Part One, Day One
Thanks to Dacian Goddess and her beta skills. She went over this piece written for shivverus twice, making good use of her scientific knowledge and characterisation abilities. Hugs to you much.
Warning: the story will contain adult content in the second part, not much, but it'll be there. However, the first part (seven chapters) can be read as a stand-alone and is very, very tame.
Slowly, Hermione emerged from sleep, roused out of unconsciousness by rays of pale sunlight. She moved and stretched, but was forcefully reminded of the previous day's events by the friction of cloth against her bruises and scratches. She had fainted. After Harry, Ron and she had left the headmaster's office to talk to Dumbledore's portrait, they had headed to Gryffindor Tower, but she had never made it. She had fainted on the way, too weak to carry on, her stock of adrenaline completely exhausted.
She took a look around her and noted she was in the Hospital Wing. So, Harry and Ron had not taken her back to the Tower. Other beds were occupied by unmoving forms, but she could not make out exactly who they were, except for the bed next to hers. Had Hermione been older, her heart might have done what Bellatrix Lestrange did not manage to and kill her: Severus Snape was lying on said bed. What's more, his chest was moving without assistance, proof that he was breathing and therefore living. How could that be? Nothing, absolutely nothing could bring a dead man back to life. Hermione's mind went in overdrive faster than a Firebolt reached top speed. Snape could not have had a Horcrux. His body had been killed. If Snape had made a Horcrux, his body would not be here, breathing, sleeping serenely, with a huge bandage on his neck, with his soul still in place. No, this was the body he had had when he was struck by Nagini, so a Horcrux was out of the question.
Hermione contemplated her former teacher for a while, taking in his white, rather deathly complexion; his hands, loosely clenched around the sheet's hem; and his black hair, slightly fanning out on his pillow, when his jaw drew open brutally, as if a string had snapped and let it go. That seemed to alert Madam Pomfrey, who came near Snape's bed with a vial of vividly green, thick potion.
"Dear, dear, now that's the temporalis muscle. It will be a feat to make him swallow the potion," she muttered. With great precaution and efficiency, she grabbed Snape's chin and poured the vile-looking liquid down his throat. Soon after, his jaw snapped back in place. Only then did Madam Pomfrey note that Hermione was watching her.
"Ah, Miss Granger, you're awake. I'll be with you in a minute, just the time to renew the monitoring spells on the Headmaster."
She waved her wand above Snape and accompanied her movement with two or three incantations—it was difficult to tell—and turned to Hermione.
"I think you were too exhausted, and your body brought you to your senses, so to speak. Just a moment." She waved her wand above Hermione. "You can go, but don't overexert yourself, or it's back to the Hospital Wing for you," she said sternly, but with a touch of kindness.
Hermione climbed out of the bed. "Madam Pomfrey, can I ask you a question before I go?"
The nurse, who was already heading for another bed, stopped in her tracks. She went back to Hermione, a frown born of tiredness on her face.
Embarrassed but too curious to let it go, Hermione asked, looking at Snape and going near his bed, "What happened to him?"
"He was bitten by You-Know-Who's snake, but he'll recover. Now, off you go. I have other patients to attend to."
"But, I saw him die!" Hermione protested, even though she could see she was wrong.
Madam Pomfrey seemed stunned by that statement, but not for long. "This mustn't be your concern, Miss Granger. My patients trust my discretion, as you very well know. It isn't my story to tell. Goodbye."
The nurse turned on her heels and stalked determinedly to the next patient.
"Feeling remorseful, Miss Granger?" a voice rasped beside her.
At once, Madam Pomfrey turned and rushed to Snape. "Headmaster! You're awake!" She already had her wand pointed at him. Yet, Snape had his eyes on Hermione, who was staring at the scene with the fascination a deer could find in a car's lights. A sense of dread was taking hold of her.
"Madam Pomfrey, you can tell this young lady what happened to me." Even in his weakened state, his voice carried out some sort of… well, venom might be out of place, but it was the right term nonetheless, as if Nagini's poison had found a translation into words. Hermione dreaded what she was going to hear.
The feeling of a thick liquid running down his throat choked him awake, but before it led to his second death (how many times could a man die?), the potion reached his stomach. He was vaguely conscious of a woman waving a wand above him. Little by little, his awareness of his environment grew. He felt heavy but his brains, though a bit fuzzy, seemed intact.
He heard voices nearby: Madam Pomfrey and Miss Granger. They were discussing his condition. Ah! His condition! He had been prepared for such an occurrence—a snake attack—but not for being impeded in his movements by a magical cage until he did not have the strength to reach for his anti-venom anymore. But he had not died. It had been a near miss, though. He had felt life slip away from his being; he had felt his soul embrace the darkness of death; he had come across nothingness, but not before realising that the trio would not seize the opportunity to search his pockets, find the phial of anti-venom and pour its content down his throat. No, those stupid Gryffindors had just left him for dead, not even checking his pulse. And now, the girl had the audacity to pry into his being alive! A white-hot rage spread through Severus, scalding his mind and jerking him out of his semi-unconscious state. He completely forgot that the girl had probably lost her friend Potter recently and that he should wonder why she was concerned about his fate instead of mourning Lily's son.
He opened his eyes and looked at Madam Pomfrey and Granger bickering over him. An idea occurred to him. Granger sounded guilty, as if she was blaming herself for his condition. What if he made sure she had reasons to feel guilty? He knew enough of her psychology to be sure that self-reproach would gnaw at her for years, if not for life, if there was but a hint that she could have been the one to save him. He forced his eyes to open fully and tried his voice, pouring his resentment into the words.
"Feeling remorseful, Miss Granger?" he managed to rasp. It was as he had feared: his voice had changed due to the damage to his vocal cords.
The nurse did not waste time and fussed over him at once. He, however, kept his resentful eyes on Miss Granger.
"Madam Pomfrey, you can tell this young lady what happened to me."
She stared at him, astonished by his request, but complied with it. She looked at Hermione and started, "The Headmaster had cast a spell on my wand… If he were in mortal danger, my wand would vibrate. He had prepared some kind of anti-venom in advance, even taken some to prepare his body to fight the venom should he ever be bitten. I was to take the anti-venom with me if I were called, along with other Healing Potions."
Hermione blanched, but the nurse went on telling the story.
"When I arrived at the Shrieking Shack, I immediately made him swallow some anti-venom potion. What I don't understand," she said, interrupting her narration and addressing Snape, "is why you didn't take the anti-venom before. You had some in your pocket. It had even rolled onto the floor."
If it were not for the fact that he himself was feeling weary and lying in a bed in the Hospital Wing, Severus would have exulted at the sight of Miss Granger's deathly complexion. Now, she looked the part of the dead as well as he did. As it was, he settled for deep satisfaction.
"By the time the Dark Lord released me, I was too weak to reach for the phial by myself," Severus answered.
Before she could even process what she had just heard, Madam Pomfrey blurted, "But Miss Granger told me she saw you die. If she was there, why didn't she give you the anti-venom?" A crease between her eyes was emphasising her incredulity.
"That is a question only Miss Granger can answer."
During all that time, his black eyes never left Hermione's brown ones. He let his emotions show: resentment, questioning, reproach and something akin to hatred.
Hermione's eyes watered. Tears swelled and formed at the corners, blurring the brown colour into a muddier shade. Madam Pomfrey, who had at last noticed the staring match between the headmaster and the Gryffindor, looked expectantly at them. Severus remained silent, deciding not to make it easy for Hermione, for he was sure she had seen the phial with the anti-venom.
"I'm…" she sobbed, "I'm sorry. I… We… all thought yo-you… were dead!"
"You did not even check my pulse," he accused her.
"I'm sorry," she wailed, burying her shame in her hands.
Now, let's see if she can live with herself, Severus thought.
Hermione spread her hands on each side of her head and asked, still sobbing but hopeful, "You're going to mend, though, aren't you?"
"I hope so; that is, if my treatment didn't come too late."
Madam Pomfrey took that sentence as her cue to reintegrate the conversation. "Actually, Headmaster, there's something I need to tell you about." She cast a significant glance at Hermione.
Severus dismissed her. "You may go, Miss Granger."
Hermione left without a word, her head down, her unruly hair hanging on either side of her blotchy face. The last thing she heard before leaving the Hospital Wing was Madam Pomfrey's, "I will levitate you into my office, Headmaster."
Hermione felt bad. Hermione felt very, very bad. She had been so persuaded that Snape was the first person she had seen die. And Harry had seen dead people before. He had asserted that Snape was really dead and she had not sought to ascertain that for herself: she'd trusted Harry's judgment.
Hermione wandered about the castle, lost in thoughts of guilt. Her eyes saw nothing; it was as if her body recognised the obstacles and pulled her out of their way, but her mind was away: with Snape, who was perhaps suffering from lasting injuries because she had not thought, no, not dared to touch what was supposed to have been his corpse. The first of too many she had seen the day before…
It was still early, and Hogwarts' corridors were empty of any being, be it dead or alive. She was nevertheless too lost in her misery, too busy rehashing what had happened in the Shrieking Shack, to take notice of any other presence, or absence for that matter. She had seen the black glitter of the anti-venom potion on the Shack's floor, not recognising it for what it was; she could have picked up the phial and healed him. For heaven's sake, they had not verified if he was really dead. How much time would that have taken them? Five seconds? Ten seconds? That would not have really put them behind schedule. And the fact that they had still thought Snape one of Voldemort's faithful servants at the time did not matter. He had been lying on the floor, unable to harm anybody or to defend himself. The way they had behaved, Ron, Harry and she, had hardly been better than Voldemort.
As she was busy stirring up gloomy ideas, Hermione did not notice where she was going. She was ascending some stairs, probably heading unconsciously to Gryffindor Tower. Mindlessly, she uttered one of last year's passwords to the Fat Lady, who swung aside and opened the portrait hole even though that password had not been in use for a year. Hermione Granger was Harry Potter's friend, one of those who had rid the castle's inhabitants of those abominations the Carrows were; therefore, she deserved a pass. Hermione took a seat in front of the fireplace in the common room, looking as if she was waiting for the others to come down from the dormitories, while she was actually wallowing in Snape-inflicted guilt. She sat in the same spot, unmoving, for two more hours, until Ron, Harry and Neville appeared at the bottom of the staircase leading to their dormitory.
"Hermione," they exclaimed in unison.
They were beside her in a flash, bumping into each other in their eagerness to greet her. It warmed her, and she hugged them back fervently, though Ron had clearly expected more. Well, she was not in the mood for kisses and groping: she needed friendship; just friendship.
"You don't look that well, Hermione," Ron inquired after they had all settled in the comfortable armchairs of the Gryffindor common room. Truthfully, he did not look that well himself. Hermione guessed his brother's death weighed on his mind. She shoved the thought away, or else she might cry, and concentrated on what she had to do.
How would she announce them the news? By telling them outright: "Snape is alive," she said hollowly, still under the strain of her self-condemnation.
That shut the boys up immediately… for three seconds; she counted.
"What?" they roared.
She held up a hand to forestall any more roaring. "He was in the bed next to mine in the Hospital Wing. He spoke to Madam Pomfrey and me." She hung down her head and tried to stifle a sob. "He told me he had some anti-venom potion in his pocket, and that we could have given it to him and saved him in the Shrieking Shack."
"Impossible," Harry stated firmly. "He was dead. We were there, and we saw him die."
"I agree," Ron added.
"But it was him, I swear. His voice was different, hoarser, but the words were his without a doubt," Hermione insisted.
The boys did not look entirely convinced, but a deep doubt had been planted into their minds.
"How so, his voice was different?" Neville asked. "Snape's voice is rather unique."
"He was bitten in the neck by Voldemort's snake," Harry explained. "If it was really Snape, perhaps his voice will be permanently damaged." None of the Gryffindors seemed happy at the idea. Now that they knew the truth, they were of the opinion that the man did not deserve that.
"Would it have made a difference if we had given him the anti-venom at that time?" Ron wondered aloud.
"Perhaps not for his voice. The vocal cords are really close to the place Snape was bitten. But Madam Pomfrey implied there would be some lasting effects. I was dismissed before she said more about it, though."
Uneasiness settled upon the group.
"It's my fault," Hermione whispered after a while. "I saw the phial of potion roll out of his pocket. If only I had picked it up… I'd probably have guessed what it was. I'd probably have been able to save him…"
"Hermione, stop!" Ron interrupted her. "It's not your fault. Harry and me didn't do anything either. And if we'd known, I'm sure we'd have done something to try and save him."
But it was as if Hermione had not heard him: she carried on her monologue. "I know! I'm going to make it up to him!"
Three pairs of eyes widened in horror; three mouths gaped; three heads shook in denial; three boys shouted, "No!"
Startled, Hermione asked, "Why not?"
"The man might be brave and a hero, but I wouldn't be surprised if his disposition was as agreeable as always," Harry said sarcastically.
"True, but I don't care." Hermione was definitely digging in her heels. "I need to do it, or I won't be able to live with myself otherwise."
"And how do you plan to do it?" Neville asked pragmatically.
"I'm not sure. I think I'm going to go and visit him later, and see what I can do for him. If he's too weak to leave the Hospital Wing, he might need some help with everyday tasks. It'll give Madam Pomfrey more time to rest and to take care of the other casualties, too."
Ron spluttered. "You're going to help Snape to go to the loo?"
It was apparent that Hermione had not thought of that, but she pulled herself together and stated, "Yes, I will do it if necessary, though I doubt I'll have to. But I thought I could bring him tea or coffee, reading material, give him his Potions, that kind of thing. Perhaps even brew Medicinal Potions for him… It's not much, but it's something I can do to help him get his life back," she finished softly. She was so solemn, so pensive, that neither Harry nor Ron nor Neville thought to contradict her anymore. If war had taught them anything, it was to follow through the requirements of one's conscience to do the right thing—whatever the cost.
"If you need help, just ask," Harry said simply. Ron and Neville nodded their agreement, and Hermione hugged the three of them in thanks.
Madam Pomfrey Levitated Headmaster Snape onto a stretcher and guided him to her office around the beds of the Hospital Wing. It seemed to Severus that there were more beds than usual. Well, the Dark Lord attacked the school yesterday, so of course there would be casualties.
Once in her office, the school nurse used another spell to maintain the stretcher in a state of levitation and started to explain to Severus what had happened the previous day and what his injuries were. He was astonished to hear that Potter was alive. Somehow, Dumbledore must have suspected that the boy would not die. Of course, I would be the last to know, Severus reflected bitterly.
But what struck Severus most in Madam Pomfrey's narration was the idea that he was free now: Potter has met his destiny and did not need to be protected anymore, and so he could let go of Lily's memory; the last tormentor of his youth, Remus Lupin, was dead; Dumbledore rested in peace; the Dark Lord was finished. All were ties to a painful past, and all had now been severed. Lucius was alive, but he was his friend, so Severus did not mind that much that the blond man had survived.
"As for your injuries, Headmaster, I'm afraid I couldn't reach you soon enough to save you from some everlasting effects of the venom. You'll need to have Muscle-Controlling Potion," she pointed at the green, thick potion she had given him earlier, "with you at all times. The venom seems to have acted as a permanent inhibitor to the cholinesterase in your body, and that will make you lose control of your muscles from time to time. The only thing is, it's impossible to predict which muscle will let go. Earlier, it was your temporalis muscle―one of the muscles controlling your jaw. During the night, though, your urethral sphincter was the one to switch off, but I was able to Scourgify you immediately. The potion will help in regaining control of the muscle, but you might suffer from incidents before you can swallow some of it," she finished matter-of-factly.
Severus went pale, or rather paler, at her explanation. He could see his dignity fly out of the window. Any muscle—his urethral, or any other, sphincter!—could fail him at any moment!
"Shouldn't I take some Muscle-Controlling potion regularly as a preventative measure?" he croaked with his still-damaged voice, though he had recognised a Voice-Soothing Potion among the numerous vials at his bedside. At least, he would soon recover his silky tones.
The nurse shook her head. "Alas, no. In such a case as yours, it will only be effective as a curative draught." She noticed the disgruntled look on Severus's face and made an attempt at consoling him. "It could have been worse. You could have been partially or totally paralysed, or…" her voice became a whisper, "dead."
Nothing could have been more irritating than the truth at that moment for Severus. He had to acknowledge that he had had a very narrow escape with death, but it would have been broader if only those three dunderheads had not rushed away from his not so dead body. He could literally count his blessings: one, he was alive; two, he could have sustained more damage; three, his enemies were dead; and that was all.
As Madam Pomfrey took him back to his bed, Severus thought it was nonetheless enough to come back to, but a bit more would do no harm. No harm indeed. The question was what could "a bit more" be?
Late in the morning, Professor McGonagall came to the Hospital Wing to assess the situation and see how Severus was doing. In her wake were the other Heads of House: Pomona Sprout, Horace Slughorn and Filius Flitwick. Slughorn zeroed in on Severus at once when he noticed the headmaster was awake.
"Severus! How are you? So you never were a true supporter of You-Know-Who?"
Trust Slughorn to pinpoint the heart of things—especially the embarrassing ones— without any sense of diplomacy.
"Horace, give the man his rest!" McGonagall interjected. She looked embarrassed, never making eye contact with Severus. Her boldness did not desert her, though, for she addressed him nonetheless. "Headmaster, we wanted to let you know that we were sorry not to have respected you as we should have this past year. Of course, we didn't know where your loyalties truly lay, and you did nothing to let us know. Nevertheless, we owe you our excuses." Her eyes finally met his when she finished.
Severus considered them a moment. He took in their fatigued state and crumpled clothes, but also their relief at the war being over and their fidgeting under his scrutiny. Keeping his face impassive, he answered his colleague.
"You are forgiven," he stated simply. There was no need to be stuck in the past through a useless grudge. Not that he intended to forget, but they had indeed been in the dark about his loyalties, and he really wanted to start as anew as possible.
"Thank you," McGonagall answered for herself and the other teachers. "We'll take our leave now. You probably need your rest." She glanced at the five vials of Blood-Replenishing Potion on his bedside, turned on her heel and strode out of the Hospital Wing. The others nodded at him—Slughorn even beamed—and followed her silently, probably to take care of more urgent and important matters than standing awkwardly at his bedside.
After a while, Severus started to feel bored to tears. After months of plotting, acting and being on his guard constantly, lying in a bed did not agree with his state of mind, even though he felt he should be exhausted after having lost so much blood. Madam Pomfrey had drawn a curtain around his bed to ensure his privacy, and only the risk of another sphincter incident kept him from asking her to remove it. He would at least have been able to observe the proceedings in the Hospital Wing.
He should be thinking of his future. He had previously planned to go on teaching after the end of the war, but he was not sure of his welcome by the other faculty members, though he really would not mind to remain the headmaster: no brats to teach and authority above all the others. He had entertained the idea of creating his own business, whether in Potions or security he did not know, or getting a paid job in the laboratory at St Mungo's… But right now, when he had the time to go over the options life could afford him, he found he could not concentrate on them. All he could feel was boredom; until Hermione Granger drew back the curtain around his bed with one hand as she balanced a tray laden with food on her other one. She stepped into his partition, drew the curtain back, and tried to set the tray down on his lap.
"What do you think you're doing?" Severus hissed.
"Bringing you your lunch." She stood uncertainly, the heavy-looking tray putting a strain on her arms. "Madam Pomfrey told me you would be here for three days, that you would need bed rest. I thought I could help her and you, and bring you your meals, books, or something…" She bit her lower lip nervously. She too looked fatigued, older, somewhat wiser, though her current actions belied the impression. Her hair was as uncontrolled as ever. She wore a robe over her Muggle clothing—a Gryffindor robe. She seemed earnest in her desire to be helping him. He narrowed his eyes.
"Don't you have anything else to do, Miss Granger?"
Her cheeks turned a delicate shade of pink and she cast her eyes down, as if the tray she was carrying had caught her interest all of a sudden, hiding her face behind her bushy hair—not unlike Severus, the difference being his hair was straight. "I will go to Australia to bring my parents back as soon as things are quieter. In the meanwhile, I'd like to do something useful."
"Very well." He opened his arms and indicated for her to put the tray down on his lap, which she did gingerly, trying not to touch him in the process.
"Now, Miss Granger, I'd like to hear your version of these last months' events while I'm eating."
Hermione sat down in a nearby chair and set to telling him everything that had happened since Dumbledore's death, carefully avoiding even a hint at that 'incident'. She had reached the point when Harry, Ron and she had fled the Ministry of Magic when Severus dropped his glass of water. His hand convulsed a little and fell upon his tray, right in the middle of his mashed potatoes, while dampness spread across the sheet, reaching his nightshirt through the material.
"Fuck!" he exclaimed. He had forgotten about his predicament.
Hermione was frozen in the chair she had been sitting on, shocked by both the expletive and Snape's hand lying in his plate.
"Give me the green potion!" he barked at Hermione. She did as bidden and handed him one of the vials she had taken on the bedside table. He took it and tried to uncork it with his teeth, unsuccessfully.
"Open it. I currently have the use of one hand only."
Shaking slightly, Hermione unstoppered the phial and brought it to the headmaster's lips.
"No! I can still drink it on my own!"
Hermione withdrew her hand as if burned. "Sorry. I…"
"Give it to me, stupid girl," he snarled.
"Yes, yes, of course, but you don't have to call me that!" she snapped back.
As quickly as she had withdrawn her hand, she gave him the vial with the Muscle-Controlling Potion. Severus drank it at once, all in one gulp, but coughed a little: the liquid was too thick to be swallowed that fast. Immediately after, he seemed to have retrieved the use of his right arm, for he lifted his hand and wiped it with his napkin. He grabbed his wand, which she had not noticed on the bedside table until then—there had been so many potion phials scattered around it—and dried the sheet with a short wave and a non-verbal incantation. Hermione was still staring at him.
"Do you know what has just happened, Miss Granger? Was it in any book you came across?"
She shook her head.
"No? Let me enlighten you then. As I was not given the anti-venom right after being bitten, a critical neurotransmitter in my body was inhibited to a certain point. Said inhibition appears to be of a rather permanent nature, and it interferes with the transmission of impulses from nerves to muscles and causes me to lose control of my muscles from time to time. These losses of control thankfully concern only a small number of muscles at a time, but they are completely unpredictable and cannot be prevented. So I am bound—from time to time—to face… delicate … situations. I don't even know if I will be able to find a job due to this handicap." Severus was tempted to add that this could have been prevented had the three Gryffindors thought a bit more in the Shrieking Shack, but Hermione's complexion changed colour so quickly—from red to white and from white to red—that it was rendered unnecessary.
"A job? But you have job!" she squawked. "You're the headmaster!"
Severus frowned. "I don't think I will retain that position for a long time."
"Where is your brain? Has it been driven out of your cranium by your invading hair?"
Hermione looked offended. "Of course not. But you're the headmaster as long as the school governors don't vote you out, and I'm sure that…"
Severus raised a hand to interrupt her. "That will be enough on the subject. You were narrating how you escaped the Ministry of Magic that day. I'd like you to resume your story."
Hermione looked at him intensely, with determination. Severus had the feeling he had just become a cause for the girl; whether to assuage her guilty conscience or because of her soft spot for the underdogs he could not say.
At last, she spoke. "All right. I will 'resume my story' as you put it, after I've put the tray on your bedside table. It wouldn't do for your roast pork and mashed potatoes to end up on your sheet." Her curt tone was a testament to how annoyed she was with him—especially given the clipped manner in which she pronounced her 'sheet'—but she acceded to his request nonetheless.
While a part of Severus was listening and cataloguing the information Hermione was giving him, another part was plotting how he could use the girl's need to have a cause for which to fight. Not that he wanted others to fight his battles, but having an ally such as this girl, the hero of the day's best friend, who had never wavered in her loyalties even under torture, was an asset he would not deny himself. He would not have survived this long without such instincts. He asked the girl a few questions about her adventures with Potter to show interest in her tale, and he felt her warm up to him.
"Well, that's it, sir. You know everything I know now. Can I do anything else for you? Bring you books or something?"
Severus made a show of thinking about it. Actually, he did care for some books and he told her so.
"I'll bring them to you with your evening meal. You look tired. You should rest a bit."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Since when are you the nurse, Miss Granger?"
"I'm not," she answered defensively, "but you really look tired."
"Far it be from me the idea to cause you distress, Miss Granger," Severus said mockingly, "though I'll admit that I indeed feel tired. I'll see you later then?"
"Yes, sir. And if you ever need anything, you only have to ask."
"Goodbye, Miss Granger."
Severus waited until she had left before he ensconced himself into the sheets and let sleep overtake him for a mid-afternoon nap. He had not had an afternoon nap since he had been a child. Another side-effect of that wretched poison.
"Hermione, there you are!" Ginny, who had been the first to spot her in the corridor, cried. Ron and Harry turned and waited for her to join them so they could enter the Common Room together.
"How did it go?" Harry asked without preamble.
"Not that bad," Hermione answered while they scrambled through the portrait hole. "He was civil enough. He even told me about his injuries and asked me to tell him everything that had happened to us this last year," she finished as they sat down in armchairs. "By the way, where are the others?"
"They went outside," said Ron, who had taken a seat next to Hermione. "They wanted to laze around a bit."
Hermione nodded her understanding before she spoke again, "Harry, can I ask you something?"
"Of course," came the immediate reply.
"I've thought of something. Snape will be tried, won't he? He must answer for his actions since last year. There's no doubt that he'll be cleared, but he might be unemployed before that. That would be unfair, especially since you told us he tried to protect the students. Could you vouch for him to the school governors?"
"Sure," Harry said slowly. "But what makes you say he might be fired?"
"He killed Dumbledore, for one," Ginny answered. "I know Dumbledore asked him to," she quickly added when she saw Harry's frown, "but he did it nonetheless. He'll have to answer for that. He was headmaster during Voldemort's reign too. The governors might want to choose someone else, with a 'cleaner' past."
"That would be unfair," Harry conceded. "What do I need to do?"
"A press conference would go a long way, I think. And perhaps a personal letter to each of the governors," Hermione proposed.
"When do you plan on organising the press conference?" Harry asked.
"The sooner, the better," Hermione answered assertively. "I thought tomorrow would be good. That way, the public would know the truth right away. If we wait, people will be fed lies and fiddled truths. We owe it to the dead," she finished in a whisper, a lump having formed in her throat at the thought of those who had fallen and whose funerals would be held two days later on the Hogwarts grounds, near Dumbledore's tomb. A notice about it had already been pinned to every notice board of the castle.
Remembering how efficient his interview for The Quibbler had been two years ago, Harry agreed, "But on one condition: I don't want Rita Skeeter there. She'll try to make it sound dirty."
"It's settled, then," Hermione said, relieved.
"You're brilliant, Hermione," Ron said in the hopes of earning himself another mind-blowing kiss like the one she had given him after they had returned from the Chamber of Secrets. It would help him not to think of Fred too much either, but he was to be disappointed: Hermione was already heading to the portrait hole, eager to plan Snape's rehabilitation in the public's eye with McGonagall, who was acting as headmistress while her colleague was incapacitated.
When Hermione arrived in the Hospital Wing later in the afternoon, she found Harry seated in one of the Hospital Wing hard-backed chairs and conversing with Snape. She had with her the books about snake venom she had checked out from the library at Snape's request. She had perused them herself but had not found much hope in them to improve her former teacher's condition.
"I understand," Harry was saying.
"Only time will prove it," Snape answered in a tone indicating that he did not quite believe it.
"Good evening, then."
Harry briefly smiled at Hermione and gently squeezed her arm on his way out—his way of letting her know that his conversation with the headmaster would stay between the headmaster and himself. She put the books on the bedside table and sat down in the chair Harry had just vacated.
"Good evening, sir," she said brightly, curiosity about his conversation with Potter plainly etched onto her face. "Here are the books about the snake venom you've requested. I've added a few references I found in the library."
"Good. You may go and have dinner now."
"And what about your dinner?" she inquired. "I—"
"Madam Pomfrey will ensure it is brought to me," he said dismissively, already reaching for the book on top of the pile.
He jerked his hand back and looked at her. "Tell me you didn't take upon yourself to look after me?"
She bristled at that. "Actually," she resumed, "I've ordered a tray for you from the kitchens. You need to eat after your blood loss."
Severus pinched his nose in annoyance. "Miss Granger, there's already a nurse in this castle, and she certainly isn't you."
"But she's accepted my help!" Hermione protested. "She's given me precise instructions about what to give you and what to do with you this morning!"
If he did not need her support, he would have dismissed her in a rather rude manner. As it was, he decided to quell his urge to do so and engaged her in a discussion about the different snake venoms and their effects while he nibbled at his evening meal. It appeared that she had ordered her own meal along with his, for a second tray had appeared and was now precariously settled in her lap. Eating did not prevent her from eyeing him attentively in case another "muscle incident" occurred, but nothing happened while she was with him. In fact, Severus did not find her as bothersome as he had feared: a year far from Hogwarts and the library had done her a world of good. He recalled her telling how she had fooled Travers while impersonating Bellatrix Lestrange and nearly laughed aloud. She yawned.
"Are you still a little girl who can't stay awake past sunset?" he teased her, but with a bit of malice for good measure.
Hermione checked her watch. "Merlin's robes! It's already eleven p.m.!"
Oh. That was why darkness had already fallen around them and the Art Nouveau lamp on his bedside table had lit, Severus noted.
"We're organising a press conference tomorrow morning. I need to go back to Gryffindor Tower and catch some sleep. I want to look fresh."
"A what?" Severus had heard her perfectly. However, having the fact confirmed did not hurt.
"A press conference. I've convinced Professor McGonagall to organise a press conference to explain everything that has happened and to clear your name. And Harry will vouch for you before the school governors so that you won't lose your job."
Severus was dumbstruck. He had expected to have to do a bit of coaxing, and here she had taken the initiative, and the right one at that. He would have to show gratefulness, but not too much. His situation would have been better if she had shown such degrees of initiative the day before, when she had left him lying in his blood in the Shrieking Shack.
"Potter already told me of his plans regarding that matter," he informed her. "I… thank you."
"You're welcome, sir."
As Hermione rose from her chair, Severus felt the muscles in his ankle give way. Thankfully he was lying on his bed. Had he been standing, he would have fallen down. He grabbed one of the phials of the vividly green Muscle-Controlling Potion and downed it. Hermione stood there, unmoving, staring at him with large eyes, as if she had forgotten about the venom's lasting effects.
"Good night," Severus snarled at her, effectively prompting her to leave him quickly, but not before a flash of guilt and pity crossed her face.
Severus tossed and turned all night in his small bed. Sleep would not come to him. He could hear the other patients' snores very acutely, as if they were breathing directly into his ear. I shouldn't have napped this afternoon.
When the first ray of daylight came through the windows, Severus had not been able to sleep at all. His sheets were in disarray and his temper awful. Perhaps I should have accepted that Sleeping Draught Madam Pomfrey proposed me. And to crown it all, he had had another urethral sphincter incident around two a.m. He had cleaned his bed with a swish of his wand, but the school nurse had got up nonetheless and fussed over him so noisily that it was a wonder the other patients had not heard her. Severus sighed. He was going to be a disabled person. He had the proof of that when Miss Granger drew back the curtain hiding his bed from view, a breakfast tray in her hands. Severus had never had breakfast in bed before.