Snape could not guess if Miss Granger would return.
After he deposited her on the sofa when she fainted, he'd noted her shallow breathing and erratic pulse.
Mr. Weasley said she needed St. Mungo's. Draco said the healers would question her recovery from the Cruciatus. Miss Lovegood said Hogwarts and away they all went, leaving Snape to worry the night alone.
Lucius popped in after lunch the next day to say Miss Granger was recovering. She had taken three, possibly four sleeping pills and it was still in her system. The added champagne compounded the sedative effect, nearly putting her into a coma.
The rest of the week went slowly. Snape ate and he read. He asked his visitors about Miss Granger's condition. He learned of her suspension from school. The girl was living back at her parents. Mr. Potter said Miss Granger owled she would not attend Spinner's End this weekend.
Snape wondered if that was in avoidance of her friends or in avoidance of him.
She did come the following Sunday.
He watched her with his arms crossed and his mind open. He examined her without prejudice or anger. She looked healthier in body if not in spirit. Her ombre halter dress revealing her renewed appetite.
She didn't look at him, but took her chair and hung her head. Her fidgeting hands toyed with the fabric in a way he was too familiar with. Her posture was stiff as though she was awaiting a known punishment. It made him frown.
"Miss Granger?" he asked all concern.
She didn't answer him, so he stepped closer. "Miss Granger, I am glad to see you out of hospital. However, you are not recovered and you should return to your parents' home." He paused, but she did not respond. "I will not be slighted if you wish to cut your visit short."
She would not lift her head. "I-I.. I want to... I want to tell you about the pills." She heaved a deep breath before continuing, " I take the pills so I won't have dreams. Otherweise, I have nightmares," she whispered. "Every night."
He waited patiently with concern.
She was trying hard to be a brave Gryffindor. "Someone is scolding me for not helping them. At other times, I'm chasing after him, but he keeps moving beyond my reach. I can't catch him and he won't stop or look at me."
"Have you spoken to Madam Pomfrey about these nightmares?"
"No, no one, sir."
"Would you like me to speak to Madam Pomfrey for you?"
Hermione shook her head.
Snape still stood with his arms crossed and bored his eyes at her. Miss Granger was sitting with her head bowed, hair loosely hiding her face. She hadn't looked at him since entering the room and she was evidently uncomfortable relating this information to him. If she doesn't want to tell me, then why...
"Miss Granger, am I in these dreams?"
Hermione nodded. She began to say, "I-I'm sor- "
He was instantly on bended knee before her. He clutched her hands in her lap while lifting her chin with his free hand. Her eyes were shiny and filled. She wanted to swipe her eyes with her hands, but he held them fast.
If she wanted to cry over him, damn her, he would embarrass her into regretting it.
"F-for not saving you."
"Miss Granger! You could not have done anything different that would have revived me. You know nothing of healing spells. And I doubt you had enough magic to do a credible job anyway."
Her tears spilled over and wet her cheeks.
"If anyone is going to apologize, it is I... "
"Stop! Don't say that!" She slid off the chair and into his arms. One arm went around his neck and the other about his shoulder. She buried her face in his shirt and openly sobbed. "It's all of us that should be sorry. I could have done something. I-I'm so sorry for everything!"
Hermione was shuddering with wracking sobs. She released the frustration and self-doubts she'd kept within her heart for eight months.
Snape held her very tight to assure her while restraining her movements. He held her head against him and waited for her to calm. She smelled of raspberries and coconut and talcum powder. He began rubbing her back with one hand, his other moving in her hair.
Her voice was raspy and soft, "I'm sorry I didn't save you. Please, don't do it, please."
Do what? Snape wondered.
He reviewed the past months in his head. Since he regained consciousness, the only thing he wanted to do was end his life. Was Miss Granger asking him to live?
He considered Miss Granger's misplaced guilt and her unrelenting tears. The girl was crying more than Charity Burbage had and she had begged him to save her life.
All at once he felt gratitude for the girl's grief and humility from her compassion.
Had anyone ever cared for him? His father had shown his disregard with his biting words. His mother had affection only for her husband. She overlooked her son as if he never existed.
Lily was attached to him... for a while, but it could have been out of pity.
Even the man Snape respected above anyone else, Dumbledore, never so much as regretted if Snape lived or died.
When it came time to give his life in the Shrieking Shack, Snape had done so with great relief. To be rid of this senseless, cold world which never offered him affection.
Snape had learned well that he was unworthy of any kindness.
And now this mousy girl had gone months in anguish, endangering her health over him, Severus Snape.
"Please don't leave me," she whispered into his chest.
Snape was astonished at the sensation. He felt warm and hot and cold. And needy.
She fit his body in a way he'd never expect.
His hand found her chin and turned her face up to his. He touched his mouth gently to her lips. The tears in both their eyes sufficient.
Of all Snape's feats, perhaps the most brave, was allowing himself to love again.