Phoenix Song, Chapter one : Song of Healing.
DISCLAIMER : The characters and many of the situations described in this story are the property of the incomparable J.K. Rowling. I make no money from this story, which exists as a work of tribute. Where dialogue from the original Harry Potter books is quoted by me, the relevant text is underlined.
His voice pulled her back into her body, into the sharp awareness of pain and panic. Harry. The prophecy. She struggled to rise, squinting her eyes against the bright light. A cool hand on her forehead pushed her gently, but firmly, back into the bed. A bed? Where am I?
"Miss Granger," she knew that voice: as cool as the hand on her forehead, deep, and deeply reassuring. "You are at Hogwarts, in the Hospital Wing, to be precise. I would ask you to lie still."
"Wh-where's Harry?" she gasped, panic pumping though her veins.
"Despite having dragged five of his fellow students on an idiotic and ill-conceived rescue attempt, neither Harry Potter nor any student other than yourself has been grievously injured. You, however, must lie still."
Gradually, her eyes adjusted to the lighted ward. Her potions master loomed over her bed, his dark hair hanging forward across his face.
"I understand from Mr Potter that you were cursed by Antonin Dolohov, while Dolohov himself was suffering from a silencio hex. Is this the case?"
With the first rush of adrenaline leaking away, speaking was more difficult than Hermione had anticipated. "Yes, sir," sounded more like "Yessss . . ."
"Neither Potter, nor Longbottom, were able to tell me which curse Dolohov used." Snape's tone implied that such ignorance was unforgivable. He quirked one interrogative eyebrow at her and waited for a response.
"I don't know either," she managed. Snape looked singularly unimpressed. "I'm sorry, sir . . ."
Snape stood upright, and crossed his arms across his chest. "Miss Granger," he began, slipping reflexively into lecturing mode. "A spell cast under silencio differs greatly from the non-verbal incantation of the same spell. The consequences can be difficult to predict. In most cases, however, the spell lodges in the recipient as magical potential, growing in intensity until an explosion of magical energy ensues. This situation is highly dangerous for the recipient. Do I make myself clear?"
Hermione's eyes were stretched wide and she felt a different kind of panic rising in her chest. "You mean that the curse is bottled within me, liable to explode at any time."
Snape met her eye, a grim expression on his face. "Correct."
"What—" she began, but a raised finger cut her off.
"Without knowing which curse was used, there is nothing to be done." He paused, swallowing slightly before continuing. "I need you to show me your memory of the event."
Hermione could feel her heart beating hard against her chest. I need to let him inside my mind? No wonder Professor Snape is here and not Madame Pomfrey. Everything was beginning to make sense, from the company at her bedside to the awful pain that was throbbing through her body. Hermione bit on her lower lip for a brief moment. "What do I need to do?" she asked.
"Skin contact can increase the connection," Snape replied. He sounded almost bored, a slight edge of distaste colouring his voice. "Otherwise it should be sufficient to maintain eye contact; try to relax as much as possible."
Relax? I'm in mortal danger from an unexploded curse and Professor Snape is about to rifle through my brain. Should be a piece of cake.
He stepped towards her bed and took her chin in his left hand, raising her face to look directly at his own. With his right hand he touched his wand against her temple. "Are you ready?"
Hermione pressed her lips together and nodded with determination. The movement was so slight that had his hand not been wrapped around her chin, he might not have noticed.
His eyes narrowed in acknowledgement. "Legilimens."
She felt his presence then, at the edges of her consciousness. As he pressed forwards, the pain in her body swelled, crushing in against her from all sides. She was losing. Overwhelmed by the pain she responded instinctively. "NO!" Did she really shriek? Was it all inside her head? In a desperate effort to keep control she pushed the pain away, locking it down into the mental equivalent of a large trunk, not unlike the one she used each year to transport her clothes and books to Hogwarts.
"Miss Granger," His voice, like his face, registered shock. "Am I to understand that you have studied occlumency?"
"I . . . no, of course not." She looked up at him with confusion, realising suddenly that his presence, too, was gone from her mind.
"Of course not," he echoed, mocking her. "And yet, it would seem that you approach the subject with your customary enthusiasm."
"I . . ." Hermione grimaced at her seeming inability to construct a coherent sentence. The pain had faded somewhat, but she felt exhausted. "I was occluding you?"
"Yes." Snape sighed. "In other circumstances I could break through or dismantle your mental defences, but given the curse bottled inside your body the risks are too great. I need you to let me in." Infinitesimally, he hesitated, "This would be a lot easier if you could trust me, if only for the duration of the procedure."
"It's not that . . . it's just . . ." Even with the pain pushed deep down inside, breathing was tricky and conversation bordered on the impossible. She glanced away from her professor's hovering face up to the ceiling beyond, fighting the tears that prickled dangerously. Breathe, Granger, she thought to herself. In, out. You don't want him to know how afraid you are. "It hurts," she whispered finally, not meeting his eyes.
"Yes. It will hurt a great deal." Somehow his honest response took the sting out of the words, and her fear lessened slightly. "Given your current situation, however, facing the pain is unavoidable." She continued to stare past him, eyes fixed on the ceiling. This is it, any moment now he's going to mention my vaunted Gryffindor courage; probably a bad time to confess that I don't have any. In her peripheral vision she could see his face, unmoving, as he waited for her response. Agonising seconds slipped by. Isn't he going to say anything? Finally, she risked a look at his face. As she breathed out, he let out the breath that he'd clearly been holding in sympathy. "Well, Miss Granger?"
"Professor, I do trust you. But I don't know how to let you in."
Snape looked at her appraisingly. "You have pushed the pain into a box deep inside of you." It was a statement, not a question. "You need only open the box and invite me to look in."
Snape continued to hold her gaze, and Hermione hoped that he couldn't read how desperately overwhelmed she felt. Come on, Granger, Gryffindor, remember? Finally, she nodded. At her agreement, Snape's shoulders relaxed subtly. Once again he reached out and took her chin firmly in his hand. "Legilimens."
At his words the pain thrummed, clouding the corners of her vision, her limbs aching. Struggling to stay calm, Hermione focussed on the dark eyes and long lashes of her potions professor. Professor Snape, Professor Snape. His name was a mantra that offered a thread of rational thought through the red haze that threatened to swamp her. Superimposed over her vision of the hospital ward she recognised scenes from her memories, each featuring the man before her. She watched his unconscious head bump and scrape along the tunnel back from the Shrieking Shack; she sat in his classroom during her first week at Hogwarts and thrilled to his voice, "I can teach you how to brew fame, bottle glory, and even put a stopper in death." She watched him tower over the unfortunate Professor Lockhart at the one and only meeting of the Duelling Club, menace written in every line of his body; then watched him push up his sleeve, in an abortive attempt to convince Fudge that Lord Voldemort had returned . . .
"Miss Granger," Snape's real voice cut through the string of memories. It echoed oddly, as if she could hear it both inside and outside of her head. "Pleasant as you might find it to reminisce over every meeting we have had in the last five years, I have not the time nor the temperament to enjoy the show. I need you to show me what happened at the Department of Mysteries."
Hermione sighed with reluctance, letting one last vision of Professor Snape delay the inevitable. Umbridge's office flashed into sight. Millicent Bulstrode had Hermione pressed uncomfortably to the wall, while Snape scowled from the doorway. Before the scene faded, Hermione relived Harry's impassioned cry, "He's got Padfoot! He's got Padfoot at the place where it's hidden!" as well as the Professor's snarled response, "Potter, when I want nonsense shouted at me I shall give you a Babbling Beverage . . ."
Seconds later, Hermione was crouched under a desk, panic pounding in her veins. This memory was so vivid that the hospital ward had completely faded from view. Close at hand, she heard Harry stupefy one of the two Death Eaters who stood nearby, mere feet from where she hid. The closest set of legs ducked quickly, and her sphere of attention narrowed to the wand pointed directly at her. She couldn't move, she couldn't speak. As if from a great distance, she heard his voice.
Only when Harry's body slammed into the Death Eater's knees, knocking him to the floor, did Hermione regain control of her recalcitrant limbs. Her best friend and the Death Eater who would have murdered her were struggling bodily on the floor, leaving no clear shot. Neville, however, threw himself forward regardless.
"EXPELLIARMUS!" he shouted, gasping in horror as both Harry's wand and that of the Death Eater flew out of their reach. Hermione scrambled up, and rushed after them. Neville continued to shout, managing to launch another hex, which thankfully went wide of both men, before finally Hermione succeeded in stupefying the Death Eater. She'd summoned Harry's wand and returned it to him before she noticed that the Death Eater had fallen onto and through the weird bell-shaped glass case that dominated the room. Horrifyingly, his head was shrinking on his shoulders, distorting his features and replacing them with those of an infant, although his body, which had remained outside the jar, stayed the same.
As the strange effect swung into reverse, Hermione realised what she was looking at. "It's Time," she whispered, "Time . . ."
Shouts and a scream from an adjacent room pulled her focus back to the larger problem of escape. She threw an arm out towards Harry, but before she could stop him he shouted loudly after their absent friends.
"RON? GINNY? LUNA?"
"Harry!" she rebuked him, no hope now that their location would go unnoticed. Harry glanced back at her, immediately remorseful, then raised his wand at the baby-headed Death Eater who had managed to struggle to his feet. Horrified, Hermione grabbed at his arm. "You can't hurt a baby!" she hissed, pulling him towards the door.
For a second, Harry looked at her as if she was insane. He seemed ready to argue the point, but approaching footsteps drove him onward. "Come on!" he urged, pulling Hermione towards the hall of doors and gesturing urgently to Neville.
As they ran, two more Death Eaters appeared in the room before them and Harry swerved sideways, through a small doorway and into an untidy office. As Harry slammed the door, Hermione attempted to seal it.
"Collo—" she began, too late. The door burst wide and two Death Eaters hurled themselves into the room.
"IMPEDIMENTA!" cried both Death Eaters at once. Hermione was thrown backwards across the room, slamming into a bookshelf with a painful crash. Automatically, she wrapped her arms protectively around her head, fending off several heavy volumes that had been knocked from the shelves by the force of her impact. Harry and Neville had also been flung across the room, Neville had disappeared behind a desk and Harry looked like he might have lost consciousness. Scrambling to her knees, Hermione raised her wand, her first thought to silence the Death Eater nearest Harry, who had started to shout their location to the others.
"Silencio!" she cried. Hermione wanted to sob with relief when she heard Harry's voice behind her.
"Petrificus Totalus!" he called, and the other Death Eater toppled forwards.
One down, one silenced. Hermione couldn't hold back a foolish grin and turned to congratulate Harry. "Well done, Ha—" Even before she had finished speaking, the horrified look on Harry's face spun her back towards the silent Death Eater. With a vindictive look on his face, he slashed his wand towards her; a streak of purple flame hit her chest and pain blossomed in her body. A soft "Oh!" left her on impact and as the scene around her faded away she was conscious of an overwhelming sense of stupidity. Why silencio? Why didn't I petrify him when I had the chance?
Once again she was losing against the pain, drowning under the red waves as she cursed her stupidity over and over. Snape's voice recalled her to the present, echoing though the interior-exterior spaces that they both occupied.
"Put it back in the box, Miss Granger, NOW!" Feebly at first, Hermione began to push back against the agony. With relief she noticed that Snape was helping. Only when the trunk slammed shut did the shapes and colours of the hospital wing come back into focus, Professor Snape's face hovering a foot above her own.
Straightening up, he let go of her chin and ran his hand roughly down his face. He looked shaken, but when he began to speak his tone was even.
"The curse Dolohov utilised is one that I recognise: a rare slashing hex that few know how to counter. Fortunately, I am familiar with the counterspell." He ducked his head slightly at that point, and his hair slid across his face. His eyes thus concealed from view, he continued. "At this point, I need to trigger the curse. Your chest will burst open. While I will heal it immediately, the procedure will hurt a great deal. You also run the risk of a permanent scar."
Snape paused, waiting perhaps for Hermione to respond. At some level she registered the fact that he had stopped speaking, and turned her eyes blankly towards him, though she couldn't stop thinking about how stupid she had been. Her continued silence seemed to irritate her companion.
"A scar, Miss Granger. While I entertain no doubt that you find the idea repulsive, I should not need to point out that any other course of action carries the risk of permanent brain damage."
"Sir, I don't care about the scarring." Did he think her so shallow that she would care about a scar when she had very nearly died? Hermione felt suddenly sick with humiliation. Professor Snape had seen her error, and clearly thought her a vain, foolish little girl. "Aren't you going to tell me how stupid I was?" Her voice was uncharacteristically bitter as she turned her head against the pillow.
Snape crossed his arms and leaned one hip against the bed. When he spoke, his voice was as sarcastic as always, and yet somehow more gentle than she'd ever heard it. "Once this ordeal is over, Miss Granger, I will be delighted to tell you in exacting detail precisely how stupid the entire enterprise has been from the moment I saw you in Umbridge's office onwards. For now, however, time is of the essence. Your life remains in danger and I need your co-operation to release Dolohov's curse. Are you ready?"
Hermione had pressed her eyes shut while he spoke, but turned almost immediately to look at him in response to his question. Once again, she nodded her agreement. Snape looked unaccountably relieved. "Good," he replied. If a relieved Professor Snape was an unusual sight, the embarrassed look that followed sat even more uncomfortably on his features. "In the interest of efficiency, it seems best to remove your clothing before triggering the curse."
Hermione had time only to blink in surprise. Snape stepped towards the bed and grasped the sheet firmly in his left hand. At his actions, Hermione took in a sharp breath, but, unexpectedly, Snape drew the covers sharply up to the level of her chin. Waving his wand in an intricate circular motion, he muttered a charm that Hermione had never heard. The sensation of her clothes wriggling off was bizarre. Buttons slipped out of holes and layers of clothing extricated themselves from under the weight of her body. They edged out from under the sheets and soared over to a chair, where they came to rest in a neatly folded pile. Hermione realised with relief that although she had lost her robe, jumper, t-shirt and bra, she retained everything from the waist down.
Snape stared determinedly at a point several inches left of her ear and took recourse in his most sarcastic tone, "You can rest assured that I will not remove the sheet until the last possible moment."
At that, he turned away. After looking down at his own clothes for a long moment, he removed his teaching robes and his frock coat, undoing the buttons carefully and hanging both over the back of the chair. The removal of his coat revealed a black waistcoat and a white shirt, his silhouette oddly lean without his voluminous robes. Before turning back to the bed he neatly rolled up his sleeves. Hermione caught a glimpse of the dark mark, shockingly visible against the pale skin of his forearm.
By the time he turned back towards her, his face was calm, the evidence of his previous embarrassment expertly smoothed away.
For the third time he reached for her chin and gazed into her eyes. "Are you ready, Miss Granger?" he asked.
Hermione was hyperconscious of the thin sheet that separated her body from view, teacher and student both peeled of several layers of their typical garb. His fingers were pressed against her cheek in an intimate and protective gesture that sat at odds with her previous experience of this strange and unpredictable man. Her heart beat loudly against her chest. When she opened her mouth to speak, her throat was dry, and her words sounded strange and rough.
"Yes, sir," she whispered.
Seconds later, an image of the locked trunk hovered before her eyes. She heard Snape speaking in that strange inside-outside voice that accompanied his forays into her mind. "On the count of three . . ."
On one, his hand left her chin and took hold of the sheet.
On two, he pulled back the sheet with a smooth gesture, exposing her body from the waist up.
On three, her world split apart. Her body tore from shoulder to waist, slicing diagonally across her chest. Opening her mouth to scream, she managed only a soft moan. In the struggle to stay conscious, Hermione watched Snape flinch as her blood splattered across his face and saturated his clothing. Yet he didn't break eye contact. Taking a deep breath, he began to sing.
Hermione heard his song inside her head and outside it, she heard it in the marrow of her bones and in the very vibrations of her flesh. It seeped through her body, erasing her pain and knitting the torn edges back together. In the rush of relief and release that accompanied his song, Hermione had a revelation that seemed so obvious that she wondered at never having noticed before.
Snape's eyes were still fixed on hers, while his wand hand traced elaborate curves over the fast-healing wound. Euphoric with the rightness of her revelation, Hermione smiled up at her professor.
"Of course," she breathed, "You're a phoenix."
Still smiling, Hermione saw his eyes widen with surprise, though his singing never faltered. The sound wove a warm cocoon into which she settled gratefully, feeling safer than she could remember feeling ever before.
After three or four minutes of Snape's singing, the gash in Hermione's body was entirely replaced by a fresh and painful-looking scar. His voice faded into silence and Hermione felt his presence back gently away from her conscious mind. His wand hand dropped to the bed and he glanced down at her exposed chest for the briefest second before turning his face away and hurriedly pulling up the sheet.
Hermione felt as if she were floating. She tried to speak, but no words came out. She wanted to say thank you.
"Poppy?" Snape called out in a quiet voice. He sounded exhausted, and his shoulders were slumped with tiredness. Hermione heard the approach of rapid footsteps, and the curtain around her bed was drawn back to reveal the concerned face of the school matron.
Pomfrey stepped immediately to Hermione's side and pulled back the sheet. Snape turned away, busying himself with his frockcoat. Pomfrey ran her hand lightly across the angry red scar on Hermione's chest. She cast several quick diagnostic spells before tucking her wand back into her apron. "Oh, Severus," she sighed. "Well done." With capable hands, she tucked the sheet back up around Hermione's shoulders and stroked a stray curl back from the young woman's forehead. "I will dress the wound very shortly," she whispered to Hermione. "Everything is going to be just fine."
Snape clicked the fingers of his right hand, and on the table beside the bed a self-inking quill leapt upright. Though he stood several feet away, the quill composed a list of medicinal potions in his distinctively spiky handwriting. "These are the potions she will need to take," he commented, still facing away from the bed.
Pomfrey turned and picked up the parchment, casting an expert eye down the list with some apprehension. "Severus," she began, tentatively. "We have only three of these in stock."
At this, Snape turned towards the bed. Pomfrey gasped at the sight of him. His face and clothes were liberally splashed with Hermione's blood, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He had replaced his frockcoat and teaching robes, but they remained unbuttoned. As he turned he rubbed the back of one hand across his forehead, smearing the droplets of blood that hung there into a long dark smudge.
"Which ones do you have?" he asked, holding out his other hand for the list.
"We've the blood-replenishing potion, the dreamless sleep, of course, and the basic painkiller… but Severus, you need to rest, you can't possibly make the rest of these in your current state!"
Snape raised one eyebrow. A shadow of his habitual sneer twisted his mouth up at one corner. "Come now, Poppy," he rebuked her. "There is no rest for the wicked." He turned then, his unbuttoned robes billowing out dramatically as he did so. He took a step away, but Pomfrey's outstretched hand caught at his elbow.
"Wait!" she called. He half turned towards her, but didn't speak. Clucking her tongue softly against her teeth, Pomfrey pulled out her wand. "Tergeo. There, that's a little better." The spell siphoned the blood from Snape's clothes and face, dramatically improving his appearance. Almost affectionately, she tapped him on the chest with her wand. "You're a good man, Severus Snape," she said.
Snape rolled his eyes at her, although a small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth and betrayed his pleasure at the comment. "If you've quite finished," he remarked in an exasperated tone. Shaking his arm free from her grip he turned on his heel once more and strode quickly from the room.
As he left Hermione tried again to thank him, but without success. Only a soft sigh escaped her lips. The sound caught Madam Pomfrey's attention however, and she turned back towards her patient, arms crossed over her chest.
"As for you, young lady. I hope you realise just how lucky you are. I shudder to think what would have happened had Professor Snape not been here and willing to help!" As she spoke she removed several vials from the capacious pockets of her apron and lined them up on the table beside the bed. Uncorking them, she held them to Hermione's lips one by one, helping her to swallow. "These will make you sleep and will dull the pain, and right now, sleep is the best thing you can possibly do."