Chapter Four:

Lily sat at the edge of her armchair in the quiet infirmary, watching Severus sleep and counting the minutes until she had to wake him. Madam Pomfrey had recruited her for the night watch. It had surprised Lily, who had thought that surely there were spells to cure concussion. Madam Pomfrey had explained that there were several, but that she usually felt it best not to interfere with the brain any more than needed.

"Unless it becomes absolutely necessary, we'll just keep him on supportive care for the next couple of days. You'll need to wake him every hour. If he won't wake up, or he seems confused or groggier than he should be, you cast that alert spell I showed you right away."

So here she sat at the bedside, hoping Sev would wake up his usual crotchety self. It was odd and a little disconcerting to see his face so still, completely without its usual alertness. Quietly, she cast Tempus. Five minutes left before she had to wake him.

Professor McGonagall had given her leave to spend the night at the infirmary without batting an eye, and had even excused her from her classes the next day. Which, now that she thought about it, was something of a puzzle. When had Professor McGonagall begun to take an interest in Severus? Had something happened? It must have. Previous spats between Severus and Potter's gang had passed largely unnoticed. But if the rumors regarding the Marauders' punishment were true, Professor McGonagall had certainly noticed this time. Of course, how could she not? But still, Lily was sure that she was not required to attend the sick bed of a student not even in her House. She had been there, though, and had seemed concerned for Sev, even worried, and firmly on his side.

She filed that thought away for further study and checked the time again.

What on earth was she going to say to Sev, anyway? They had been drifting apart for a while now. Sev had always been fascinated by any magics labeled "forbidden," and had spent a considerable portion of last year looking up spells that had set her teeth on edge. She had the queasy feeling that his interest was not strictly academic. It hadn't helped when those goons Avery and Mulciber had started following him around, either. She really, truly wanted to believe the best of him – Sev was her oldest, and for many years, her closest friend. But she'd heard so many unsavory things about that lot in Slytherin, and had seen for herself that many of them were bullies and bigots. And Sev seemed ready to fall right in with them.

She'd fought with him over it a few times – he could do so much better! Did he really think he needed to prove himself to that uptight snot Malfoy? But he was as stubborn as she was, and she'd reluctantly resigned herself to their increasing distance. She had her friends, and he had his, and it was clear that he intended to stick with his.

But now she had to wonder. Where were Avery and Mulciber, and why hadn't they yet beaten Potter and Black to bloody smears? Why had they allowed the harassment to continue in the first place? Sev's friends suddenly didn't seem much like friends at all.

Come to think of it, Sev had seemed curiously uninterested in his academic work lately as well. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd spotted him in the laboratory after hours this year, and the load of books she'd picked up after his fall had been oddly light and devoid of esoteric titles. In anyone else, she might have suspected a newfound, even a healthy, interest in the world outside the library, but for as long as she'd known him, Sev's psyche had been dominated by a lust for knowledge that bordered on the obsessive.

Lily eyed the bed and its occupant with frustration and increasing suspicion. Were things really all right with him? Sev had always been sneaky; it would be just like him to lie if he thought it would save his pride.

Another glance at the time.

"Sev? Come on, Sev, wake up for a minute."

To her relief, he roused easily. Unmistakably ill-tempered (as was usual when Sev didn't get enough sleep), but to all appearances alert and functioning.

"Now what is it?" he bit out sleepily to no one in particular before opening his eyes and rolling over to lever himself up on his elbows. "Lily? You're still here?"

"I can see you're delighted," she sniffed. "You're such a berk, Sev."

He threw her a glare, shrugged, and grumbled out, "It's a talent."

There was a short, awkward pause before Lily cleared her throat. "How are you feeling?" In answer, he shrugged again and glanced away.

"I've a headache."

Lily snorted. "I should think so! You can see all right, right? You're not dizzy or nauseous at all?"

He considered. "Slightly sick, but not terribly so. Lily, why are you here?"

"Honestly, Sev, don't you have any tact at all? Madam Pomfrey asked me to spend the night. I'm to wake you every hour. To hear you talk, it almost sounds as if you don't appreciate my sacrificing my well-deserved rest for you."

His mouth quirked upward and he seemed to relax a little, eyelids shuttering. "No, I don't mind you being here," he murmured. " It's just unusual."

Lily, her earlier thoughts still fresh in her mind, felt her heart seize. Delicately, she edged out the question, careful not to make her tone too sharp or her interest too obvious. "What do you mean, unusual?" Had he been a more frequent visitor to Madam Pomfrey than she'd thought?

Sev didn't appear to tense up, per se, but the sleepy air of relaxation was suddenly gone. He blinked his eyes and sat up a little straighter. "Nothing. Only odd that Pomfrey wouldn't just cure the concussion."

"Oh. She said she preferred to let brain trauma heal as naturally as possible."

Sev grimaced. "I suppose I should be grateful for that, at least."

There followed a brief, awkward silence. At last, Lily cleared her throat. "You should probably try to get back to sleep if you can. I have to wake you again in another hour."

He acquiesced without further ado, and Lily was once again left alone with her thoughts, this time to ponder his judgement of her presence in the infirmary as 'unusual.' Sev was a good liar, but Lily had known him a long time. Something was wrong.

*****

Minerva stopped in early at the infirmary to check on her charges. (When precisely, she wondered, had Snape become her charge?) Poppy met her at the door to assure her that all was well and that as of his morning check-up, Snape showed every sign of being on the road to recovery. Across the room, she could see Evans and Snape, both drawn-looking but awake. Evans was gesturing enthusiastically as she talked, while Snape slouched up against the headboard, looking thoughtful and interjecting the occasional comment. As she approached, the subject of the conversation became clear.

"I don't think it will work, Lily. The acidity of the yew bark will throw the whole thing off."

"Not if you keep the temperature high enough to break down the tannins."

Snape mulled this over and produced a grudging, "Maybe. You'll still have to deal with the reaction with the liverwort."

"Hmph. I still think we ought to try it once you're well."

At this point, Minerva thought it prudent to make her presence known, before they could say anything incriminating. Potions class had been a long time ago, but she could not recall brewing anything with yew bark and liverwort as a student. Perhaps she ought to have a chat with Evans, just to be on the safe side.

"Miss Evans, Mr. Snape. Good morning."

"Good morning, Professor," said Evans. Snape, eying her warily, gave a much more reserved, "Professor."

"How are you feeling, Mr. Snape?"

"Much improved. Thank you," he said, a little stiffly.

"Very good. Madam Pomfrey informs me that she hopes to release you at the end of the week. One of your classmates will bring you your classwork." Really, arranging this should have been Horace's job. Given Horace's laxity in monitoring the situation, however, Minerva felt perfectly justified in overstepping her responsibilities. Messrs. Potter, Black, Lupin, Pettigrew, and Snape had all better hope young Finch paid attention in his classes.

"Thank you, Professor." Snape's face was now sharply interested. She doubted that he had missed the incongruity of the Gryffindor Head of House overseeing the affairs of a Slytherin student.

"You're quite welcome, Mr. Snape. It's good to see you looking so much better. You had us quite worried." His interested expression intensified considerably at that. "If you'll excuse us, I need to have a word with Miss Evans."

Evans nodded briskly and rose from her seat. "Certainly, Professor."

They paced to the infirmary's short entry hall, out of Snape's sight and hearing.

"Miss Evans, it was good of you to look after Mr. Snape. Madam Pomfrey has been very grateful for your help. I've spoken with your other professors about the work you've missed today. Your regular classwork will need to be made up as usual, but I will accept your Transfiguration essay at any time before Friday supper. Professor Slughorn has suggested that you and Mr. Snape pair up to do the lab you've missed today over the weekend as well."

"Thank you, Professor. I'm very grateful for all the trouble you've gone to, and I'm sure Sev is also."

"Nonsense, dear. I'm glad to see a student so willing to help a friend."

Minerva firmly quashed an acerbic internal comment on the quality of Snape's other friends, who had evidently not been so willing to help. Now, Min, there's no reason to overreact. You don't know their circumstances. There's a time and a place for Gryffindor temper, and this isn't it.

But then Evans bit her lip anxiously before speaking up of her own accord.

"I'm happy to help. He's a good friend, but I'm worried about him."

"Worried?" Minerva queried delicately. "How so?"

Evans hesitated momentarily before continuing. "It's just little things, really. He hasn't said anything. But I don't think he's concentrating on his studies as much as he used to. And he says he's friends with that lot in Slytherin, but I don't think any of them have even tried to visit him."

So Evans also found Snape's apparent lack of allies worrisome.

"Perhaps they're just busy." Minerva couldn't seem to muster up a great deal of conviction in that suggestion.

"Maybe." Evans sounded as dubious as she felt.

Minerva sighed. Evans' suspicions paralleled her own growing unease all too well. "Thank you for telling me, Miss Evans. Please do let me know if you notice anything else. I will keep an eye out for Mr. Snape as best I can."

"Thank you, Professor."

She was about to dismiss Evans to finally get some sleep when she remembered the earlier overheard conversation between Evans and Snape.

"By the way, Miss Evans – this potion you and Mr. Snape were discussing earlier..."

Evans perked up instantly. "Oh! That! It's an idea Sev had last year for a sort of self-adapting potion."

Minerva's interest rose anew. Self-adapting magic was definitely not covered in Horace's classes. "Self-adapting?"

"Yes – it has potential to treat a broad range of symptoms, like a cold-curing tonic. There's a seeking spell woven into the stirring pattern that determines which symptom is most urgent to treat and directs the potion's magic into giving it priority." Evans paused to sigh wistfully. "It's a very clever idea, really, but we haven't yet managed to make it fit for human consumption."

It was very clever. If Snape had come up with it on his own, Evans was entirely right in guessing that he hadn't been devoting his full concentration to his schoolwork.

"Is this entirely safe to work on?"

"Oh, yes, Professor. We checked with Professor Slughorn."

It was good to see that Horace had not completely abandoned common sense. She would need to speak with him later. Snape's Potions record appeared to be much more interesting than she had initially guessed.

"Very good, Miss Evans. Now I suggest you retire to the dormitories and get some rest."

"Thank you, Professor."

Minerva watched Evans exit and sighed. The Snape boy grew more worrisome by the minute. Her own suspicions had been disquieting enough, but with those of Evans added to them, she was determined that she would need to take some sort of action. Somehow, she needed to have a frank chat with Snape to find out just what was going on and whether he needed help.

She stepped forward to peer through the doorway to the main part of the infirmary. Snape was still propped up against the headboard of his bed, a small, solitary figure in monochrome. Somehow, she did not think it would be an easy task.

*****

AN: Sorry this chapter's taken so long. It's been a hectic couple of months. Thanks for sticking with the fic - I really appreciate all the reviews and faves. (Especially you guys who've offered advice on how to make the story better. Many thanks!)

Hope you enjoyed!