Fic: The Goddess Of Never Being Broken

Title: The Goddess of Never Being Broken
Author: cathedral carver
Recipient: ianthe_waiting (prompt by blackeyedlily)
Pairing: Snape/Hermione
Rating: K+
Summary: The body never lies. The mind, however, is another matter.
Original Prompt: A post-DH story where Snape survived. Hermione is a therapist, muggle or magical is your choice. Severus becomes a client. You decide why.

A/N: Written for this year's SS/HG Exchange.

x

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.
~Hippocrates

x

i. Presentation

In late summer that year, the crimen genitusfinally flowered and Mrs. Lavinia Moorehouse finally got a good night's sleep. These two facts, while not related in any way, were both heartening for different reasons.

Mrs. Moorehouse hadn't slept in months, not since her husband of 17 years went out for milk one Sunday afternoon and failed to return home. Days later, Mr. Moorehouse informed his wife, via text message, that not only did he notget the milk, but that he had left her for his business partner. His younger, handsomer business partner.

Mrs. Moorehouse subsequently developed a colossal case of depression and anxiety, coupled with a crippling bout of insomnia that four different Muggle doctors were unable to remedy with a cocktail of Muggle prescription drugs.

Aside from Zolpidem, Zaleplon, Eszopiclone and Ramelteon, she also tried: Acupuncture. Massage therapy. Tanning. Alcohol. Nothing worked.

One morning Lavinia's sister Tabitha, who had heard from a friend of a friend of a friendabout someone who might be able to help, bundled a blurry-eyed, barely coherent Lavinia into the car and drove her an hour out of town into gentle, rolling countryside. They turned into a laneway of a small house, set back from the road. A small, red unassuming house with a large white porch and a large leafy tree.

The woman who appeared at the door was younger than both sisters had expected, but with an oddly aged expression, as if she had seen much before her time. An old soul, some might say. But, despite her youth, she was professional and kind and obviously very knowledgeable and Lavinia felt relaxed and at peacefor the first time in, well, a long time.

The woman led her into a simple, comfortable blue-walled room furnished with a couch, two chairs, a desk, a large window and several colourful paintings, and talked. And asked questions. And, talked some more. If Lavinia was surprised to find herself sharing intimate details of her life to someone she had just met, she realized she didn't mind in the least. At the end of the hour, the woman nodded kindly and handed her a small purple vial, complete with purple stopper and tied with a purple ribbon.

"Take a teaspoonful at bedtime. Come back in a week."

When Lavinia Moorehouse returned a week later, rested and relaxed and smiling, she embraced the woman at the door spontaneously and exclaimed: "You're a miracle worker, my dear. A miracle worker."

The woman smiled in return, and was pleased, but her nickname amongst her most devoted clients was not The Miracle Worker, but The Witch Doctor, an irony not lost on the healer in question. She should have been insulted, but she was far from that. She found it wildly amusing, to say the least, and considered having the title printed on a business card, or having a placard mounted on the front of her house.

But, she didn't need business cards, or a placard. Hers was a word-of-mouth business, and business was flourishing. Sleepless nights? Stomach ailments? Insensitive doctors? Useless therapy? See the Witch Doctor. Horace Shipp had suffered from polio as a child and after a lifetime of pain and ineffective, expensive medication, he was eased with a weekly chat and a draught of blue medicine. Margaret Applewhite: Depression alleviated by weekly hypnotherapy sessions and small green pills. Sally Henshaw: Migraines stemming from a pinched nerve, cured with a monthly dose of bright orange liquid that not only tasted like peppermint, but smoothed out her complexion, as well.

It appeared that The Witch Doctor, aka Hermione Granger, 10 years after graduating Hogwarts, had finally found her true calling: healing the hopeless.

And so, as summer bled into fall, and the hot, bright days bled into cooler, darker nights, the Muggles came, and blessed sleep came, along with a healthy crop of crimen genitus, and a certain Half-Blood Prince.

x

On a bright morning in late-August, after she'd transplanted a sickly Mandrake and was in the process of pruning the Hawthorn bush, she heard a sharp, distinctive crack from behind her that sent shivers up her spine (how long how long since she'd heard that sound). She turned to find Severus Snape standing in the middle of her garden. Standing directly on her newly flowering hellebore, to be exact.

She dropped the pruning shears at her feet and clapped her hands to her mouth. They stood staring at one another, or, rather, she stared at him and he gazed at a spot over her left shoulder. She blinked several times in disbelief. She closed her eyes and opened them. He was still there. She removed her hands from her mouth and clutched them in front of her.

"Professor—?"

He started, just a bit, and bowed, just a little, not quite in her direction.

"Miss Granger."

That voice! She peered at him. It was him, of course, not some apparition. Who else, who else with that voice?

She cleared her throat, suddenly desperate for some water.

"What—"

He took a hesitant step forward, crushing some nettles beneath his boot.

"Er—" she began.

He took another hesitant step. Squish. There went a bubotuber. He sighed harshly and stopped moving, his gaze focused somewhere around her kneecaps.

"Professor—" she tried again.

"Severus," he corrected at once, sounding very much likea professor. "You're no longer a student, Miss Granger. Or, a child."

No, but odd how being in his presence made her feel like one. She took a quick breath.

"What…why are you here?"

He took another step. Pop.

He sighed. "Forgive me, but what am I standing on, now?" he inquired, not looking down.

"A puffapod." She stared at him. What on earth was wrongwith the man?

He gritted his teeth and clenched his hands at his sides.

"Sir, what—"

"Miss Granger. You are still…a healer, are you not?"

She nodded. "A therapist. Yes, I am. But—"

"Excellent. It appears I need your assistance," he said.

"Ah. Yes. Well." She was having a difficult time forming coherent sentences. She couldn't stop staring at him. "I don't understand—"

"Obviously." He sighed and shifted to the left, grinding some feverfew to a pulp ("Dammit", he muttered). Hermione's mouth dropped.

Oh.

"You're—"

"Blind." He paused. "As you can see." He paused again. "Pardon the pun."

Her hands reached out instinctively to grab at him, but stopped just short of the sleeve of his black cloak.

"Is there somewhere we can talk?" he asked. "In private?"

"Yes. Yes, of course." She moved closer. "Please, Profess— Severus. Please. Come inside."

He lifted his arms, reaching out as if to grab for something.

Oh.

"If you could just—" he said, his voice quiet and drifting away.

She closed the gap between them, reached out and closed her hand around his arm.

ii. Definition

She led him to the blue room, seated him in the most comfortable chair and sat across from him. He crossed his legs and rested his hands on his knee.

"How on earth did you find me?" she asked, unable to stifle her curiosity. Snape shifted in the chair, blew out a puff of air from between pursed lips.

"Contrary to popular misconception, I am still in touch with former colleagues," he said stiffly. "Minerva McGonagall, for one. She keeps me abreast of the whereabouts of former pupils, such as yourself." He cleared his throat. "I have strived to kept track of the…" He paused, unsure. "Shall we say, most promisingstudents."

Hermione blushed and bit her lip.

"That's kind of you to say."

Snape snorted. "Kindness has nothing to do with it! Vanity, perhaps, if you wish to actually credit me with a certain trait. I like to think I played at least a small part in your present…success."

"You do. You did. Of course you did. More than you know."

Now he was the one blushing.

"How long have you been here?" he asked quickly, lifting his hands to indicate their surroundings.

"Five years," she said. "I originally had a practice in Spinner's End."

"Spinner's End?" he said, eyebrows lifting.

"There are a lot of depressed people there."

"You don't say," he drawled. "But…?"

"But, my circumstances…changed, somewhat, and I needed a change, too. So."

"And you're doing exceptionally well, according to all reports."

"Well, I don't know if—"

"Come now, Miss Granger. Let's not be modest."

"I like to think I'm helping," she said carefully.

"Helping Muggles, yes?" he clarified.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"You could say our medical professionis sorely…lacking," she said. "Particularly in the area of mental health care."

"And you are…filling the gap."

"Yes."

"Using…your acquired skills."

"…yes."

"Namely, magic."

"When I have to."

"You use magic to help Muggles."

"Professor—"

"Severus."

"If you're here simply to interrogate me—"

Severus waved an impatient hand at her. "You do realize what they call you, behind your back."

"And to my face, at times," she said.

"The 'Witch Doctor,'" he said.

"Amusing, yes?"

"That's one word for it."

"I suppose, to them, my ability to 'cure' their ailments seems like magic."

"If they only knew." He shook his head.

"You…object?"

He shrugged.

Hermione almost laughed. "Morally?"

"Merlin, no." He shook his head. "It's not that." He paused. "It's just…aren't you worried that…"

"What?"

"You'll be…found out?"

"I suppose I did, in the beginning. But, I help people. People who have been unable to find help, or peace of mind, anywhere else. I find the reward worth the inherent risk." She paused and lifted her chin. "Besides, I'm good at it. Very good."

"I've heard. And that is why I'm here."

She leaned forward. "What…happened?"

He shrugged. "I don't know, precisely. I've been travelling now, for many years. This condition is recent, its onset swift. I had to return home. I can no longer travel or work. I've been rather…housebound for some time."

"I'm so…sorry."

"I didn't come here for pity, Miss Granger."

"Of course not. I think you're the least pitiable person I know."

A look of surprise flickered across his face.

"But, I don't generally deal with problems…like yours," she said slowly. "I mainly deal with…emotional issues, and the physical problems stemming from those."

There was such a long pause Hermione wondered if he'd changed his mind, or if he'd even heard her. Finally, he cleared his throat and spoke with great effort.

"Well, Miss Granger, I've been told repeatedly that my problem is not, in fact physical." His face went red. "There's nothing wrong with me….physically."

"Ah." She paused. "How do you—"

"I've been, thus far, to six different doctors, both magical and Muggle. Each has come to a similar conclusion, following a multitude of tests and examinations. My eyesight is perfectly intact. No trauma, no degenerative disease. No…what was the term…cataracts."

Hermione bit her lip. "And now you've come to me."

He shrugged. "I have heard from very reliable sources that you are most adept at helping the most…difficult situations." He sighed. "I came to find out whether you are…willing to take me on, shall we say."

She studied him as the silence spun out between them. His gaze was turned toward the large west-facing window. The light must have attracted him, and it fell across the angles and planes of his face, making him look both older and younger than he was. He had closed his eyes and as he sat awaiting her reply, he looked resigned, almost peaceful.

She swallowed, audibly. "You do realize that therapy involves some…"

He cocked an eyebrow.

She twisted her hands in her lap. With effort, she stilled them. "…talking."

The other eyebrow followed.

"..about…intimate issues," she continued rapidly.

Silence.

"I don't need to talk, I need to see!"

"Well, yes, but—"

"Surely there are potions you can try, first?"

"Well, yes, but we also will need to talk—"

"Andtry different potions—"

"Andtalk—"

"Which wouldn't be nearly as effective as magic, Miss Granger—"

"It's a combination of the two, Professor—"

"But mainlymagic—"

"Combined withtherapy—"

"Fine!" he snapped, closing his eyes. "Fine."

More silence.

"Yes. Well." She scrubbed the palms of her sweaty hands across her pants. "Good. As long as we're clear. About that."

"Yes?" he said, waiting, impatient.

"Yes. Yes, of course Prof— Severus. I mean, I can try."

His eyes snapped open and a smirk curled his lips.

"Very well, Miss Granger." He tilted his head and waved a hand in her general direction. "I'd like to present you with your next Hopeless Case."

iii. Epidemiology

Two days later he Apparated into the blue room with a loud crack, narrowly missing trampling her toes. Hermione let out a startled scream and dropped her cup of tea on the floor.

"Excuse me, Miss Granger," Snape steadied himself. He was sporting a black walking stick and a large black bruise on his left cheek.

"It's…it's fine, Profes—" Hermione tergeoedthe spilt tea, and peered at him.

"Oh, Severus." Her voice sounded much more tender than she'd meant.

He offered a crooked smile, his fingers fluttering to his cheek. "It happens more often than not, these days," he said. "This one was from a doorframe that leapt out of nowhere. You would think I'd be more familiar with my surroundings by now."

She eased him into the chair and settled across from him once more.

"Where are you living?"

"My home. Spinner's End," he said. "I had been renting it out during my travels, but now." He shrugged. "It's as good a place as any to stumble around in, I suppose."

She sat staring at him. When she realized what she was doing, she shook her head sharply. "Right. Well. Shall we begin?"

"I don't have to…lie down, do I?" he asked distastefully.

"That's not how it works," she said. "At least, not with you. I have something else in mind." She approached him. "May I?" she said, and he nodded.

She took his arm and led him through the house into the garden behind.

"We're outside," he said, tilting his face up at the late-morning sun.

"We are. My backyard."

They knelt at the edge of the garden, their knees pressing into the soft, dark earth.

"May I?" she asked again, placing her hands on his. His skin was very warm. He twitched, then nodded. "Here. Touch."

His face lit up immediately. "Sneezewort."

"Yes."

"And this?"

"Wolfsbane."

"And this?"

He fondled the plant between his long fingers, his face rapt with concentration.

"Mallowsweet," he said at last, and she smiled, pleased, a small thrill moving in her chest.

"Now. I'm planting dittany for a winter harvest," she said, placing the box of fledgling plants between them. "I could use your help."

His laugh was sharp and bitter. "Miss Granger, I really—"

"Hermione," she corrected. "After all, I'm no longer a student, or a child."

He sighed.

"Hermione, I'm not sure exactly what kind of therapyyou consider this—"

"I consider it essential," she said lightly. "If you want my help, that is."

He was quiet for a moment. Then he sighed.

"Very well."

"Good."

They worked in companionable silence in the warm summer sun. She dug the small holes with a trowel, and he loosened the plants from their containers and handed them to her when she asked. He kept his eyes closed, she noted with interest, but his hands were still and sure and gentle with the plants, as she'd knew they would be. He actually seemed to caressthe leaves, his fingers mapping their shape and texture.

"Your garden is impressive," he said after a bit.

She smiled. "Thank you."

He passed her another plant.

"I've missed this," he said.

"Really?"

"It's been…a long time since I worked with my hands. I once spent a not inconsiderable amount of time in the greenhouses, you know." He released another seedling. "I used to be quite adept at herbology," he remarked drily.

"I know," she said. "I think I learned more in your class than in any other."

"Well, you were one of the more skilled students," he said quietly.

"You were a skilled teacher."

His hands trembled as he handed her the next plant.

"When did you first notice your sight dimming?" she asked as she patted dirt around a dittany fledgling.

"Six months ago. And, it didn't dim. It was extinguished. Overnight."

"Nothing unusual occurred beforehand?"

"I had given a lecture on the practical uses of Screechsnap in Victoria the day before. There is quite a burgeoning witching community there, you know. I retired to bed. In the morning I awoke blind."

"I'm—"

"Don't say you're sorry again." He paused. "Please."

Hermione nodded. Then:

"You've been lecturing."

"Yes. Once I had recovered from the injury—" He stopped suddenly, his breath catching in his throat. Hermione glanced at him.

"Nagini."

He nodded.

"I decided to do something…purposeful with my life, with my knowledge." He handed her another plant. "After all, I didn't expect it," he said quietly.

"To return to teaching?"

He shook his head, twisted his lips.

"To survive."

x

Two days later he Apparated into her front yard with a black eye and dried blood around his left nostril. Hermione tactfully ignored his wounds this time, and they spent the hour planting baby poppy seeds and discussing which combination of ingredients they might try first to aid his eyesight. Queen Anne's Lace? Comfrey? With a touch of ginseng? No, no, he said impatiently. We need allium sativum and sagewort. Which won't be ready until the frost, she reminded him. Then I will wait, he snapped before stumbling to his feet and disappearing in a swirl of black fabric, swirling like bat wings.

The next time he arrived sporting a slightly swollen nose and a split lip (Tripped on the last step, he explained stiffly), they spent the hour transplanting shrivelfigs while debating the merits of using Eaglewood and Smearwort in a soaking solution, applied directly to the eyes. When Hermione tried to ask him about his state of mind, and whether or not he might just may bedepressed about his current situation, he glared in her general direction, dropped the trowel he was holding and Apparated away before she could blink.

And two days after thathe landed on her kitchen table with a heavily bandaged hand and a slight limp (loose cobblestone on the front walk), and after she'd helped him down and led him to his chair, she took a deep breath and broached the subject she'd been thinking very hard about.

"Listen, Severus," she began. Her heart, she found, was beating too fast. "I was wondering. About something."

He turned his face to her.

"You can't very well live on your own at the moment," she reasoned, trying to keep her voice steady and professional. "And, I was…well. It would be…mutually beneficial, if you stayed here. At least for the duration of your…treatment."

"Here."

"Yes."

"In your house."

"Mmm."

"With you."

"Well, yes. I do live here."

"Why?"

"Well, safety, for one."

"Safety."

"Yes."

"Mine, or yours?"

She sighed and tried to not roll her eyes. "Forget I said any—"

"It's highly…unethical."

"It's highly practical," she retorted. "And, let me worry about the ethics of my practice."

"Miss Granger—"

"Hermione."

"I have been living on my own, quite successfully now, for—"

"Successfully! You're one big bloody bruise!" she exclaimed, then bit her lip. "I have an extra room, if that's what you're worried about."

"I'm not worriedabout anything," he snapped. "But, what of…Mr. Weasley? I can't imagine he would welcome my presence here with open arms."

Hermione closed her eyes briefly. "Ron doesn't…he. We aren't together. Any longer."

Snape had no clue what to say to that.

Hermione stood. "Of course, if you don't want to, it's fine. I just thought—"

He was quiet for a moment. Then he sighed. "I would, of course, pay for lodging…and food."

Hermione expelled a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.

"Of course," she smiled. She grinned. "Of course. I wouldn't have it any other way."

iv. History

He neglected to tell her about the dreams.

Otherwise, he was surprisingly easy to live with. Quiet and unobtrusive, he simply went about his daily life, making few demands on Hermione's time. Aside from his now daily "therapy" sessions, which consisted mainly of gardening and heated debates about potion ingredients, Hermione saw little of him. He spent time in his room, or on the front porch, but most of the time he spent in the garden. They shared some meals together, but, more often than not, he ate when she was working, and vanished as soon as she appeared.

He learned the contours of the house quickly, tracing and retracing his steps until he had mapped out its layout in his mind, each doorway, each stair, the size and width of each room, the placement of furniture, each squeaky floorboard. Over and over he moved through the house, until finally he no longer needed to use his hands to guide him: he simply knew where he was by sound and smell.

"Like a bat," he said, a smirk touching his lips.

He spent hours in her garden, tending it more lovingly than she, even. He went about his daily life, slowly, quietly.

Except for the dreams.

The first night she awoke with a start from a sound sleep to his hoarse screams. She leapt from her bed and ran down the hall to his room, pushed the door open and watched his writhe and thrash, covers tangling around his legs and pooling on the floor. She stood still, hand on the door, heart thudding against her ribs, wondering what to do. But, it was over as quickly as it began, ending with a whimper and a moan. He turned on his side, away from her, and was quiet again.

But she stood watching for another half hour before she finally returned to her room.

In the morning she mentioned nothing, wondering if it was an aberration. But the next night was the same, and the next, until a full week had passed in the same manner. Finally, she steeled herself to ask one morning over breakfast.

"How are you sleeping?" she asked.

"Same as always."

"Which is."

"Poorly."

"You…have dreams."

His head snapped up. "How do you know?"

"I hear you."

"Merlin." He sipped his tea. "I wake you up."

"It's all right."

"It's not."

"They sound…horrible."

He said nothing.

"I think it's something we should talk about, don't you?"

"Not particularly."

"Severus."

He sighed.

"What are they about?"

He waited a long, long time before replying.

"There are many, all different, but all repeated, over and over again. Sometimes I'm a student at Hogwarts again. Sometimes I'm a Death Eater. Sometimes I'm being attacked by Nagini. Sometimes—"

He stopped.

"What?"

He shook his head brusquely.

"Bad dreams. All of them."

"Do you dream about Lily?"

His hands twitched.

"Why would you ask about her?"

"It seems reasonable that she might play a role in your…subconscious. After all, she played a huge role in your life—"

"I had no life," he snapped. "And I think I made it clear how I felt about talking—"

"And I think I made it clear that talking was an essential part of this process, about your past—"

"My past tribulations plays no relevant role in my present dilemma, Miss Granger—"

"Hermione."

He stopped. His chest rose and fell noticeably.

"I don't make a habit of talking about myself," he said at last.

Hermione took a large bite of her toast.

"Maybe that's part of the problem"

x

"Here," she said one morning, handing him a vial.

"Is this the—"

"Yes. The one we talked about yesterday."

He closed his eyes and downed it. She watched his throat work. She waited.

"Anything?"

He opened his eyes. He blinked. He shook his head.

"Then, on to the next one," she said.

"Be sure to add extra Astragalus this time," he said.

"Right."

"With a pinch of—"

"Perhaps you'd like to do it yourself?"

He crossed his arms. "You're mocking me," he said.

Hermione paused, one hand on the doorknob.

"Actually, I was daring you."

x

When it rained, as it did often that fall, they sat in the blue room, she in her chair, the in the soft one opposite, sipping tea, listening to the water on the garden.

"This room is…I like this room," he said.

"I do, too," she said. The rain made a pleasant sound against the window. Hermione pulled the blanket around her knees and cradled her cup. "I like to sit in here and read, or write, or just be quiet. Ron never understood—"

She stopped, surprised at herself. Snape's head snapped in her direction.

"Mr. Weasley?" He raised an eyebrow. "You never did finish that story."

"Not much of a story to tell, really. Ron and I…went our separate ways. Years ago, now. Before I moved here."

"Why?"

"Why do you want to know?" She realized she sounded short. She rubbed a tired hand over her face. "Or, are you just being polite?

"When have you ever known me to just be polite?"

"True."

He shifted, wondering how to proceed.

"I'm interested, if you must know. You were such a—" he lifted his lip, "—happycouple, at school."

Hermione laughed. It sounded bitter. "I suppose we were, back then. But, things, as you well know, have a rather nasty habit of changing."

He waited, but she said nothing else.

"The rain has stopped," she said, standing. "I'm going to gather some Astralagus for your potion."

"Hermione—" he began.

"It was a long time ago, Severus. So long ago. I'm trying to forget it, to be honest."

As she passed him, he reached out and managed to catch her arm with one hand. He slid his hand down until it grabbed hers. He held it tightly.

"I can tell you that's often a lot more difficult than you think."

x

"Here," she said, handing him a viscous green liquid. "Lots of quince and goldenseal in this one."

He gulped it.

She watched. And waited.

He opened his eyes.

Nothing.

x

Matricaria recutitawith pokeweed and rosemary, all mixed with a dash of white willow.

He drank it.

She watched. And waited.

Nothing.

x

"Another one," she said cheerfully, handing it over.

He drank it down.

Anything?

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

x

Mornings now, he rose before her and made his way to the garden alone, preparing it for the winter months ahead. When she'd awoken and dressed, she'd go to the window and watch him for awhile, as he made his way carefully amongst the plants and flowers, pulling errant weeds here and there, spraying the soil with water, wrapping the more delicate plants with burlap, protecting them against frost and sleet.

Sometimes he would straighten suddenly, turning his head in her direction, eyes wide, almost, almost as if he could sense her watching him.

Almost.

x

Another night, another scream, another trip down the hall to his room.

This time she entered and watched as he writhed and twisted in a sea of sheets. He awoke with a shout, sitting up almost completely, eyes wild and looking for landmarks in an unfamiliar landscape and finding only more darkness.

"Severus," she said quietly, moving closer.

He closed his eyes and sank back, throwing an arm over his sweating face.

"You were dreaming again." She reached out tentatively, placed a hand on his shoulder. He twitched, but didn't move. His skin was warm and soft, with tense muscle beneath. She left her hand there, letting it rise and fall with his breaths, waiting for him to calm. He reached up and covered her hand with his own, warm skin over skin. He squeezed it lightly, then released. "Just a dream," she said.

"I know." He turned over then, away from her. "Doesn't make it any less horrible, though."

x

He took the vial but held it in his hands, turning it round and round and round.

"It's lovage," she said. "In high doses, coupled with yarrow, it's rumoured to reverse the effects of dark magic." She paused. "If there is any."

He nodded, but still did not drink. Round and round and round, the liquid sloshing against the sides.

"You should ingest it while it's fresh."

"Hmm."

Round and round. Pursed lips, furrowed brow.

"Severus—"

"I realize, Hermione, that you are the expertin these matters, but even you must realize the futility of this…treatment."

"No, I do not."

"It's not getting any better," he said.

"It will."

"And that's your expertopinion?"

Instead of replying, she leaned up and kissed him, very quickly and very softly, right on the mouth.

His hands twitched, then stilled, the lifted, almost involuntarily, to her face. He moved his lips against her, very slightly, his fingers angled against her jaw, slipping almost into her hair. He could feel her breaths against his skin, her hands on his waist, could feel his own heart hammering behind his ribs. She pulled back.

"Yes," she said. "It is."

"Miss Granger," he said and his voice sounded all wrong in his ears, too high, too shaky.

"Sorry. I'm sorry, sorry," she babbled as she backed away. "Just…drink it. Please. Took me hours to brew. No need to waste it."

He held it a moment longer, then drained it, listening to her busying herself in the kitchen, preparing tea, or a meal, or simply busying herself so she wouldn't have to think about what had just happened. He touched his fingers to his lips, lightly, then placed them on the tip of his tongue. Aloe ferox, and Konjac, and Arnica.

And, Hermione.

x

After he retired to his room that night, she pulled out every diagnostic journal she owned. She read until 4 a.m., read until her head ached and her eyes ached the words looked like insects on the page, wiggling and squiggling and too blurry to comprehend.

v. Diagnosis

"… involves three elements: the exclusion of neurological disease, the exclusion of feigning, and the determination of a psychological mechanism."

Her voice faded away. They sat in the stillness of the blue room.

"What are you saying?" he asked at last.

"I'm saying, I've been doing some research on your particular affliction, and I think I've come to some reasonable conclusions."

"Ah."

"Sometimes, in some cases, when there is no physical component to an affliction, sometimeswe can look to the mind for answers."

This was greeted with icy silence. Snape pursed his lips.

"You mean mymind."

"It's called psychosomatic," she clarified, trying to make her voice as jolly as possible.

"You think my mindis doing this."

"That's what psychosomatic means." She tried again. "I do…think your…affliction is—"

"Just spit it out."

"Psychosomatic," she repeated miserably.

There was a heavy silence. Hermione fidgeted with her mug.

"I'm imagining it," he said slowly.

"No, that's not what—"

"I'm imagining that I cannot see." He lifted his chin. "Hysterical Blindness."

"That term is no longer used," Hermione said quickly, her voice breaking. "It's called Conversion Disorder now."

"It hardly matters what it's called," he snapped. "It is what it is, yes? I have brought this affliction on myself."

"It doesn't make it any less real, or any less worthy of treatment."

"You treat your clients with magic. That is why I came to you for help. Not so you could tell me it was all in my head." He stood abruptly, swinging his arm so violently it swept several framed photos on the table to the floor. "Dammit!"

Hermione jumped up.

"It's fine. Really. Don't worry—"

"Don't worry! Don't worry? If I can't…If I can't work—" His voice broke on the last word and he jammed his fists against his eyes.

"Severus," she said, moving to him, attempting to take his hand, but he sensed her presence and pulled away, pushed away, and crossed the room, so angry and flustered he slammed into the doorframe, hard, stumbling and staggering on his way out.

x

"There's someone in your garden, dear," Hattie James (depression and anxiety stemming from as yet undiagnosed pre-menopausal symptoms), said suddenly, glancing out the window.

Hermione looked up from her notebook.

"Yes, I know."

Hattie craned her neck and frowned.

"What's he doing?"

"Er…helping."

"Odd looking fellow, isn't he?" she said.

"Really?" Hermione came to the window and looked out. Snape was pulling weeds. He looked the same as usual.

"Well, yes. All dressed in black? With…robes? And that hair? He looks like something out of a 19th century romance novel."

Hermione smiled.

"I think he looks perfectly wonderful."

x

He spent the remainder of the afternoon in the garden. At dusk he appeared in the kitchen, dirty and sweaty, but calmer.

"I must apologize, for earlier," he said. "It was uncalled for."

"It's completely understandable to become frustrated when there's a perceived lack of progress."

"It's not perceived," he said. "It's a fact. There isno progress."

"Then we're simply not trying hard enough. Surely, between the two of us, we can fix this."

"One would think."

"Perhaps, you're just a special case," she teased.

"And, perhaps I shall remain a Hopeless Case," he said, smiling a little. It was the saddest smile she'd ever seen.

x

She found him in his bedroom, standing by the window.

"Time for the crataegus infusion," she said. "It might also help with the dreams."

He smiled.

"I doubt that."

"This particular combination culls the good memories from the mind and helps convert them into good dreams."

He laughed. "I have no good memories, Hermione."

"I don't believe that."

"You should. It's true."

"None? None at all? None from childhood?"

He snorted.

"Hogwarts? As a student?"

He snorted again.

"None of…Lily?"

"Lily and I were not…meant to be," he said simply. "Unlike you and Mr. Weasley."

"You loved her."

"More than anything, I thought. Much as you loved Mr. Weasley."

"You have no idea how I felt about Ron."

"Then tell me."

"Why?"

"It might help me," he said. He was teasing a little, and she couldn't help but smile.

"You're not interested in my love life," she said.

"You'd be surprised," he replied quietly.

She blinked. "Ron and I were…" She pauses. "A bad fit."

"Interesting."

"We fought, often. It only got worse after we married. He had no patience for my practice. He was jealous of any attention I didn't pay to him. He would sulk, for days on end."

"And then…"

She shook her head.

"I don't make a habit of talking about myself," she said at last, leaning heavily against the doorframe.

"Maybe that's part of the problem," he replied. She smiled.

"Things got…physical, towards the end," she said simply. "That's all."

Snape went very quiet and very still, the muscles in his cheeks and neck tightening.

"He hit you?"

"No."

"But." His fingers curled into fists at his sides.

Hermione could only shake her head. Severus could hear the tears in her voice.

"You've never talked about it."

She shook her head. "No."

"I realize I am likely the last person you want to share this with, but—"

"Thing got physical. Violent. More than they ever should have been."

Snape sucked in a long breath.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"Me, too." She paused. "Our last year together was the worst of my life." She laughed a little. "It took months and months for me to realize how unhappy I really was, how disappointed I was with my life and the choices I'd made. I felt like everything was a mistake." She took a shaky breath. "There were times when I wished—"

"What?"

"I wasn't there anymore."

"There."

"Yes."

"In the marriage?"

"In the world."

"Ah." He nodded.

"But, I made some changes, and moved on, even though it was the hardest thing I ever did, and now—" To her horror her voice was breaking. She stopped. He stood very still, gazing in her direction. She had no idea what he could possibly be thinking. That it was deplorable that her relationship had turned out the way it had? Did he pity her? Merlin, anything but that.

"I'm glad you didn't," he said at last.

"What?"

"Leave."

She blinked back tears.

"I'm glad you didn't, either."

He seemed to look right at her, then. Almost. "Me, too."

x

"I have a job for you," she said the next morning. "To complete. Alone."

"Really."

"Yes. Are you up to the challenge?"

He merely nodded and she led him to the small room off the kitchen, where she stored all the potion ingredients.

Hermione held up the first vial under his nose. Snape closed his eyes and inhaled, almost greedily.

"Hypericum perforatum," he said immediately

"Yes."

Another.

"Chamomile."

"Yes."

"This?'

"Lionfish."

"Yes."

"I've placed all three in front of you," she said. She paused. She took his hand, placed it in turn on the vials, the mortar, the small cauldron. "I want you to make a Sleeping Draught. All right?"

"Alone."

"Yes." She paused. "Any first-year can do it, right?"

He smirked.

She let go of his hand.

"Am I being graded?"

"I'll let you know when you're done."

x

And hour later he flew from the room, excited and glowing, flush with success.

"Hermione!" he called.

He listened carefully. She was weeping. Where was she? What was wrong? He made his way to the blue room, found her curled on her chair, her head in her hands.

"Hermione." His heart thudded painfully. "What's happened?" He approached her, placed a hand on her bent head, hair soft beneath his fingers.

"It's Mr. Shipp. A client. He died this morning. I just heard."

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you." She sniffled. "I just…I wish I—"

"I'm sure he appreciated everything you did for him." His fingers pressed harder, smoothed her hair over and over. She raised her head and his hand moved to her cheek, cupped it. He could feel wetness on her skin.

"I—" he began. He could feel her eyes on him, waiting and wondering. "I finished the potion," he said at last.

"Excellent," she said, and she was glad for him, but they both knew it wasn't what he'd wanted to say, at all.

x

In November, the weather turned and together they harvested everything they could from the garden.

"Let's try moonstone," she said as they carried carefully wrapped bundles into the house.

"Pointless," he snapped, his cheeks red with cold. "We need a high concentration of mullein with a lime blossom base—"

She threw up her hands and stomped from the room, returning an hour later with a boiling, smoking bowl of something.

"Here," she said, shoving it into his hands. He sniffed it.

"It's an Anti-Depressant potion, Hermione. Mixed with…crimen genitus, really? Anti-guilt medicine?"

"Exactly."

She waited, tapping her foot.

He drank it.

"Anything?" she asked.

Nothing.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked tiredly.

"Why do you think?"

"It's your job."

"It's…more than that," she said quietly.

"Is it?"

She swallowed.

"Yes. I—"

"You what."

"I care, Severus. I care about whether you regain your sight. Is that so difficult to believe?"

He smacked the bowl down on the table beside him so hard he thought it would crack.

"Yes."

x

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

x

In December she brewed papaver somniferumfor three days straight, until even her patients complained of the strange reek in the house, but she remained unrepentant, straining the blossoms and adding salvia and peppermint until it stopped tasting like paint solvent and handed it to him.

He threw the vial against the opposite wall, where it smashed, oozing red liquid down the wall.

"It's no use."

"What isn't?"

"This. Any of it. I'm doomed."

"Stop that. You're not doomed, Severus." She went to him, touched his arm. He jerked away, hard.

"I am. I am. I have been, for…so long. I never should have come here, never should have—"

"That's ridiculous!" She reached for his arm again.

"Don't…don't touch me."

"Why?

"I…just…don't. Please."

"I'm trying—"

"Please…stop…"

"Why—"

"Stop!

"Severus— why would you think you're doomed—"

"I don't want to—"

"It's important—"

"—talk—"

"Who—"

"I don't care, no one cares—"

"I care—"

"Shenever cared, she said—"

"Who?"

He buried his head in his hands.

Tears filled his sightless eyes. Hermione clenched her hands at her sides to keep from touching him again.

"Please, Severus. I heard you call her name last night."

"You want me to talk? You want hear? Very well. Listen to this. I loved her. And, I killed her. I'm cursed, or doomed or whatever word you want to use."

"It's not true."

"I'm a horrible person."

"No, you're not."

"You don't know. I called her Mudblood," he said, very quietly. Hermione almost didn't hear him. "And she said I'd never find happiness. Ever."

"Sometimes…people say things…do things, they don't mean. Hurtful, horrible things. Even to those they love more than anything."

"I've done…things. Terrible things."

"Severus—"

"You have no idea, Hermione. You…you, of all people, can only imagine the black deeds I have committed in my lifetime."

"Then tell me."

"I don't think she ever really loved me. That…that was part of the problem. I loved her more than—" He took a long, shuddering breath. "And…she never did. Never. It was…never me. Always him.

"After…after she…" He laughed a little. "Dismissed me from her life — and who could blame her — I truly embraced the dark parts of my self, the bits I had been trying to quell for so many years. It didn't matter anymore, do you see? If I couldn't have her, then what did it matter anymore? I let myself indulge in the blackest, darkest arts I could find. I surrendered. And yet, underneath it all, I harboured my love, my stupid, irrational, unrequited love for a girl who never cared for me more than a friend.

"We would pass in the hallways at school and she would turn her head away from me. Do you see? Do you understand? She couldn't even bear to look at me. And she was always with him. Always, from that day onward. It was as if I no longer existed in her life."

"And still, and still, despite it all, I let myself continue to love her. Pathetic."

"It's not."

"It is," he spat. "But, as I loved her, I loathed her as well. Do you understand that feeling? Do you know what it is to love someone with all your being and wish to cause them pain as well?"

She watched him. His gaze was focused elsewhere, of course, but his energy, all his energy, was focused on her.

"Yes," was all she said.

"The Death Eaters became my family, Hermione. My family." He laughed. It was getting darker in the small room. Darker and colder. "They were all I had left, and the only people in the world who I felt accepted me for who I was, or who I had become. And I was there—" he held out one hand. "And Lily, always Lily, was there," he put his other hand on his heart.

"You didn't kill her."

"I did."

"You didn't"

"I might as well have!"

He sank to the floor and started crying, his hands covering his face. His sobs seemed to fill the entire room. Hermione watched for a moment, her heart slamming against her ribs. It was hard to breathe.

"You've been living with this long enough," she whispered. "Long enough. Let it go.

He shook his head.

"When…I realized Voldemort's plans, what he was going to done…what he'd done. I wanted…I wanted to join her. I couldn't imagine living in a world where she was not. And I sold my soul, I lived a life of bitter unhappiness to make up for all I had done. Living alone, in the darkness, without anyone, never allowing myself to care for anyone ever again."

"As punishment."

"For what I'd done, for what I'd allowed to be done."

"You're allowed to feel love, Severus."

He started, but shook his head.

"Some people are not meant to be loved, Hermione."

He kept weeping, hard and steady, and she went to him, wrapped her arms around his shaking shoulders, put her face against his neck, and held on held on held on.

vi. Treatment

When the frost came his mood blackened even more, until one evening she knew what he was going to say before he said it.

"It's not getting any better," he said quietly and with quiet finality. "I'm sure you have done your best, Hermione, but I can no longer, in good conscience, take up your precious time. You have too many patients who actually need your assistance, and will improve when you fully focus your attentions on them."

"Severus, please—"

"Good night," he said stiffly, rising from the chair and moving effortlessly across the room. He had the house memorized, top to bottom by now, and he rarely banged into anything.

"Severus, please—"

"I shall be leaving in the morning. I can only offer you my…heartfelt thanks. For everything." He smiled at her. "I'm afraid, however, that some cases, apparently, do remain hopeless."

x

On her way up to bed, her shins slammed into something solid and heavy in the entranceway. When she flicked on the light she saw: His two packed suitcases, sitting by the front door, square and solid, awaiting their master for an early departure, away from the house, away from her.

x

That night, that final night, when the wind was blowing and the windowpanes were rattling, she heard him screaming in his room for the last time.

She pushed his open. "Severus?" she whispered. She could hear his breathing, ragged and harsh in his throat. "Are you—"

"I'm fine, Hermione. Just another dream." He rolled over, away from her. "It will be the last time I awaken you in the middle of the night, I promise."

It was a dismissal, she knew, but still, she couldn't move, didn't want to move. She tightened her grip on the doorframe, half in and half out of the shadowed, still room.

"Hermione. I can hear you breathing." His voice was still ragged, still catching in his chest and throat.

"I can hear you, too." She took a step inside, and another. She kept moving until she was standing beside the bed, staring down at him. He was on his back again, covers askew, one arm thrown up over his face.

"I shall miss you," he said.

"Severus—"

He didn't move, didn't speak.

She took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the bed. She put her hand on his arm. His muscles tensed beneath her touch, but he didn't throw her off.

"What were you dreaming?"

He could only shake his head.

She lay down, her head on his pillow. Her hand hovered over his face. Her fingers brushed his cheek. He turned towards them, leaned into them a bit.

"It wasn't your fault," she whispered.

He pushed harder. She moved her hand into his hair, pushed her face against his shoulder, against his neck, damp with night-sweat.

"You can let go now," she said against his skin. "It's all right.

"Let go," he said, disbelieving. "And hold on to what instead?"

"Me."

"Why?"

"Because I love you."

"No," he shook his head. "It's not possible—"

Instead of replying, she kissed him. He allowed himself to be kissed, not resisting, but not reciprocating, either. She kissed his lips and his chin, his cheeks and jaw. He turned his head slightly so she could kiss his ear, his hairline, his fingers twitching, his breath hitching. She pulled back a bit and stared down at him, wondering what she could say, what else she could do to convince him—

He shuddered and clutched her shoulders, pulling her down to him, pulling her mouth against his and this time he kissed her, he kissed her like it mattered, like he was being graded on the kiss. His hands slid up her back, bunching her shirt up over her waist to her shoulder blades, so there was a long expanse of smooth skin. Her breasts pressed against him, he could feel their soft, yielding weight, driving him nearly mad. He needed more skin, he needed to feel his skin against hers, and as the rain beat against the windowpane, late fall rain that could easily become sleet or even snow at any moment, he pulled her bottoms down, and his, until their were both naked, his cock free and hard against her, and her gasping into his mouth, murmuring words of encouragement into his mouth, and he listening, hearing, and maybe even accepting what she was saying. Words like it's all right, and let it go, and let it go

She slid over top of him and over him and he slid into her and he'd never ever in his life felt anything so sublime or terrifying in his entire life and he just didn't want it to stop, so he started moving, slowly and stuttering at first, but faster as she guided him with her hands and her voice, her legs wrapping about his, her hands balled into the small of his back, hard and painful and pushing him harder and closer inside of her and all dark thoughts all horrible memories were pushed out too released and erased because she was letting him shed everything, his old skin, his old life, his old memories and he felt her skin ripple and her spine stiffen and a small oh puff from her lips and it was all right, everything was finally all right and he almost wanted to laugh, but instead her pressed his lips against her collarbone, slick with sweat, and still the rain swept the glass and—

"I love you," he said as he arched into her, hard and unrelenting and soft allatthesametime. "I love you I love you—"

"I know," she said against his mouth. "And it's all going to be all right." And even though he laughed a little against her lips, she felt him smile, too, as if he knew she was speaking the truth, and maybe even believed it a little, too.

x

The rain stopped sometime in the night and she awoke to cold air and pale sun stretching across the room, across her damp eyelids, which flickered. She opened them, stretched and turned to find him staring right at her.

"Good morning," he said. He smiled.

"Yes." Her breath hitched. "Yes. Good…morning." He was staring. Staring right at her,unwavering, intense.

"You look—" he began, blinking slowly. "You're so—"

"Severus—"

"You're beautiful." He laughed a little. "I'd…forgotten. How could I have forgotten how beautiful you were?"

"You—"

"Yes."

She took his face in her hands, pressed her mouth against his.

"Again," he said, so she kissed him again, moved her hands up and down. "Again," he said, and kissed her again, harder.

"Tell me," she said in return.

"You're beautiful."

"Again."

"Beautiful

Again

x

When she awoke next, she was alone. She sat up on her elbows, saw him standing alone across the room. He was standing by the wall, staring at something. At first Hermione didn't know what he was looking at. She slid out of bed, came to stand beside him, followed his gaze. Then. Oh.

"Where did this painting come from? Has it been here all along?" His voice was slightly hoarse, his skin tense beneath her fingers where they rested on his back.

"Yes. A patient gave it to me, many years ago. I'd forgotten it was in here."

He stood so still. Hermione could see a muscle twitching in his neck.

"Severus." He didn't turn. "What is it?"

"She's been here all along. In this room."

"Yes." Hermione paused, confused. "Why?"

But, he only kept staring, staring at the image and at the writing beneath it.

"Severus."

"Akhilandeshvari."

"Severus."

He started reading the inscription at last, his voice barely above a whisper:

"This goddess teaches us that being broken can be powerful. That those times in our lives where we feel confused, and lost, and unsure, and afraid; when our routines change or we lose someone we love, or our hearts are broken into pieces, that we are in one of the most powerful states we could possibly be in. If we can rein in our fears, be with them, and ride them rather than letting them control us, we can become one with the changeability of the tides and let them take us somewhere new."

His breath was heavy in the small room. Hermione shivered and swallowed.

"I haven't…read that, really read it, in such a long time," she said quietly.

He turned then and grabbed her, grabbed her shoulders and rested his head against her shoulder. He was shaking. Then he straightened and pressed his mouth to her mouth, her jaw. His breath was ragged and hot. "I didn't know. I didn't see."

"No. Of course you didn't. You couldn't have—" Her hands pressed against the back of his neck. They stood together, pressed together.

"I can't go. I can't," he breathed.

She smiled.

"Then don't."

x

The last day of fall, it turned out, was very bright and very cold. Outside the window, where the rain had fallen for half the night, water had frosted over, creating an intricate pattern of veins as fall bled into winter, and the first snow came at last, later that day, covering the ground, covering the grass, covering the garden, covering the past.

x

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