It took almost one more day for Harry to come to visit her. Her friend’s face looked drawn, tired, and his eyes were so full of grief, that Hermione's heart clenched in sympathy for him. She had not known Sirius well and therefore his death did not affect her in the same way as it did Harry. To Harry, Sirius had been the only family he had left; to her he was only a damaged, reckless shell of a man.
“I’m sorry it took me so long to come visiting," Harry apologized and put a box of chocolate frogs on her nightstand. "It is my fault that you're in pain, that you got hurt, Hermione. It's just, I felt like I did not have the energy to face you yesterday. You told me that we could possibly run into a trap and…"
"And you thought I'd rub it under your nose, that you didn't want to listen," Hermione finished for him and looked at him with a sigh. "Oh Harry, I'd never have been so cruel after…" she took a deep breath "after you've just lost Sirius."
Harry looked at her with a guilty expression. “I’m sorry, you’re right. I didn’t think.”
“It’s alright,” Hermione replied with a sad smile.
Harry looked back at her with a hesitant expression. “How are you, Hermione? Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t tell me much, just that you'll have to stay in the infirmary for a while longer. You're not going to be on the Hogwarts Express tomorrow, are you?"
She shook her head sadly. “No, it will probably be a few more days until I can go home. I... could you do me a favour, Harry?”
Her friend’s green eyes focussed on her instantly. " 'Course Hermione. What is it? What do you need?”
She shyly gnawed at her bottom lip. "I wrote a letter to my parents, where I explained why I would not be able to come home tomorrow. Could you post it for me? I can't go to the owlery myself and I'd rather not ask a teacher."
" 'Course I'll post it for you. I'll give it to Hedwig right away. Do you think your parents will be mad because of what we did?" Harry asked, his gaze unsure.
Hermione shrugged. "I didn't tell them, to be honest. I just wrote that I got hurt while practising some spell for next year because I wanted to work ahead after finishing my exams." She smiled ruefully. "They'd take me out of school if they knew half of the stuff we got ourselves into."
Harry looked at her inquiringly. “You haven’t told them anything, have you?”
"Not much, no. I know I probably should, especially as this situation seems to get worse and worse. But what am I supposed to tell them? That they better leave the country because there's an evil, dark wizard who will probably start coming after Muggles and muggle-borns? They would most likely believe me, but if they did, they would never let me return to Hogwarts."
Her friend nodded. “I’m not saying I want you to leave, Hermione, but what will you do if things keep getting worse? You can’t lie to them forever, can you?”
"I know," she admitted with a sad expression. "It's just... I don't want to leave this school. I'm almost sure I wouldn't be able to convince them to let me stay, which is why I keep putting off this discussion. It's not very Gryffindor-like, is it?"
Harry nodded with a grin. “Probably not. But I get it, I really do. Hogwarts is the place where I finally feel at home. I’d never let somebody take that away from me.”
Hermione nodded. At least Harry understood. It made her feel a bit better about the fact that she was lying to her parents, again . She knew she'd probably have to tell them one day. But that would have to wait until she was of age because she did not plan on leaving the country, and therefore her friends, behind. And come next September nobody would be able to force her to.
The day was dragging on endlessly and Severus felt himself being annoyed by the smallest of things. The later it got, the darker became his mood and when he found a pair of Ravenclaws snogging in a hidden alcove on the third floor, he took 30 points from each of them, making the fourth years break out into tears. Severus did not care, just watched them skitter away with a dark expression before he continued roaming through the castle. Several times he caught himself suddenly walking in the direction of the infirmary, but every time he became aware of what he was doing, he turned around sharply and hastily marched away.
When it was finally time for him to sink into bed, he tried strengthening his Occlumency shields. But even though the mental exercise made him sweat and gave him a headache, it did not help against the growing hollowness and longing in his chest. It was like these feelings were not simply a mental problem and could not be shooed away with mental discipline. But that was impossible. There was always a way to control one's feelings, he had done it for years!
Around 3 a.m. he gave up to try falling asleep, as sleep simply refused to come to him. Even though he had his thoughts tightly under control and his head was decisively empty, which meant that he did not think about the girl, his chest felt tighter and tighter and the desire to just leave his room got unbelievably strong. This was not possible, this couldn't be possible. What kind of foul magic was this?
With an annoyed huff, he threw his heavy blanket aside and slipped into a heavy black robe. A muttered disillusion spell later he left his private chambers and slowly walked through the empty corridors. At this time of the night hardly anyone was out of bed, he knew, as this was usually the time he returned from his monthly Death Eater meetings. Still, he needed to be careful. Whatever kind of madness had befallen him was his business and his alone. Had the Granger girl bewitched him? Given him some sort of potion maybe? He’d test those theories first thing in the morning - or better, as soon as he returned from the infirmary, hopefully feeling more calm and collected. Why hadn’t he thought of diagnosing himself right away? It was probably a sign of the severity of the strange madness that had suddenly befallen him.
Severus passed the door to the infirmary about ten minutes later. The room was coated in darkness, but luckily his eyes were exceptional and he did not need light to move around the room. He also cast a silencing charm on himself, as the last thing he wanted was to alert the sleeping girl on the bed. She would probably have a heart attack, if she realized her Potions Professor secretly visited her sickbed at night, standing next to her to simply stare at her in silence. It was more than a bit creepy, now that he considered it. Fuck!
She looked peaceful in her sleep and there were no signs of pain on her face. Good. Obviously, the changes he had made to her potions had the desired effect. The thought that his efforts had made the girl feel better, made a feeling of satisfaction bloom in his chest. Suddenly he thought that he had made the right choice staying behind at Hogwarts for her. It wasn't like anything pleasant awaited him at Spinner's End anyway.
He would allow himself the satisfaction this strange spell brought, even if it was just for a few moments, Severus decided. There was no harm in just watching the girl for a bit, right? She wouldn't even know he had been here and he did not plan on repeating this creepy performance anytime soon. For now, he just wanted to feel better and finally be able to sleep .
He carefully took two more steps towards her and, making a quick decision, he transfigured a chair for himself and sat down. He was close enough to her to see her chest rising as she breathed in her sleep and when he concentrated, he could smell something like peaches and coconut, probably the girl's hair products, now that he thought about it. It wasn't a bad scent, he thought, even though he had never wanted to smell like something to eat himself. The idea was somewhat ridiculous. Still, he found that breathing in her scent calmed him down to some extent and it wasn't long until the pressure on his chest seemed to lessen again. He'd sit here just for a few moments longer, Severus told himself and without realizing it, his eyelids dropped, once, twice, and finally they stayed closed. It wasn't long until his body sagged forward and he bedded his head on her mattress, close enough that the scent of coconut and peaches lulled him into a peaceful if somewhat uncomfortable sleep.
It was almost two hours later when Severus awoke with a gasp, finding his head on Miss Granger's bed, his nose suspiciously close to the girl's unruly brown mane. One of his hands had even wandered towards the girls head, carefully holding a strand of her hair. He let go of it, as if it had suddenly burned him. Severus cursed inwardly. His disillusionment had long faded, his body not being able to feed magic to the spell while he was asleep. He was clearly visible, for everyone walking into the infirmary as the morning light already fell through the large windows, shining on his dark form that stood out in stark contrast to the white bedding in front of him. Seven hells! How was it possible for him to let his guard down enough to suddenly fall asleep in the most inconvenient place? What if somebody had seen him like that? Poppy or Dumbledore would have been one thing, still annoying and probably pressing him for answers he was not willing to give, but what if a Slytherin had seen him like that and decided to report his strange behaviour to the Dark Lord?
Severus hastily cast a silent disillusionment over himself and carefully rose from his chair. When he turned around, he realized that the movement must have woken the girl, as her eyes suddenly blinked open and looked around the room in confusion. Only seconds later they came to rest on the lonely chair that was still standing close to her bed and she stared at it with furrowed brows and a contemplative expression. It was obvious that she was trying to solve a puzzle for which she was lacking the necessary pieces. He saw her hand rake through her hair with a sigh before she tried to pull herself up on the bed. Again she was forced to give up the attempt with a pained expression on her face. Severus stood there, only metres away and watched the girl with a fascinated expression, his heart hammering agitatedly in his chest. A single Finite Incatatem cast by her would be enough to reveal his presence and bring him into a very uncomfortable situation he would not be able to explain. He could only pray that it would not come to that.
The next minutes felt like the longest in his life. Standing motionless next to the girl's bed, forced to watch her slowly fall back asleep again, was terrifying and exciting at the same time. At first, he could still see her eyes flicker searchingly through the room from time to time, but as they did not find anything suspicious after a few attempts, Miss Granger must have decided that her mysterious guest must have been long gone. He had counted to 451 when her eyelids slowly started to drop again and to 739 when her breath started to even out, indicating that the girl had fallen back asleep again. He forced himself to wait another five minutes until he dared to move again and silently crept out of the room. Only when he closed the door behind him without making a single sound, did allow himself to sigh in relief before his steps sped up and he hurried towards his own quarters. It was about time that he uncovered this strange curse that had befallen him and found a way to break it, because otherwise he was fucked.
When Hermione woke up in the morning, she felt rested and strangely good-humoured, considering that she was still not able to get up from her bed without assistance. It was like the pressure that had lasted on her chest had lessened during the night, indicating that her wound was slowly starting to heal. Thank Merlin. That strange feeling had gotten worse and worse over the day and had been almost unbearable in the evening, making her almost believe that the potions Professor Snape so graciously provided did not have the desired effect. This morning though the strange ache in her chest was gone, while her curse wound, on the other hand, had started to sting and pucker again. It was the strangest thing. Why was the one pain gone only to make room for another one? Did this mean something with her medication was wrong? She'd ask Madame Pomfrey about it when she saw her the next time.
And then there was the strange, nightly visitor she had had last night. She wasn’t even sure there had been somebody there, but why would there have been a chair next to her bed otherwise? Who was it that had visited her at night, unwilling to wake her or alert her of his presence? Professor Dumbledore? Harry? Hermione wasn’t sure but there weren’t many other options she could think of.
Whoever it was, Hermione hoped he would come back in the morning, as they had not been able to talk during the night. Maybe Harry had already gotten an answer from her parents? No, she guessed he would just have left it on the nightstand for her if this was the case. So, if it wasn't Harry then it probably was a teacher. Who else would visit her after curfew? It wasn't like she had many friends in the castle, to begin with. Could it have been Professor Snape? He was the only teacher that had visited her at the infirmary so far and he had been surprisingly kind while doing so. Could it have been him? Hermione found herself strangely liking the idea. She felt like she could trust him in a strange way she could not explain. The Professor had always protected her, even though they had barely realized he had been doing so. It was thanks to him that the Order arrived at the Ministry and got them out and he was the one brewing and modifying the potions that slowly helped her to get better. Maybe Professor Snape wasn’t half as bad as he let them believe? He was a spy for the Order, risking his life every time he went to one of those Death Eater meetings and did... whatever it was they were doing. He was probably not doing it out of pure charity, but whatever reasons he had, it made the man firmly stand on their side, no matter what he outwardly let his Slytherins believe.
Harry and Ron came to say their goodbyes in the morning. Harry handed her a crisp white envelope as soon as he reached her bed, which could only have come from her parents. Hermione would read it later when everybody was gone. Right now she wanted to enjoy the last minutes she had with her friends before they disappeared into their summer holidays and she wouldn't be able to see them for weeks. Usually, Hermione was fine with that. She enjoyed spending her holidays with her parents as they always travelled and made the most of the time they had together. But this time she did not like the idea of leaving Hogwarts at all. Was it because she feared her parents would not let her return? Hermione didn't know but the thought of having to leave the castle in a few days made her strangely nauseous.