A/N: Hello, everyone! I finally have a brand spankin' new story to share with you! :)
I've had this fanfic gathering dust on my computer for ages, mainly because I'd been unsatisfied with it for quite a long time. It was mainly the execution during those very, very early writing drafts that gave me fits and plagued me with self-doubts about ever posting it. Thus, I've hesitated until now. Having heavily edited The Awakening numerous times, however, I now feel that this piece is about as satisfactory as I could make it. It's ten chapters in length, so considerably shorter than anything else I've written.
If you're a familiar reader, you're already awesome and I thank you for checking out this new story! If you're new to my work, my writing has mainly been devoted to the Unquestionable Love series, a.k.a. my SSHG baby, for the past year and a half. Feel free to check it out! It's always lovely and encouraging to hear from new readers. :)
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Brittny! Of course, I've had to change things since she looked everything over, so any remaining errors are mine and will get corrected as time permits. Original accompanying artwork to this story should be credited to the wonderfully talented Elly.
(WINNER OF THE SSHG - "BEST ROMANCE" IN THE FALL/WINTER 2013 HP FANFIC POLL AWARDS! Thank you to ALL who voted for this little story of mine! It's an honor!)
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox and own none of her associated characters.
Chapter 1: A Man Forgotten
"I want to remember our fallen heroes. And after I've spent a day remembering them, I want to extend my arm and help them up."
"How are we feeling this morning, Mrs. Grifford?"
"Fine 'n dandy!" the elderly woman replied with brutal sarcasm.
Mrs. Gifford's beady, gray eyes narrowed testily at the upbeat, young Healer-in-training who had entered her room, carrying the woman's chart in hand and wearing a most unwarranted smile. Easily put off, Mrs. Grifford crossed her arms defiantly, her rancid attitude unaffected by the younger witch's amiable greeting.
"You're unnaturally chipper today, Miss...?"
"Granger, Ma'am," the Healer-in-training answered, as she set to examining her uncooperative patient. "Are your chest and throat still scratchy?"
"Yes," Mrs. Grifford grumbled, turning her head to glance out the window at the bustling London streets beyond. So many people bustling about. What was their hurry? She would have liked to know. It beat whatever this perky trainee had to say.
"Looks like your swelling has subsided, so that's good news."
"Is it?" Mrs. Grifford snapped her head towards Healer-in-training Granger, gifting her with an irritated hiss.
"Of course, Mrs. Grifford. We don't want you unable to walk now, do we?"
Mrs. Grifford shifted in her bed, keeping her arms firmly laced across her chest. "It would be just as well," she tried to mumble under her breath, but her remark was met by a curious eyebrow lift.
"Mrs. Grifford, don't say things like that. We want you to get well."
"HA!" the old witch snorted, peering up at Healer-in-training Granger with a challenging glare. "Says who? You?"
"Yes, and your husband—"
"My halfwit of a husband is the one who put me here in the first place! The daft idiot!"
Healer-in-training Granger folded her hands together, treading the situation carefully. "Mrs. Grifford, these accidents do happen—"
"Yes, more frequently than you might imagine. It sounds like an honest mistake." She added softly, "I'm sure Mr. Grifford feels terrible about what happened."
"As well he should!" she practically snarled between clenched, crooked teeth. "No wonder he hasn't shown his face in over a day! Just wait 'till I get out of here!"
"Mrs. Grifford," Healer-in-training Granger began apprehensively, "is your husband prone to bouts of forgetfulness when working with magical creatures?"
Mrs. Grifford gave her a suspicious look over. "Yes..."
"And when he isn't working?"
"On occasion..." She paused. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I couldn't help but notice while he was here visiting you that he is rather...distracted." She halted, hoping she hadn't offended the already foul-tempered woman enough to set her off on another tangent. When Mrs. Grifford said nothing, only stared up at her with a rather vacant expression, she pressed on, "What other things does he tend to forget?"
"Well... Lots of... Just the minor things here and there."
Mrs. Grifford grunted. "Where he stores things, for starters. He'll put his wand in his pocket and forget it's there and search the entire bloody house for it. Drives me batty! I knew he shouldn't have been working with those dreadful Buthiadae scorpions! Bought them off some dodgy chap in The Leaky Cauldron, he did."
"What was he planning to do with them?" Healer-in-training Granger questioned, grateful she had found a lead into getting some answers.
"Ask Nigel! Merlin knows! He was determined to get the blasted venom without actually harming the buggers, so what does he do? He takes one out, forgetting that he left the damned cage ajar, and four others go scot-free! The scorpion he had in his grasp slipped right out of his fingers and just as I come into the room to see what all the fuss is about, one of them decides to sting me! And then two more!
"And Nigel just gets irate and glowers about how he can't use the venom now for any of his bloody research, whilst I'm screaming in pain! The git!" Healer-in-training Granger flinched, though it went unnoticed in the heat of Mrs. Grifford's tirade. "I knew he never should've bought those beasts. I knew it!"
"Does Mr. Grifford tend to get frustrated when he's forgetful?"
"He's always testy! Why?"
"Well," Healer-in-training Granger stepped forward, bracing herself, "it might be worth having Mr. Grifford come in...for some tests..."
"Tests?" Mrs. Grifford repeated, her pupils dilating with skepticism.
"Yes... It sounds like, and it did whilst he was here visiting you, your husband may be experiencing some level of amnesiac episodes."
"Oh..." Mrs. Grifford went quiet on that score, her angry face falling.
"People tend to become irrational and irritate when forgetful. He couldn't seem to remember much of what happened when I questioned him myself.
"It's very treatable, Mrs. Grifford. Our Potion-makers are excellent and top of the line. They can have him back to feeling like his normal self again in no time, but I'm worried about you both. He shouldn't be handling dangerous creatures like those scorpions if he can't remember how to handle them. It's life-threatening to him and to you."
"You think I don't know that already, Missy?" Mrs. Grifford pointed to her left ankle, which was swollen to at least twice its normal size and wrapped in bandages. "That's what I was bloody well telling you!"
Healer-in-training Granger kept her patience intact and urged quietly, "Would you mind if I called on Mr. Grifford to come in at his earliest convenience?"
"Yes, yes, fine!" Mrs. Grifford sighed crabbily. "I was going to call on him myself if he didn't have the moxie to show up this morning!"
"I'll get on it, Mrs. Grifford," the witch tried to reassure her, taking possession of the patient's hovering chart in her hands. "You just try to relax. I'll be back later."
The elderly woman continued to sputter under her breath as Healer-in-training Granger took her leave, strolling out into a dingy-looking ward that felt almost oppressively dark and secluded. The quietude, however, was exactly as the young witch wished and preferred. It was one of the quietest wards in all of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and she would readily take it over the bustling, relentlessly fast-paced environment that plagued many of the other departments. Not that she wasn't plenty busy as it was.
Turning on her heel towards the Healer's station at the far end of the hallway, Healer-in-training Granger was consumed by thoughts about her latest patient when a genial female voice broke through her silent reveries. "Morning, Hermione!" another Healer-in-training greeted her with a bright smile. Like Hermione Granger, she, too, was young, with short, dark auburn hair and a fresh, pretty-looking face dotted with freckles.
"You're early today, aren't you?"
"Thinking of Mr. Grifford kept me up all night. I figured I should get in here to confront Mrs. Grifford about her husband, the sooner the better."
"That bad is it?"
"He could barely remember his own name when he was here, Gwendle..."
"Oh! That is bad."
"Quite." Hermione let out a weary sigh and levitated the woman's chart towards a host of others that were magically barred and alphabetized behind the station where Gwendle stood, hunched over and scribbling notes into her binder. "Any sign of Healer Smethwyck yet?" Hermione inquired as she observed her peer's furious note-taking. It reminded her much of herself, though Gwendle's binder wasn't as crammed with nearly as many notes as her entries always were.
Gwendle shook her head with a frown, unaware of Hermione's observation. "Of course not. Probably had one too many pints of Odgen's Old Firewhiskey and is half in the bag this morning."
Hermione rubbed at her eyes. "Don't remind me..."
"Healer Pye just arrived, though. He's checking on Severus Snape."
"Oh?" Mention of her former Potions professor perked Hermione's interest considerably, though Gwendle seemed oblivious to the fresh alertness of her peer. "Why's that? I was going to head in there next."
Gwendle shrugged, nonchalant. "Don't know. Perhaps he wanted to do another diagnostic check of his own."
Gwendle paused, peering up from her notes with a slight shake of her head. "Nothing's changed."
"I didn't expect that it would."
"Yes, well, you know Augustus. Eternally optimistic."
Hermione couldn't stop herself from frowning. "Aren't we supposed to be optimistic regarding the outcomes of our patients?"
"Yes, well, Severus Snape's been in a coma for eighteen months now."
"That doesn't mean..." Hermione's voice trailed off.
"What?" Gwendle stopped writing altogether and gazed at Hermione as if her curly head had rolled right off her shoulders. "You think he might actually still wake up?"
"There's always the chance," she insisted, albeit very softly.
Gwendle resumed her rapid note-taking. "I highly doubt it, Hermione. That snake did a real number on him. Pity he wasn't awake to see all the accolades bestowed in his honor."
"A little late, don't you think?"
The remembrance of the wizard's unfortunate reality did a number on Hermione's insides, which started churning and wrestling unpleasantly where she stood, half leaning against the desk top for balance. She hadn't had breakfast that morning, but lack of food had very little to do with how she currently felt. It seemed that Hermione would never be able to get over her sense of guilt and responsibility regarding the professor's current circumstances.
Poor man, indeed.
It had taken Hermione nearly six months after the end of the war to come to terms with the magnitude of what Severus Snape had done for their cause. For many, the realization was only now settling in. The highly mistrusted Potions-Master-turned-Headmaster-turned-most-despi sed-wizard-amongst-the-Order had, in fact, been on their side all along.
At least that revelation had confirmed all of Hermione's secret suspicions that she had mostly kept to herself during her final year, which had been spent on the run rather than in class. As such, learning of the prickly, reclusive wizard's good deeds had taken on a more personal note for Hermione than it had for most. Many in and outside of the Order were content to simply forget about Severus Snape and his innumerable contributions. He was still the traitor and still the man who had killed the head of the Order, one of Hogwarts' greatest Headmasters, Albus Dumbledore.
"Just as well that he's not awake to see all this aftermath, you know what I mean?" Gwendle's grim remark broke through again, catching Hermione's attention, even as she reflected on how ill the treatment of the dark wizard's efforts had ultimately played out.
"Perhaps now the poor man can be at peace," many concluded with little disagreement.
"Many still hate him, you know. He wasn't at all friendly or well-liked; serves him right, when you think about it."
"He didn't have any supporters then. What makes you think he wants anything to do with any of us now?"
"Better that we honor him this way, seeing as he'll likely never wake up."
Yeah, better we honor him quickly and quietly so that we can go about our lives and forget about him! Hermione had wanted to shout at them all but instead bitterly gnashed her teeth. It was right around the time she was taking her N.E.W.T.S that plans to honor the man started being tossed around. To her, it wasn't so easy to forget all that the misunderstood wizard had sacrificed on hers and her friends' behalf. He had kept her, Ron, and Harry safe on more than a handful of occasions during their countless foolish adventures. Ron and Harry weren't as keen on admitting to self-reproach, but Hermione was positive that the two boys, now men, were feeling equally guilt-ridden—Harry, perhaps, more so—about the unnecessary turmoil and strain they had put the poor man through, all the while accusing him of being their sworn enemy.
Hermione would never forget that eerie night in the Shrieking Shack that had led to Severus Snape's current state of unconsciousness. It was the eve of battle when she had watched the horrifying assault upon her former professor unfold before her very eyes, and she had been glued to the scene as if she were watching Harry battle out one of the massive dragons during the Triwizard Tournament. Unlike in her fourth year, however, Hermione had risked nothing and done nothing to aid the professor as he lay dying, and that weighed heavily on her heart, particularly during the lonely nights when she was completely at wits end with her tortured thoughts, wrestling with her overwhelming sense of guilt. It had been most plaguing whilst finishing out her seventh and final year at Hogwarts and had never really left her since.
As the rest of the world seemed to get on, Severus Snape remained comatose, and Hermione Granger struggled with the responsibility of his current state, and that perhaps her lack of aid had put him where he was now. I could have... I should have... Hermione often turned over in her mind, though she normally ended up quietly crying herself to sleep. Face it, Hermione. You watched him die and did nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Hermione dreamed of that night often, crouched and hidden away from view, watching the dreary-eyed, hooked-nosed man take what appeared to be his very last breath. She witnessed the sorrow and dejection in his forsaken eyes that had been long hidden away, as he clutched his hand to his gouged throat, where his own blood trickled over his cravat and heaving chest, staining the stark material and filling their nostrils with its potent perfume. He desperately grasped Harry with the other.
That disturbing image had repeated itself many times over in the year and a half that passed. Would she ever have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness? Was it too late to make things right?
Of course it is, Hermione.
"You all right, Hermione?"
A concerned-looking Gwendle was eying her with raised eyebrows. "Sorry," Hermione stuttered, "I'm fine. I should go check on the professor."
"Pye has his chart if you need it."
Hermione walked directly across to her right, where Severus Snape had been stationed ever since his unconscious arrival. There was valid reasoning for keeping the wizard closest to the Healers' station, which Hermione was made privy to when she first started her training some four months earlier in the Dai Llewellyn Ward for Serious Bites.
"So that no one may easily trespass us to get to him," Healer Pye had explained. "We've placed more protective wards around his room as an extra precautionary measure. They're hardly necessary anymore, but the occasional threatening letter against his life still makes its way here from time to time."
Such utter nonsense! Hermione fumed at the time, pressing her mouth shut lest she spew remarks that bordered on unprofessional.
Hermione quietly knocked on the door before entering the small, darkened room, where everything in sight appeared to be as it should. A scarce amount of furniture—a sofa chair in the corner and a nightstand next to an occupied bed—filled the otherwise empty space. There were no windows and no natural light seeping through, putting the place mostly in shadow.
Healer Augustus Pye, an obliging gentleman in his early to mid-thirties with dark blonde locks and an approachable demeanor, greeted her upon entering. An easy favorite amongst her coworkers, he and Hermione had gotten on extremely well since her apprenticeship began, much more so than she had with the second Healer-in-charge, Hippocrates Smethwyck, who was generally nowhere to be found.
"Good morning, Hermione."
"Morning, Sir." Hermione casually strolled over to where the Healer stood, running a series of diagnostic tests on an immobile patient with the sheets drawn up to his neck, all but his face obstructed from view. "Just running a few tests on Master Snape's condition. I know that's normally your duties, but I was curious to see how his brain activity is responding to our latest Awakening Draught. It's been a while since I've taken a look myself."
"I understand, Sir."
"So far, not much luck."
"No, I'm afraid not."
Hermione took a moment to thoughtfully regard the patient sleeping peacefully before her eyes. Severus Snape looked every bit the wizard she remembered from her school days, if not slightly less intimidating at rest. His striking ebony, untidy hair that fell shoulder-length and normally hung like curtains around his face was swept back against his pillow. She had taken the liberty of cutting it when she arrived, shocked to find it had grown nearly to his waist. The once yellow-colored skin that always made him appear sickly and unnatural, and of which had led to countless snickering comparisons to that of a vampire, was now a much healthier shade of white. His nose, however, another trademark of never-ending ridicule, was as prominent as ever.
It was only upon much closer inspection—something Hermione never would have chanced or been allowed to do prior to her apprenticeship—that one realized how elegantly long the man's eyelashes were, or how his hair actually felt to the touch—not greasy but surprisingly soft. His eyelashes alone would be the envy of women the world over, Hermione mused to herself on more than one occasion; but no one paid attention to these details, of course. Well, no one save for her.
It was during her daily visits to the man's bedside—running her diagnostic tests, checking for any signs of instability or fluctuations to his condition—that Hermione formed a different opinion of the professor's appearance. Not that she ever thought he was an ugly brute like so many had. His nasty attitude simply hadn't done him any favors when it came to the rest of his rather harsh-looking appearance; if anything, it only heightened his unapproachability, making him an unpleasing sight in the process.
You didn't do yourself any favors by acting the part, you know.
Severus Snape wasn't handsome, no, but there was something unorthodox and strangely enticing about him that Hermione had grown conscious of in recent months. Perhaps because he's asleep and not running his mouth on you like he normally would be, she reminded herself when such disconcerting thoughts occurred. Hermione certainly wasn't supposed to think of the professor, now her patient, in that light, regardless of what he had done.
"I'm grateful you volunteered," Healer Pye suddenly disrupted her contemplations, bringing Hermione abruptly back to the present.
"For volunteering to oversee his case," Healer Pye explained as he shoved his wand into his lime green robes. "His condition is not only a rarity and, therefore, a great challenge to undertake, but I can't see many wanting to so willingly put themselves in the position of working with him. It's appreciated, Hermione, I can assure you."
"Oh, well, it's no trouble, really. In some ways, I... I feel like I owe it to him."
Healer Pye offered a somber nod of understanding. Hermione didn't talk much about what happened that night in the Shrieking Shack, but people were already privy to most of the details; whether they were factual or gossip was another matter.
"I'm sure the professor would disagree with you on that score, Hermione," Healer Pye teased with a small smile that she matched.
"I'm not so sure..."
"Oh, believe me, I can remember him well. He wouldn't want any of our sympathies."
Hermione blinked. "I often forget you attended Hogwarts yourself." It wasn't something they routinely discussed, though she was hardly surprised at learning where the Healer ended up.
"Having Master Snape as my Potions professor was quite the challenge. But then, us Ravenclaws didn't have it as bad as you Gryffindors." His handsome smile widened. "You know, even if it wasn't public knowledge, I could tell right from the off that you're a Gryffindor."
"Oh?" Hermione's grin broadened as well; it was probably the most informal conversation she and the Healer had ever shared. "How can you tell?"
"You have that Gryffindor nobility about you, which makes you an excellent choice for a Healer, I might add. There's that sense of selfless duty and unfailing responsibility about your lot. Not that we Ravenclaws don't possess noble traits too, mind you—"
"Of course," Hermione giggled.
"Yes, well, I believe only someone like you would be willing to take on Master Snape's case. It takes someone with emotional depth; someone with the ability to look beyond face value."
Hermione found herself pausing on the Healer's words, understatedly profound as they were. "Well, he was terribly misunderstood by everyone, including me."
"By us all, I'd wager."
"Yes..." Hermione found herself peering down at the slumbering wizard with a dismayed frown. "I do wish he would wake up."
"His brain is still highly active. Whatever damage the venom did to the rest of his body, his mind has been unaffected. He's quite fortunate."
Hermione's brow furrowed with puzzlement. "If only we knew why he won't wake."
"Well, his body finally started responding to some of our treatments, so that's a good sign. Strangely enough," Healer Pye began roaming through Snape's chart, "I was looking over your notes here, and I'm gathering a pattern."
"A pattern?" Hermione repeated with heightened interest.
"Mmm, yes, it seems that his condition only started improving after you took over his care. You aren't doing anything necessarily different that I or the Mediwitches weren't already doing, so I must ask you, Hermione: is there anything not in your notes here that might explain why his body would suddenly react to treatment?"
Hermione was taken aback by this discovery. For one, how could she have missed such a pattern herself? She was overseeing the man's care, after all, and had spent a great deal of time looking after him. She had noted the slight improvements to his overall health, only she had accounted such changes to the healing treatments she had been instituting, the same of which others such as Healer Pye had tried on Snape already.
Hermione stared down at the unresponsive face of the professor questioningly. "I'm not sure," she confessed, feeling discouraged. "I - I do talk to him when I'm in here," she added, feeling suddenly foolish and going red in the face. "I suppose just to let the professor know that he isn't alone, that someone is here with him..."
Sensing her embarrassment, Healer Pye shot her a reassuring, kindhearted smile. "Human contact can work wonders on patients' conditions, Hermione. That makes more sense to me now. Do you touch him at all?"
Hermione was rattled at first by the question before quickly coming to the understanding that it was a harmless one. For whatever reason, however, her cheeks still burned, either with humiliation or...something else that she couldn't put her finger on.
"Sometimes I'll touch his shoulder or his arm or... Or hold his hand."
"I'm sorry, Sir. I honestly mean no harm by it. It's just that, well, he's had no visitors and doesn't receive much of any interaction in here and I thought that maybe—"
"Hermione, you have nothing to apologize for." Healer Pye passed Snape's chart to her from across the bed. "It makes perfect sense that Master Snape would respond so positively to human contact after being without it for most of his stay. I daresay by doing so you've made all the difference in his outcome. It's steadily improving things."
Hermione wasn't aware that her heart was now beating much faster against her chest than before. "You think... You think he might actually wake up?"
"There's never certainty, only possibility." Healer Pye gazed down at Severus Snape momentarily. "But yes, I'd like to believe he may wake up one of these days."
Hermione shuffled her feet, her hand lightly brushing against the side of Snape's bed. "Should I..."
"Yes, Hermione," Healer Pye insisted, "by all means, continue to reach out to him, and be sure to document anything you find in his chart."
"Thank you, Sir. I will."
"Have you checked on Mrs. Grifford? Gwendle said you popped in earlier than usual this morning."
"Yes, I have. Her swelling has come down, but I think Mr. Grifford needs to come in for tests. I know I expressed to you my concerns before, and she validated a few of them for me today."
"I'll have one of the Mediwitches send out an owl."
"Oh!" Hermione started to step back towards the door. "There's no need, Sir. I'll get on it—"
"It's fine, Hermione," Healer Pye insisted with a soft chuckle. "Master Snape's treatment takes precedence. Allow the Mediwitches. They're here to assist us for a reason."
Hermione didn't like being rendered to doing less than what she thought was fair but quietly consented. "Well, thank you, Sir, but it's really no problem."
"I'm sure it isn't, but you do enough around here as it is, including most of Healer Smethwyck's work load." Healer Pye gave her a friendly nod and headed for the door. "Don't think I haven't noticed. I'll leave you to it."
Once the door was closed and a familiar silence settled upon the room, Hermione quickly busied herself with setting up Snape's treatment on the empty nightstand next to his bed. Is this partly why you talk to him so much, Hermione? she berated herself internally as she extracted her wand and levitated several phials and ointments onto a steel tray. Because you're lonely and can't take the silence and have no one else to converse with these days?
That was a truth she couldn't deny herself. Hermione didn't, in fact, have anyone to talk to nowadays and rarely ventured anywhere other than home after finishing her grueling rounds at the hospital. Excusing the occasional after-work pint with Gwendle, someone she still hadn't established much of a connection with, Hermione hadn't seen her best mates, Harry and Ron, in ages.
Harry was understandably as busy as she was most of the time, working as an Auror under Kingsley Shacklebolt's new Ministry of Magic, where they were heavily involved in hunting down criminals involved in the First and Second Wizarding Wars. Ron had gone into the joke shop business with his brother, George, at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes after finding the Auror program "too demanding," though George's more subdued nature after the death of his twin brother left Ron with most of the work load anyhow. The efforts involved in running the shop were admittedly more time consuming than the ginger preferred, a gripe Hermione couldn't will herself to ignore and turn the other cheek at; not when she barely managed a weekend off nowadays.
Hermione had never approved of Ron's less than stellar work ethic, so she was hardly surprised that he found himself not much happier in the family business than he had been working for the Ministry. It was one of many triggers for rowing with one another, more so in the last six months of their relationship than they ever had whilst at school. In the process, their incessant bickering had led them both to the grave realization that they were far better suited as friends than lovers.
Once they finally decided to part ways—amicably—only some two months ago and informed the rest of the Weasley family, it was the matriarch of the redheaded clan who voiced the most displeasure over what many others had seen coming for ages. Hermione found herself overwrought by Molly Weasley's unexpected, heavy-handed scorn. After hearing several repeated accusations of "choosing a career over my dear boy," Hermione was practically fuming out of the ears. It had taken every ounce of restraint she possessed not to shoot down the witch who had been the equivalent to a second mother to her.
To be cast out of the Weasley family was more emotionally trying than any face off Hermione had ever encountered with Death Eaters, and it was exactly that which Molly proposed when news of their breakup came around. Ron had tried to stand up for his former girlfriend and lost the battle. Mrs. Weasley gave the "headstrong" Hermione a piece of her mind, and all Hermione could do was swallow it painfully and silently like an obedient child.
By the end, Hermione had had the sails knocked out of her and would have welcomingly crumbled to the floor in a ball sobbing if she hadn't felt so utterly blindsided by Mrs. Weasley's wrath. She shook from head to toe hours after the traumatic event was through, stunned at how quickly she had been cast out.
"Mum, we're just not suited for each other! We both agree on that! It's over!"
"Oh, don't give me that, Ronald Weasley! I've seen the way you two look at each other! After everything you've been through—"
"Mrs. Weasley," Hermione tried politely to interject, "with all due respect—"
"Don't you 'with all due respect' me, Missy! I brought you into this family! Why, when your parents weren't around, and with all the hols you spent cooped up in our house, eating our food and sleeping in our beds, I practically raised you like a second daughter!"
"Mum, enough! I brought 'Mione into this family, don't forget that!"
"It doesn't change the fact that I took her in and fed her and provided her with a place to stay!" Mrs. Weasley barked back, her eyes radiating with fury and emotional injury, as if the breakup were her own and not her son's.
"I... I don't mean any disrespect to you, Mrs. Weasley. Not at all. I'm very grateful for all that you've done for me."
"And this is how you repay my generosity, Hermione?"
"Mum!" Ron stomped his foot and tried to insert his whole body in between the two witches. "This is none of your business! 'Mione hasn't done anything—"
"Except string you along for the past two and a half years!" Mrs. Weasley pointed a shaking finger at her son. "Oh, yes, Ronald, don't think I haven't seen how deeply hurt you were when Hermione approached you about calling it quits the first time!"
"That was different, Mum!"
"Don't give me that codswallop either!"
"Mrs. Weasley," Hermione tried again, most timidly, but found herself interrupted again.
"I'm so disappointed in you, Hermione! To think of all the promise we had in making you a permanent fixture of this family—"
"And then you go and dismiss my Roniekinns like he's nothing more than one of your tattered books you wish to discard!"
Hermione was horrified. "Mrs. Weasley, that's not true!"
"Oh, I believe it is!" she snapped, sending a startled Hermione back a step. "I want you out of this house! You've hurt my boy enough—"
"MUM, SHUT IT!"
"—And don't you dare interrupt me again, Ronald Weasley, or you'll have those lips of yours permanently casted shut!"
"I... I'm sorry, Mrs. Weasley. I truly am. I - I never meant to hurt anyone..."
Hermione's absorbed mind trickled out of the painful memory and back to the present, though not without the emotional scars that momentarily surfaced on her suffering face. Hermione swallowed her heartache and hastily re-shifted her attention to the tasks at hand. Wherever Ron was now, they hadn't spoken since that evening that Hermione left the Burrow, suppressing her tears down the long, dirt path to the Apparation point before she broke down and lost all composure. Ron had stayed behind to try to calm Molly down, but still Hermione hadn't heard from him since, which led her to assume, at this juncture, that perhaps Ron had sided with his mother after all. She still ran into George and Percy on occasion and saw Ginny regularly, but Ron had gone surprisingly mute and unavailable, all but vanishing entirely from her life.
That hurt most of all.
Focus, Hermione, for goodness' sake! her conscience screamed after it dawned on the witch that she had reset the contents of Snape's tray a fourth time.
"All right, Sir," Hermione spoke aloud, as if conversing with a comatose professor was commonplace, "I have your scar ointment here. Let's start with that."
Hermione levitated the tray into the air and removed the lid off of a small canister, placing it onto her lap. "This is the same ointment we've used the past two weeks," she explained whilst pulling back several layers of blankets to reveal the man's violent snake bites that were slashed across his neck, leaving deep gashes where new skin had grown over, though much darker and noticeable than the rest.
Hermione began gently massaging the area with her fingertips, using the special ointment to treat the wizard's deeply-embedded wounds. Hermione suspected they would probably never fully disappear.
The Dittany the professor had initially attempted to administer on his own proved to be of little benefit in the end. Either Snape hadn't been able to withstand the burning pressure to his skin and stopped or simply went unconscious and couldn't finish. Either way, he had had only himself to rely upon that night, which did nothing for Hermione's tortured sense of responsibility.
The scars were slightly less prominent than they had been when Hermione first took over Snape's treatment. However, she was still thoroughly surprised that various treatments before her arrival hadn't worked—elixirs, balms, even Muggle medicines like Savlon cream, one that Muggle-enthusiast Healer Pye himself had been particularly keen on. All of them ultimately failed.
Hermione surveyed the area, not at all fazed anymore by being so close to the surly professor. She wasn't even uncomfortable touching him, seeing as this was the nature of her job, and the man was unconscious. Yes, he had at one time been fiercely intimidating, but now he was in a coma, helpless and at the mercy of others. Of her.
The least you can do is help him. After all, you watched him die, Hermione... And did nothing.
"Your scars are still quite dark, Sir, but this ointment seems to be helping."
Was she saying that to ease her own discomfort and guilt? Hermione shook her head, a few soft curls falling around her large, hopeful eyes.
"I know I say it far too often, Professor," she whispered with restraint, "and if you were awake now, you'd probably curse me out for still apologizing over the matter, but I... I'm so sorry. I'm so terribly sorry that I didn't help you. I was frightened and... And we didn't know you were on our side and... And I was so shocked when Nagini attacked you that I... I didn't react fast enough.
"I'm truly sorry, Professor. So utterly sorry. I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me..."
A/N #2: Here we go! First impressions?! PLEASE hit that review button! I'd love to hear from you!