Written for the Love Draughts SS/HG ficathon, at the request of Claudia (wildwinterwitch on LJ).|
Many thanks to Luthien for beta (the 3000 randomly-placed words I added after she went to sleep are not her fault).
Hermione sat on a tree stump just inside the perimeter of the base camp and looked over her most recent set of research notes, while Harry sat on the ground beside her, nervously tapping his wand against a stone, each tap shooting out a stream of blue and gold sparks from the tip of his wand.
She looked up from her notes and frowned. "That's very distracting, Harry. Can't you find something a little more productive to do with your time?"
He slid the wand into the pocket of his robes. "Sorry. I just wish there was something I could do. All this sitting around, waiting for somebody to make a move, is driving me mad."
Hermione rolled up the scroll and put it away, then laid her hand on his shoulder. "I know how you feel. Everyone's getting edgy, waiting for something to happen. We're all nervous, Harry."
"No," Hermione said quietly, feeling the now-familiar prick of tears. "He wasn't. Maybe he should have been. Perhaps then he wouldn't have . . . ."
"Wouldn't have what?" Harry twisted around to face her, his own eyes suspiciously damp. "He wouldn't have gone to rescue me from Voldemort and been attacked by ten of the most powerful Dark Wizards and Witches in England? You're probably right, you know. If he'd just left me there, then . . . ."
"No!" Hermione said, appalled by his words. "That's not what I meant at all, and you know it. It's just . . . he should have brought somebody with him, Harry. At least Professor Snape . . . ."
"Snape? That git disappeared right after I did, and he still hasn't returned. He's probably hiding under a rock somewhere, waiting to see which side wins."
"Harry, that's not fair. In any case, looking for someone to blame isn't going to help Professor Dumbledore recover."
"I know," he said, slumping against the tree stump. "I just wish he was here. Hasn't Madam Pomfrey told you anything?"
She shook her head. "The last owl I received from Poppy said there'd been no change. But he's still alive, Harry."
"He hasn't woken up yet though, has he?"
"No. We were hoping he would before I left, but . . . oh, it was horrible. I sat beside him for the first two nights, and . . . all I wanted was to be able to do something - anything - but Poppy said all anyone could do was wait."
"Wait." Harry grimaced. "I'm really getting sick of that word."
"I know. So am I."
Harry got up from the ground and brushed the dirt from his robes. "I'm going to go wake up Ron and get some dueling practice in before breakfast. What about you, Hermione? Want to throw a few curses at me?" He grinned. "Really embarrassing ones?"
"That's a very tempting offer," she said, smiling a little in return, "but I think I'd better go over my notes again. There has to be something I haven't tried yet for the modification to the shielding potion."
"Wouldn't it have been easier to work on that at Hogwarts?"
"Of course it would," she said, "but there wasn't anyone here with any mediwitch training, and Poppy thought I could be useful. I couldn't stay away, you know . . . not with everyone else here."
"I know. I just wish you were somewhere a little safer."
"Harry, I don't think anywhere is safe anymore. Go on now," Hermione said, pushing Harry's arm. "Find Ron, and I'll see you both later."
She watched as Harry walked over to a small orange tent about thirty feet away and crawled inside, then she took out her notes and started to go over them yet again. Maybe if she reduced the asphodel . . .
Lost in her work, it was some time before she noticed the sound of shouting. Hermione jumped up, her wand held tightly in her hand, and ran to the center of the camp.
Lying on the ground in the middle of a group of Aurors was Professor Snape. His eyes were closed and his breath was coming in harsh, shallow gasps. In one hand, he clutched a yellow and purple sock.
Hermione slipped in between Harry and Ron.
"What happened?" she whispered.
"Don't know," said Ron. "He just appeared from nowhere. They reckon the sock must be a Portkey."
"He looks terrible."
Ron snorted, but Harry just nodded. "Kingsley Shacklebolt's been trying to get him to say what happened, but he's drifting in and out of consciousness. Remus said it looks like he's been hit by a dozen or more curses, except they don't seem to have been fully cast, so half of them are unrecognizable."
"Why is he still on the ground?" Hermione asked. "Shouldn't he be moved . . . to a cot, at least?"
"Maybe nobody wants their cot covered in grease." Ron muttered.
"Oh come on, Hermione. It was just a joke."
"It was a bad joke. Can't you see he's in pain?"
She stepped forward and knelt down beside Professor Snape. Shacklebolt, who was kneeling on Snape's other side, laid his hand on the unconscious man's shoulder. Snape didn't make a sound, but he winced and bit down so hard on his tongue that blood began seeping out from his mouth.
Hermione looked up at Mad-Eye Moody. "Sir, we have to get him to the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey might be able to . . . . "
"Not a chance," Moody snapped. "I'm not letting this death-eating bastard anywhere near the headmaster or the children."
"Well . . . St. Mungo's, then."
"And take a chance he'll disappear again before we find out where the hell he's been this past week?"
Hermione stood up. "Does he look like a flight risk, Sir?
"I wouldn't put anything past Snape," Moody said with a sneer.
Hermione knew that the old Auror had a history with her former professor, but this was ridiculous. Professor Snape was on their side - Moody knew that - and he was suffering. Hermione wanted to scream with frustration, even though she didn't think it would do any good.
"It had to be Death Eaters who did this to him," she said angrily, her new-found healer's instincts over-riding any thoughts she had about not interfering in Order business. "What do you propose we do? Leave him by the side of the road for Voldemort to trip over?"
"None of your cheek, girlie," Moody snapped. "No, we can't afford to cut him loose, not while there's a chance there are still some things he hasn't let slip to You Know Who."
Incredible. Moody had no clue about what had happened or whether Snape had said anything, yet here he was, making it sound as if it was a foregone conclusion that the professor had shared Order business with the Death Eaters.
"The headmaster would want. . . ."
"Albus Dumbledore came this close to dying, and until I get some proof to the contrary, I won't be convinced Snape isn't at least partly to blame." He glared at the supine man, not even bothering to hide the look of disgust on his face.
Hermione wanted to continue trying to argue, but really, what was the point? She saw small hints of concern and doubt on some of the surrounding faces - Remus's and Tonks's in particular - but nobody seemed willing to stand up against Moody, at least not on Snape's behalf.
When the extent of Professor Dumbledore's injuries became known, it was startling how quickly the Order had started to unravel. The headmaster wasn't able to communicate, and almost instantly, the simplest of missions began to go wrong. Then Moody, who'd come out of retirement to rejoin the Aurors earlier that year, stepped into the void and took charge, much to the relief of the other Order members.
Hermione knew that Moody's zealous dedication to the fight against the forces of the Dark was unfeigned, however so was his distrust of Snape. As long as he was in charge, there wasn't much chance of her former professor getting more than the barest of considerations.
Still . . . to leave him on the ground? Maybe Moody could be made to see reason.
"Sir, Professor Snape is . . . ."
"Listen, Granger, if you're so keen to try out your new healing abilities on him, be my guest. Just don't expect any of the rest of us to waste our time on him. He's not worth it, and we've got more important things to do. In fact . . . Remus, come here."
"What can I do for you, Alastor?"
"You stayed at that cottage of Albus's for a while, didn't you?"
"Yes. He let me stay there after I was . . . " Remus didn't move, but she could see his eyes dart to Professor Snape. ". . . after I left my position as Defense teacher."
Moody nodded. "What about Snape? Do you know if he was ever there?" Remus frowned, and Moody grunted and waved his hand. "Look, all I want to know is whether the wards will admit the bastard onto the property or not."
"To be honest," Remus said quietly, "I always got the sense that Albus meant to give the cottage to Severus some day. Yes, he's been there."
"What about the girl?"
"Hermione?" Remus looked over at her in confusion. "No, I don't think she's ever been." Hermione looked up and shook her head. "It shouldn't matter, though. Hermione, you left school, but you're still younger than eighteen, aren't you?"
"Yes, my birthday's not until next month."
Remus turned back to Moody. "The cottage has other protections surrounding it, but Albus set the wards to admit anyone under eighteen, so that students from Hogwarts would have a safe haven in case of emergencies."
Moody scratched at his arm. "All right, that's settled, then."
"What's settled, Alastor?"
"Take Snape up to the cottage, and the girl can keep an eye on him." He glanced at Hermione, then turned back to Remus. "Get rid of two problems at once."
Hermione opened her mouth to argue, then clamped it shut again. Who did he think he was, talking about her like that?
No, she wasn't going to keep quiet. "I'm a problem?"
"You're a distraction. Harry needs to focus on the task ahead, and he can't do that if he's worrying about you."
Of all the archaic . . . ridiculous . . . she couldn't even put into words how idiotic that reasoning was. Even if she and Harry had been something more than friends, which they were not, he'd never expect her to hide away when there was a challenge to be faced. Ron wouldn't either. They were Gryffindors, after all - all three of them.
She turned toward the boys, certain that they'd look just as disgusted by Moody's words as she'd been, but to her surprise, the expressions on both their face suggested slightly-embarrassed agreement rather than indignation on her behalf.
"You think I'm a distraction, too?" she asked in a low voice. "Is that all I've been for the past seven years?"
"Of course not!" Harry said. "It's just . . . well, it's different now, isn't it?"
"How's it different?"
"We're older. We know how serious this fight is now . . . that it's not just a game."
Ron nodded. "I think what Harry's saying is that you could get hurt, Hermione."
She rolled her eyes. "This isn't exactly news, Ron. So could you. So could Harry."
Hermione turned towards Harry, and saw him start to blush.
"Yes, but . . . you're a girl."
And that, she realized, was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? That she was female hadn't been at all important when they were children because, honestly, it was obvious that the boys hadn't actually noticed that she was a girl, at least not for most of their school years. But now that they had, nothing apart from her sex mattered to them. Not how good she was at casting spells, not how smart she was, and not how much more experienced she was in this fight than half of the current crop of Aurors.
She glanced at Tonks walking across the camp and wondered how she managed to escape these ridiculously sexist attitudes. Then she saw Tonks trip over a fallen tree branch and heard the laughter that followed in its wake, and it all made sense. Apparently Tonks was kept around as comic relief. If you were funny enough, they'd be willing to overlook the inconvenient fact that you were female.
"Come on, Hermione." Harry said. "It's not like you won't be helping. You said somebody needed to take care of Snape, right? Who else around here could do that?"
"Who else would?" Ron muttered.
"And Moody's right, you know," Harry added. "I can't help it; I would feel better if you were somewhere safe and away from the fighting."
"Besides," Ron said, "it's like old Mad-Eye was saying: somebody has to keep an eye on Snape and make sure he doesn't slip away as soon as he's conscious again. You know, even if he hasn't betrayed the Order on purpose, he could be under Imperius or some other spell. He could be . . . dangerous, I suppose. Yeah, you could think of yourself as kind of a junior Auror or something, and . . . ."
"A junior Auror?" Hermione said in disbelief. "Now who's trying to pretend this is all a game?" She crossed her hands over her chest and narrowed her eyes. "You two better make up your minds. Either I'm being sent to Headmaster Dumbledore's cottage to keep out of the line of fire, mostly so that you won't be . . . distracted, or I'm going to be in complete danger, seeing as how you're leaving me alone with someone you apparently think is a traitor. You can't have it both ways." She shook her head in disgust. "Fine. I'll go up to the cottage to be Snape's nursemaid."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief, then smiled. "Thanks, Hermione. I really appreci . . . "
"Where's Remus? I need to speak with him."
Ron squinted for a moment, then pointed off into the distance. "He's sitting next to Shacklebolt on the other side of the hosselberry bush."
Hermione nodded, and without another word to either of the boys, she set off across the camp.
She didn't know whether to feel vindicated or just more frustrated when Remus immediately tried to apologize on Moody's behalf. What did it help that he seemed to understand her anger if he wasn't willing to do anything about it? If anyone should understand what it felt like to be thought of as a second-class citizen, it should be him, but then she remembered that he hadn't actually been willing to fight for his right to stay and teach at Hogwarts when the news of his lycanthropy started spreading throughout the school.
She shook her head. Talking about this situation with him wasn't going to make her feel any better; they may as well get back to business.
"Can we Portkey to the cottage?" she asked.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "We'll have to Apparate. I don't suppose you've had time to get your license yet."
"Not yet. I've been working with Madame Pomfrey all summer, and there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. If only I still had that time-turner."
He smiled at her. "I think we could all use one of those."
"What about Professor Snape?"
Remus glanced over to look at Snape. He was still lying on the ground, but somebody had thought to put a blanket over him. That was something, at least.
"If you want to start gathering whatever you'll need, I'll Apparate with Severus and get him settled in at the cottage, then I'll come back and take you on the second trip."
"What about supplies? Food and potions ingredients and all that?"
"You'll find most of what you need in the headmaster's cupboards. There were some very powerful stasis charms operating in the kitchen when I last stayed there, so nothing should have gone off."
"And what about what isn't there? I've been working for the past half year on an experimental shielding potion, and some of the ingredients I'm using aren't exactly standard kitchen items."
"Just write a list of whatever you don't have here, and I'll go to Hogwarts and pick it up for you. Everything should be in the hospital wing, right?"
Hermione looked down at her feet. "Well, almost everything. There might be a few things in Professor Snape's private stores."
She looked up and saw Remus smiling at her. "I don't suppose you told him that you've been helping yourself to those ingredients."
"I . . . I didn't want to bother him. Remus, I'm a little worried."
"About Severus finding out that you've been pinching ingredients? Don't be. He probably knew the minute you set foot in there, and if he hasn't said anything yet, then . . . "
"No, not about that. How am I supposed to look after him if nobody even knows what curses were thrown at him? I'm a quick learner, but I'm still a novice when it comes to curse diagnosis."
"Ah, yes. As for that . . . did the boys tell you that Severus was able to Portkey away before the curses took full effect?"
She nodded. "They did, but I didn't think that would make any difference. I mean, if they hit him at all, he's still going to be suffering their effects, isn't he?"
"Actually, no. It's true that we don't know precisely what was cast or how many curses were sent in his direction, but it's unlikely that not a single one of the people who cursed him was powerful enough to be able to cast an Unforgivable, and yet there's no sign of Severus having been hit with the Cruciatus or . . . "
"Or the killing curse."
"Exactly. You'll have to be careful at first, since it's possible that some of the curses might react badly with magic, but I suspect that basic healing skills are all that you're going to need, and Poppy has been singing your praises in that area for months now. The more worrying thing is how you're going to hold up having Severus for a patient."
"Maybe he'll remain unconscious?" Hermione said hopefully.
"Unlikely," Remus said, smiling a little.
She smiled back, then looked up as a flock of birds flew overhead, all changing direction at the last moment to avoid encountering the protected air space above the camp.
"Owls can't find their way in here, can they? I was just wondering how I'll be able to get in touch with anyone if . . . "
"Hermione, I have ask: are you concerned about being left alone with Severus? If you are . . . if the thought of it makes you uncomfortable in any way, I'll convince Alastor that he's going to have to spare an Auror."
"I'm not afraid that Professor Snape is going to hurt me, if that's what you're asking. Besides," she said sharply, "I'm sure everybody else has more important things to do."
She saw Remus frown at the bitter note in her voice, but honestly, she didn't care. She'd do what she'd been asked to do, but she wasn't going to pretend she was happy about it.
"Well, then . . . I suppose that's all then. Do you think twenty minutes is going to be long enough for you to get everything ready?"
"That's more than enough time."
"Good. I'll take Severus now. If you have the list ready by the time I return, I'll be able to go to Hogwarts while you're getting settled in at the cottage."
Hermione nodded, then walked with Remus over to Professor Snape. She watched as he lifted the unconscious man into his arms and Disapparated, before packing up her notes and belongings.
She had almost finished writing the list of potions ingredients she thought she might need Remus to collect when she heard a quiet voice speaking her name.
There, standing behind her, was Harry.
"Do you have a minute?"
"Sure, Harry," she said with a sigh. "What do you need?"
"I just wanted to say . . . oh hell, I don't want us to fight, Hermione. I don't want you to be mad at me. I just want you to be safe - you understand that, don't you? You're one of my best friends, and things are about to get ugly very soon."
Hermione took a deep breath. It wasn't that she couldn't understand what Harry was saying. He was right, of course. Tensions were escalating, and even without any particular skill in Divination, everyone knew it wouldn't be long until Harry would have to face Voldemort for what would probably be the last time. And she understood his wish to keep her safe; if she had the power, she'd do her best to ensure that all those she loved would be safe from the malevolent power of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. What she could not understand was why Harry had suddenly decided she was incapable of protecting herself or assisting in the coming battle. Ron was his friend, too. Why wasn't he telling Ron to run away and keep himself safe?
The truth was, though, that Harry did have more pressure resting on his shoulders than anyone else, and even if his concern was misplaced - which she knew it was - she didn't want to give him more to worry about, not now at least.
When all this was over, though, she was definitely going to sit him down and give him the same lecture on equality and women's rights that her mother had given her when she was still a little girl.
"I'm not mad at you, Harry," she sighed. "Truly, I'm not. I just want to help."
He nodded. "I know you do, Hermione. It's just . . . you're special, you know?"
Special. Apparently that was a new way of saying 'needs to hide out in the cellar while the menfolk are busy.'
Harry put his arms around her and gave her a hug. "I'll miss you. And remember, Snape can't take house points anymore, so if you want to call him a git, you can."
If there was anyone Hermione wanted to call a 'git' at this precise minute, it was Harry, but she swallowed the thought and gave him a quick hug.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Remus heading her way.
"It looks like my ride's here," she said, smiling a little. "Give Ron a hug for me, and tell him I'll see him again soon."
"Ready?" Remus asked.
"All right, then. Hold on tight."
The cottage, Hermione discovered when she and Remus Apparated directly into the tiled entryway, was lovely. There were two front rooms, both overlooking the sea, as well a small kitchen and an annex which was the perfect place to set up a cauldron or two. No House-elves were in evidence, for which Hermione was grateful, but Remus gave her a quick demonstration of all the charmed items with which the house was supplied, and she couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly need any help to take care of everyday tasks. 'All mod cons,' as her Great-Aunt Susan would say - or at least she might have done if she could have got past the confusing little matter of there being no electricity in the cottage.
"I'll let you get settled in," Remus said. "Have you thought of any extras you might need from Hogwarts?"
"No," she said, taking one last look at her list before handing it to him. "I think this is everything."
"Right. See you shortly."
He tucked the parchment into one of the pockets of his robes, then drew out a small box of matches and handed it to her.
"Nobody can Portkey in anywhere near here, but you will be able to use this Portkey to get out, if necessary. It will take you directly to the base camp. I wish I'd been able to connect you to the floo network as well, but this is going to have to do."
Hermione had barely begun to unpack when Remus returned with two large carry-alls, filled to bursting with tools, potions ingredients, and a set of five cauldrons of various sizes, nestled one inside the other.
"Where did those cauldrons come from?" she asked delightedly. "They're ever so much better than the ones I've been using up until now."
"Ah, about that," Remus said, grinning a bit. "I took a little side trip to Severus's private lab."
"You stole his equipment?"
"I prefer to think of it as . . . 'liberating,' but if you want to get technical . . . "
She shook her head. "Do boys ever grow up? He's going to be angry, you know."
She knew she was being a little hypocritical; after all, it wasn't as if she hadn't done a little 'liberating' of her own when it came to some of the more esoteric ingredients that she thought she'd need for her work. But Professor Snape's private lab was . . . different, somehow.
"I don't know if you've noticed, Hermione, but Severus is always angry. I'll tell you what, though. If he says anything, you can lay the blame entirely on me."
"Oh, believe me, I will."
"Ta very much," Remus said. He withdrew a small container from one of the bags. "Next you'll be telling me you have objections to this, as well."
"What is it?" Hermione asked, frowning a little. "Another liberated item that actually belongs to Professor Snape?"
"No, this is from my private stores. It's a fortnight's supply of chocolate . . . and much more useful than some nasty old cauldrons, if I do say so myself." Remus placed the container of chocolate down on the counter. " So . . . am I forgiven for making you an accomplice to the latest in the long line of my criminal acts?"
"You are . . . but that's only because you brought chocolate."
Remus winked. "Works every time."
For a moment, Hermione was on the verge of asking Remus if he might be able to stay, just for a while longer, but then he smiled and patted her on the head and instantly, any desire she had to spend more time in his company evaporated.
Patting her on the head . . . did he think she was five years old? Or a puppy? She had a sudden, almost overwhelming desire to slap his offending hand, but she restrained herself since there was little to no chance that he'd understand why she was so annoyed with him.
Wizards! Condescending, sexist prats, the lot of them.
As politely as she could manage, Hermione thanked Remus for all the trouble he'd gone to, and after they said their goodbyes, he Disapparated, leaving her alone.
With Professor Snape.
It didn't take long for the reality of the situation to hit her like a Bludger. As long as Remus had been in the cottage, joking with her and showing her around, it was easy to forget why she was there. But now that he'd gone, it all felt completely different . . . and not just a little frightening.
She looked over at Professor Snape, still lying on the bed where Remus had placed him. Nobody was expecting her to actually do anything for him - she knew that. Both of them had been sent here simply because they were . . . inconvenient. However, she might be able to make him at least a little more comfortable if she could isolate some of his symptoms.
Reaching into her bag, she took out a quill and a fresh roll of parchment, then drew a chair up to the side of his bed.
He really did look dreadful, much worse than she'd ever seen him look before. Remus had transfigured Snape's dirty, torn robes into a button-down nightshirt, and she could see that his skin, from his face down to his feet, was raw and cracked, with . . . oh god, could those be small pin-feathers clustered around his heels?
The trouble with the wizarding world - at least for a Muggleborn - thought Hermione, is that some of the worst spells and curses seemed so damned comical on the surface that it was all too easy to ignore their dangers.
All right, so . . . feathers, although if the small clump of feathers on the bed linens was any indication, he might already be . . . moulting.
In addition, his feet and hands had a green and purple tint. She drew out her wand and did a quick check to make sure this wasn't actually an indication of blood swelling under the skin or some kind of bizarre rapid-onset gangrene. No, everything appeared to be normal. Lord only knows what curse-gone-awry had engendered that particular colouring, but Hermione was grateful that it seemed to be purely superficial, even if it was impervious to every attempt she made to spell the skin back to its original state.
The larger concerns, of course, were all related to the fact that Professor Snape had yet to regain consciousness. Until he was able to say what had happened, Hermione wasn't going to be able to determine the extent of his injuries. She could see that he was having some difficulty breathing, although using pillows to adjust the angle of his body seemed to bring almost immediate improvement. More frightening was that on every exposed part of his body, his skin was . . . roiling - there was no other word for it. She guessed that muscle tremors were the cause, but she would have given anything to have Poppy's guidance here. Damn Moody anyway for his ludicrous decision to ban Snape from Hogwarts.
After making Snape as comfortable as she could, Hermione turned her attention to setting up the cauldrons so that she could get back to her work as quickly as possible.
She knew the base was viable - wizards and witches had been using variants on this shielding potion for over a century, mostly when working around volatile ingredients or when overseeing young people who were dueling for the first time. In fact, given the antipathy there'd been between Harry and Malfoy in second year, she was surprised that Snape, at least, hadn't doused himself with that potion before setting foot into the hall Gilderoy Lockhart had commandeered for the short-lived dueling club. Of course, considering the normal state of Snape's hair, it was quite possible that he'd always been covered with some sort of protective potion when students were anywhere in the vicinity.
The drawback to this particular shielding potion, however, was that while it had proven effective as a defense against all magical attacks apart from the Unforgiveables, it was impossible to cast spells or curses while under its protection, which made it singularly unhelpful if one needed to be able to take the offensive in battle. There had to be something that would afford Harry and the others protection against the Death Eaters and yet still allow them to cast spells of their own., but she was fast running out of both possibilities and time.
For the next thirty hours, Hermione alternated between running assays on her experimental brew and seeing to Professor Snape's needs, grateful (and not for the first time) that the most basic of these needs could be taken care of by magical means. If she'd had to resort to bedpans and Muggle baby wipes, she would have, but she was definitely glad that she was a witch.
Even before the sun rose on the second day after arriving at the cottage, Hermione was fast at work. She had just transferred some liquified frog spawn into a smaller container, when an irate voice croaked behind her.
"What in Merlin's name are you doing in my room?"
Hermione had no idea how she was able to keep from dropping the vial and shattering it on the floor. She spun around, heart racing and eyes wide.
"Professor! You're awake!"
The look in his bloodshot eyes suggested that he would have responded with some cutting comment related to 'stating the obvious' if he'd been able, but as soon as he tried to speak, he began to cough. When he curled up with his arms wrapped tightly around the base of his ribs, she moved toward him, but his glare stopped her more effectively than any words would have done.
When he finally stopped coughing, he looked to the left and right, then closed his eyes.
"Not my rooms, obviously," he said, his voice harsh, though barely above a whisper. "What am I . . . what are we doing here?"
Hermione poured some water from the pitcher into a glass and placed it on the small table next to the bed. "Moody thought you'd be . . . more comfortable here."
Snape frowned. "Moody? Why should he . . . where's the headmaster? Tell me!"
"He's at Hogwarts. But . . . he's been hurt and Moody, well . . . "
"Mad-Eye's taken the opportunity to assume control of the Order, has he?"
Hermione nodded, watching as Snape's frown intensified.
"And you're here as the . . . prison warden, are you?" He started to laugh, which set off a fresh bout of coughing.
There was no reason in the world to gloss over the truth. "That's the idea," she said. "Actually, though, I think I'm another one of the inmates."
He said nothing in reply, just glanced at the water glass beside him. Without waiting to ask if he wanted help, she slid two pillows behind him, then placed the glass in his hands. She could only stand watching him try to drink the water unaided for a few seconds before picking up one of the stray feathers from the bed and transfiguring it into a Muggle flexi-straw.
He raised an eyebrow when she put it in his glass, but quickly understood the straw's purpose and started to drink. Idly, Hermione wondered if Arthur Weasley would be so quick to understand.
Even before Snape finished drinking, she could tell that he was really too tired to stay awake any longer. It was a clear indication of how fatigued he was that he didn't snap at her when she removed the glass from his hand and drew the blankets up over him, just closed his eyes and sank back into the pillows.
The next few days followed the same pattern, more or less. She continued to work on the potion and he continued . . . to sleep, most of the time, waking only occasionally to eat and drink, or to swallow those medicinal potions she insisted he couldn't do without.
If anyone had bothered to ask, Hermione would have told them she'd been surprised by how . . . agreeable a patient Severus Snape turned out to be. Part of the reason was, no doubt, the fact that at least at the start he was too exhausted to stay awake long enough to complain. But the truth was that getting him to say how he was feeling so that she could possibly do something about it was like pulling teeth - and Hippogryff teeth, at that.
He had three broken ribs, which weren't responding particularly well to magical treatment (and which, she suspected, hadn't been the result of anything more magical than a boot attached to the foot of some wizard), in addition to the lingering effects of the curses. The feathers were gone finally, and his hands and feet were now something like their original sallow colour, but as far as she'd been able to ascertain, he was feverish, his skin was clammy, he was too weak to even sit up longer than a few minutes at a time, and smelling anything but the blandest food seemed to nauseate him.
Oddly, Snape did not suffer as intensely bad a reaction to the smell of the potion, which was a good thing, since she had some variant of it bubbling away at almost all hours. The first day he was actually awake enough to take in his surroundings in more than a superficial way, the only comment he made about her work was "You're not planning on blowing us up, are you?" However, as the days went on, he became increasingly intent on quizzing her about her progress.
On the fifth day, Snape had apparently gone past his time-limit spent out of reach of a cauldron because no sooner had she started the day's trials than he all but pushed her out of the way and took over. She snapped at him immediately, but her indignation at his high-handed manner never really gathered steam, because within minutes, his hands were shaking too badly to hold a knife, and by the time a half hour had passed, he'd developed so blinding a headache that he had to retreat into a dark room for the rest of the day.
At seven that night, she knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
"Professor?" she said quietly "Would you like . . . "
"If you say the word 'food,'" he interrupted from the darkest corner of the room, "I shall find some way to ensure you don't live to see tomorrow."
Instead of taking offense, Hermione simply stepped into the room and shut the door most of the way. "That bad, is it?"
"In a word . . . yes."
"Can I . . . "
"If you really want to be useful, you'll fetch my wand so that I can . . . tidy up."
Hermione shook her head and knelt down near him on the floor, casting a series of cleaning spells that cleared away all evidence of his migraine-induced sickness.
Snape leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. "And now, Miss Granger, perhaps you'll leave me to suffer in peace."
"You know," Hermione said. "It seems to me that you might use my actual name, now that I've been up close and personal with a number of your bodily fluids."
Even in the practically non-existent light, Hermione could see Snape flush.
"Come on then," she said. "You really need to get out of here and back into bed. And you're going to have to try to get some juice or something else to drink down at least, even if you're not ready to eat yet."
"Miss Granger . . . ." She glared at him, and he acquiesced. "Hermione, then. Have you always been so bloody managing?"
"Only when I'm right," she said, smiling as she helped him to his feet.
She got him settled back in bed and made him some tea. He took the cup from her hand, but made a sound of disgust.
"What is it? Is something wrong with the tea?"
He scowled. "No, I'm sure nothing's wrong with the bloody tea. I just want to get the hell out of here."
She sat down on the edge of the bed and laid her hand on his shoulder. "I know you do."
After breakfast the following day, she pulled the chair up next to his bed and started going through the list she'd made of potential ingredients, hoping that he'd see something she missed.
"I never said I didn't want your help, you know," she said. "I just won't let you run roughshod over me as you did when I was a student. I'm no longer a little girl, stupid or otherwise, regardless of whether you've noticed or not."
A long moment passed, with Hermione beginning to get a little nervous under Snape's intense scrutiny.
"I've noticed," he said, before shaking his head and turning away.
Hermione bit her bottom lip and returned her attention to the mortar and pestle on the table behind her.
"What are you working on now?" he asked finally, making a great show of sniffing at the air.
"Something for you, actually."
"If you think I'm going to ingest something which smells as if it's been in the bottom of Hagrid's sock drawer for the past three years, you've got quite another thing coming."
She just looked at him, not bothering to hide her exasperation. "I can't believe you're complaining after years of forcing your students to drink the foulest concoctions on earth. And don't tell me that they had to taste that way; I've done enough reading to know that's not true. In any case, this potion's not to drink. It's . . . oh here, let's get you sorted out."
Hiding a sudden attack of nerves by assuming the same matter-of-fact attitude she'd observed in Poppy a thousand times, Hermione started to take off Snape's nightshirt. However, she wasn't Poppy - not yet - and he certainly was no quiescent first year Hufflepuff.
"What in the name of Merlin do you think you're doing?" he said, clutching at the fabric. "Have you gone mad?"
"I'm just trying to remove your shirt."
"Yes, that much is clear," he rasped, refusing to surrender his hold. "Perhaps you'd be good enough to tell me why, since the only two possibilities that come immediately to mind are either that you're showing the results of a incredibly slow developing lust-inducement spell, or that you've suddenly remembered encountering an unhappy House-Elf somewhere and, for some inexplicable reason, you've decided the only possible solution to the Elf's plight lies in giving it this particular nightshirt."
Hermione felt her face grow hot. "No, it's neither of . . . I apologize," she said, taking a step back away from the bed. "I . . . I forgot that I hadn't actually explained what I was doing."
"That's correct, you hadn't. And you still have not." He narrowed his eyes. "Don't tell me Madam Pomfrey has won you over to her belief in the absolute necessity of . . . sponge baths." His lip curled into a sneer on the final words.
She'd never been more embarrassed in front of Snape, but even so, she couldn't help laughing. He certainly knew Poppy. Hermione recalled wondering, just the other day, how a sponge bath was going to aid in the recovery of the young Ravenclaw who'd come in simply to have his broken ankle reset.
Snape glared at her, and she thought that maybe laughing hadn't been the most sensible reaction.
"Look," she said, dropping her hands to her side. "For days now, all I've heard you say is that you'll be damned if you're still going to be lying here when Harry faces Volde . . . oh, fine . . . when Harry faces 'He Who Must Not Be Named in Front of the Potions Master.' I understand that. But your recovery will have to move more quickly if you're going to be any use at all in the final showdown."
"And this potion only works if applied . . . topically."
"Where did you get the recipe?" he asked, looking askance at the vial. "Why should I have any reason to believe you know what you're doing?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You know perfectly well that I know what I'm doing, but if you're that worried about the origins of this particular potion, maybe you need to give it one more sniff."
She took the stopper out of the beaker and held the potion directly under his prodigious nose. He took a deep breath, then began to cough, unable to stop until tears ran down his cheeks.
"Ribs still hurting?" Hermione said quietly. "Okay, sorry . . . that was a stupid question."
"Yes, it was," he said between gritted teeth. "And yes, I recognize the potion. You could have simply told me that it was a recipe of my own devising instead of attempting to set my recovery back in this puerile manner."
She might have argued the point, but despite his obviously unimpeded ability to hurl accusations at whomever happened to be in closest proximity, she could see that he really was in pain.
Mind you, that didn't mean that she was going to fall all over herself apologizing to him. It wasn't as if he'd appreciate it, in any case.
When he finally stopped coughing, he propped himself up on one elbow - although not without some difficulty - then drew the blanket up to his waist, before removing his nightshirt and handing it to her.
"Well, get on with it then," he snapped. "I imagine you'd like this over and done with as quickly as possible, as would I."
Snape fell back down on the bed, his breathing laboured, as if he'd over-extended himself in some physical pursuit for hours.
Hermione poured a bit of the potion out of the beaker and warmed it between her hands. Really, there didn't seem to be a great deal of difference between this and some of the Muggle oils used for massage therapy. Even the method of application was the same. However, she couldn't imagine Muggle products would go very far towards dispersing the lingering after-effects of curses as the wizarding variant should do.
She sat beside Snape on the bed, carefully positioning herself so that she could reach both sides of his back and both of his arms without difficulty. He stiffened at first when she laid her hands on his shoulders, probably just as uncomfortable about being forced to accept the ministrations of a young woman who had, until very recently, been one of his students, as she was about having to give a massage - no matter how much she told herself it was purely therapeutic - to one of her former teachers. However, as she started to rub the potion into his skin, she could feel him start to relax, if only the tiniest bit.
She had just started to work her way down the edges of his spine, when he groaned. She stopped at once, worried that she might be hurting him. Hermione had been using less pressure than she usually used even to give Ginny a back rub, and Ginny had a notoriously low pain threshold, but to her surprise it looked like his might be even lower.
"Why did you stop?" he demanded, his words slightly muffled by the pillow. "Surely you haven't finished the application."
"No, but . . . you sounded as if you were in pain."
"If you cause me any pain, Miss Granger, do not have any doubts but that I shall make certain you are made all too aware of the fact."
She smiled to herself. Okay, that sounded more like the professor she knew and . . . well, the professor she knew, at any rate.
As soon as she warmed more of the potion and returned to her task, she could hear that low groan again, followed by something that sounded almost like a whimper. Hermione frowned, and gentled the pressure just the slightest bit as she moved her hands down his spine. When she reached his lower back, Snape . . . wriggled. There was really no other word for it. He wriggled on the bed until he was closer to her, all the time making sounds that fell somewhere between a groan and a sigh.
These weren't the sounds of a man who was in pain. No, these were the sounds of a man who was enjoying what he was feeling . . . maybe a little too much.
Wondering whether it was time to stop what she was doing, Hermione looked down at him and watched as he closed his eyes and . . . smiled.
How odd. She'd seen him smirk before. She'd even seen him gloat with something like a smile on his face. But this was something new. Despite the fact that he was clearly still suffering the after-effects of the curses, Snape actually looked happy for once.
And she'd been the one to bring that smile to his face.
Perhaps she'd continue just a little while longer.
In the end, Hermione never actually made it to her own bed. The back rub had put him to sleep, and he looked so restful, lying there curled into the warmth of her body, that without too much deliberation, she simply summoned a book from the shelves and read until she, too, drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, she asked Snape how he was feeling, but he said only that she needn't continue clucking around him like a mother hen. For the rest of the day, he didn't speak more than three words together, just took up a position on the opposite side of the table and settled down to work.
He looked increasingly tired and pale as the day passed, but she left him alone, right up until the moment when he clutched his stomach and doubled over in pain.
She made an attempt to help him back to bed, but he shook off her hand and tried to return to work. This time, he managed to stand upright for ten seconds before dropping to his knees.
"For god's sake, Severus," she said. "Enough is enough. If you'll just . . . "
"Stop thinking I'm some pathetic invalid, you interfering witch," he yelled. "I have to . . . "
"What you have to do is recover," she yelled right back, helping him up off the floor and pushing him back into his bed. "Three days ago, you couldn't stand up for more than five minutes at a time, you idiot. You're as bad as Harry!"
"He thinks he should be able to do everything too, but he can't...he's just human. And so are you, much as you'd like to pretend otherwise."
Hermione could tell that Snape would have come up with a sneering rejoinder if he'd been able, but the attempt just resulted in a wave of nausea that sent him hanging over the side of his bed.
She sat down beside him, carefully, so that the motion wouldn't make him feel worse. Summoning a damp cloth, Hermione pushed his hair back and slowly wiped the cool water over his forehead, as gently as she was able.
"You really can be quite a stubborn prat, you know that?"
He turned his head and glared at her. "Thank you so much for your kind words, you exceedingly annoying young woman."
Then, just as she'd decided to get up from the bed, Snape reached out for her, the clutch of his hand showing his gratitude for her presence in a way he could never - would never - express in words. She closed her hand over his, and held it gently, continuing to stroke his forehead with the cloth.
After some minutes had passed, Hermione looked down and saw that Snape's eyes had all but closed, his long lashes fluttering against his pale skin.
"Sleep . . . Severus," Hermione said, and without thinking about it, she leaned down and kissed his sweaty forehead before getting back to work
On the eighth day, she woke up to find Snape already dressed and at work, decanting liquid into one of the small vials..
Bleary eyed, Hermione sat up in bed. "What's going on?"
"I tested it on myself this morning. Cast the Cruciatus."
"Are you insane?"
"Of course not. This is what we've been working on, is it not? It's not as if I asked you to cast the Killing Curse."
"They're both Unforgiveables! I'm not casting an Unforgiveable against anyone."
"Oh, for pity's sake, Granger. Have you ever seen someone punished for using Unforgiveables? Even Alastor 'I am the Law' Moody used them when he was teaching."
"That wasn't the real Moody, and you know it."
"Yes, I do. And you know that everybody believed him to be the real thing at the time, yet nobody saw anything at all troubling about his casting Unforgiveables in the midst of a group of adolescents, did they?"
"No, they didn't. But I'm still not subjecting you to the Cruiciatus, no matter what arguments you come up with."
"I didn't think I'd live to see the day that a Gryffindor would be so lacking in courage."
"Courage has nothing to do with it. I'm not subjecting you to the Cruciatus because you're barely recovered from that collection of curses your former compatriots chose to cast at you last week. Even if you're willing to risk a relapse, I'm not."
"'First do no harm' is a Muggle concept," he sneered.
"This has nothing to do with my role as a healer. I just . . . "
"I don't want you to hurt anymore."
Snape was silent for a moment. "I've survived the Cruciatus in the past, Hermione. In any case, the shielding potion is going to work."
"I don't care if you survived the Killing Curse," she said quietly. "I'm not going to be the one to risk inflicting that sort of pain on you, no matter what. I just won't do it, Not to you."
"Ah. Well, then . . . I leave you to decide which spell to cast."
Severus laid his wand down on the table and walked across the room, feeling uncertain, no doubt, as to whether he'd be able to keep from instinctively drawing his wand in response to whatever she directed at him.
Hermione took her own wand in hand, then stopped.
"We don't have all day," he said.
She glared at him, then a wicked smiled touched the corners of her mouth.
He remained still, then slowly and deliberately, a half-smile lighting his face, Snape crossed the room and lifted his wand off the table.
Before he'd breathed the final syllable, Hermione was laughing uncontrollably, and not even his own Finite Incantatem! was sufficient to take the laughter away entirely.
It was a success.
Still smiling, Hermione put her wand into the pocket of her robe. "I think it's time we returned to the camp."
When they arrived in the middle of the camp, the first person they encountered was, of course the very last person either of them wanted to see.
"What the hell is he doing here?" Moody bellowed the minute he caught sight of Snape. "I thought I made it clear that you weren't to let him out of your sight."
Hermione could see that Snape's fingers were itching to go for his wand, but she stood in front of him and glared at Moody, even though she felt a bit foolish. Snape didn't need her protection, after all.
"Apart from the fact that I'm not subject to your commands, since I've neither been invited to join the Order, nor am I an Auror, I'd like to remind you that I'm following your wishes to the letter. He's here. I'm here. No one told me we weren't allowed to leave the cottage. Or . . . are you telling me that one or both of us is under arrest?"
She held his gaze for a moment, and much to her surprise, Moody looked away first. When he looked back her way, the expression on his face was almost conciliatory.
"No, I never said that," he muttered. Then he narrowed his eyes and stared at Snape. "I'm keeping my eye on you, boy."
"Imagine my utter disinterest," Snape drawled.
Hermione wished Snape would just leave well enough alone, but before Moody's hackles could rise any further, Remus and Shacklebolt approached, both looking worried.
"Trouble?" Moody asked.
"Harry's doesn't appear to be in the camp," Shacklebolt said. "Ron Weasley says he's been looking for him for the past fifteen minutes, but he can't find him anywhere."
Moody threw his hands up in the air and started to pace. "That young idiot didn't get it into his head to follow the directions on the note, did he?"
"What note?" Hermione asked. "Could somebody tell us what's going on? Where's Harry?"
Remus exchanged glances with Kingsley Shacklebolt, then turned to face Hermione.
"Harry received a specially coded parchment last night from Lucius Malfoy suggesting they meet. He intimated that he's been reconsidering his position and would like to negotiate terms for . . . changing sides. Lucius wrote that he would be willing to provide vital information in exchange for a guarantee of amnesty for himself and his family."
Snape laughed. "Not even Potter would be stupid enough to believe that."
Remus frowned "No, Harry said he didn't , of course, but . . . he also said if Lucius was willing to change sides, it might alter the course of the war."
"Yes, it might, " Snape agreed. "But Lucius . . . no, he'd never do it. He knows that even if the opposing side emerged victorious because of his assistance, all he'd get for his troubles would be a slightly shorter stay in Azkaban. Not a very forgiving lot, the side of Light."
Moody growled, but Hermione took a look at Snape's impassive face and knew exactly what he was feeling. She glanced at Remus, whom she knew to have good reason to understand what Severus had said. No, Remus might not have been willing to stand up to Moody, at least not while Moody was nominally head of the Order, but neither was he blind to the faults of his own friends and allies.
Remus took a deep breath. "Godric's Hollow."
Snape frowned. "What did you say?"
"That's where Lucius's note said they should meet."
"We have to go there," Hermione said, exchanging a glance with Snape. "And before you even think about telling me it's not safe, you know he's not going to trust the potion if it comes from your hands."
"Of course he won't." Snape said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I wouldn't expect him to. He will accept it from you, however."
"Oh. Right then. Let's go."
"No," Moody said, reaching out and grabbing her arm, "Not you, missy. You're staying put."
Hermione wanted to stamp her feet and scream, but that would only encourage them in their asinine belief that she was a child who needed protecting. She turned toward Remus for support, but he shook his head.
"I know how you're feeling, Hermione, but in this case I think you really ought to listen to Alastor. Lucius Malfoy is a dangerous wizard, and . . . ."
Hermione yanked her arm out from Moody's grasp and stood facing them all with her hands on her hips. "Do you think I don't know exactly how dangerous he is? I've known since my second year. But even if I hadn't, I've had more than enough opportunity to see the results of his handiwork on Sev . . . Professor Snape."
"We're wasting time," Snape said, then reached into one of the pockets of his robe. "Miss Granger, drink this."
She could see Moody eying the potion suspiciously. "What's that you're giving her?"
Snape didn't bother to answer. He just waited until Hermione had swallowed the contents of the vial, then took another vial out and emptied the noxious-smelling liquid with one, long swallow.
He placed both of the empty vials in Remus's hand, then turned back to Hermione.
"Take my arm."
Without a second thought, she reached out and held onto Snape's forearm, and in that very instant, they Apparated away.
When they arrived at Godric's Hollow, they spotted Harry, standing alone in the middle of the field with his wand held loosely in his hand.
"Hermione?" he said. "What are you doing here?"
Hermione started toward him "You have to get out of here Harry; it's a trap."
Harry shook his head. "I can't do that, Hermione. Not if there's any chance of ending this without losing everyone I love."
"Isn't this just touching," Snape said with a sneer, before reaching into his robes and taking out one of the remaining vials. "Granger, if your idiot friend doesn't have enough sense to leave before his assassins come to call, perhaps he could be prevailed upon to . . . "
"Yes, I get the point," Hermione snapped before grabbing one of the vials out of his hand. "Harry, if you're not going to leave, you have to drink this."
"What is it?"
"I'll tell you later. For now, you just have to trust me."
With one last suspicious look at Snape, Harry took the vial from her and swallowed the contents, making a face as he wiped a few stray drops from his mouth. "That's really horrible, you know?"
Before she could even start to agree, nine robed and masked Death Eaters appeared directly in front of them, and instantly began to cast curses. Harry stepped in front of Hermione, trying no doubt to protect her from the effects of the spells, but she pushed past him. "It's the shielding potion," she yelled, "It's working!"
Within minutes, it was all over.
In the time it took for the Death Eaters to finish squabbling amongst themselves about why none of their spells had had any effect, Harry was able to disarm all nine of them, and as soon as they were bound, Harry stripped their silver masks.
Nine. Lucius Malfoy, Peter Pettigrew, Bellatrix LeStrange . . . it was better than winning the lottery.
Even disarmed and held fast by powerful binding spells, the captured Death Eaters weren't willing to go quietly, and most of their venom was reserved for Snape, "Blood traitor!" being the least of the insults they cast in his direction.
Hermione watched as Severus, his face an impassive mask, drew his wand and waved it over the entire group.
In an instant, although their mouths were still moving, not a word could be heard. For the moment, blessed silence reigned in the Hollow.
Snape muttered, "I've been wanting to shut them up like that since I was a first year."
Hermione smiled, then turned to Harry.
"Good work, Harry!"
He smiled, then took Hermione in his arms and kissed her.
She returned to camp with Harry.
For the next two hours, the base camp was a hive of activity. Harry was taken away by Moody for a debriefing, and Snape had stayed behind, waiting for the Aurors to take the captured wizards and witches into custody, which left Hermione to fill everyone else in on what had happened.
The first time she told the story, it was actually quite fun, but by the eighth re-telling, it was starting to get a little tiring.
"He really disarmed nine Death Eaters at once with a single Expelliarmus?" Ron asked for the fourth time. "That's totally wicked!"
Hermione just smiled and nodded, but the fifth time Ron asked the same question, she was almost desperate to talk to someone - anyone - else, as long as they didn't have any interest in hearing about how Harry had defeated nine Death Eaters at once.
"Ron? I have to go talk to . . . to someone. See you later, okay?"
Ron waved goodbye, and Hermione took off, only to run directly into Remus and the hero of the hour coming out of Moody's tent.
Harry smiled when he saw her.
"Hi, Harry," she said. "Everything all sorted out now?"
He nodded. "I think so. It looks like everyone's going to be able to go back to their own lives for a while. With so many of the key players gone, Mad-Eye reckons Voldemort's going to have to regroup."
"That's excellent news. Everybody could use a breather."
Remus patted her on the shoulder, but his smile was all for Harry. "You should be proud of your friend here. I don't think anyone's ever been able to do what he did today."
"I am proud of him," she said, but what she was thinking was 'at least he didn't pat me on the head this time.'
Harry blushed, then drew Hermione off to the side. "Look, Hermione . . . Mad-Eye says they're going to be throwing a little victory celebration for tonight, sort of as thanks, you know? You definitely need to be there too, though - you and Ron, both. Would you come with me to the party?'
So . . . she wouldn't even have been invited to the party if Harry hadn't asked her to come along? She really had to get out of here before she said something she'd regret.
"Sounds like it could be fun, Harry." It looked like she'd finally learned to avoid the truth without actually telling any lies. "Ron should hear about the party."
Harry grinned at her and went off in search of Ron, but Hermione stayed behind to ask Remus if he'd seen Snape.
"Not since the two of you went after Harry. Didn't I hear someone say that he'd stayed behind to watch over the Death Eaters until the Aurors came to pick them up?"
"Yes, but that was hours ago. Remus . . . I need you to do me a favour. I need you to take me back up to the headmaster's cottage."
Remus frowned. "I don't think that's such a good idea, Hermione."
"No disrespect, Remus, but I'm getting a little tired of everyone thinking they know what's best for me."
She waited while he made up his mind, already trying to figure out some other way of getting up there in case he refused.
"You think he's going to be there?"
"I know he's going to be there, Remus. Look," she said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out the box of matches. "I still have the Portkey. Just in case."
Remus shrugged, then gave her a small smile. "All grown up now, eh Hermione?"
"All grown up, Remus."
Snape looked up when she entered the cottage.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he snapped.
He couldn't have sounded any more pissy if he'd spent the past week practicing with a tape recorder, but Hermione wasn't going to waste time bothering to take offense.
"Everybody's saying Harry took out the top tier of Death Eaters today, all by himself," she said. "I thought it might be a good idea if I came here, at least for a while."
"Typical Gryffindor. Feeling sorry for the poor ignored spy, were you?" he said, disdain dripping from every syllable. "I can assure you, Miss Granger, I neither require not wish for your misplaced pity, and if . . . ."
Hermione started to laugh. She stopped for a second, but one look at Snape's confused expression set her off again.
"What the hell is so bloody amusing?" Snape finally asked.
"I hadn't given a thought to you, to be honest," she said, no longer laughing. "The potion modification was my idea, if you'll recall, but nobody seemed to be at all interested in that. Oh, no, it was all 'Harry, you were so wonderful!'" She sat down on the couch and scowled. "Where the hell were my thanks?"
"Ah, I see. So . . . not entirely Gryffindor. There's a little Slytherin ambition in there as well."
"Maybe just a little. You must have rubbed off on me over the past eight days."
Snape looked pointedly at the bed, then back at a now-blushing Hermione. "Perhaps I did." he said with a smirk.
"And I'll thank you to admit that the potion was not entirely of your making," he said "It would never have worked without the bat wings, which I thought to add."
She stared at him in disbelief. Could he be any more petty? Although . . . perhaps he had a point.
"Oh fine. So it was our potion. "
For a moment, both were silent.
"Thank you," Hermione said quietly.
"For the bat wings, of course."
"Ah. You're . . .welcome."
He said nothing else for some minutes, but she tapped her foot and narrowed her eyes at him.
"Yes, yes . . . thank you for coming up with the basic idea." She'd never heard anybody give thanks so begrudgingly. "Very good work. Two points to Gryffindor."
She laughed. "Two points for taking out Voldemort's entire inner circle?"
"If we had destroyed the Dark Lord, as well," Snape said, his voice utterly deadpan, "perhaps I'd have given you three points."
She couldn't help smiling. "Something to work towards, then," she said. "Perhaps in the fortnight before the new term starts?"
He frowned, searching her face before replying. "Yes . . . perhaps. And after the two weeks are up?"
In that instant, she knew for a certainty that something had shifted irrevocably for both of them, even if it wasn't precisely clear what, exactly, had changed.
"I'd like to continue to work with you." She paused and waited until Snape raised a single eyebrow. "On . . . potions research of course."
"Of course. Potions research. Perhaps we could reach some . . . accommodation." Then he reached out his hand. "Congratulations."
She took his hand, and - holding on to it - reached up to kiss him.
"So," she said, looking over at her notes and the potions ingredients they'd left scattered on the small counter top and pretty much anywhere but directly at him, "are you ready to get back to work, or has actually getting out of bed today worn you out?"
Slowly, he lowered his hand from where it had been touching his lips.
"Worn me out? You really are the most impertinent chit!"