I have no beta reader, so all mistakes are mine. If you find any, bringing them to my attention will get them fixed. Thank you!

Happy Reading!

Chapter 17

As warmth and feeling flooded through her extremities, Hermione began to stir. Ron perked up and smacked Harry on the back of the head sharply. Harry jerked, his head popping up from where it had rested against his arm.

"Whasamatter?" he slurred, adjusting his glasses as he stretched languidly.

Ron jumped to his feet. "She's waking up. Just look. I saw her eyelids move."

Harry harrumphed. "Madame Pomfrey said that might happen. Just wait for her to start talking, and then wake me up. I was actually getting some good sleep there."

Ron gestured wildly towards their friend, who lay under multiple covers of the finest down feathers that Hogwarts had to offer. A small screen floated above her head, emitting sharp noises every time she took a breath. Every small movement caused another bout of noise, and it reassured Harry and Ron that she was in good hands. Madame Pomfrey made her rounds every hour, but her attention was mainly focused elsewhere.

While Hermione received her much needed rest with her friends by her side, Pomfrey swept back and forth out of the small enclosed area in the back of the infirmary where Snape was being healed. Dumbledore had called St. Mungo's Hospital as soon as they had arrived back at the castle; he knew that even though Madame Pomfrey was the best of the best, there were certain things that couldn't be done by a school nurse.

Ron and Harry had expected to be filled in as they made progress on Snape's condition, but they were expertly ignored by all the professors and St. Mungo's doctors that arrived. Hermione was quickly and expertly assessed; though she had taken a lot of damage, she was strong and had begun to heal already. She wasn't losing much blood, and her ankle was quickly set right and bandaged. The boys knew she would be upset about losing the mobility in her foot for as long as she had to keep the bandage, but it was a small price to pay to have her back alive.

Snape, however, was another story. It took hours for the doctors from St. Mungo's to stabilize him. He needed several blood transfusions, and Harry and Ron saw them carrying in bags and bags of magically manufactured platelets. After a few hours, the hustle died down, though Dumbledore remained in the enclosure with Snape long after everyone had left. Madame Pomfrey stayed in the infirmary to make rounds every few minutes, and the boys were finally allowed to sit with Hermione safely without being in the way.

Still, there was little improvement from her. She stirred slightly every once in a while, although she never woke. She simple tossed and sighed, whimpering every so often. It twisted Ron's heart to see her in pain; Harry sighed heavily and turned away as if to block out the sound. Eventually, exhaustion got the best of Harry and he fell asleep, half leaning against the side of Hermione's bed, half against Ron. Ron remained awake; he felt he owed it to Hermione.

The guilt he felt for leaving her behind at Honeydukes bit at him. Though somewhere he knew it wasn't his fault, he still felt that if he had stayed behind, he may have been able to prevent her kidnapping. Self-loathing kept him from getting any sleep anyway.

He found himself infuriated with Snape. Why hadn't he helped her? Did he find himself falling back into his Death Eater ways once he came face to face with Lucius? Ron's blood boiled at the thought of Snape choosing his old cronies over a young student.

Harry discovered that he wasn't ready to deal with all the stress of Hermione returning in such a disheveled state. Instead of mulling over every single scenario of what could have happened, he let sleep overtake him. It was something he had been unable to do ever since Hermione's disappearance. Now that he knew exactly where she was at all times, he was able to allow himself to relax and take some much needed down time. His dreams were vivid and uneasy; he had almost reached the REM sleep cycle when Ron had nudged him.

"I'm telling you, she's waking up."

Harry smirked and repositioned himself, ready to fall back asleep. "Whatever, man."

Hermione shifted stiffly, her upper lip turning into a sneer as a whine of discomfort reached Ron's ears. She reached up quickly with her free hand to rub at her neck, pulling at the monitor Madame Pomfrey had placed there. Seeing her begin to panic, her eyes still closed as she surfaced from sleep, Ron grabbed for her hand and pulled it away.

"No, Hermione, leave it there," he soothed. "Shhh. Let it alone."

She rolled her neck and Harry cringed as it popped. She sneered in pain again, reached across her chest with a hand covered in bruises to pull at the monitor again. Ron clutched her wrist, pulling both of her hands together. He smoothed the skin across her knuckles, pacifying her with calm, steady words and a soft voice. "You're home, kiddo," he soothed, though his heart broke at the sight of her. "Nothing to fear now."

She tossed once more so that she faced him. Her eyelids shot open as she pulled in a shocked breath. Startled chocolate irises settled upon a familiar face. "Ronald," she mouthed, her voice too weak.

He tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. "Yeah, it's me, kid. Good to have you back."

Her sneer turned into a broad smile; he knew if she wasn't rendered immobile by the tranquilizers Madame Pomfrey had given her to help her sleep, she would have launched herself at him in a triumphant hug. Harry soon realized he wasn't lying, and that Hermione had really surfaced from her slumber.

"There you are, 'Moine," he sighed, "we knew you'd come back."

She hiccupped through her tears of relief. Harry ruffled her bangs, making her smile.

"How are you feeling? Anything that needs to be taken care of?"

She tried to clear her throat, but failed. "Water," she croaked.

"On it," said Harry quickly before bolting from the room.

Ron looked away awkwardly, but remained clutching her hands. It was the only way he could remain connected to her in a way she would understand. He could talk all he wanted, but somehow, it didn't seem appropriate right now. As she slid her fingers between his, he realized she somehow understood.

She tugged at his hands, trying to get his attention. He looked to her with confusion. "Snape," she whispered.

He swallowed slowly. Strange how such a strong, brilliant creature could be concerned about the bastard. "He's being treated right over there," he said, gesturing with a head jerk.

She glanced over with just her eyes, looking back as she swallowed again. "How bad?"

Ron shook his head. "McGonagall swept him up here as fast as she could. They have professionals from Mungo's here. They've been working non-stop since they arrived." He sighed. "Still, he was in a bad way."

She turned away, her eyes settling on the ceiling. She blinked quickly; Ron could see the tears in her eyes.

"Listen, 'Moine, just focus on getting yourself better. I'm sure he'll pull through." He may pull through fine, but he won't be once I'm done with him, Ron thought violently.

Harry returned with a goblet full of glistening water, equipped with an extra long straw. Ron helped her up into a sitting position when she felt she was ready, and Harry held the straw and made sure she took moderate, slow sips.

Hermione was slowly perking up. Her pale face was now rosy and she looked very much alive. As she should, remarked Ron. She's been asleep for a day.

And she had. Night fell silently again as the trio sat silently, reveling in the comfort of friendship and closeness. After a while, she allowed the boys to sit with her on her bed as they told her of all the things she had missed in her absence.

"And Ron managed to master a charm that had Neville scrambling for all his things. They ended up glued to the ceiling; it was almost impossible to get everything down," Harry remarked, laughing with Ron at the memory. "Though Neville's become skillful; he jinxed Ron's knickers, turning them into metal. He had a fun time trying to get those off."

"Speaking of Neville, he'll want to see you once you're ready," said Ron. "He's still feeling bad about Honeydukes."

She smiled, but Ron could tell her heart wasn't behind it. She kept stealing glances at the curtained entrance of Snape's enclosure when she thought he wasn't looking.

Suddenly an uncomfortable silence fell around them as Madam Pomfrey strode purposefully out of the enclosure. Harry saw Hermione tense as she came over to check her vitals. She would probably want to ask her some personal questions as well. Harry cleared his throat. "Well," he started, "I think it's time we left and let you get some rest. Don't you think, Ron?"

"Wha? But she's only just woken up, Harry, can't we-"

Harry gave him a strong glare. Ron sighed, but gave in. "All right, don't get your panties in a wad. We'll go." He gave her hands one last squeeze before sliding off of the bed. "You'll be up and running in no time, just watch." She allowed herself to smile, but it wasn't one that reached her eyes.

Harry ruffled her hair again. "We'll bring you some books to keep you busy. I'm sure I could bribe McGonagall into allowing me to bring you some homework," said Harry with a wink.

"Not in my hospital, you won't," scolded Pomfrey. "That's all the time you're allowed with her today, boys. Now shoo!"

Reluctantly, they left. Ron gave her another smile before closing the hospital door behind him. Pomfrey continued to flit around her, checking this, adjusting that.

Slowly, Hermione tested the waters. "Madam Pomfrey? How is Professor Snape?"

Pomfrey froze for a moment before continuing her ministrations, and Hermione caught it. "I'm not allowed to disclose that information, Ms. Granger."

"Can I see him, Madam?"

Again she paused, but this time, she didn't try to hide it. "I do not believe it wise, Ms. Granger."

This time, Hermione could not hide her impatience. She threw off her covers, swinging one leg over the side of her bed and started to stand. "Please, Madam, I need to see him."

Pomfrey allowed one second for her face to register panic before she forced Hermione back into her bed, securely under her covers. "Now, child, there will be none of that. You need much rest, and Dumbledore's orders are that no one is to enter the room that has not already been allowed in."

Hermione hardly felt that was fair, but knew better than to fight. If she could get Pomfrey to leave, she could sneak in later.

"Dumbledore will be in to see you, but he is a very busy man at the current time. I'm sure it won't be for a few hours."

Hermione settled back into bed restlessly. Pomfrey finished her examination and left her to go back to sleep. She gave her another goblet of juice to drink. "Helps raise your electrolytes and keep those kidneys working, dear," she reassured. She realized right after she took the first sip that it was laced with a Sleeping Draught. Slowly her eyelids drooped and she fell into a deep slumber.

Days passed, but Dumbledore did not come to see her. Most of her time was spent sleeping, but two days before Christmas, she spent her first full day awake. The boys were allowed in to see her more frequently. They snuck in pastries and sweets for her to eat; however, she had to watch what she ate because her monitor would register the heightened level of sugar in her blood and Pomfrey would find the offending sweets and confiscate them. Her mood lifted with her frequent interaction with them. It was good to be back in the world with other living, breathing people. She had been quite aware of how alone she was in that quiet, desolate cell. Now, she was truly thankful for what she had with her friends.

Neville visited shortly after she had stayed awake for more than two hours at a time. The guilt was written across his flushed cheeks; she could feel his discomfort. However, once she forced him to come over and give her a hug, she could visibly see the weight lift from his shoulders. He brought her flowers from the greenhouses; he had made sure they were harmless before bringing them inside the building. He explained how even during her short absence, his potions grade had greatly increased with the substitute professor.

Draco never came to see her. While she realized their short alliance had only been formed out of desperation, she had hoped that he would have more maturity than to forget her as soon as they arrived at school. Still, she knew he had a reputation to maintain, and chalked it up to that instead of accepting the fact that he hadn't matured as much as she had thought.

They brought her books to read to keep her boredom levels down. While Pomfrey forbid homework in her hospital, they brought her Muggle books that she had kept in her dormitory. Snow Falling on Cedars and Stones from the River kept her occupied for a short while, but she found herself growing restless at her mandatory captivity.

Everyday, she wondered about Snape. The anxiety at not receiving any information about his current condition grew inside of her until she felt she couldn't hold it in. However, she knew she couldn't go gallivanting into his enclosure; there were still mediwitches and wizards from St. Mungo's in there. She would be discovered in no time.

The day before Christmas, however, all the St. Mungo's wizards and witches left, leaving the enclosure dark and desolate. While Pomfrey still made rounds, Hermione realized all that could be done had been done. She worried that it was too late; that Snape was in too bad a shape and he would never recover.

Around noon, she engrossed herself in The Pact. While she usually read books of more literary merit, she found the simple language and straight-forward story line pleasing. Right when she was about to discover the outcome of the trial, she heard a moan rumble from the currents surrounding Snape's enclosure.

She immediately stiffened; the book fell to her lap in a swift movement. Her eyes flitted to the curtains; the same deep maroon as the ones in her dorm. Again, she heard the noise. This time, more persistent. She heard a creak and a hiss of pain.

He's alive was the only thought she could allow her brain to process. She glanced towards Pomfrey's office; she was currently out to lunch. If she planned it right, she could be in and out of Snape's room without her even having the faintest clue.

She steadily flipped back the covers and swung her legs over the mattress. Her ankle was stiff and painful with mending and lack of use. She hissed as she stood and applied pressure. Her spine cracked and her ankle protested, but she began moving toward the end of the room slowly.

Again, she heard a groan. Her pace quickened with purpose and anxiety. What was wrong with him? Pomfrey probably had him on a Sleeping Draught like she had been. So why was he even awake?

She reached the curtains. For a second she hesitated; she shouldn't invade his privacy. But still, she was concerned.

Emotion overriding her sense of reason, she made a grab for the material and swung, almost falling after losing her balance.

The curtain made no noise; it was magically held in place with charms. Hermione gasped at the vision before her.

While she had only had one monitor, Snape seemed to have at least ten; one for every conceivable section of his body. Some were different colors; she recognized the areas where he had received deadly wounds had monitors that were deep red. Other monitors were blue, others green. Each had constantly scrolling text keeping tabs on all of his bodily systems.

He was stretched out on a stark white bed, piled high with several heavy down blankets like she had had when she had been bedridden. Still, he shivered. One of the monitors was emitting a high pitched beeping, yet Madame Pomfrey wasn't around to help him. His brow was dotted with sweat, and he tossed and turned in discomfort.

She realized he was being restrained; they had used soft sheets to keep him from moving from the bed. While she considered using the Immobilus spell, it was possible that he could get bed sores from constant lack of movement. This way, he could still move slightly, yet he was restrained from getting off of the bed. Still, it seemed very barbaric.

As she stood simply taking everything in, he managed to free himself from one restraint. Having one hand free allowed him to untie the other. Soon, he was sitting up in the bed, his fingers tearing at the restraints at his feet. With those taken care of, his fingers reached for the monitors the Mediwizards had attached to his body. She began to panic as he wretched them off; how could he heal if he was fighting the powers trying to help him?

She hurried over to his bedside and made a grab for his wrists; she missed, but managed to graze his skin with her fingertips. Noticing someone else there, and not knowing it was her, he swung at her, catching her in the stomach.

Stumbling, she settled on the floor to catch her breath. She watched as Snape awkwardly stood from the bed, unsteady on feet that hadn't been used for a few days. Unbalanced and unable to see, he shifted forwards with his arms outstretched and his hands reaching, trying to find something to make contact with.

Regaining her composure, Hermione raised herself from the ground. He was panting with the effort of movement, still seeking something to grab onto. She realized he had been out cold for the trip home; he had no idea where he was. She padded silently over to him, trying to get his attention. She touched his arm softly.

He was so startled that he swung his arm out to hit her. "DON'T TOUCH ME!" he bellowed as he collapsed to his knees. Encircling his waist with an arm for protection he tried to breathe steadily. His chest was exposed; she could see the gruesome scars from where Lucius had stabbed him. One was very close to his diaphragm and Hermione suspected that was the reason he was having trouble breathing.

Suddenly, the curtain swung open again, this time revealing a furious Dumbledore and a worried Pomfrey. McGonagall was just behind, her hand covering her mouth in shock.

"Ms. Granger, what on earth are you doing!" demanded Dumbledore.

Pomfrey was aghast. "Oh, goodness," she sighed.

Hermione ignored them. She was far more concerned with the man before her.

He was leaning his back against the wall in a sitting position, exhausted and weak. Her heart filled with emotion to see him in such a pathetic state. Instead of shying away from his obvious attacks of rage, she fell to her knees before him, swiping her hair behind her ears in concentration. Inching forward as to not startle him, she got so close that their knees where almost touching.

"Please," he whined, too weak to fight, "let me be."

She placed her hand against his, but again, he lunged out to hit her. He caught her in the jaw and she cried out, raising her hand to the rising bruise. She heard Dumbledore and Pomfrey gasp in shock. Still, she did not back down. Eyes glistening with tears of pain, she made one last attempt to connect with him.

Quickly she grabbed his hand, and before he could react, raised it to her hair. It was the only thing she had with her that could help her connect with him; it was the only thing she could think of.

At first, he didn't understand. His face contorted with confusion as his fingers traced her curls. Slowly, he leaned forward and touched it to his face; it was then Hermione remembered that smell was the sense most strongly associated with memory.

Suddenly, it seemed to become clear to him. Realization dawned on his face.

Dumbledore was furious. "Ms. Granger, I must insist that you leave this very-"

Snape began to relax. "Hermione…"

A laugh of elation and surprise escaped her. Tears traveled down her face, and all three teachers were silenced behind her.

She touched his hand again, forcing her palm against his, proving it was her. Her hand seemed so small in comparison to his long graceful fingers. He traced her lifeline, proving through touch that it really was her before him.

"You didn't think I'd leave you, did you?" she whispered, though she knew he still couldn't hear her. She raised a hand to his cheek, rubbing the pad of her thumb along his cheekbone and temple. He leaned into her hand, raising his own to cover hers. Their fingers overlapped and intertwined, creating a bond of trust and reassurance.

"I'd never leave you behind," she whispered, then threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around him as she broke down against his neck.

He responded by engulfing her in his arms, smoothing her hair as he pressed his face against the crown of her head. "I was so frightened for you, Hermione," he whispered, not knowing the professors could hear him. "I thought I had lost you."

She smiled into his neck, finally feeling at peace with herself. "You'll never lose me."

Sorry about the long gap between chapters. I'm going through some tremendous changes in my life. Let's hope it doesn't take that long between chapters again.