Disclaimer: Not mine, all JKR's, just having fun and not making money...

Author's Note: Another challenge fic for Healer Pomfrey on livejournal. This should have been up ages ago, but due to a gaping plot hole it needed a rewrite. Tell me if it's still there. :) I still have several problems with this, but it is vaguely readable now, I think...and with those reassuring words, enjoy! :)


The slam of the Finnegans' front door was nearly enough to make Severus turn back and shout at his boisterous student. Nearly. On second thought, he supposed yelling would do no more good for his pounding head than the door had done, so he bit his tongue and headed down the walk towards the Apparition point.

Only one left, thought Severus in relief; then, not for the first time that day, Albus, why do you torment me with this? He would not have had a problem—or as much of a problem—with seeing to one of the older years; his ex-first year students, however, were a different matter. They did not seem the slightest bit interested in the fact that they might have been exposed to a disease causing agent in Professor Quirrell's last class; one of the Ravenclaws had even had the audacity to ask why he couldn't have just sent an owl instead of tracking them all down at their homes.

Severus had been wondering that very thing ever since Albus had told him it was his responsibility to find all the first years and convey the warning. He supposed it was something to do with being able to make sure they weren't ignoring any possible symptoms of infection, as well as confirming that their guardians got the message, but that didn't stop it from being a royal pain in his rear end. Speaking to Harry Potter had nearly been unbearable, let alone the dozens of other disinterested brats.

So, it was with a very annoyed sort of relief Severus prepared to Apparate to the Grangers'. He had deliberately saved Miss Granger's house for last—being the inquisitive swot she was, she would undoubtedly have countless questions about anything and everything, and he hoped that getting to her house at a later hour would preclude her from asking them.

He swallowed bile as he straightened up outside of a Muggle suburb. Perhaps because of the headache, Severus had felt himself closer to vomiting every time he Apparated, and the crushing sensation hadn't done much for his equilibrium, either. Thinking vaguely that he only needed to do it once more, he set off down the street in search of the Grangers'.

It was a tidy little house set back a bit on the property; a polished car, very like the neighbours', was parked in the drive. Hoping that said neighbours would not take him for a burglar, as it was a bit late to call, Severus rang the doorbell and prepared himself for an unpleasant conversation.

A tall, bespectacled man pulled open the door and regarded him with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. "Can I help you?"

"Mr. Granger, I presume?" said Severus blandly. This routine was far beyond tedious, and his head hurt too much to feign enthusiasm. "Severus Snape. I am a teacher at Hermione's school, and have come to warn her that there is a possibility of illness resulting from exposure to a magical artefact in one of her classes—"

"Oh. I see," said Mr. Granger, looking faintly out of his league. "I'll call her, sir, she'd have a better understanding of it than me—Hermione?" He ducked halfway back into the house again. "There's a visitor for you—says he's a teacher at your school."

"Coming," said the faint reply, and the clatter of footfalls from a staircase. Mr. Granger gave Severus an awkward, apologetic sort of smile (which Severus most certainly did not return), and disappeared from the doorframe almost the instant Hermione's shadow appeared in the hall.

"Sorry, Dad, I was just reading, I—oh. Professor Snape," said Hermione uncertainly. She looked nervous and somewhat self-conscious in her pink pyjama bottoms and a T-shirt, but Severus, who was used to less than ecstatic greetings by now, ignored it.

"Miss Granger," he started wearily, for what he fervently hoped was the last time. "I'm here to tell you that due to the negligence of your ex-Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, you might have been exposed to an illness that is difficult to treat by non-magical means. Several of your older classmates have already contracted the disease. It is not life-threatening, but if you notice any flu-like symptoms, owl Hogwarts immediately and we will send an antidote. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," said Hermione gravely, though she had to bend awkwardly to catch the grey cat making a bid for freedom between her legs. "No, Buttons."

"I'm serious, Miss Granger."

Hermione adjusted the cat in her arms and tried to shake her bushy mane of hair out of her face. "Of course, Professor." She hesitated for a moment, then said timidly, "Are—are you having a good summer, Sir?"

"Well enough except for this business," said Severus without thinking, though, considering his surroundings had suddenly decided to start spinning, he preferred to keep his focus on remaining upright. It was time to leave if he wanted to get back to Hogwarts in one piece. "Anything else, Miss Granger?"

"N—no, Professor. Good night."

Well, what do you know. She can keep her mouth shut when she wants to... No sooner had the thought floated across his mind than Severus heard her calling him back. Damn. He had nearly been to the sidewalk.

"Professor Snape?"

His head gave a particularly nasty throb as he whirled to face her again. "Yes?"

He was struck by just how small Hermione looked, standing in the doorway to her house with her arms around a cat. "I—I just thought that—well, if you wanted to use the back garden to Disapparate, sir—it'd be easier than walking, wouldn't it?" she said, clearly mustering all of her twelve-year-old courage.

It seemed such a shame to indulge her, but the quicker he could leave, the better... The world did another backflip, and Severus sighed. There was no way he'd make it back to his former Apparition point. "Very well, Miss Granger. Good night."

Hermione ducked her head and disappeared behind the closed door, for which Severus was immensely grateful. He would be permitted to leave in peace, then... Looking forward to his quiet, dark bedroom, he made his way around the side of the house, felt the ground tilt alarmingly, and knew no more.

~*-*-*~

Hermione woke to an empty house, the sun streaming through her bedroom window. She glanced at her clock; nine wasn't terribly late, but her parents had been at work for over an hour already. Stretching, she climbed out of bed and made her way to the kitchen, finding a note on the cupboard as she reached for the toaster:

Hermione,

Dad and I decided to let you sleep. Hope you have a good day—don't forget to water the begonias we just planted in the corner—I'll see you later tonight. Love you!

Mum

Hermione groaned; she hated going outside when there were books to read and summer essays to do. Deciding to get it over with, she grabbed her toast and headed for the back door—and forgot about the cat. "Buttons, no!"

He ignored her and fled out the open door, stopping well out of arm reach on the lawn. Hermione gritted her teeth. "Here, Buttons...good kitty...Buttons—!" For he had shot off again, running into the tangle of bushes around the side of the house, and Hermione really hated running first thing in the morning. Not that she had a choice. Dad would kill her if she lost the cat. She sighed and sprinted around the corner, barely managing to seize Buttons's tail as she caught a glimpse of him and threw herself flat.

"Gotcha!"

Cat firmly secured, she straightened up and brushed her hair out of her eyes—and felt her jaw drop. Someone was sprawled on the ground not ten feet away, apparently either out cold or...no, Hermione, don't panic, they're breathing, she told herself. Stay calm, stay calm... But a feeling of foreboding lay heavy in the pit of her stomach as she cautiously observed the figure. The more she looked, the more she was convinced...but it couldn't be...

"Professor Snape?" she said apprehensively. The man did not move, so, steeling herself, Hermione moved closer and bent over him. There was no question; even disregarding the black cloak, that hair and the visible sliver of his sallow face could not belong to anyone else. All thoughts of calling 911 vanished from Hermione's mind. What was she supposed to do for a wizard? She didn't know any healing magic, and even if she had, she wouldn't be allowed to use it.

Think, Hermione, think. But the more she thought, the less she was sure of what to do, until it finally occurred to her that she should at least get him inside before the neighbours got suspicious. She shut Buttons in the house—carefully, this time—and began the laborious task of dragging her professor into the kitchen.

He was lighter than she'd expected, but she was small and had never been strong for her age, and she was panting by the time she shut the back door. With a groan of dismay, she realised he couldn't stay there—he should probably lie down, and his robes were wet with morning dew. Shuddering to think of what her parents would say if they knew, she hauled him upstairs to the sofa in her room. It was far from perfect—she didn't dare remove anything but his travelling cloak, though his robes were still soaked through—but the blankets from the closet would keep him relatively warm.

What have you done? she thought. She didn't know what else he needed, and had no idea how to contact someone who could help him. All she could hope was that he would wake up soon and be able to remember what had happened.

~*-*-*~

In Severus's experience, slipping back into consciousness was usually a prolonged and painful process, and now was no different. His first impression besides the splitting headache was of dampness and something rather scratchy against his exposed skin.

This is not my bed. The thought came slowly, but it was disconcerting enough to make him want to open his eyes. It took quite a bit of effort, but he finally managed it, dimly noting the woollen blankets thrown over him. Well, that ruled out Minerva's rooms; all her throws were that hideous tartan she so loved...and Albus would never keep something so plain...

Severus groaned and pressed a hand to his head as he tried to sit up, which did nothing more than make his nebulous surroundings more blurred. He couldn't think who else could have found him if he'd collapsed outside the Hogwarts gates; this certainly wasn't Hagrid's cabin, either—

"Professor?"

Oh, no.

Dread outweighing his current pain, Severus blinked and found himself staring at Hermione's anxious face. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed with a book on her knees, her head tilted curiously. Why? Why her?

"Miss Granger," he said slowly, "what...?"

"You—you fainted or something, sir," she said. "I mean, I think—do you remember what happened? I—I found you out in the garden, and—oh, I'm sorry, sir, would you like some water or something—?"

"You're babbling, Miss Granger," Severus managed hoarsely, after her words had caught up to him and he realised she was not going to stop. "But water would be...appreciated."

Her face lit up, and she bolted out of his line of vision, leaving him to sigh in exasperation. If it couldn't have been Hogwarts, at least it wasn't Potter's...but he wouldn't have chosen to leave himself to her mercy. If this headache didn't kill him first, her eagerness certainly would.

He frowned at the thought. Never had he experienced a headache so debilitating—what was the matter with him? Come to think of it, he hadn't been so sore in a long time, and that was only when he'd caught a particularly nasty case of...oh, no. He couldn't have become ill, could he? He hadn't really been exposed; he'd only helped Filius and Albus clear out Quirrell's classroom. Albus was fine, and Filius was convinced he'd only been suffering from allergies, so...

"Sir?"

Hermione's voice broke into his thoughts, and Severus was reminded of the problem at hand. "Thank you," he said grudgingly, taking the glass of water, and averted his eyes from her scrutiny. The last thing he wanted was for her to get some foolish idea that he'd need more of her help.

"So, um..." started Hermione again, clearly ill at ease, "do you—er, remember anything, Professor? I mean, from before you passed out; obviously you still remember some things—"

"Obviously," he agreed, cutting across her prattling once more. "But as to your question, no. The last thing I remember was walking around the side of the house in order to get to the back garden." It was the most he'd spoken to her all day, and he was disconcerted to find that it was not only relatively civil, but that it exhausted him as well. Perhaps something of this showed on his face, for all at once Hermione was peering at him once more and biting her lip.

"Are you feeling all right, sir? It's just—you don't look—"

"I'm fine," snapped Severus. Except the room is blurring and everything hurts like hell.

Hermione shied away, as he had expected, but the tiny smirk as he failed to get up was definitely a surprise. Damn it, she knows. Sure enough, she got to her feet again.

"Do you mind if I check something, sir?'

Had he been himself, Severus would have answered that he didn't mind what she checked as long as it took her farther away from him, but he couldn't gather the energy. He nodded once, tiredly, and savoured the few moments of quiet as she left the room again. This was very quickly turning into a bad situation, as he couldn't move, neither of them could use magic, and, from the looks of it, Hermione didn't have an owl. Severus sighed restlessly. What was he supposed to do, stay there? He very much doubted that would be acceptable to her parents, and it certainly wasn't acceptable to him.

"Er, Professor, if you wouldn't mind..."

Hermione had returned, holding a Muggle thermometer and what looked like a bundle of clothes. Oh, how adorable. Now she was going attempt to play nurse. Severus raised an eyebrow threateningly.

"What is that?"

"It's a thermometer, sir. To—"

"My father was a Muggle, Miss Granger; I know what that is. Those," said Severus, nodding to the fabric in her arms. She reddened.

"Erm...well, I think your robes are still a bit wet, you were out there all night...you can wear some of my dad's pyjamas while they dry, if you want."

Severus was thoroughly tempted to walk out that instant and Apparate, regardless of whether it splinched him, but he couldn't find the strength to move. "I am perfectly comfortable in these, Miss Granger," he lied, but he took the thermometer to appease her. He did not like the look on her face when it beeped.

She leapt up again and returned in minutes with an alarming array of pills, syrups, and other strange-looking bottles. "Here, Professor, you should start with these; my mum always makes me take some when I have a fever—and this should prevent you from coughing—and this one's good for a lot of stuff, but it'll make you a bit drowsy—"

Severus stared at the equivalent of a well-stocked chemist's shelf with alarm. "Miss Granger, what are you doing?" Dear Merlin, she's trying to poison me now...

She stopped. "I—I thought you would want to feel s bit better before you left," she said in a small voice.

"My stores at Hogwarts will be more than adequate," said Severus, and, without further ado, pushed himself up and made to leave.

And crashed back onto the sofa again.

"Are you all right, Professor?" Hermione's voice was rather far away.

"Fine," muttered Severus, but he could tell she wasn't convinced this time. He sighed as he realised that he couldn't leave until he could move, and he couldn't move until he could sort whatever was wrong with him...dammit, Albus, couldn't you have at least come looking for me? Admitting defeat, he let Hermione choose some of her medicines for him, and curled up on the sofa to await their results.

~*-*-*~

Hermione found herself peeping over the top her book every few minutes as though to check that the extraordinary events of the morning had really happened. Every time, she ended up staring at the inert form of her Potions professor, lying prone on her sofa. He had been far less antagonistic than she'd expected, though he probably had tried to sneer once or twice. The fact that he hadn't really managed it made her frown; perhaps he was feeling worse than he let on.

It was odd, seeing him just lying there without any hint of his characteristic scowl. Of course, she didn't think he could scowl in his sleep, but the sight of his pale face, devoid of any expression, was hard to mesh with her image of her demanding teacher.

Get a hold of yourself; he's human, thought Hermione irritably. She had yet to think of a way to break this to her parents, but she was sure that they wouldn't be thrilled no matter what she said. From the looks of it, Professor Snape wouldn't be up to leaving any time soon, and she couldn't bring herself to throw him out even if she disliked him.

He stirred suddenly, startling her out of her thoughts. She watched as he opened his eyes, found her, and sighed. "Do you need anything, Professor?"

He frowned, albeit groggily. "Miss Granger, I know you're doing your best...but as I told you, this cannot be easily treated by non-magical means. For both our sakes, just owl Hogwarts for the antidote."

She had been afraid of that. "I don't have an owl, Professor," she admitted.

"Well then, send your familiar to find one," he said, nodding to Buttons, and then wincing at the movement.

Oh, he was not going to like this... "Um, I can't, sir. I—I don't have a familiar. Buttons is my parents' cat."

Hermione thought she heard a mumbled string of obscenities, but it might have been her imagination. Even Snape wouldn't use that sort of language. Finally he looked up at her again.

"In that case...I suggest you invest in one soon, Miss Granger. You can see why one might have been useful at the moment." The effort of speaking seemed to exhaust him, and he shut his eyes again. Hermione frowned worriedly.

"How are you feeling?"

"Much like Dumbledore will when I next get a hold of him," Severus replied, after a moment of silence.

Hermione figured that it couldn't be good, whatever he had meant by that. "Maybe you should take some more acetaminophen, sir. It only lasts a few hours; you could probably use another dose."

"No, thank you," said Severus stiffly, and Hermione was left to ponder why on earth he would refuse help when he was so blatantly uncomfortable.

~*-*-*~

A damp weight on his face startled Severus out of his miserable limbo. "Miss Granger...what are you doing?" he asked hoarsely.

"Sorry, Professor," she said from somewhere above him, "but your fever's gone up. I just thought—I mean, my mum does it—"

"Very well," Severus muttered; the cool cloth did feel quite good. But why was she still here...? "Miss Granger, have you really nothing better to do?"

Hermione fidgeted. "Not really, sir. A few chores and things, but I'd mostly be reading anyway. My parents both work during the day."

Ah. Of course. "And what will become of me once they return?"

"Er..." Severus didn't need to see Hermione's face to know she was biting her lip, like she always did when she was nervous in his class. "Well...just try not to make too much noise when they're home, all right, Professor?"

No. She wouldn't. Even through the horrible pain in his head, Severus allowed incredulity to help him sit up. She was far too sensible to suggest what he thought she was suggesting... "No, Miss Granger. I think your parents have the right to know when a guest is staying in the house."

"Fine, I'll work on it," said Hermione, in a tone he was more accustomed to hearing from Potter, Weasley, or one of his other more insolent students. "I may not say right away, though...so, er...are you hungry, Professor? I'm sure we have soup downstairs."

The very thought of food made Severus's stomach flip. "No," he said hastily. "I'm fine."

Hermione peered at him for a moment, then said hesitantly, "Er...Professor, I have to water the flowers and things before my parents get home...do you mind if I leave you for a bit? There's a bathroom across the hall if you need water or somethi—"

"I'm fine, Miss Granger. Go and do what you must." Severus kept his tone neutral, but he was ridiculously relieved to be left alone. If there was a chance he could find an owl, or even a bit of parchment to post off to someone...

Hermione nodded, looking somewhat relieved herself, and left. Severus waited until he heard her footsteps fade and the back door open and close before moving. It was a slow process, and he realised with chagrin that there was no chance he'd be able to search the house and get back to Hermione's room before she returned. He settled for staggering across the hall to the loo, leaning against the sink as the floor slid beneath his feet, and, with some trepidation, glanced in the mirror.

Good mother of... He hadn't looked this bad in—well, he wasn't exactly sure how long. He had never been attractive, but the spots of colour on his otherwise pasty cheeks were far from flattering. And his eyes... they had always been rather shadowed, but now they were glassy and so sunken he appeared almost skeletal. No wonder Miss Granger was concerned.

Get a hold of yourself; she's not concerned, he thought irritably, averting his gaze from the mirror. Probably wants to get me out as soon as possible. As if he didn't wish it himself...

With shaking hands, he splashed water from the tap on his face; it was refreshing enough to get him back to Hermione's room without collapsing, but it was a close thing. He buried his face in his arms and curled up again. At this rate, he'd be lucky to get back to Hogwarts by the time term started again.

~*-*-*~

The garden hose jerked as Hermione jumped; a reproachful hoot from the bush she had just splashed startled her from her mindless watering. Heart thudding, she dropped the hose and peered through the leaves, finding a dishevelled—and very familiar-looking—owl a moment later.

"Errol?"

It was indeed her friend's owl, disgruntled at being woken. Hermione could have danced with excitement. An owl changed everything...no need to explain Snape's presence to her parents if she could get help, get him out of here... She read Ron's letter distractedly:

Hey Hermione,

How's summer going back in the muggle world? Pretty quiet here. Not much happening, although Snape did stop by earlier today. Creepy git.

Have you heard from Harry? I've owled him twice already and haven't heard back. Hope the Muggles aren't being too hard on him.

Ron

Hermione grinned. "Just a minute," she told Errol, and dashed into the house for a bowl of water and some parchment. Snatching a pen from the kitchen counter, she scribbled a note in record time:

Ron,

Thank goodness you owled—I didn't know what to do, but then Errol turned up! No, I haven't heard from Harry, and I'm getting quite worried, but there's another problem. Snape showed up yesterday here, too, but he's really ill and can't make it back to Hogwarts. Please tell your mum or something—he really needs help and I'd like to get him out of here before I have to explain to my parents.

Hope you're having a good holiday!

Love,

Hermione

Errol hooted indignantly as Hermione attempted to tie the missive to his leg.

"I know," she said quietly, holding up the bowl of water to him, "I'm sorry. I wouldn't send you off again so soon if it wasn't an emergency. Do you think you're up to it?"

Errol blinked his bleary eyes, nipped her on the finger, and was gone from his perch before Hermione could lower the water bowl. It splashed to the ground and she sighed. At least there was an end to this business in sight—with any luck, before her parents came home for the evening. Hopefully Ron didn't live too far away.

It was the work of a few moments to roll up the hose again and head back into the house. If it was barely one now... Hermione bit her lip. How long would it take before someone would come? The owl had to travel, of course, hopefully not more than three hours, but wizards could Apparate in seconds, and she had no doubt that whoever came would be perfectly able to get Snape back to Hogwarts just as quickly. Wouldn't he just be overjoyed...

"Professor?" she said cautiously as she climbed the stairs to her room. The last thing she needed was to wake up an exceptionally crabby Slytherin if she barrelled through the door.

There was no response, so she pushed the door open quietly. He was still huddled on the sofa, shivering despite the quilt wrapped tightly about his shoulders. Hermione hesitated; he looked much worse than he had an hour ago, and she felt rather sorry that she couldn't do much more. If only he'd let her give him some stronger medicine...she'd never particularly liked him, but she found it difficult to watch him suffer.

"Hurry up, Errol," she muttered under her breath, and resumed reading on her bed once more, periodically checking on her professor as the afternoon wore on.

~*-*-*~

Severus was never particularly sure what it was about being ill and dreaming, but he hated it. Every time he was feeling sore or run down, he was always plagued by the most bizarre dreams, made more irritating by the fact that he knew he was dreaming and could still feel the aches of the previous day while his dream self was doing whatever his dream self did. It was rather disorientating, and he found it bloody annoying, to boot.

"Wake up already, you dolt," he muttered to himself, and though he heard his own voice clearly, he did not feel his lips move. Drat. Well, not like it usually worked anyway...

He was striding through his dungeons at Hogwarts, but the passageways were unfamiliar and strangely unpleasant. One was baking hot, as though he'd stepped into an oven; another made him feel as though something wet was repeatedly being splashed over him, though he could see nothing dripping from the stones on the ceiling. Unnerved, he turned a corner into another corridor, sighing in relief that this one, at least, seemed dry and of a semi-normal temperature.

He was halfway across it when the voices started. Women's voices, definitely, but he could not make out what they were saying, or even where they were coming from. Severus's neck prickled. He'd been so sure he was alone...he'd been wandering the halls for hours without seeing a single person...

"Who's there?" he called quietly. The voices kept mumbling unintelligibly; Severus glanced behind him again and sped up. This was by far the most eerie passage he'd come across, despite the bright torchlight dancing across the stones. Wake up, you idiot, wake up...

He tried to force himself to move faster, but his legs would not obey; the next turn in the hall seemed twice as far away as when he'd started; and the invisible women were still there, muttering...

"Severus?"

He felt cold sweat bead on his forehead; they knew who he was...where he was, probably...

"Severus, can you hear me?"

Of course I can, why do you think I'm running? he thought; the corner was only a few feet away—if he could just reach it—

"Professor?"

No...not a student, too...with enormous relief, he stepped into the next corridor, panting as the voices fell silent. The feeling was short-lived.

The hall was jet-black, and another step proved a dangerous thing; the instant his foot touched the stone, the floor starting rolling and pitching beneath him. Dammit... He tried to stumble to a wall for some sort of stability—and froze. Someone or something unseen was snatching at his arms, his torso...

"GET OFF!"

Severus forced his physical eyes open. The dark corridor vanished, replaced by a gaily painted room and the face of a woman he had never been so glad to see.

"There's no need to shout, Severus; I'm sure Miss Granger and I would still have given you your space had you asked nicely," said Poppy Pomfrey reprovingly, but there was a teasing warmth to her smile.

Severus sighed, his eyes finding Hermione, who had retreated to her bed again and looked frankly terrified. "You found an owl, then, Miss Granger?" he said languidly. Now he was awake, his headache had returned full force.

"You—you wouldn't wake up," said Hermione in a very small voice indeed. "I sent for help hours ago, as soon as I got an owl from Ron—I was going to tell you—but you wouldn't wake up and I'd thought something dreadful had happened while I was outside—"

Severus winced as he tilted his head at her in confusion; she almost made it sound like...like she cared...

Poppy noticed his grimace and cleared her throat. "First things first, Severus. I've brought you a potion, and you too, Hermione. Just to be safe, of course."

Severus downed the small phial gratefully and watched with amusement as Hermione sniffed at hers before copying him. "No matter what I may have put into it, Miss Granger, I assure you it was not meant to poison my students," he said. She smiled weakly.

"No, sir. Although—I am curious—" (Severus raised an eyebrow; apparently she couldn't be in the same room with a professor without asking a question) "—why did you call it an antidote, earlier? I just thought—it makes it sound like the potion was meant to be modified based on certain factors, rather than just covering a general purpose like Pepper-Up Potion or something—and unless Quirrell smeared different poisons on all our desks or something..."

"I wouldn't have put it past him," muttered Poppy huffily, "but, no, he did not, as far as we know. No, it was the enchanted looking-glass he brought in for the seventh years at the end of term, and kept in the classroom. One of its nastier properties was to reflect ill-will back onto anyone who looked into it, but it wasn't picky...of course, you can see the problem. One person with a grudge against Gryffindor looks into it; any Gryffindors that look into it afterwards are afflicted. The same goes for any other house, or specific people, as well, should they look in the glass. You can imagine the amount of ill-will accumulated over the years..."

Hermione started. "Glad I didn't look at it for too long, then...but why didn't I get sick? I mean, I certainly was exposed to the glass more than Professor Snape, and I find it hard to believe that no one who's looked in it before hasn't wished ill on Gryffindors and Muggleborns and first years and such things."

Severus frowned at Poppy as Hermione waited for her answer; he knew perfectly well why he was the one stuck with a horrible flu while she had likely done little more than sneezed once or twice. Poppy, don't tell her everything...

"Well..." said Poppy. "It's—it's all to do with the amount, you see. If you didn't look for too long—and if there weren't a whole lot of people before you who wished ill against something you are—you certainly won't feel the effects as strongly as someone who, er..."

"—is probably loathed by every single student that looked into that glass," Severus finished, glaring at Poppy. The last thing he needed was for her to add on all the people who hated him for being a Death Eater, spy, murderer, Slytherin...the list went on...

Hermione shrugged. "Not every student, sir," she said simply. Severus didn't have the heart to correct her. He watched her fiddle with her quilt for a moment in silence before Poppy cleared her throat again.

"We should be getting back to Hogwarts, Severus. Albus was worried when you didn't show up last night—and, unless I'm very much mistaken, Miss Granger's parents will be home any moment."

"If Albus was so worried, he could have at least sent someone looking," Severus snorted. "I'll be having words with him about that. And as for Miss Granger's parents—" He glanced at Hermione, who shrugged. "—well, I suppose I should thank them for allowing me a prolonged visit, even if it was without their knowledge—" He smirked at Hermione's look of total horror. "—but I will leave that to you, Miss Granger, if you feel so inclined."

He swayed slightly as he stood, and glanced at Poppy questioningly; surely he shouldn't have still been dizzy, after taking the potion? Poppy sighed.

"You'll have to Side-Along, Severus. You could use another dose of your potion, and you probably hit your head when you fainted. It could have been much worse, though—thank you, Miss Granger."

Hermione nodded. "I guess I'll see you next September, then...er...I'm sorry I wasn't much help, Professor."

Severus had half a mind to further investigate the side effects of his potion, because he didn't feel like agreeing with the young Gryffindor. "Not at all," he started curtly, but then sighed. For Merlin's sake, she's already seen me looking much worse, politeness can't ruin my image any more... "Miss Granger, I—thank you. For everything."

The small but sincere smile on her face was the first he'd received from a student in a long time. Nodding to her once more, he took Poppy's arm and vanished with a crack. The Hogwarts gates materialised after a few rather painful moments, but Severus smirked as he gazed at one of the towers.

He had a headmaster to tell off.

Fín.