. It opened before he even got to it and Dumbledore stepped out into the corridor. Hermione followed him in an instant, her face as pale as that of her husband usually was.
The others sat there in confusion for only a second longer before running after the pair. They didn't have to run very far.
In the middle of the hall a dark shape lay curled on the floor, surrounded by a red pool that was only growing bigger. Dumbledore and Hermione stood immobilised in horror. Suddenly, the young woman rushed forward, forcing herself to recover from her state of shock at least enough to be able to reach the man on the floor. Falling to her knees, she ignored the warm liquid that seeped through her clothing.
"Oh God! Severus?" She cried out, reaching for her husband's shoulder to turn him on his back. The moment her fingers made contact with his body, a painful moan was heard. Relief mingled with worry and fear on Hermione's face. She managed to turn him over, eliciting gasps and moans of pain from the usually stoic and resilient man. "I'm sorry, Severus." She whispered through tears. "Merlin!" She gasped as her husband's bruised and bloodied face came into view. "What happened?"
"Foul mood…" Severus whispered hoarsely, as though that explained it all. And to Hermione and Albus it did.
One of Severus' eyes was swollen shut and there were burns on the side of his cheek. "Not… h-happy… about…" He coughed and Hermione hurried to lift his head. She manoeuvred it into her lap. "… last night's… f-failed at-tack…" He closed his good eye and concentrated on breathing. "He's going to… a-attack the Prime Minister… in Lon-london… and his… f-family… he wants… to draw in… M-muggles into the… war… t-tomorrow… as reta-retaliation… at his home… Number Ten… Downing Street…" He couldn't talk anymore, what little he'd managed to say had already left him exhausted and out of breath. Another bout of coughing took over him and Severus curled in on himself. He was coughing up blood. Hermione was trying, in vain, to calm him and to ease his pain.
"Albus, call for Madam Pomfrey, please! He must have a pierced lung!" Hermione called to the old wizard. When she looked up, she was startled to find him kneeling at her side.
"I already did, Hermione. She'll be here as soon as she has everything she might need. I made her understand that the situation was critical and that time was of the essence." He said reassuringly. The worry and fear in his sapphire eyes proved the attempt futile, as did his quivering voice. Dumbledore reached a hand to Severus' chest. He touched the shredded and bloodied material of his black robes, concentrating hard, until a white light appeared at his fingertips. After a while, Snape's coughing subsided. Dumbledore's face became grey and he looked absolutely drained and saddened. Albus flinched and swayed, Hermione steadied him.
"Albus?" She whispered in concern, but for whom it wasn't entirely clear, because her eyes never strayed from her husband.
"I had no idea of the extent of Severus' injuries. Most of his ribs are broken, his right arm as well, he's got a dislocated shoulder... pierced lung…" Dumbledore's voice broke, tears glistened in his eyes, but he braced himself. "His left leg is twisted at the knee and ankle…" The wizard choked, unable to keep his composure. "He's bleeding internally and he's got a serious head injury. There are superficial bruises and burns all over, like last time… Hermione…"
"He's going to make it, he has to! He's going to be alright!" The young woman said quietly. Determination was fighting with despair inside her and her voice was betraying her struggle.
Severus' every breath came in a sharp gasp, his jaw was set and he clenched his teeth against the pain. Hermione leaned over him, brushing his tangled hair to the back, stroking his face where it was free of burns and bruises. Her touch kept him in contact with reality – at that moment, it was the most important thing to him. It was only because of that touch that he fought to stay conscious, even as the searing pain in his body tried to overwhelm him.
Dumbledore's other hand hovered over the one already on Severus' chest. The old warlock closed his eyes and concentrated again. White light erupted from his open palm and was immediately absorbed by Snape's battered body. The painful gasps transformed into raspy, shallow intakes of breath and at least some of the tension seeped out of the young man's muscles. The small reprieve allowed Severus to open his eyes, or rather one eye, because apart from twitching slightly, the other remained unresponsive. Panic flickered in its black depths the moment he took note of Dumbledore's face. The old man's face seemed even older than normal, the lines on it were more pronounced and there was no colour in his cheeks. Albus' eyes didn't have their usual twinkle and looked rather dull. The man was exhausted and still he was using his energy to heal his young friend.
Severus' parched lips parted in an attempt to speak but no sound came out. A fresh surge of white light concentrated on his ribcage. It was sucked in greedily by the ailing body and he felt the pain in his lungs begin to fade. Quite suddenly, though, a sharp pain in his shoulder made him moan. He knew it couldn't have been Hermione's intention, but by shifting her position she'd moved his arm a little too much. Severus cocked his head to one side, squeezing his eye shut in agony. He felt Albus touch his shoulder.
"N-no… no…" He moaned, somehow finding his voice. "S-stop… too much… don't…" A cry of agony died on his lips as he bit down on his tongue, nearly cutting it off.
"Albus, stop! Please!" Hermione cried from their side. She was holding her husband's head between her hands to prevent him from trashing around and hurting himself further.
Dumbledore opened his eyes. He'd been concentrating on helping Severus so hard that he'd momentarily forgotten his own state of exhaustion. He took his hands away and looked down at Severus' face, which was still contorted in pain.
"It's okay, my child. I know I don't have the power to heal you completely, don't worry. I've got everything under control." He cupped Severus' less injured cheek and leaned over to kiss his forehead. "I only did what I knew I could to help you breathe, my dear boy." He whispered soothingly, brushing a strand of raven hair from the younger man's bloodied face with fatherly affection.
Snape's eyelashes fluttered and one eye opened. The look he gave the Headmaster clearly showed how sceptical he was in regard to the older man's claim of being in control. Severus knew his old friend too well to believe him. Albus, probably even without conscious thought, had been close to giving Snape too much of his own life energy. No matter how powerful the wizened wizard was, he didn't possess enough strength to sustain himself and an injured man who was knocking on death's door. Both men knew this. Concerned burned in the deep, onyx eye of the Potions Master.
"I'm okay." Dumbledore assured, a slightly sheepish note in his voice.
"Good… wouldn't be worth it…" Severus croaked and tried to smile. What came out was a rather miserable wince. "… 'm sorry."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for, child. And you are worth it. Lay still. Poppy will be here any moment now. She'll patch you up in no time." Dumbledore's voice may have been comforting and reassuring, but his expression was grim.
"… don't… think… so… too… much… blood… this… time…" Snape whispered between laboured breaths, his weak voice failing him. He closed his eye as a wave of pain went through him, burning his entire body.
"Don't talk like that." Hermione whispered back, leaning over him and gently kissing his forehead, paying no heed to the blood that soiled it. "You're going to be okay, just lay still and save your strength."
"Always… the… optimist!" His voice was getting even weaker and he was going into shock. The pool of blood around him was even wider than it had been, some of it was beginning to dry, only to be covered by a fresh flow.
"Sh… Don't talk, Severus." His wife implored gently, tears were running down her face freely. Seeing the dark man beginning to shiver, she took her robes off and pulled them over his body. Hermione cast a warming charm on the robes blanketing her husband. Severus flinched when he saw the wand directed at his body. Fear flickered in his dark eye before a wall came into being, hiding his emotions.
His young wife moved the wand out of his range of vision, caressing his face soothingly.
"It's okay, I just cast a warming charm. You're safe here. No-one's going to hurt you. You know I wouldn't let anyone hurt you." She assured him. Severus studied her for a moment, his erratic breathing taking away most of his energy, until at last the love and warmth in Hermione's eyes broke through the icy defences around his mind.
Hermione stole a quick glance at Dumbledore: 'Where's Poppy?' she seemed to be asking desperately.
"Stop apologising. It's not your fault, besides, everyone knows how you feel about foolish wand waving." Hermione tried to instil some humour and even braved a small smile. It was wet and rather resembled a grimace, nonetheless, Severus seemed to appreciate the effort because he rewarded her with a ghost of a smile before a wave of pain shot through his body once again. The more time passed, the stronger the after-effects of the Cruciatus were becoming and excruciating pain hit him in waves. His teeth chattered and his shivering became more violent. "Albus! Where is she?" Hermione cried, nearing hysteria.
"Don't c-cry… It… doesn't mat-matter… I was… tired… of it all… any…way." He managed to say as he ground his teeth together to stop them chattering. He fought against the pain, concentrating all his attention on his beautiful wife.
It suddenly occurred to him that he really did love her more than anything else. She was his life – Hermione, not the war and Voldemort had been keeping him going lately. If it hadn't been for her, his penance would have ended some time ago because he wouldn't have survived all the horror and guilt. She'd been his strength during this last year of war. He loved her and the thought that he wouldn't see her again and that he wouldn't get a chance to thank her and tell her how he felt pierced his heart like a poisoned knife. A surge of regret and sadness swept through him. It was a most unexpected feeling. This was foreign ground for him. It left him even more shaken than the torture he'd initially suffered at Voldemort's hands. He forced his mind to drop this line of thought. He was too plain tired and cold to dwell on such things… At least that's how he preferred to explain his reluctance – he wouldn't admit to being afraid, even to himself.
"C-cold." He mumbled, even as a set of brightly coloured robes was draped over his trembling form.
"Easy, child, easy." Dumbledore whispered softly. He tucked his robes more firmly around his battered Potions Master. He touched the man's forehead with a withered hand. The dark-haired man's eyes were closed, his breathing was getting more and more laboured. "He's slipping away. He's lost too much blood and the pain he's in… Severus, please, you have to fight it! You have a head injury. Try to stay conscious, please, child!"
The desperation in the Headmaster's voice tore at the hearts of all the members of the Order who were still standing nearby. Hermione's silent tears and the way she looked at the injured man moved them as well. It was clear as day how much Snape meant to both of them. Neither Albus nor Hermione were willing to let the man go, they'd fight to death for him. Quite literally, it seemed.
Albus Dumbledore couldn't take any more. His child was dying and there was nothing he could do to help him… or was there? Slowly the old, silver-haired Headmaster raised his hands to his Potions Master's temples. If he could save the boy's life, it would be worth the sacrifice. Severus had suffered far too much in his short life and Albus' demands hadn't made things any easier for him. It was time to give the young man back the life he'd been robbed of…
"No." Hermione whispered. "Albus, you can't." Her voice was quiet, but pained, as it rang in the eerie silence of the hall. Severus' breathing was the only sound that could be heard. "He'd hate you for it, he'd hate himself. Don't. The Wizarding World needs you to win this war." The conviction in her words was somehow still palpable, even though her voice could have hardly been weaker or more miserable. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she choked. She wanted to cry out, to scream…
The shuffling of feet and the rustle of material was heard from within the room the Order had been occupying. Loud, quick footsteps followed.
Madam Pomfrey rushed into the hall and didn't even stop. She took the situation in at the same time as she nearly ran to the dark-haired man who was so obviously in need of her help. She got to her knees, placed a large bag next to her and pulled her wand from her pocket. She murmured a spell and scanned Severus' body.
As the nurse's wand hovered over the man, she frowned and looked down at the floor. Her white robes had somehow turned red at her knees and she felt it getting damp.
"Sweet Merlin!" She exclaimed as she saw just how much blood the barely conscious man had lost. "I swear, if I ever got my hands on that wretched snake, I'd tear him limb from limb!" With anger and loathing for the Dark Lord flashing brilliantly in her grey eyes, Madam Pomfrey presented a frightening sight. The feelings were quickly overcome by deep concern for her patient and with determination to save him. She couldn't lose him: not now, not ever – not this man.
"Wouldn't we all, Poppy." Dumbledore spoke softly, sadly. He followed the woman's every movement carefully, his gaze shifting to Severus every so often. He was still there. Still fighting to stay among the living. How, in his state, the man managed to stay conscious… it had to be impossible. Experience. Albus thought bitterly. And that stubborn streak of his. Where he gets this kind of drive is beyond human comprehension…
"Hermione, lift his head. We'll start with a blood replenishing potion. Surely he doesn't have enough blood to spread much of anything else anyway at the moment."
The younger woman complied without hesitation. She lifted her husband's head gently and held it in position as Poppy brought a bottle to Severus' lips. Snape let out a groan of pain and opened his good eye. It wasn't after the first droplet of potion entered his mouth that he seemed to realise what was going on around him. He appeared to be trying to concentrate on the nurse's face. After a long moment of staring at her with a bleary eye, a faint trace of recognition flashed in the black depths.
He tried to swallow what he felt slowly flowing into his mouth but his body wouldn't comply to the task and he gagged. His wife held him as he coughed and rubbed his throat once he settled down, the reserves of his strength were spent.
"Lets try again." Poppy said, whether to Severus or Hermione, one couldn't tell.
This time Hermione continued to rub Severus' throat until he managed to get the potion down. It took longer, but at least he'd have a fair amount in his system in a matter of seconds. The young woman let Severus' head rest on her knees once more and she retrieved the arm that wasn't broken from under her and the Headmaster's robes. She tore his sleeve open. She didn't flinch upon seeing the Dark Mark that was burnt into his flesh, she paid no attention to it. The woman had seen the tattoo on her husband's arm enough times that it no longer affected her. The only feelings it awoke were bitterness and grief. If it were anyone but her husband, she might have felt pity, revulsion or hatred… Severus, however, didn't warrant such emotions... at least not from her.
The people gathered in the hall watched in fascination as the two women, with the occasional assistance from the Headmaster, cared for the injured Potions Master. There was something frighteningly organised about their movements, their actions. Every small gesture and movement had a purpose, everything was synchronised with each other. This was a well-rehearsed dance, done on more than one occasion already.
The whole situation… Albus, Hermione, Poppy and Severus… They were all familiar with this kind of thing.
'…like last time… Hermione…'
The Headmaster's words rang in everyone's minds.
'… don't… think… so… too… much… blood… this… time…'
It was Snape's weak voice that echoed in their memories. The witches and wizards found themselves terrified by the implications of those words. If Snape had gone through something like this before...? That was plain impossible! What sane person would go back to Voldemort if there was a chance they could be tortured like this?
Meanwhile, Poppy hooked an IV to the arm Hermione had exposed and gave Snape a potion. It was to fix the damage done to his veins and arteries – thus effectively stopping internal and external bleeding.
The nurse then examined the head injury. She cropped Severus' hair short with a flick of her wand and muttered a spell to clear away the blood that remained. The bloody strands she'd cut off disappeared. Severus gasped as she touched his head, even though she'd been very gentle about it.
"Still with us I see? That's good, Severus. I'm going to need you to stay conscious for a while. It is imperative. Do you understand?" Madam Pomfrey asked.
Severus didn't answer, but his face showed pain, unbearable pain.
Poppy used another IV and connected it to a levitated bag filled with a pain relieving potion, one that was strongly laced with another potion – one that was similar to a disinfectant in its properties. Having successfully accomplished this, she returned her attention to his head. There was a large gash at the top of his skull, running to the back. She poured an antiseptic potion onto and around the wound. Her patient drew a low, hissing breath.
Severus' head lay on one side on his wife's knees, Hermione's face was in his line of vision, should he gather the energy to open his eyes. His wife had already taken care of the swelling around one of his eyes and was now tending to the burns and bruises marring his face.
Her prayers for him to look at her were answered because Severus' eyelids opened slightly. The ability to clear his thoughts was beyond him, much less the ability to voice them. Nonetheless, he could still communicate much through the black orbs, even if it was utter chaos that Hermione could see.
He was beyond exhaustion. He looked like a man who was weary of the world, a man who'd suffered and seen too much horror and evil. What was really unsettling, was how calm he was – he was resigned to his Fate; he'd been through so much that he didn't want to face another day. Severus Snape was a fighter and a stubborn Slytherin – he never gave up! So where was that man? This man was accepting death without fear – instead, he was doing so with ease and gratitude.
Severus found the lovely face he'd wanted to see the instant he opened his eyes. They locked with the dark brown eyes of the young woman, but couldn't focus. His vision blurred. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind he registered the sight of her as the last thing he saw – his wife, Hermione, a Know-It-All, his Mione.
A mixture of feelings answered this thought. He felt happiness and bliss like he'd never felt before – he was allowed to part with the world, and his mostly miserable existence, and it was Hermione that was the last thing he saw. There was also sadness and regret, but for what? Why? He wasn't entirely sure anymore. There were other feelings, memories, thoughts, reasons, whole thinking processes – it was all a blur and he didn't seem able to grasp any of it to analyse before it slipped out of his reach, into the same darkness that was consuming his whole being. In the end, he let the memories flow and didn't even bother trying to catch them. He just wanted peace. He knew it would come. The moment this ended, he would find peace and quiet, there would be no more pain, no more struggling and fighting… How could he want more? There was peace in this darkness that enveloped him…
"Severus?" Hermione called to her husband. She was frightened, terrified by the blank look that seemed to be creeping into his eyes from somewhere deep within him. "Severus? Poppy, what's wrong with him? Severus?" She called frantically.
"Severus! Listen to me! Listen to my voice! Don't give in, just a little longer! You have to hold on just a little longer!" Poppy told him firmly. She touched his cheek determinedly, trying to get his attention. The light in his eyes was fading. It was almost gone now and still he didn't react to anything she did or said. "Hermione, Albus…" The woman's voice cracked. She was always so stern and clinical with her patients, she was always in control of her emotions, now…
"Severus, fight, please, fight! You've been through so much already – you can't let Voldemort win! Not like this, my son! Not like this!" Dumbledore had tears in his eyes as he frantically tried to save the child he loved dearly.
Severus' eyes were now almost dead. There was barely any life in them. The weak breath he now attempted to draw was probably his last…
"Traitor! Coward! What do you think you are doing, Severus? Running away, right? What about all the people you've killed? What about the ones you've tortured?" Hermione lashed out venomously. The apparent loathing in her voice was utterly incongruous with the despair and grief written across her face. "You murderer! You filthy coward! You make me sick! Give up, just like a slimy Slytherin! You have no honour, have you? You promised to fight this war to the end, not give up when things get more difficult!"
The entire Order stood frozen, staring at the young woman in disbelief. How could she say things like that to a man who was on the brink of death! Remus and Molly had obviously had enough, as they stepped over and tried to pry the girl away from the Potions Professor. Harry and Ron were gaping at her, but there was also disapproval written across their faces, it was slowly transforming into anger…
"Hermione!" Poppy cried in outrage, tears spilling from her eyes. She looked at the woman in horror only to see Hermione's face expressing exactly what she felt and yet more… there was determination and hope in the brown depths. And Poppy Pomfrey understood. As did Albus Dumbledore.
Hermione felt herself being pulled away from her husband. She shoved Remus with her elbow violently and ripped herself out of Mrs Weasley's grasp. She bowed over Severus' head, still on her knees. She cradled him in her arms, crying silently.
"Mione?" A hoarse voice whispered against her cheek. Hermione's heart stopped, she opened her eyes and slowly moved to straighten a bit to see Severus' face.
When a pair of intelligent, determined, ebony eyes came into focus, she let out a strangled sob. The eyes were the most normal she'd seen them ever since Severus' return to Headquarters.
"Severus, yes it's me. Oh Severus! My dearest, my beloved Severus!" She whispered, crying and laughing at the same time, kissing his face where she could reach him, she kissed his eyes, his nose, until she somehow managed to find his lips. She kissed him softly and he kissed her back. It was a gentle, innocent kiss – void of passion, it was sweet and loving. Hermione pulled back, not wanting to rob her husband of the breath he was in dire need of. She smiled at him, crying from joy at the same time. Severus smiled back and there was determination in his dark eyes as he continued to look into Hermione's eyes, drawing strength from her. Pure steel glinted in the black recesses. He would be fighting now, there was no doubt about it.
Poppy immediately got back to treating her patient, trying to control her own relief and joy.
Finally, she turned to Severus. Surprisingly, his eyes were open and focused on his wife. This man never ceased to amaze her. He'd been as good as dead and now he seemed stronger than he had been before the crisis. She shook her head in disbelief and wonder. She had to admit to being awed by his iron willpower and strength – physical and mental.
"I don't know how, Severus, but you seem to be on the way to getting back on your feet in a week or so. Seeing as we'd nearly lost you a few moments ago…" She smiled at him fondly. There was a glint of pride in her eyes. She wasn't proud of her performance, she was proud of him. She was proud of the man he'd become, remembering the boy he'd once been. She admired him for what he continued to do for the Order of the Phoenix and the whole Wizarding World. "You can sleep now. I will tend to the rest of your injuries and by the time you wake up from your beauty sleep, half of them will be gone and you'll find yourself in a warm, comfortable bed."
He tried to nod, but the movement was jerky and quite painful. Just as his eyes drooped closed, a thought seemed to come to him.
"Not in the… Hospital Wing!… Home!" He demanded in a rather pitiful voice. The nurse looked to meet his barely open eyes, expecting to find a glare. All she saw was a plea. It was something so rarely seen in them that she couldn't find it within herself to be overly strict. But, her patient's wellbeing had to come first – she wouldn't leave him out of her sight for the remainder of the week, if only to make sure the stubborn man didn't run off to attend another meeting.
"Lets make a compromise. You will stay at Headquarters, okay?" She spoke softly.
"No! Not Headquarters… don't want them… to see… No Order… no..." With that unfinished sentence, he passed out from pure exhaustion, unable to argue with the nurse any longer. Not that he'd ever really won any arguments with her. He'd only stand a chance if he threatened not to make the potions she required for the Hospital Wing. But then again, Severus would never stoop that low. This was the first time she'd wanted to make a 'compromise', though Severus thought that perhaps all she wanted was to get him to beg for the sanctuary of her personal domain at Hogwarts. If he hadn't been so tired, he probably would have been willing to beg. He didn't want the Order to see him like this. They couldn't know what he went through at the gatherings. They couldn't see him vulnerable! Never! He wouldn't let them see his weaknesses. They didn't need more ammunition against him and that's all they'd use the information for – to torment him in ways by far more cruel than they'd ever known to try before…
"He's asleep. Finally the poor boy can get some rest. It's safe to levitate him onto a bed now. The rest of his injuries can be treated there." Said a relieved Madam Pomfrey.
"Okay, but I'd like to take him home after that, Poppy." Hermione told the nurse in a tone that brooked no argument. The nurse, however, didn't seem impressed by the younger woman's statement.
"He will be safest here or at Hogwarts, Hermione. I will not allow him to be taken home, even under your care."
"Fine, Hogwarts then. If given the choice, Severus would prefer the Hospital Wing to Headquarters!" Hermione answered confidently, her eyes straying to the prone man. She knew her husband and she'd do anything to accommodate him, little though it may seem to an ignorant observer. He wouldn't want to be around the Order, he'd said as much himself just before he passed out. Severus would find out what the Order had witnessed soon enough. He wasn't going to be happy about it, that was a given.
Poppy met the woman's imploring gaze. In the end, the older woman nodded.
"Alright. But he isn't going to go anywhere before he's properly treated. We'll use your room, it's close by, isn't it?"
"Yes, here let me help you."
"No, Hermione, if you'd just help me with the bag. I'll tend to him alone right now, if you wouldn't mind. The danger has passed and some rest would do you good dear, because I know wild horses won't be able to pull you away from Severus once I'm through with him. You're in for a rough night. He's bound to have a high fever, plus he can't even take Dreamless Sleep Potion." Poppy explained as they entered the said room. Severus' long, lean body descended upon the large four-poster bed and the nurse retrieved her bag from the man's young wife, ushering her out.
Witches and wizards had all gathered in the corridor at the entrance. Albus Dumbledore stood on the threshold, not wanting to get in the way of the two women. However, just as Hermione was about to protest, he decided to intervene.
"Come, Hermione, let Poppy see to Severus herself for a while. I'm sure you can trust her with your husband, or at least, I hope that you trust your husband enough to leave him in the presence of another woman for less than an hour? Seeing as he's unconscious, too?" The Headmaster teased gently. He put an arm around the woman's shoulders and led her to the door. His blue eyes twinkled, but only slightly. The events of this night and the events of all the nights before were still too fresh in his memory. These new wounds would take long to heal and the old ones had been reopened. The old wizard was desperately trying to find a way to end this. He couldn't let this boy, whom he loved as if he were his own, suffer like this.
Hermione and Albus walked into the corridor, the door behind them closed on its own.
"This has to stop." Hermione told the old wizard. Her cool composure was on the verge of shattering but she plunged on, regardless. "I will not stand for this. I will not stand back as he continues to answer Voldemort's every call and serves that monster as a toy! I will not watch as my husband is tortured! I will not stay up night upon night wondering whether he will return or not, whether this is the time when Voldemort goes too far and Severus doesn't make it back! Enough! How much more do you want from him? How much more do you think he can survive?" By now, the brown-haired woman was shouting, her voice getting higher with every word.
She was shaking, but not only with rage against the world… she was trembling from all the worry, stress and despair she'd felt this night. The realisation that Severus had almost died was only now fully dawning on her. Hermione didn't know what she'd do if she lost him. She couldn't imagine living without him anymore.
"Hermione, what Severus does for the Order is very important, it…" Dumbledore tried to calm the distressed woman. His voice was meant to be soothing and he reached out to touch the girl's shoulder to comfort her. The effect was exactly the opposite. Hermione pulled away from the touch and cut the man off before he could utter any more poisonous words.
"You won't even allow him the chance to denounce Voldemort openly! This so called Order of yours doesn't give a damn about him or what he does! They don't even trust him! He is shunned by this side and forced to endure torture by the other!" She shrieked. She didn't care how she sounded. She couldn't take any more. How Severus managed to survive through this, and for so long, was beyond her. The man was inhuman in his resilience. "Twice this month he almost died! How many times in between has he returned barely conscious, bleeding to death? I can't stand this! I won't! He can't go back there! He…" Albus had cautiously made his way to her side. He enveloped the girl in his arms, pulling her against his chest. She struggled against him until Dumbledore pressed her face into his beard, muffling her words. He lowered his head and whispered soothingly into her ear, starting to rub her back.
"I know, child, I know." His heart felt as if it was being wrenched from his chest. Tears welled up in his own eyes as he held the slender, weeping girl in his arms. He couldn't speak. His throat constricted.
A long time passed before Hermione stopped crying. Even then she still clung to the Headmaster. Albus gathered his equilibrium before addressing his friend's wife.
"If there was anything I could do to stop this, ANYTHING, I would not hesitate. Severus is like a son to me and I love him dearly, Hermione." Dumbledore lifted her chin so that he could look into her eyes. "Alas, the power to put an end to Severus' suffering lies not in my hands. I cannot bind him and lock him away until the end of the war." He spoke truthfully and his voice was laden with sadness and regret. "He is the only one that can stop this. It is his decision to make, I cannot force him to do anything."
"He won't stop going." Hermione whispered bitterly. It was a fact she was stating and Dumbledore needn't have even bothered replying.
"I know." Dumbledore's answer was equally quiet. "He will fight till the end."
"Whose? His end or Voldemort's?" Hermione shot back at the old man. Her hopeless anger and hurt found an easy outlet in attacking him.
Dumbledore swallowed and braced himself.
"We both know the answer to that question, Hermione." As Albus' gaze locked on her face, she saw the grief she felt mirrored in his sky-blue eyes. The previous anger evaporated as she studied Dumbledore's ancient, pain-filled face. "He will continue to go back as long as there's hope that his efforts may be useful. You know why. He was practically on the other side when you decided to use the very reason why he keeps fighting to bring him back. Nothing else could have forced him to fight where he already was…" He trailed off.
"I wanted to tell him I love him." Tears stung her eyes and she smiled sadly. "You know, the cliché thing to say when you're about to lose someone dear to you… The first thing that comes to mind, actually… but I knew it wouldn't be enough. I was so scared that what I told him would be the last thing I ever said to him…" A sob escaped her lips.
"It took courage, Hermione. I don't think I'd have been able to do what you did." Seeing that his words didn't seem to be soothing her, he stroked her wet cheek. "Nothing else could have reached him, my dear. You did what you could to save him and it worked, as much as it pains me that it were those words rather than something else. I am glad he is on his way to a full recovery, of course, but I thought that perhaps he'd been able to quell his guilt over the years, especially now that he has you. I didn't think he still hated himself so much or that he still judged himself so harshly…"
"It's not as bad as it used to be. At least now he's actively trying to quell those feelings. But still, no matter what happens to him, he can't let go of them. He could die a thousand times over and still he'd say that it wasn't enough…"
Dumbledore nodded. There was no need for words. He pulled the woman to his side, wanting to at least make sure she didn't feel alone with her pain.
For the first time in what seemed to be ages, Hermione's gaze strayed to the people gathered around them. Her eyes widened in surprise. She'd forgotten about them.
"What about the Order?" She asked suddenly. "Severus didn't want them to know." She looked at Albus earnestly. Her voice was quiet, she didn't want anyone to hear her, but Remus, Harry and Ron had been standing too close. The others were farther away looking positively stricken as well as guilty and awkward.
"I'm afraid it's too late for that, Hermione. You go to Severus and I will answer what questions I deem necessary to be answered." Dumbledore reassured her with a smile upon seeing the apprehension in her eyes. "I will not say anything that I know Severus wouldn't want me to – only what's necessary. Severus will agree with my judgement."
"Of course he will." Hermione said sarcastically. Her husband was rubbing off on her. She turned to the others, her upbringing demanding of her to be polite no matter what her personal feelings were at the moment. "Excuse me." With that she slipped through the door to her and Severus' room. She just hoped Poppy wouldn't be too angry with her for coming back so soon after she'd been explicitly told to leave.
She wasn't. She happily let the younger woman help her, as best she could, marvelling at the lucky turn Severus' life had taken. He now had a wife that genuinely cared about him. It was quite obvious to the nurse that Hermione loved her husband deeply. Madam Pomfrey smiled slightly as she wondered what carefully hidden qualities of the Potions Master might have impressed the girl so much. It wasn't that she didn't like and respect him. She merely knew first-hand how difficult to deal with he could be. And not for the first time, it made her wonder…
I beg you excuse any mistakes I may have made and please inform me once you find them ;)
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