AN: This story is a gift for the incredibly patient Dark River Tempest. She had the winning bid in the TPP Every Flavour Auction, and it's taken me this long to get the story just right. She sent me some truly yummy prompts, and I shall include them at the end, so as not to ruin the surprise. Many thanks go to the wonderful Karelia for her fantastic beta skills, and also to my beloved partners-in-crime, Dressagegrrrl and Hebe GB, for cheerleading me out of abject panic and despair. I love them to pieces.
Hermione sat at the table in the kitchen of the Burrow and tried to wish herself invisible. The grief around her was so thick one could reach out and touch it, and she feared if any more of it pressed against her, she would implode.
She couldn't do anything to help. She tried, but it just seemed like whatever she did was futile. The Weasleys all had their own way of dealing with guilt, and Hermione was utterly useless in the face of it.
Fred's funeral seemed to have only made things worse. Molly and Arthur were mere shells, hollow, and fragile, but still beautiful in their way. Ginny and Harry spent all of their time silently clinging to each other, and George looked like he had died as well, but just didn't know it. Charlie had left for Romania after the funeral, but both Percy and Bill stopped in at least once a day to try and be there for their family.
Hermione fluttered around in the middle of it all, trying to do what she could, but nothing she did really helped their pain, or her own.
Ron was an open wound, pulling away from her during the day and desperately pulling at her under the blankets at night. It was a wretched time to have formalized their feelings toward each other. She wished they had waited until this cloud had passed, but in the euphoria of victory, there was no logic or conscious decision.
That first night after the battle, he had come into her room and crawled into her bed, and they had finally consummated their complicated relationship, whispering words of love and need and sorrow. He'd come to her bed every night since. They spent fifteen minutes fumbling their way toward distraction, and hours holding each other for a comfort that always failed to come. There had been little sleep since the battle.
As the days grew longer and heavier, each member of the household sliding into their own depression, Hermione had started to become even more desperate.
"Morning, Hermione. Ron sleeping?" Harry slouched into the kitchen and dropped the morning paper on the table.
"Morning, Harry. Yeah, finally. I didn't want to disturb him. Did you get any sleep?"
He shook his head.
"There's tea," she said, reaching for the paper.
"Thanks." He poured a cup and came and sat next to her, gesturing at the paper. "If you ignore all the bogus articles about us, it's all funerals, memorials, and coverage of Kingsley. I did see something on page four you might want to look at."
"Oh?" She started to riffle through the pages.
"St. Mungo's needs volunteers. They're still swamped with injured people and are short staffed."
She raised her eyebrows and scanned the page for the article.
"I thought you might be interested," he added. "I know you don't like sitting around, and none of us are good company."
Hermione raised her eyes to Harry's and saw his understanding. "Thank you, Harry, but no. It's a good idea, but I need to stay here. Even if all I do is make tea and watch people cry."
Harry reached out and squeezed her hand. "You have a fine hand with the tea, Hermione. Even that little bit has been a help."
They both looked up at the sound of someone coming down the stairs.
Ron shuffled into the kitchen, and Hermione jumped up to pour him some tea.
"I thought you'd sleep longer," she said as she sliced some bread for toast.
"I did too," he answered. "Don't bother with that. I'm not really hungry."
"You need to eat. It will only take a moment."
"Hermione, leave it. I don't want anything."
"Just sit!" he snapped. "Honestly, I can't deal with you hovering this early in the morning." He slurped at his tea. "Is anyone else up yet?"
Hermione sat down and folded her hands in her lap with a heavy sigh. "Your mum took George his breakfast. Your Dad went to work."
"He went back to work?"
"Already?" he said in a small voice, looking lost.
Hermione reached out and took his hand, but he just squeezed it and let go. He poked the paper with a finger.
"Anything worth reading in this rag?" he asked.
"Not really," Harry said. "There was an article on how St. Mungo's still needs volunteers to help with the injured after the battle. I thought it might interest Hermione."
Ron turned and looked at her. "That's a good idea."
"I couldn't possibly," she said. "You need me here." She saw the stiffness in his face and quietly asked. "Don't you?"
Ron sighed and sat back. "Honestly, I think it would do us both some good to get a little space, you know? You could actually help someone, instead of just hovering around." He pushed the paper towards her. "You should do it."
Hermione blinked several times, trying to keep her face from reflecting her feelings.
"It's madness," declared the tall, stout woman across the desk. The lilt of her accent gave away her Caribbean heritage. "We still have patients on beds up against the walls in the corridors. The wards are chock-o-block with people suffering from all sorts of injuries and spell damage. There is no logic or order. We have eye injuries in with patients that need light therapy."
Hermione nodded sympathetically as Healer Gayle shook her head in frustration, making her iron gray braids dance around her head.
"I'm very glad you came, Miss Granger, but I'm afraid if you were looking for publicity, this job isn't it. We need people to do the scutwork. Our staff and even our house-elves are overwhelmed. We need people to run trays of food and help feed those that can't feed themselves. I need bedpans and sheets cleaned and patients bathed where possible. It won't get you in the papers."
Hermione frowned. "I don't want to be in the papers. I just want to help."
The woman gave her a direct stare, her golden eyes seeming to pin Hermione to her seat. She finally gave her a short, sharp nod. "How soon can you start?"
Hermione smiled. It was the first time she'd done so in days. "Now?"
"Excellent! Come with me, and I will show you whom you will be following. I hope you are a quick study."
Hermione found herself smirking. "Actually, I'm an annoyingly quick study."
Healer Gayle laughed. "I was an annoyingly quick study myself. I think that's a good sign."
Hermione stepped through the fireplace and brushed ashes off herself.
"Bloody hell, Hermione. Where have you been?"
Hermione looked up, confused. "St. Mungo's. You knew that."
"All this time? You missed dinner. "
She looked around the empty sitting room. "Ron, it was your idea that I go help. They need a lot of help."
"Yeah, but I didn't think you'd be gone all bloody day."
She sighed and hung her cloak by the fireplace.
"Well, I was. And I will be tomorrow as well, and every day for the foreseeable future."
"Seriously? And what about me?"
She spun around and pinned him with an angry glare. "What aboutyou, Ron? You've been snapping at me for hovering for days and practically shoved me out the door this morning. What exactly is it you need? You have to tell me because I'm growing just a little dizzy from spinning in circles trying to figure it out."
He looked at her with eyes full of resentment. "Forget it," he muttered, stomping away.
"That's getting easier to do!" she called after him.
Hermione climbed under the covers and blew out the candle. Ginny had already slipped out of the room they shared to be with Harry, so she knew Ron was on his way. Maybe if she pretended she was already asleep, he would take the hint and leave her alone.
No such luck. The door opened and closed, and Ron jounced her as he dropped onto the bed. "I don't like it. I need you here."
"Ron, we've been round and round about this all night. You need me here to make you feel loved. I understand that, and I love you. I do. But Lavender Brown needs me to help her go to the bathroom. Cho Chang needs me to feed her because her hands are still burned to the bone. Mrs. Springlander needs me to keep her feeding tube clear. They don't have anyone to do these things! It's awful! There's so many who are hurt!"
She sat up and put her arms around him, but he was stiff and unyielding. "Come with me. Just for a few hours. Harry and Ginny can keep watch on George and help your mum a bit. It will do you good to feel like you are making a difference."
He jumped up from the bed. "Are you saying I don't make a difference around here?"
"No!" She huffed and dragged at her hair. "Ron, I'm not saying anything of the sort. I just need to do this. Why are you making it sound as if I am doing something terrible when it was your idea?" She shook her head. "Let's not fight anymore. This isn't what either of us wants. We're just hurting."
He sat back down on the bed. "You're right." He lifted the blanket and slipped in next to her. "It's just so hard to lose someone like that. You don't understand how it feels inside."
Hermione blinked back tears and rolled away from him. He snuggled up behind her and wrapped his arm around her. "I love you, Hermione."
She sighed and relaxed against him. "I love you, too, Ron."
He didn't reply. He just pressed his hardening prick up against her arse.
She closed her eyes and frowned.
"I think that looks amazing!" Hermione said, holding the mirror as still as she could.
"I almost want to take a picture," Lavender said with a laugh.
"At the rate you're healing, you should do it now, or it won't look as dramatic tomorrow. Maybe you should ask your mum to bring a camera?"
Lavender inspected her face in the mirror. Half of it was swollen and lumpy, with the new skin pink and glistening where it had been burned. The other half was flawless. She swept her mascara brush across the lashes on her right eye one last time. "I will. I want to show this off to my grandchildren. Do you think a purple dotted line down the middle would be too much?"
Hermione laughed. "Leave it, it's a dramatic difference already," she said, setting the mirror back down on the table.
"How's Ron?" Lavender asked in an overly neutral voice.
Hermione sighed. Ron had been the elephant in the room since she'd started a week ago. "Honestly? He's not doing well. None of them are. I'm not sure anyone in the Wizarding world is." She lifted her hands and then dropped them in her lap. "He's growing cold. He won't let his grief out, he's too busy trying to be all things to everyone else. I don't know how to help him. Nothing I do or say helps, and I'm stuck just watching him hurt."
"Is that why you spend so much time here?"
Hermione scrunched up her face. "Probably. But the make-up tips are a plus." She got up and quickly straightened Lavender's sheets. "Harry and I are taking him and Ginny out to see a Muggle movie tonight. I'm hoping that will distract him a bit."
Lavender pushed her make-up kit away, and Hermione picked it up and placed it on the table next to them. "Well, tell Ron I was asking after him. Just as a friend. I hope he pulls out of it soon."
Hermione squeezed her hand. "I will. I'm sure that will make him smile." She stood up. "Did you want me to bring you anything when I come back in the morning?"
"I can't think of anything. Thanks, Hermione." Lavender gave her a direct stare. "For everything."
"It's been my pleasure. Honestly," she said before stepping out of the curtain with a last wave.
She headed back up the ward, pulling her beaded bag out of her pocket and looking through it for the cinema tickets. She had just enough time to pop home and change before the show started.
Turning a corner, she was almost mowed down by a frantic Midge O'Riordan. "Granger, I know you wanted to leave early, but can you take this to Mrs. Dayre? She's in 209, I think. It's just more soup. She wanted a second helping, but Healer Gayle needs me to help catalogue the third floor potions supply immediately. She said their inventory numbers were a mess and they're running out of things."
Hermione grabbed at the tray. "No problem."
Hermione turned on her heel and headed back up the way she'd come. Mrs. Dayre had been in the third ward the last time Hermione knew, but as patients were released, those that remained were being shuffled around too quickly for her to keep track of without the chart.
She found 209 and saw it was marked 'Isolation.' Surely, that had been left over from the previous patient, or they wouldn't have been sending aides with soup. She turned and hit the door with her hip, pushing it open.
"I hope you didn't have to wait too long, Mrs. Day—Oh! Oh, my god! What are you doing? What the hell are you doing? Get away from him!"
Hermione dropped the tray on the table by the door and raced over to the bed. Professor Snape was lying naked and apparently helpless while Michael Corner was randomly grabbing hunks of hair and slicing them off with his wand.
Snape seemed to be almost completely immobilized, only his chest was heaving. Tubes in his mouth and neck prevented him from speaking, but he didn't need to. The fury in his eyes spoke volumes.
As soon as he saw her, his eyes went from furious, to humiliated, to murderous in an instant.
Michael looked at her as if she'd gone insane. "I'm just cutting his hair. I can't keep it clean. The Healers said I could."
"At least cover him! For god's sake, can't you leave him a little dignity?" Hermione reached into the cupboard and pulled out a sheet.
"You can't! He's got nerve damage! It hurts to touch his skin. Besides, it's just Snape." Michael lifted up another hank of hair and Hermione saw the wince of pain on the former Headmaster's face.
"His hair is attached to his skin, you prat! You're hurting him! Stop! Just fucking stop!"
She pulled out her wand and aimed it, and Michael tripped over himself, falling to the floor to get out of her line of fire. Hermione just rolled her eyes and used it to lift all the rails around the bed. She snapped out the sheet and draped it over the rails, hiding Snape's nudity without hurting him.
"Make your notes on his chart and get the hell out of here," she snapped, as she secured the sheet so it wouldn't sag.
Michael glared at her as he came up off the floor. He grabbed up the patient chart and started scribbling on it with the self-inking quill that was attached. "Don't think I'm not going to tell Healer Gayle about this, Granger."
"Make sure you tell her the part where you said, 'It's just Snape'," she snarled back. "Take that tray, find out what room Mrs. Dayre is in, and bring it to her."
When Michael had left with the tray, Hermione started to shake uncontrollably. Emotions that had been dancing just under the surface for weeks threatened to burst out of her in a paroxysm of hysteria. Severus Snape was alive. After everything they had been through and everything she had been trying to deal with, the sight of this man in particular being brought so low, broke her.
She walked up to where Snape was propped up on the pillows and started to gently pull away the hairs that had landed on his shoulders without touching him.
"I'm sorry, Professor. Are you all right?"
He didn't answer. He just lay there in the bed, looking weak and pale and frightfully gaunt. His mouth was taped shut around a feeding tube, and there was a drain tube running from his bandaged neck to a small vial hung on a pole next to the bed. His chest was still heaving, and his face was bright red, but his eyes were closed tight. She stared at the web of lines etched around his eyes. He looked so much older than he had when he'd last been her teacher over a year ago.
When she saw the sparkle of a tear buried in his sooty lashes, she lost the last of her composure and collapsed into the chair behind her. She wrapped her arms around her belly and began to cry.
"I didn't know you were alive… I didn't know. Oh, my god, I left you there alive!" She dragged in great gulps of air between her nearly incoherent words. "I'm so sorry, sir! I'm so sorry!" She bent her head down to her knees and sobbed uselessly for a full five minutes, utterly unable to stop.
When the worst of her pain had run its course, she lifted the front of her striped, blue and white volunteer's robes and mopped at her face. "Right," she said, hiccuping. "This is useless, humiliating, and if I know you, at all, extremely irritating." She shuddered and tried to pull herself together and remain professional. "You can't exactly order me out of the room, nor can you sweep out in a billow of robe and slam the door." She swallowed and sniffed. "My apologies, sir. I was just overwhelmed to see you. I'm so glad you're alive." She heaved up to her feet, swiping at her eyes with her sleeve, and picked up his chart. "Okay, let's see. You just had a bath and fresh linens. You're fed through the tube. You don't need any medications for now." She flipped the page over. "Let's see what you're dealing with." She quickly read through the Healer's page, skimming the technical speech and concentrating on the words she understood.
Professor Snape was paralyzed from Nagini's venom. His only voluntary movement seemed to be his eyes and his right thumb. His skin was hyper-sensitive, calling for unique spells on the bed underneath him that kept him fractionally levitated. His hearing was excellent, as was his eyesight. She scanned down to the prognosis and saw that they expected a slow but solid recovery, but feared permanent damage to his vocal cords. She sighed and hung the chart back on its peg. She turned her head and saw him peering at her with a completely inscrutable look.
"All right, I'm going to ask you just a few questions and then I will leave you in peace. Can you blink?"
"Alright, we'll do one blink for yes, two blinks for no, and furious blinking for 'Granger, fuck off out of this room,' shall we?"
He blinked once.
"Are you in any pain?"
"Is it your skin?"
"Are the charms on the bed working?"
Two blinks and a relieved breath.
"All right, Professor. I'll get that taken care of right now." She pulled out her wand and whispered, "Nuntius. " A streak of blue light sped across the room and under the door. She turned back to him and saw the look of gratitude in his eyes. "I don't think I want to know how long it's been since the charms failed," she said quietly.
He blinked once, slowly.
"Does anything else hurt?"
She began to slowly list off body parts. "Hands? Arms? Legs? Feet? Head?"
When she got to head he blinked once. "Is it your hair?"
"Is the pain extreme?"
She colored. "Was Michael doing you a favor when he was cutting it? It would be just like me to have jumped to the wrong conclusion."
He rolled his eyes, obviously agreeing, but blinked, 'No.' Thank god.
"All right. I'll let the Healer know that also."
She turned at the sound of the door opening and Healer Pye came bustling in. "What's going on?" he asked, striding over and picking up the clipboard.
"The charms on the bed failed," she said. "He's lying on his skin and in a great deal of pain. Also, he was subjected to half a haircut, as you can see, and now his scalp is also paining him."
She stepped out of the way as Healer Pye ran through a series of spells she couldn't follow. He marked the chart each time.
Finally, he renewed the charm on the bed, and Hermione watched as the professor lifted up a fraction of an inch. He heaved a sigh and gave her a look of profound gratitude that nearly made her cry all over again.
"It's the venom, you see," Pye said distractedly. "It's attacked his nerves. The potions we've developed are repairing the damage, but the pain is something akin to Crucio. Until we get the venom out of his system, he's basically immune to any pain medications. I actually deadened some of the nerves to his neck just to be able to treat that injury. It was a bit of delicate spellwork, if I say so myself. Tricky business, but we got the job done." He placed the chart back and turned to her. "Aside from his scalp, were there any other complaints?"
Hermione's brows rose in surprise that he would be asking her and not the patient. She turned her head to Snape, and he blinked at her twice, managing to convey whole paragraphs about his opinion of Healer Pye with one look. She smirked and said, "No. Those were his main concerns."
"Good. As for his scalp, I want you to administer a Depilatory Charm. His follicles are bruised and will continue to pain him unless we relieve the pressure. His hair has probably been hurting him for days, and no one thought about it until now. Good job. Come to think of it, go ahead and remove all of his body hair."
Hermione's eyes flew open and she whipped her head toward Snape. He looked back at her in horror. She'd never seen his eyes go so wide.
"I'll check in later and see how he's faring. Good job, uh," he looked at her nametag. "Miss Granger. Oh, I say, you're not related to Hermione Granger are you?"
She blinked furiously. "No," she said. "No relation."
"Oh, well. According to Rita Skeeter, she's quite the publicity hound now. She would never have time to come help us out. It would have been a nice bit of PR though."
The healer walked toward the door while Snape and Hermione shared a look of incredulity. "Excuse me, Healer Pye?"
"How much longer will his nerves be like this? The Crucio sensation…"
"Difficult to say. There's something about his magical signature that's slowing the process down. I would have predicted it would have abated already, but now? I think he's been Crucioed so many times he's prone to it. It should only be for a little longer." Pye shrugged and left the room.
Hermione turned back to Snape and saw the same look of profound gratitude in his eyes. They really were incredibly expressive.
She stepped closer to the bed. "No one told you how long it was going to last, did they?"
"Did you think it was permanent?"
She teared up. "It's not. Your chart says that with the exception of your vocal cords, you should make a full recovery. You won't be paralyzed forever, Professor. You will leave this place eventually, I promise."
He closed his eyes and again, she saw the moisture on his lashes. She shook her head. "Didn't anyone tell you anything?"
He opened his eyes again and stared at her helplessly. Then he slowly blinked 'no.'
She started to weep again. "We won, sir. Voldemort is dead. You got your final message across in time to change everything. You're a hero."
At this last statement, he blinked furiously. She decided he was trying to keep from being overly emotional and not telling her to fuck off out of the room.
She scrubbed at her eyes and lifted her wand. "Let's get you out of pain." She stared at his head, half of it long and lank, and half of it looking like it had been caught in a wood chipper. She grimaced. "You look like a half-plucked chicken. I'm sorry it hurts you. I'm rather fond of your hair. It always added to your drama. I hate to see it go."
She kept her eyes averted from his and whispered, "Depilo."
When she saw the result, she was horrified and burst into hysterical tears. "Oh, god! Fuck! You look awful! Christ! You look like a baby bird! All beak and no plumage." She stared down at him in horror, realizing what she'd just said.
He was scowling back at her.
"Oh, shit! You don't even have eyebrows! You can't scowl! I broke your scowl!" she cried in horror.
He looked at her with a mixture of anger and amazement. She supposed she might actually be a little unhinged.
"Does it feel better? Tell me it was worth it!"
He blinked once.
"Thank gods, because you look…"
His eyes narrowed dangerously, and the words choked off in her throat. "Right. I think you get the idea. We'll just look forward to that growing back, shall we?"
She took a deep breath and carefully folded the sheet hanging suspended over his body until it was across his hips. She repeated her charm, ignoring the way his narrow torso splotched red. Snape could blush like no one's business. It probably helped that he was fish belly pale.
The sparse black hairs on his chest disappeared, along with those under his arms, and, after two more passes, his arms. She paused to look at the shadow of his Dark Mark, on the inside of his left forearm. It was dark and angry looking, and she had the sense it was about to move. She shuddered and looked away.
She folded the sheet back up to his shoulders and walked to the end of his bed, folding the sheet away from his feet. It struck her that he had remarkably elegant feet. They were long and narrow and graceful. She'd never noticed feet before. Ron's were square and broad. They were just feet. Snape's feet were actually… shapely.
She took a deep breath and folded the sheet in sections, working as she went.
She finished his legs and turned her head back toward him. His face was still bright red, and his eyes were dancing on the edge of anger. Without looking, she folded the sheet up higher and performed the spell. She tucked her wand back onto her sleeve and started to tug the sheet back down, all the while staring straight into his eyes. The angry indignation melted into gratitude, mixed with humiliation.
"I've been washing bodies of all shapes and sizes since I started here a week ago," she said conversationally. "I know it's got to be dreadfully embarrassing for you. I think I was about as uncomfortable as I could get by the end of the second day and after that, it just became part of the job. Strange thing, when you think about it. I spent the last two years hating Lavender Brown because Ron had dated her in sixth year. I've had to give her three baths now because she was caught by a blasting hex during the final battle. It puts things into perspective."
She finished securing the sheet and straightened up. "Someone's got to give you a bath, professor, and all the volunteers are your former students. There will be little dignity involved, but if it helps, not everyone is as mindless and insensitive as Michael Corner. Most of us are here because we wanted to help. The pain and suffering going on around you is terrible. You're not the only one. At least you weren't one of the ones stuck out on a gurney in the hallways. We still have about twenty patients waiting to get into a ward."
She looked into his eyes. He looked ridiculous without hair or eyebrows. She hadn't known it was possible to make the man look more homely.
"I will ask Healer Gayle if it is possible to have a house-elf tend to your more intimate needs. I think you deserve as much dignity as we can spare."
He looked at her with an expression she couldn't understand.
"Are you more comfortable?"
"Good." She grabbed the clipboard and started making notes. "Then that's worth our collective embarrassment, I think. Would you like me to bring something back for you to read tomorrow? I can rig something up to hold it over the bed. Turning pages might be a bit problematical, but I'll think of something."
His eyes gentled, and he blinked once again.
He gave her a sour look.
"Not the Daily Prophet, surely."
She gave him a sad look. "Oh, sir. Are you sure? It's all so depressing."
He held her gaze captive and blinked slowly.
"Alright. Would you like all of them since the battle?"
She sighed. "Fine. Just promise me you will ignore all the idiotic things they print about me. I'm either a hero or a whore, depending on the day. There's no pleasing them. I'll see you again tomorrow, Professor. I'm very glad you're alive. I can't tell you how upset I was when I thought you had died thinking we all hated you."
He looked at her for a long moment, before he closed his eyes and kept them shut.
She replaced the clipboard and left.
AN: Just a quick note for my ff.n audience. This story was written for The Petulant Poetess Archive, and will be posting there first. Therefore, you will not see my regular furious frenzy of chap spam. However, your reward will be to read a far more highly polished version of one of my stories than usual. That's because TPP is just that awesome.