Severus Snape's first realization after waking up was that he was naked. The second was that he ached all over. The third was that Hermione Granger was staring at him.
He shifted in the bed and was slightly mollified to discover that he was at least covered by a thin sheet. A quick glance around revealed that he was in the Hogwarts infirmary, which was full to bursting with medi-witches and -wizards.
Oh Merlin - the battle. It would have been inevitable - he heard the sounds of the commotion even from the Shrieking Shack. There had been a flurry of preparation, the confrontation with the Dark Lord, that damn snake, that damn Potter boy, and hours of cold silence lying on that hard floor knowing that control of the battle had been taking out of his hands. And then . . . his thoughts brought him full circle back to Hermione Granger, who was still staring.
"What?" he said. Or intended to say, because his voice came out sounding more like a hoarse whisper than the stern put-down he had intended.
She reacted like it was a good sign, though, smiling delightedly at him and grabbing his hand. Severus tried to pull away, but found he lacked the strength.
"Professor Snape - I saved your life, correct?"
He nodded cautiously.
"And according to wizarding law - you owe me a blood debt, is that right?"
Damn her for being intelligent. He nodded again and tried to fix her with a glare. Which she ignored. What was she getting at?
But she squeezed his hand again, hard, and leaned closer so her hair was brushing against his chest. Or would have been, if he hadn't been covered in that thin bedsheet.
"Quickly, please - I need you to declare that blood debt to me. I can explain later."
Severus considered refusing, just on principle, but she was right - he did owe it to her, much as he'd rather she never bring it up again. And he was honor-bound to follow through. "I, Severus Snape, declare a blood debt to Miss Hermione Granger." His voice was hoarse but understandable. "What the hell are you about, Miss Granger?"
She didn't answer, just flashed him that smile and squeezed his hand again. And didn't let go even when two large wizards appeared at the foot of the bed.
Severus eyed the man who had spoken - some muckety-muck at the ministry, most likely, judging from his robes. There was no way either man had actually participated in the battle against the Dark Lord - they both looked more suited to waging war against desktop clutter.
"You're to be transferred to Azkaban immediately, Headmaster Snape," the man continued, looking down at his clipboard. "You're charged with - let's see here - treason against the magical community and collusion with You Know Who." He cleared his throat. "Err, Voldemort. If you'll come with me, please-"
"No," interrupted Hermione.
The men looked at her as if seeing her at his side for the first time. The wizard with the clipboard clearly gave her a once-over and dismissed her as just another student, but the second wizard did a double-take.
"You're Hermione Granger. The friend of The Boy Who Lived."
She nodded. "That's me. And Professor Snape has just sworn his blood debt to me, which I'm collecting right now. You can have the head of the ministry contact me about it later, once you figure out who that will be."
Both wizards blinked at her. The one with the clipboard recovered first. "Miss Granger, I don't see what this has to do-"
"The blood debt supersedes his assignment to Azkaban, doesn't it?"
Clipboard Man nodded cautiously. "He's still being charged-"
"I understand that," she interrupted. "But while he's working off his blood debt, he will serve in my house instead. Which means he will not be going to Azkaban, unless and until he is found guilty. I will ensure he abides by the terms the ministry sets for prisoners awaiting a trial, but I will not allow him to be sent to that horrid prison."
The two wizards drew back several paces and conferred in hushed tones. Severus turned his attention to Hermione - what was she trying to do? He searched her face for a long moment, but she was ignoring him, her attention focused on the ministry wizards.
Finally they finished their hurried conference and returned. "Miss Granger," the one with the clipboard said, "this is highly unusual-"
"-but completely legal," the other finished for him. "We will help ensure Headmaster Snape safe transport to your house and we will provide the necessary supplies, but acceptance of this blood debt means you are also taking responsibility for his actions as long as he is in your custody." He fixed her with a condescending look. "If he misbehaves or escapes, you will be charged as well."
"I understand." Hermione's grip on his hand tightened imperceptibly. "He will probably be recovered enough to move in a day or two."