Severus stared at the motionless girl in front of him with a contemplative expression. Her small, unconscious body was covered with a white hospital sheet, hiding the big, white dressing around her chest from sight. It wasn't the first time that Hermione Granger followed her self-centred friend Potter into danger and not even the first time she almost got herself killed. Never before had he felt the need to visit the girl on her sickbed; he did not take an interest in people or worry about them. That wasn't who Severus Snape was. He had stopped caring long ago, when he held Lily's dead body in his arms and the pain and the guilt almost ripped him apart. It was the day he even stopped caring about his own godson. He still pretended to care and spoiled the brat to not draw unnecessary attention to the fact that he was hollow inside and could not be arsed to care if the boy won his next Quidditch match or failed all of his exams. Not even when the idiot had gotten himself bitten by a fucking Hippogriff did Severus feel the need to coddle or, god forbid, visit him in the hospital wing. So why was he here today? Why did he care?
Severus was not sure. It all started with Potter and his band of trouble-makers being caught by Umbridge and her chosen guard dogs, mostly consisting of his Slytherins. Potter had begged him for help then, mumbling some disconcerting stuff about his godfather being tortured. It was ridiculous, of course, which made him leave those teenagers with Umbridge in the hope that they wouldn't get in any more trouble. He should have known better. It was two hours later when the feeling of desperation and fear gripped his chest, urging him to do something, to help. It came out of the blue, with no evident reason and still, he knew in his guts that something was wrong. That's when he started to rally the troops and sent the Order to search for those stupid kids, hoping that they wouldn't be too late.
He could not accompany them, of course, as he needed to uphold his position as Dumbledore's spy, which meant that he could not be seen duelling his Death Eater comrades. Usually, he would not have minded, but today he could barely sit still and paced his chambers in nervous agitation. What was wrong with him?
He did not know, but the feeling of desperation grew until he suddenly experienced an excruciating pain in his chest that almost knocked him from his feet. It was gone a moment later, being substituted by despair and the fear of losing something, someone . But that did not make any sense, did it? There was no one he particularly cared about these days.
Still, he found himself at her bedside now, following a strange pull in his chest that brought him here. Why was he here? He did not even particularly like that bushy-haired witch. Still, he could not deny the fact that the feeling of urgency and restlessness subdued as soon as he had seated himself next to her bed and had Poppy explain her injuries to him. She was not mortally wounded, thank god, but the curse she had caught herself was still a painful and complicated one. This girl would experience a lot of pain in the next few days - probably weeks - and would require extensive treatment and specialized potions, which would make a hospitalization at St Mungo's very much advisable for her. But the thought of not being able to monitor her recovery, of not being able to see her, made him feel miserable beyond belief. And there was no explicable reason for that sort of attachment .
He pushed himself up from his chair with a growl, very much intending to let the girl rest in peace. But the sound of the chair scraping across the floor must have been enough to wake and alert the girl on the bed. She opened her eyes a moment later, blinking rapidly before she looked at him in confusion.
"Professor Snape," she mumbled groggily and stared at him as if she could not comprehend why he was here. But there really was no appropriate reason, at least none that he could tell her about. For fuck's sake!
“Miss Granger,” he greeted her neutrally. “It was brought to my attention that you’ve been hit with a dark curse. How are you feeling?”
She looked at him with a grimace. "Like I was run over by a bus," she admitted and closed her eyes for a moment. "But I guess I am lucky to still be alive. How are the others? Is anyone…"
She could not say it, but he knew what she meant and so he helpfully supplied: “Dead?”
Miss Granger nodded anxiously, making him suppress the urge to roll his eyes at her naiveté. “Sirius Black is the only casualty, as far as I am aware. Your… friends will be fine and so will you. But you will be confined to the hospital wing for quite some time, I am afraid.”
The girl nodded grimly but did not respond.
And so he continued: "That is if you decide to stay at Hogwarts and forgo being treated at St Mungo's. In this case, I would supply you with the necessary potions for your recovery."
It was the most he had ever talked to the girl, he realized, as he usually cut her ramblings off as soon as possible.
Miss Granger looked at him with a considerate look. “I’d rather stay here,” she said after a while. “There are still some days left until the holidays start and I’d rather stay close to my friends.”
Of course , he thought with an internal sneer. Her friends . He should have known that this stupid girl would cling to them, and especially Potter, even after the boy had almost gotten her killed. He could only shake his head at her stupidity.
But he did not say anything that could agitate her and schooled his face in an expressionless mask. “Of course,” he replied with a curt nod. “I will inform Madam Pomfrey of your decision. Try to sleep now. I’ll deliver your potions in the morning.”
He did not wait for her reaction and turned around, before walking out of the room, his robes billowing behind him. Her staying at Hogwarts would mean that she would spend the first days of summer break at the castle. He would be required to stay behind as well.
Severus thought he should be pissed at the prospect of additional brewing work, but instead, he felt tempted to smile. He crushed the urge down mercilessly, while he hastily strode through the castle towards his rooms. He really had to get a grip on himself, soon, because this situation was totally unacceptable as it was.
When Hermione awoke the next time her head was thrumming and her mouth felt dry. She didn’t know how long she had been out, but it seemed to be the middle of the day now.
“Good morning, my Dear,” the friendly voice of Madam Pomfrey greeted her, as soon as she had pulled herself up in bed, her ribs heavily protesting against the movement. Merlin, this curse really was a nasty one. “I have your breakfast here and some potions Professor Snape left for you. He told me you’d prefer to stay at the castle for the time of your recovery?”
Hermione nodded and attempted to smile. But it probably came out more like a grimace. “If it isn’t too much of an inconvenience?”
“Not for me, Dear, as the castle is my home and I rarely leave it these days. Professor Snape usually leaves it over summer break, but he has agreed to prolong his stay until you are recovered.”
She guessed she could consider herself lucky then, that the Professor had agreed to stay behind. He could as well have refused and sent her to St Mungo's, right? No one would have begrudged him the decision to enjoy his summer away from Hogwarts.
Madame Pomfreycast her a motherly smile and placed a tray in front of her on the bed. "Eat as much as you can, Miss Granger. Your body will need the energy to fight the curse. As soon as you are finished we will change your dressing and then it is time for you to take those potions."
Hermione agreed with a nod and looked at the food in front of her with a sigh. She wasn't hungry at all. But Madame Pomfreywas right, she needed to eat in order to get better. And she did not want to spend more time than strictly necessary confined to the infirmary. Her parents would be worried enough as it was. Had Dumbledore already informed them? And if so, what had he told them?
It was almost half an hour later when Madam Pomfrey had her sit on the edge of the bed, peering down at her chest with a thoughtful expression. The curse had hit her side, right under her right breast and left an ugly, dark red mark that almost looked purple at times. Hermione looked at it with a resigned expression.
“Will the mark stay?” she asked and looked at the medi-witch with a worried expression.
The elderly witch smiled. “A curse as dark as this one always leaves a mark behind, my Dear. The colour will fade in the next few days, I believe, but a scar will remain.”
Hermione sighed. Looked like she had gotten her first battle scar. She guessed it would not be the last one until this war was over and Voldemort was hopefully gone for good. Still, she really did not fancy having to explain to her parents how she had gained a scar of this size. Until now she had always avoided telling them about the dangerous adventures she, Harry, and Ron got into year by year. But this would definitely raise a few questions - questions she was not ready to answer.
“Isn’t there a way to hide this? A long-lasting glamour maybe?” she asked the elderly witch hopefully.
Madam Pomfrey smiled kindly. “There is no reason for you to be ashamed of this,” she said, while she spelled the wound clean and covered her skin with a slick, greenish cream that somehow smelled of mint and disinfectant. It could have been worse, she guessed, but as soon as the stuff touched her tender skin, it left an uncomfortable, tingling feeling that made her want to wipe it off, right away. “Whoever is going to see this, one day, will not think any less of you because of a scar. And if he does, he is not worth your attention anyway.”
For a moment Hermione could not follow her train of thought, but when it finally dawned on her what the older witch was saying, her cheeks flushed and she nodded. "I'm sure that won't be an issue for a while," she hastily assured the medi-witch with a smile. "There's no one I care about in that way.”
Madam Pomfrey smiled knowingly while she carefully covered the wound with a new dressing. Hermione sighed inwardly. She couldn't tell her that this wasn't about some future boyfriend, that might or might not exist one day, but her own parents that she still tried to convince that the magical world was safe and just wonderful. If her parents knew half of the stuff that had happened to her over the years, they would probably have withdrawn her from Hogwarts long ago. But Hermione couldn't leave Hogwarts, couldn't leave her friends. It was the first time in her life that she had found people who did not see her as a nerd or a freak. Finally, she had found a place where she belonged and she'd rather face another Basilisk than let anybody take that away from her.
It had taken all his self-control to stay away from the infirmary during the day and instead concentrate on his daily tasks. Now that the school year was over there wasn't much to do for him and therefore brewing the potions could have been a welcome distraction, except his mind simply would not be distracted. His mind unhelpfully pictured Miss Granger's tiny body in the white sheets, her forehead covered in sweat while she moaned in pain. It was the most annoying thing! The girl had gotten herself in trouble and now she was having to deal with the consequences, end of the story. Sooner or later Granger and her idiotic friends needed to learn to take responsibility for their actions and from all he had heard Potter had started to understand just that. Losing his idiotic godfather must have been a hard blow for him, his face looking drawn and his eyes haunted while he pushed around his food without eating a single bite at breakfast or lunch. Severus could not care less about the man's early demise, he and Black had never gotten on particularly well. Severus could not even find himself to care for Lily's son, even though he had tried to warm up to the boy. Severus had protected him from his own idiocy as best as he could, but he had done it more out of obligation and guilt towards his mother, never for the boy himself.
When dinner was over Severus first contemplated going back to his rooms, but soon he found his feet carrying him to the infirmary. It was like his body had suddenly discovered a will of his own, not caring in the slightest that his brain inwardly sneered at the ridiculousness of the situation. Severus Snape did not care about his students, or people in general, and he sure as hell did not visit a sick student in the infirmary! Except he did.
The room was quiet when he entered it through the wooden door, Madam Pomfrey enjoying her evening sherry with Sybil Trelawney as she usually did at that time. Weasley and the other rule-breakers had thankfully been released too so that the Granger girl was the only occupant of the room right now. Good. Explaining his presence to her would be hard enough as it was.
At first, he thought she was asleep, as her body was lying motionless on the bed, but when he came closer he saw that her caramel brown eyes were open, staring at the ceiling, probably without seeing a thing. For a moment he considered just leaving the room silently again, but an instant tug in his chest made him discard this idea a second later. Seven hells, he really needed to get a grip, or things would start to get out of hand rather soon.
“Miss Granger,” he greeted her calmly and her reaction was immediate. Her eyes travelled towards him and studied him intensely for a moment.
“Professor Snape,” she replied and tried to pull herself up on the bed. She did not make it far though before her face contorted in pain and she sank into the mattress with a frustrated sigh.
"You are still in pain," he stated calmly before carefully stepping closer. "Would you like me to… get you another pain-relieving potion?"
The girl blinked at him in surprise. He could not fault her for it. It was probably the nicest thing he had ever said to her.
"I… that would be very kind, thank you, Professor."
Severus looked at her silently for a long moment, before he got up and got her the promised potion. She drowned it greedily and he could time the exact moment when it took effect, as her features relaxed with a sigh of relief.
"I will adjust your potions for tomorrow, accordingly," he said before he registered what he had just so generously promised to her. Why did he just say that? It did not matter though, as she had obviously heard and looked at him with a grateful smile.
"Thank you, Sir. I am very grateful for everything you are doing for me. I know you aren't in any way obliged to. I really appreciate it."
Severus looked at her speechlessly, her words making him suddenly feel strange - almost happy . It did not make sense at all.
“It’s nothing,” he said dismissively, suddenly eager to leave the room. “Do you need anything else? If not I will retreat to my chambers for the night.”
"No, I'm fine, Sir. Thank you for visiting me and good night."
For a brief moment, their eyes met and to his astonishment, he saw the girl smile a moment later. There it was again, that feeling in his chest which made him feel warm and fuzzy inside.
"Good night," he replied briskly and turned on the spot, hastily walking out of the room. Whatever it was that was happening here, was not normal and more importantly: it did not make any sense. Luckily Severus Snape was, next to the Dark Lord, the best Occlumens known to the wizarding world. Whatever those feelings were, he would lock them up in a safe place and toss the key away, figuratively speaking. Severus Snape would not be manipulated by feelings again, no matter for whom and where they came from. This chapter of his life was long closed and he would not succumb to that weakness again.