Rating: M – inappropriate for readers under the age of 16; contains scenes of explicit sexuality and violence.
Disclaimer: Characters and settings ©J.K. Rowling.

Author's note: So, yeah. I apologize for how absurdly long it has taken me to update this. Real life interferes where she should leave well enough alone. Enjoy.

Potions, Plans, and Second Chances

K. Marie

Chapter 9

Much of Hermione's morning was spent in the confines of her office, hidden behind her desk with the protection of a stack of patient files. She, of course, did not neglect a single one of her duties – but she did not spend nearly as much time with her patients as she had made a habit in the past.

No, that morning, she spent as little time with her patients as she could guiltlessly manage. Rationally, she told herself, it would not have been professional (nor fair) to her patients if she were not investing her time and complete attention to their needs – and if she was to be honest, there was no possibility of such dedication in that moment. Nearly every second that ticked away, she was elsewhere in her muddled brain, her movements guided entirely by instinct or intuition, meaningless words to reciprocate meaningless conversation as she worked over her patients.

Her mind, of course, was focused entirely on Severus. Even though it was nearing one o'clock, and she had, indeed, failed to take her lunch and also neglected her duties to Severus for the time being, she could still taste him on her lips. The salty, bitter taste of his lips that was hardly unpleasant – quickly, almost secretly, Hermione darted her tongue out against her lips to draw the flavor into her mouth once more. Rationally, she realized the lingering taste was completely psychological, but in all honesty, she was hardly being rational.

With a glance to the clock, Hermione released a soft, anxious sigh. She knew she could not avoid Severus any longer; beyond common decency, to continue delaying her duties was unprofessional. Smoothing her hand across her forehead, she allowed her eyes to close for a moment as she gathered her composure. Her heart raced beneath her breast, her pulse palpable against her tense temples.

"You are being entirely foolish," she whispered to herself as she dragged her fingers through the mass of curls secured at the base of her head. "It was nothing." Even so, her tongue flicked out between her lips again, drawing in the salty flavor of his mouth.

Rising from her desk, Hermione rolled her shoulders, the satisfying pop! relieving the tightness that continued to knot itself within her musculature. Her cool palm found the warmth of the nape of her neck, and as she shifted her posture to send a gratifying growl through her aching spine, she breathed steadily.

It was not lost on her that she was investing such great effort into simply gathering the strength to interact with the "John Smith" above her. With a falsely confident nod, she pushed open the door to enter the hallway and hurried in the direction of his room.

A quiet beat sounded from Severus' door and he breathed in a steadying sigh. As had become customary, Hermione only waited a moment before slipping into the room quietly, the creaky hinges whining softly as the movement of the door disturbed their peace.

"Sev?" her pleasant voice touched his heart in such a way the organ betrayed him by fluttering. "It's time for your—"

"Ah, yes, the daily routine. Will there ever come a time when I do not need your assistance for this monotony?" he growled, his voice astringent, his eyes darting from the newspaper in his lap to her face.

It required more of his concentration than he preferred to admit to keep from ogling the body that laid below him only a couple hours previous. He did not overlook the pink flush of her cheeks that settled in the moment his eyes caught hers. She stood in his gaze, as though trapped there by some invisible force – the proverbial deer in the headlights, if he recalled the phrase correctly – and it took her a moment to collect her faculties.

"It won't be long now," Hermione finally managed, her voice weak. "I imagine I could teach you how to brew these now and you would manage quite well."

As she crossed to the cabinet, her cheeks did not pale under his watchful gaze. If she were unaware of his plan, she certainly seemed to encourage it in her naïveté. Her hands began rummaging carefully through the drawer, drawing out the appropriate vials and mixing them within the goblet. A moment later she was at his bedside, her fingertips brushing against his as they exchanged the cup.

"Are you experiencing any unusual pain?" she asked quietly once she removed the goblet from his grasp and returned it to the cabinet.

"No," he growled.

"For some reason, I doubt you would admit to it if you were."

Gesturing to his robe, Hermione waited patiently for him to unfasten the ribbon. With the robe folded over his lap, Hermione drew a pair of gloves over her fingers and examined closely the stitched wounds. Severus watched her – and admittedly, she was working faster than what seemed characteristic of her – and still, the blush did not fade from her cheeks.

"Everything seems well," she said softly, gesturing for Severus to fasten the ribbon about his neck once more. "Which is rather remarkable, considering your fall—"

"I would like to be discharged," Severus interjected calmly, his eyes focused on the newspaper he had drawn once more into his hands.

The flush of Hermione's cheeks – and any other color of her face – drained immediately and she stared at him with wide eyes. "Are you mental?"

"I am well enough to walk. The fall did not disrupt any of my sutures. And you said so yourself, I am capable of brewing these potions on my own," Severus' voice was firm and cold as he spoke, his gaze still averted from her face. "There is no reason for me to remain here any longer."

Hermione's surprised expression quickly morphed into one of annoyance. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stood before him with a furrowed brow. "I won't allow it," she growled. "You are not well enough to be on your own. You are a fool, Severus Snape, if you believe otherwise."

Though her defiance did not surprise him, he could not say it was expected. There were many attributes of her personality that lingered still from her childhood, and her belligerence seemed to be one of them.

"Last I was aware, I could not be held here against my will."

Throwing her hands into the air, Hermione sighed in exasperation. The tips of her hair crackled in her frustration, the only piece of physical evidence indicating the strength of her magic and its potential volatility. A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth, but quickly, he masked it with a sneer.

"I haven't even figured out what poison they used! There could still be poison in your blood! What if you exert yourself, and it—You are bloody mad, Severus!" Hermione exclaimed.

Severus turned his gaze to her finally, his shoulders rolling in an indifferent shrug. "This is our best option, Ms. Granger. You can return to your life and you no longer need to worry about the security of my identity."

"So instead of destroying a patient file with purpose, I did so without any. How is that at all advantageous?" Hermione demanded, resting her fists against her hips as her amber eyes burned in her vexation.

"You can simply replace the file with your copy," Severus replied. "It is not as though my file is a popular one to peruse. No one would be any the wiser."

Hermione spun on her heel, pacing away from him with her fingers curling into tight fists. Her ponytail sparked with electricity as she stormed between the bed and the curtain; the intensity with which she paced seemed certain to burn a hole into the tile floor. In her anger, her footsteps were no longer gentle, and instead the click of her heels echoed off the walls violently.

"I will absolutely not discharge you," Hermione averred, turning toward him suddenly. "You are in no condition to care for yourself right now."

"I do not wish to remain in this hospital any longer," Severus replied coldly.

Suddenly, Severus swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Hermione, as if with instinct, dove toward him, her hands searching for a solid grasp on any part of his body she could manage. She barely reached his shoulders when he shook her off, his hands pushing him from the bed to his feet.

For a brief moment, he swayed; Hermione stood near him, poised and ready to catch him should he fall. There was a glimpse of fear that flashed over his features as he realized – perhaps foolishly – that he was indeed still very weak, but nevertheless, the wizard took a shaky step forward.

"Severus, you are absolutely mad," Hermione shrieked, her voice still shrill with concern. "You are only going to set back your recovery!"

"Nonsense, girl," Severus spat, taking another step forward. "I am proving my point. I am—"

"Completely mental is what you are, Severus Snape," Hermione growled, crossing her arms in front of her. "You will not be able to leave without my consent and I refuse to give it."

Cautious amber eyes watched her patient move very slowly. Her arms were crossed over her chest indignantly but she was ready to react should he have need of her. Another step forward had him ever closer to the door. But in the effort required to rise from the bed and walk on his own, Severus was growing fatigued quickly, his chest expanding with thirsty gasps for air. Hermione rushed forward, her hands quickly securing around his shoulders and holding him upright – though not without a significant amount of effort on her part, as well.

"You are being foolish, Severus. Please, sit down. Sit down and tell me what is going on with you," Hermione pleaded, pulling her wand from her pocket and flicking it towards the chair. Sliding behind Severus, the chair rested against his knees and Hermione helped lower him into it.

"Severus," Hermione began quietly, her eyes glossy in her concern. "If you want to leave the hospital—"

"It would be in both of our best interests if I did not remain here any longer," Severus growled, his hand wiping over his forehead as he gathered air into his lungs.

"Why?"

"It secures my identity," he spat, a grimace curling his lips downwards as a sharp pain stabbed him between his ribs. "It is the wisest option we have."

Lowering to her knees, Hermione looked into his face, her eyes scanning his countenance for any sign of honest emotion. Her tone was exasperated as she spoke, "Severus, I destroyed your old file. That was the only method anyone would have of positively identifying you."

"That is rubbish and if you believe even a single word of it, I have given you far too much credit," Severus snarled, clutching at his side as the stabbing ache tore through his ribcage.

Chewing pensively on her lip, Hermione summoned the bowl that rested on his bedside tabletop. Filling it with water from her wand, she reached for a washcloth and dipped it within the basin, smoothing it gently over Severus' forehead until he recoiled from beneath her touch. With a defeated sigh, she lowered her hands to her lap.

"This isn't about earlier, is it?" she asked, knowing full well she may have surrendered any opportunity to actually discuss his concerns. "Severus, you fell – I only acted through obligation to see to it you are cared for, it's okay—"

"Don't be absurd, girl," Severus hissed.

"If that's the case," Hermione countered, "then you won't decline my offer to care for you in my apartment until you are actually well enough to care for yourself?"

Had she not witnessed it, Hermione would not have thought it possible for Severus to grow paler than he was; at her proposal, the faint color he possessed drained from his features and he simply stared at her, his fathomless eyes widened in surprise. If he had been expecting something from her, she did not deliver upon his expectations.

In fact, Hermione was silently celebrating. She had actually managed to catch Severus off his guard. It was a strangely rewarding feeling, indeed.

"Ms. Granger, I believe you are now the one who is mental," he growled when he had composed his thoughts. "That is not an option."

"And why isn't it, Severus?" Hermione asked. "You wish to leave the hospital to protect your identity; I don't believe you well enough to be on your own just yet. It is only a Floo's channel away from here; you can use the Galleon I gave you to contact me if you need anything, and I can step right through the hearth in my office to help you."

Grimacing, Severus broke his gaze with Hermione, turning his face toward the window. Hermione braved a moment to comb her fingers through his disheveled hair, and to her relief he did not shy away from her contact. If anything, he leaned into it.

"I don't imagine you have much left to pay for the treatment you've received here," Hermione whispered carefully, searching for his gaze again. As she expected, he met her eyes. "And I would never ask for a single Knut of yours. I simply want to see you well again."

Severus' eyes narrowed with suspicion as he stared into her face, searching for her genuineness. Her fingers were gently combing through the tips of his hair when she grasped onto his hand, squeezing just enough to convey everything she could through the simple touch.

"Please, Severus. I want to. This isn't a sympathy tactic. This is not pity. This is nothing more than my duty as a Healer being fulfilled. As soon as you are well, you are free to leave."

Scowling, Severus shook his hand from hers and grasped the arm of the chair tightly. Hermione leaned back on her heels, staring up into his face as she awaited his response. He was no longer looking at her; his gaze had once again wandered to the window.

"I would submit a discharge form that stated 'patient number" – glancing toward the foot of the bed, she reached for the folder that rested there and flicked it open – "zero two three dash ten, 'John Smith,' requested discharge against medical advice.' In a few minutes I could update the notes on your file and apply the admission photograph. No one would be any the wiser."

She caught the fleeting glimpse he cast toward her before redirecting his attention toward the window, his face marred by the deep crevices exaggerated in his irritation. "That is rather Slytherin of you, Ms. Granger. You have done many a thing to achieve your ends in these past several days."

Hermione offered a nonchalant shrug. "I am simply honoring my duties as a dedicated Healer. I must do everything in my power to ensure you are healthy and safe, and I have done as much."

"Indeed, you have," Severus growled. He was quiet for a long moment, his eyes darting over Hermione's countenance. "I will concede to you this. I am not yet strong enough to care for myself, but as you have – unfortunately – accurately assessed, my funds are rapidly draining and I will not be able to afford to remain here."

"And you don't have your wand yet, either. While you are quite impressively skilled with wandless magic, I imagine you have displayed nearly the entirety of your abilities?" Hermione queried.

"Defensive spells are not as potent when wandless," Severus admitted, grimly. "Were I to get attacked—"

"You would need help," Hermione interjected.

"From a capable witch," Severus added quietly, tearing his gaze from her. His tongue darted out between his lips, moistening the chapped skin there; Hermione did not overlook the small detail and there was a fleeting craving deep within her, but she quickly suppressed it.

"I will go gather the papers we need and we'll transport you tonight," Hermione said. "Would you like to return to bed?"

"Yes."

After Hermione assisted Severus in the short walk to his bed, she quickly left him to tend to her other patients. It wasn't until she had finally finished preparing the proper documents that she actually realized precisely what was occurring – she had invited Severus Snape to stay in her home until he was well again. Severus Snape, former Potions Master, Head of Slytherin House, and Headmaster of Hogwarts – was going to be sleeping in her home. In her bed.

Oh, God. What have I done?

The realization overwhelmed her with a suffocating sense of panic and she was forced to rush to her office, locking the door behind her. Her lungs seemed unable to suck in enough air as she gasped for breath, a bead of sweat trickling down her cheek from her temple. His file lay closed atop her desk, and as she stared at it, the voice of her thoughts seemed to shout above her panicked breaths.

This is right.

Hermione rolled the crown of her head against the smooth surface of the door, her hands coming to clutch her chest as she gasped for air. How could she have been so foolish? How could she have invited that man to her home? She had already violated so many rules – how could she justify this most recent transgression? What if her superiors were to find out? What would she do?

This is right.

The voice still seemed impossibly loud in her mind, as though her brain needed to shout to be heard over the chaos of anxious thought. Slowly, she willed her lungs to calm, her heart to slow. Breathing a steadying sigh, Hermione straightened her spine and crossed her office to her desk. Flicking open the cover of his file, she stared at the last page of the document where her tidy scrawl indicated his discharge request.

Patient "John Smith" 6-5325-023-10 has requested premature discharge. Healer has thoroughly explained the risks associated with early discharge and indicated disapproval of his request. Patient has signed consent form and waived hospital liability.

Closing the file once again, Hermione placed it among the pile that would be put away in the history department. Turning to face the crackling embers of her fireplace, she fisted a handful of her robe. It would be several hours longer before they could depart for her apartment, and in the meantime, she would steel herself for what was to come.

For what seemed hours after she left, Severus stared in silent contemplation at the wall across from him. A mug of steaming black coffee had materialized on his bedside table, and while he collected it into his hands, his lips never touched the brim. Instead, his spidery forefinger idly traced the warm porcelain lip, his thoughts a tangled web of worry, umbrage, and the strangest twine of joy. Slowly, the hot coffee cooled within the cup as the sky outside his window darkened with the setting sun.

As though disrupted suddenly from his reverie, he drew in a sharp breath, moved the cup to its place beside his shrinking stack of journals, and smoothed his rough hand against his rougher chin, the quiet hiss of stiff facial hair scraping across his flesh. The sky outside was a muted orange as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon; a similar shade danced among the flecks of emerald in Hermione's irises.

Hermione…

Somehow, she had managed to bewitch him – he could not explain it. A part of him wished not to and simply enjoy the power she held over him without even trying. Were he anyone but Severus whatever-the-hell Snape – a small smirk tugged the corner of his mouth – the issue of control would be none at all. But he was indeed Severus Snape, and he did not appreciate anyone else harnessing control of anything, let alone him. He had not beheld such a master for the better part of a decade, and he would not fall victim to such helotry again.

She isn't trying to control you.

And yet, she had. He had resolved to leave her as soon as possible – there was not a doubt in his mind that it was his only option. The benefits of his leaving far outweighed the risks: Hermione would be safe; he could return to his task at hand; his funds would no longer drain faster than he could appraise them; his feelings for Hermione would fade when he was away from her. The only risk was that, without his wand, he was horribly vulnerable – but it would not take much to conjure a glamour charm (albeit a fairly weak one) to acquire a new wand from Ollivander.

With a slight scoff, Severus shook his head. Acquiring a wand from Ollivander would be impossible; the old man had a pristine memory, and were Severus to slip into the wand shop only to be chosen by an identical wand – it was far too risky. With a frown, Severus curled his hands around the blanket.

He would simply have to ensure an expedient convalescence. There was nothing more he could do than that.

That evening, when most of the staff had departed for their homes, Hermione prepared Severus for the quick trip to her office. She allowed him the freedom to ambulate with the assistance of a walker – which he was quick to protest, but she kept it on hand for when he quickly grew fatigued – while under the guise of a disillusionment charm.

When finally she secured the door behind them, the charm faded and Severus appeared before her, donning a pair of hospital slacks and the typical robe. He stared around the room with a slight sneer, his eyes lingering on the various paraphernalia she had collected from the Weasleys over the years. He spent a particularly long time examining the photograph of the Weasley family – including Harry – that Hermione had tipped over on her desk. With long, spidery fingers, he held the delicate frame close enough that his body language indicated some sort of significance for him, and Hermione allowed him the quiet moment to look over the man he had not seen in so many years – to stare into the emerald eyes that were the last thing he saw before he nearly died.

A quiet whisper of fabric – Hermione's robe brushing against itself as she shifted positions – withdrew him from his reverie and with a quiet cough, he set the photograph back on her desk and turned toward her.

"Your office is as I would have expected," he grumbled, nodding toward the hearth.

Tossing the powder into the crackling flames, Hermione said, "Apartment of Hermione Granger," and stepped through the green burst of flame. Severus was quick to follow.

When he appeared on the other side of the connection, he was forced to duck his head to avoid colliding with the brick of the hearth. His gait was unsteady as he emerged, his slippered feet sinking into the soft, carpeted floor of Hermione's living room. The Healer was immediately at his side, one hand steadying his walker and the other offering sturdy support beneath his arm. As he gathered his strength, he managed to lean most of his weight into his wiry arms, and Hermione stepped back from him. His eyes examined the quaint apartment, its organization mirroring that of her office; had he expertise in psychology, he would have assessed Hermione as having a slight obsession with order. He was hardly surprised to see the walls flanking the fireplace covered with leather-bound books of all sizes, the shelves of the bookcases buckling under their weight.

Hermione was holding his elbow carefully as he turned in a circle, searching the premises. When he finally noticed her presence there, he frowned and flicked his hand at her, shooing her away.

"I assure you, if I cannot manage to stand with this accursed walker beneath me, then I truly have no business standing at all."

With a small smile, Hermione nodded curtly and hurried into the kitchen. "Would you – er – like some tea?" Hermione called, peeking around the corner of the doorway. "Please, come in. I'm going to transfigure you some clothes – but for a moment, please just take a seat."

"Tea would be lovely," Severus replied quietly, sneering at her abysmally small kitchen. It was clear she did not do much cooking; the countertops were nearly sparkling they were so clean, the appliances that decorated the surface held neither crumb nor stain.

The kettle she removed from a cabinet, however, appeared to have seen heavy use. Where hands typically rested, the surface was burnished; even the spout seemed slightly worn. As Hermione busied herself with preparing the tea, Severus carefully lowered himself into a chair. His Healer, ever diligent, kept a single eye trained on him as he carefully sat down, ready to intervene if necessary. When it was apparent he was well enough on his own, she seemed to return her full attention to the task at hand.

"You will sleep in my bed," Hermione said casually. "While this is steeping, I am going to go change the linens and transfigure those clothes for you. I am also more than happy to adjust the bed to your liking, so you are able to achieve the best rest possible. If you like to cook, you are more than welcome to use what I have; if I don't have something, I'll gladly get it for you on my way home from work. In fact, if you would make a list for me, I'll gather whatever it is you need while you're here." When it looked as though he was going to interrupt, she quickly added, "Please. I insist. I don't do much cooking, and so the kitchen is rather barren."

In an instant, she was gone from the kitchen. Severus suspected she was preparing her bedroom for its new inhabitant and – while he was rather uncomfortable with the prospect of claiming a woman's bed from her – he was feeling strangely affectionate toward Hermione for the obvious effort she was expending to ensure his comfort.

She was truly doing this for him. She had no ulterior motives.

What a curious situation.

A few moments later she returned and finished preparing the tea. Handing him a warm mug, Hermione poured herself a cup as well and lowered into the chair across from him. Her eyes were searching his face, a small wrinkle pressed into her forehead.

"I don't want you to feel uncomfortable, Severus," Hermione said softly. "I know this is – odd – but it is in your best interest and it is purely professional. It's like your showers – I am your Healer and nothing more."

With a frown, Severus glanced over his shoulder into the living room. The couch was already decorated with a pair of plain sheets, a pillow, and a blanket, and he knew it was where Hermione would be sleeping while he was imposing on her. The frown tugged the corners of his mouth further downward and he returned his attention to her.

"Are you certain?"

"There's no going back now, is there?" Hermione replied with a smile. "I insist, Severus. This is necessary for your health. You—" For a moment, she seemed to consider her words carefully before continuing. "You deserve this. You deserve someone doing something for you, while expecting nothing in return. And I will never expect anything from you."

Staring into his cup, he watched as the dark liquid swirled about with tiny flecks swimming about. Bringing the mug to his lips, he sipped the steaming tea, savoring the taste before returning the cup to the table.

"Very well, Ms. Granger."

Later on, when Hermione was giving Severus the "grand tour" of her tiny apartment, Severus happened upon an additional door that appeared to lead to a second bedroom. With an inquisitive eyebrow, he turned the doorknob and pushed open the strangely heavy door. Instantly, the air of the hallway was effused with a pleasantly familiar combination of herbs and spices. As the door swung open, into view appeared a room that was transfigured to resemble a dungeon. His old dungeons.

"I didn't do this for you," Hermione was quick to say. "I—I work best in familiar situations. I like to practice my brewing abilities here, so I… I requested permission from my landlord to set up my own laboratory. It costs a little extra every month, but it's worth it. I would never forgive myself if I botched a potion and a patient suffered because of it."

"I see."

"You're free to use it, if you like. Of course, when you're brewing your own potions, I will insist that you use my laboratory. It isn't much, but… it's enough."

Severus closed the door and Hermione led him to her bedroom. Across the bed lay a set of black robes, nearly identical to what he used to wear while he was her professor.

"If you'd like something else, I can do quite a bit with these glamour charms," she offered with a faint blush. "I didn't know your preferences, so I – well, I went with what I knew."

"This is more than satisfactory, Ms. Granger," Severus replied, using one hand to support himself on the walker and the other to lift the robes. Hermione held the opposing side for him so he could examine her work. "I am afraid I am not quite capable of clothing myself," he said.

"That's what I'm here for. I also have a set of sleeping gowns for you, if that is your preference," she added quickly. "And I will help you with whatever you need."

Nodding slowly, Severus turned toward Hermione's dresser. A large vanity mirror stood atop it, providing Severus with the first glimpse of himself in quite some time. Ambling toward the dresser, he rested his hands against the cool surface and stared into the eyes of his reflection. Hermione appeared beside him quickly, her warm gaze following his as he traced the contours of his countenance, the prominent angles of his skeleton that danced about his body.

"You are looking much healthier today than when I was first assigned to your care," Hermione said softly. "You are not quite to where you were, obviously – but you are looking better every day."

Smoothing his rough hands over his sallow face, Severus scowled. He turned from the mirror, and with a violent thrust of his hand, the robes he had been holding flew toward the mirror, catching at the peak and dangling across the majority of its surface.

As though she understood, her hand came to his elbow and she tugged him toward the door. "The loo is this way," Hermione said softly, leading Severus out of the bedroom and toward the lavatory.

When they finished the tour, Hermione helped Severus into a sleeping gown. During the process of securing the garment over his body, Hermione rambled on about getting to a shoppe in Diagon Alley to pick up some articles for him.

"Of course, I will need your measurements – but it won't take long," she said casually, securing the buttons of the sleeping gown. "Also, your shoe size – I will get you an entire wardrobe so that you can rest comfortably while you are here."

"Ms. Granger," Severus growled, shooing her hands away from his navel and finishing the task of closing the gown. "That is hardly necessary. I have a wardrobe in my home – it is simply a matter of acquiring it."

"That won't be a problem at all, Severus," Hermione said softly, looking up at him, her hands folded in front of her. "I can Apparate there and gather your things."

Hesitantly, Severus considered her proposal. He was hardly comfortable with the premise of another individual entering his home, but was there any other option?

"For now, I would like to rest. We can discuss retrieving my things tomorrow. Surely you have time off?" Severus asked, moving toward the bed.

Hermione intervened, her hands hurriedly pulling back the covers of the bed. Assisting Severus to a seated position, she shook her head. "I will request early leave tomorrow, but I can't guarantee anything until this weekend. It's only Wednesday."

"Ah, yes," he replied gruffly, leaning back into the pillows. Arching his back, a satisfying crack! violated the silence of the room, and then he settled comfortably into the mattress.

"You are welcome to any of my books and also the telly, if you're interested. I have a stack of journals beneath the coffee table, as well," Hermione said, smoothing her hands over the blankets Severus pulled to his chest.

"I am certain I will find plenty to keep me occupied, Ms. Granger," Severus replied softly. "You need not worry about that."

Nodding, Hermione smiled. "Very well. Just one more thing, Severus."

Without finishing, she disappeared from the room. Severus, resting lazily against the pillows, listened curiously at the distant clatter of silverware; a moment later, Hermione returned, a glass in her hand filled with his usual prescription potions.

After he swallowed the solution down to the dregs, Hermione pulled the cup from his hands. "Good night, Severus. If you need anything—"

Waving his hand dismissively, Severus turned onto his side. With a quiet 'tut,' Hermione turned toward her dresser, drawing out a sleeping gown.

"Good night, Severus. I'll see you in the morning."

Severus had been unaware of how exhausted he truly was. The bed was charmed in such a way that it supported his aching bones perfectly; he couldn't help but feel as though he were floating on a cloud. Between the gentle cushion of the mattress below him and the nest of thick blankets he pulled around his face, sleep overcame him nearly instantly. For the first time in what seemed like years, his rest was not plagued with a dream of any sort, and he quite possibly slept like a baby.

The following morning, Severus woke slowly and with pleasure. He was cocooned in the soft fabric of blankets that covered his bed, and as consciousness slowly engulfed him, he shifted his bare legs against the smooth fabric. It was very different from the stiff cotton sheets of his hospital bed, and while the bed itself had not been uncomfortable, so to speak, it may as well have been a slab of rock in comparison to the bed he was curled within. Turning onto his back, he drank in the scent that billowed into the air with his movement: Hermione. Natural. Without her perfume. The smell of her sweat. Perhaps even her sex. He knew she changed the linens, but there was nothing she could do to totally eradicate the smell of her that seeped into her mattress.

Her sex. Even as a forty-some-year-old man, the thought of her naked form pressed into the mattress coiled knots in his groin. Hips grinding into her thighs, her breasts flushed, nipples swollen, her face freckled with droplets of sweat as she growled in primal pleasure—

Stop.

With a great deal of force, Severus opened his eyes to cease the image of her naked body writhing beneath him. The damage had already been done, of course, and as he shifted his body to a sitting position, the stiffness in his groin protruded shamelessly from his body. He could hear the groan of pipes as water rushed through them, and the knowledge of her naked body in the shower did nothing for his erection except exacerbate it. She would need to come into her room to dress and he knew that moment was impending. Gingerly, he swung his long legs over the side of the bed, reached for the walker that rested nearby, and rocked himself to his feet. At least, with his shoulders hunched in such a way to support his body, his erection was no longer visible. With stiff, aching movements, it would soon disappear anyway, and he began to hobble toward the door.

As he emerged in the hallway the aroma of fresh coffee pervaded his nostrils and he breathed in. Glad to be rid of the lingering scent of the woman in the shower behind him, he slowly worked his way toward the kitchen, first finding the coffee, and then taking a seat at the table with his mug in one hand, and the morning's Daily Prophet in the other.

Fully engrossed in an article detailing a recent trial of a convicted Death Eater, Severus' gaze darted in alarm when Hermione's voice sounded from the living room.

"I'm going to get off early today, and I thought we could get you a new wand before collecting your things," Hermione said quickly as she tugged her bag over her shoulder. "Some glamour charms should disguise your identity. I don't think it's wise to go to Ollivander's, of course."

Of course, Hermione Granger would have given such forethought to the situation. With a slow nod, he invited her to continue.

"I've done a little research, and I found a wand shoppe in the States that we could visit. It's buried in New York City, of course, but the pub through which we enter the alley is attached to the Floo network. Amazingly enough, as I was unaware the Floo network was international, but that was perhaps foolish of me," Hermione added quickly.

"And how do we disguise this?" he motioned toward the walker.

"A glamour charm, of course," Hermione replied with a touch of mischief in her voice. "I intend to make it look as though you are not injured, but old." She rolled her shoulders in a shrug.

"Very well, Ms. Granger," Severus replied, turning his gaze back to the newspaper. "When shall I expect your return?"

"I'm going to try to be home by three," Hermione replied, pinching some Floo powder between her fingers. "Help yourself to the shower if you can – otherwise I will be more than happy to assist you when I return home. Please be careful. I've installed a handrail so you would have something to hold onto."

"You have my thanks, Ms. Granger," Severus growled softly, turning his gaze to her once more.

Perhaps awkwardly, she shifted her weight on her feet. With a small smile, she added softly, "Promise me something, Severus. After all that I have done for you – promise me that you will do your best to be comfortable while you're here? When I say, 'make yourself at home,' I am being sincere."

The warmth that settled into his chest just then threatened to suffocate Severus – but a feeling of panic was not what washed over him in that moment. Instead, there was a sense of calm that seeped into his pores. A genuine smile nearly parted his lips – not a sneer, nor the sarcastic smirk that he so often donned – but a genuine smile.

Perhaps… "You have my word, Ms. Granger," Severus replied quietly, his eyes fixed on hers. He could get lost in those pools of light, of love.

Tossing the fingerful of powder into the quiet flames, Hermione turned from him. "I'm holding you to that, Severus." And with that, she was gone.

The silence settled in around him and slowly, he brought the mug of coffee to his lips. His eyes fell to the newspaper in front of him and for the following hour, he read from the pages. When finally, he had scoured the news for all that intrigued him, he eased himself onto his feet and crossed the kitchen to the cabinetry. It took him several attempts to find the pantry, but as he pulled open the door he spied the boxes of packaged food.

Moments later, he was taking small mouthfuls of oatmeal, his eyes fixated on the window but unseeing. His mind was elsewhere, considering his current predicament, whether he would be able to shower independently – of course, he would attempt to, though he smoothed his hand over the fake Galleon that rested on the tabletop. If he could claim this small token of agency, he would be one step closer to recovery – and one step closer to disappearing once again.

"Harry!"

Harry turned quickly from his place by a set of certifications and degrees that decorated Hermione's wall. His glasses were askew upon his nose, which, upon seeing his friend, he seemed to realize; quickly his fingers came to his nose, straightening his spectacles before taking a step toward Hermione.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, throwing her arms around his neck and squeezing him tightly.

Harry's own strong arms snaked around her waist and pulled her close in an embrace, as though he had not seen her in years. His lips grazed the top of her head in an affectionate kiss before he released her, and he lowered himself into a chair positioned opposite hers before the desk that separated them.

"I heard about you and Ron," Harry replied softly. "How're you doing?"

Hermione set aside her bag, cracking open her office door in order to acquire the patient files that she expected to be held in the container attached to the wall. After gathering the few folders into her hands, she set them on the desk and sat down across from her oldest friend, a smile seemingly permanently plastered to her face.

"It's been a rather trying few days, Harry," Hermione said, honestly. Her brown eyes flitted between her desk and Harry's face, and finally offered a congenial smile. "But I think it's for the better."

"That's great, Hermione," Harry said, reaching across the desk to smooth his fingers over her hand in comfort. "I won't be around very long, but I wanted to check in on you."

A genuine smile parted Hermione's lips as she met her friend's gaze. Harry always seemed able to read her, even though she knew intellectually, he was no match for her. And yet, he was always able to comfort her; no matter where she hid, he could find her and read her emotions as though she were one of the books to which she so closely held.

As his emerald eyes pierced her, she felt the strongest compulsion to confess everything to him. She had only managed the strength to finally leave Ron because of the support of Severus; she had risked everything she had worked for to keep him safe; he was currently hidden away in her home; she had no grasp on her emotions toward him—

"Harry, can I ask you something?" Hermione began cautiously, pulling her gaze from his and staring at her nails.

"Of course, 'Mione," Harry replied, leaning back in his chair.

"If—Do you think it's possible that… Snape…" her voice trailed off quietly, as though it had lost its momentum.

"Survived?" Harry finished for her, combing his hand through his messy mop of black hair. "All the time. There was no burial. I'm not even certain a body was found. I—I still have nightmares about it, 'Mione." His voice was trembling, as though there were a catch in his throat. "I wonder all the time if there was even a body to be found, or if Nagini—"

Hermione nodded solemnly, a shaking breath rattling her chest. She didn't need Harry to finish his thought, as it was something that had always plagued her, as well – until approximately two weeks ago, of course.

"Is that why you had Snape's file out?" Harry asked cautiously. "Has it been on your mind that much?"

Hermione drew her lip between her teeth. "Harry…"

The creak of hinges interrupted their quiet conversation, and as Hermione and Harry turned their attention toward the door, Marcus' weary face appeared. Hermione rose immediately from her desk, coming round to stand before her fellow Healer.

"What is it?"

"We've just got a sudden rush of admissions, Hermione. You're needed," and with that, he disappeared once more.

When Hermione turned to face Harry, he was already on his feet. The urgency in Marcus' voice was not lost on either of them, and quickly, Harry drew Hermione into a hug. A moment later, he disappeared through the crackling flames. Ensuring her wand was in its place, Hermione drew her fingers through her mass of curls, securing them into a tight knot at the back of her head; a moment later, she pulled open the door to her office, slipping through it.

As she emerged into the hallway, she was forced to press herself against the wall as a set of stretchers rolled past her. Even though it was a magical hospital, the Healers were forced by necessity to train at least basic Muggle first-aid in the case of some massive incident. If ever there were a factory explosion or natural disaster, every hospital in the area had to be prepared to intake any number of patients; through negotiations with the Muggle government, St. Mungo's agreed to train its staff to heal through Muggle means when absolutely necessary. It was, of course, convenient that many individuals were unfamiliar with medicine, and so many procedures could be done covertly – and the healing potions so often prescribed were explained as a result of an overwhelmed pharmacy.

Hermione caught sight of some very gruesome injuries as the patients were rushed into rooms. One young man – barely of legal age, Hermione guessed – was bleeding profusely from a stump that used to be his right arm. His skin was pale and glossy, coated with a thin sheen of sweat. Hermione doubted he would survive, but she would do her damnedest to provide him the best opportunity she could.

Three o'clock came and went with considerable haste as Severus reclined against Hermione's couch, a novel pried open between his fingers. A radio growled quietly in the background, tuned to some modern music channel that Severus had dialed absently. At four-thirty, Severus set down the novel and turned on the television; on some Muggle news network, an obnoxious alarm seemed to echo through the apartment as it broadcasted "breaking news." Accordingly, at ten o'clock that morning (Hardly "breaking," Severus thought), a factory north of St. Mungo's erupted in an explosion, the source of which was still undiscovered. The injured were rushed to several nearby hospitals, including St. Mungo's – no doubt, Hermione was overrun with patients. The casualty count had not yet been disclosed, but the news anchor – a blond man with a square jaw – estimated at least ten deaths, thirty wounded, and many, many more left unaccounted for.

It wasn't until seven o'clock that evening that Hermione finally stepped through her hearth in a roar of green fire, her hair knotted back haphazardly and her lime green robes discolored with blood stains and other unidentifiable fluids. A metallic scent effused the air, undeniably the stench of blood, and as he caught sight of her weary state, he rose slowly to his feet with the assistance of his walker.

"Severus, I am so sorry," Hermione gasped, her voice winded in exasperation. "I—"

"I heard what happened," Severus interrupted calmly. "You need not apologize for doing your job."

"Severus, the Muggles don't know what's going on," Hermione said quietly. "But we do. That wasn't an ordinary factory explosion – or whatever other nonsense line they're tossing about. That was a deliberate attack."

Severus was still very weak, but he shuffled toward her as quickly as he could manage. Hermione had barely stepped beyond the hearth, her chest rising with anxious breaths. She was frantic, pale; the scent that permeated her robes grew stronger the longer she lingered. When finally he reached her, his dark eyes surveying her face, he registered her panic with a grim sense of dismay.

"Death Eaters?" he reached for her, one hand grabbing firmly to her shoulder.

Nodding curtly, Hermione brought her hands to her face, smoothing her palms over her eyes. "Severus, they've—they've not attacked London in some time. It's been—years."

Perhaps too quickly, Severus turned from her. The momentum caused him to lose his balance and he had to grip firmly to his walker, but Hermione's hands had also stabilized him by his waist. He allowed her touch to linger for a moment while he gathered his confidence in his gait, and then he shook her off, moving toward the couch. The novel he had been reading earlier lay face-down on the coffee table. He was pacing now, his shoulders hunched above his walker and the length of his transfigured robes fettering in the movement. He knew his gait lacked any intimidating stalk, the fabric hanging from his bones limply swaying as opposed to the daunting billowing. His movements were still frail, nearly timid; Hermione could tell from his tenseness that his weakness was driving him mad.

"I am aware," he hissed. After a moment, he lowered himself into the couch.

Hermione watched him for a moment longer before breathing slowly through her pursed lips. "I need to shower, but I would like to acquire your things from your house before we lose all daylight." She didn't linger any longer, disappearing down the hallway and leaving Severus to his own thoughts. He hadn't noticed her pause in the hallway. "There is no sense in allowing this to control your life – our lives."

With a scowl, Severus nodded his hesitant agreement. She finally padded across the soft carpet of the hallway, and as the quiet click of the bathroom door guaranteed his solitude, Severus began to pace delicately, his weight supported mostly by the blasted contraption below him.

Of course, they would begin attacking London – there was no deterrent from such activity, was there? Who was to stop them? Severus knew the Ministry employed Aurors for such missions, but there were only so many of them; from his time as a member of Voldemort's followers, he knew one frequent tactic was to lay waste to several areas at once, in order to weaken the opposition through dwindling their numbers. He had not been able to access his library of information regarding their movements – all of that data was in his home. The scowl harshened the lines of his face, and with a frustrated growl he finally lowered himself into a chair at the kitchen table.

He would need to acquire much more from his home than he had at first considered. There was nothing more to it than that; he had been able to predict many of their movements in the past, warning the appropriate agencies and potentially saving, at the very least, hundreds of lives.

It wasn't much later that Hermione finally emerged from her bedroom, dressed in Muggle clothing. His gaze traced the subtle curve of her body, the shape of her legs – slender legs always hidden by the hideous robes that was her uniform. With a smile, she placed a hand on his forearm as it rested across the tabletop.

"Are you ready?" she asked, her wand wrapped within the fabric of a small purse.

"Indeed," he growled, rising shakily to his feet.

Smoothing her soft hand over his forearm, her fingers entwined with his, her amber eyes carefully meeting his gaze. She chewed her lip pensively for a moment before clutching closer to him, her bag held to her chest.

"We are looking to travel to Spinner's End. Have you ever been to Cokeworth?" Severus queried.

"Yes," Hermione replied softly. "One of my uncles lives there. When I was a child, I would play at a playground near his house…"

As her voice trailed off, Severus cocked an eyebrow. Her voice was suddenly weighted as though there existed sorrow in her memories, though he doubted her sorrow reflected his when recalling the playground he suspected she spoke of. If he were correct, she played at the very playground he had so many years ago…

"My cousin Emily – she died when she was thirteen, during my third year at Hogwarts. An awful automobile accident."

And with that, they disappeared with a sudden pop!

When they emerged, Severus fell to his knees, lurching what pitiful amount of contents he had consumed that day onto the cobblestone street below him. Hermione was immediately beside him, her hand smoothing over his back as her other rummaged through her purse. As he glanced toward her, he noted that her arm had vanished into the bag to her elbow, though the size of the purse suggested impossibility. With a tiny smirk, a fleeting smirk that vanished as soon as his gut heaved bile into his mouth, he recognized the article – as well as the charm that enhanced it.

"You are—going to assume—I am—mental," he hissed between choked gasps for air.

As Hermione withdrew a small vial, she turned her head to the side in curiosity. Removing the cork, she lifted the potion to his lips, and as he swallowed, the feelings of nausea nearly immediately subsided.

"Why is that, Severus?" Hermione asked, her hand still smoothing over the sharp ridge of his spine.

After a moment of silence where Severus slowed his breathing, he leaned back onto his heels, his hands reaching for the walker. Hermione rose to her feet and steadied herself behind him, preparing to aid him to his feet.

"That bag – you are truly clever, Ms. Granger," Severus replied before working himself to a standing position. "Especially at the age of seventeen, which is when I would approximate your enchantment of it."

A small smile crossed her lips and she rounded to face him. "How did you—"

"You had it with you that awful morning," he growled. "I remember it because it looks very similar to a purse I gave to Lily for Christmas one year."

Hermione let out a quiet laugh, shaking her head. "You were right, Severus. I do think you're mental. Come on."

With that, she tapped him with her wand, the disillusionment charm taking effect as he vanished from sight. She cast the very same spell on herself, ensuring their safe passage through the small village.