When Hermione awoke the next morning, she felt as well-rested as she hadn't in weeks. Ever since before her OWLs, she had problems falling asleep, first from stress and now, during the last days, due to the pain and the strange restlessness that had befallen her lately. But finally, things were looking up for her again and even though her wound was still hurting, the pain was much more bearable and she felt strangely energized and rested. Also, her appetite had very much increased and she ate the scrambled egg and toast with an eagerness that reminded her of Ron.
"I was told to take you on a slow walk through the castle grounds," a well-known baritone suddenly said from the direction of the door. When she looked up from her tray, she saw Professor Snape standing in the doorway, his brows raised at her questioningly while his mouth was set in a straight line. "Madame Pomphrey told me you would have to build up your strength again before she could release you from her care and send you back home. Therefore she asked me to take you out."
Hermione looked up at him with a surprised smile. She had hoped he would see him today as he was the only company she currently had apart from Madame Pomphrey, who seemed to be rather busy again. "I would love to get out of bed for a while," she admitted calmly. "And if I am unable to continue, you would take me back to the Infirmary, right?"
The Professor nodded neutrally. "Of course I would. Change into something comfortable. I'll wait for you outside." Without waiting for a response from her he was gone.
Hermione sighed and did as she was told. She changed into a T-shirt and some sweatpants because she felt not strong enough to put on some more uncomfortable or complicated clothing. It wasn't a fancy outfit, by any means, but it wasn't like anybody would care - least of all Professor Snape.
When she walked out of the room about five minutes later, the man was leaning against the wall, staring out of the window with unseeing eyes. He seemed deep in thought but when the door behind her closed again, his head snapped up and his dark, brown eyes focussed on her again. "You're done," he stated neutrally and stepped away from the wall. "I suggest we go down to the edge of the forbidden forest. It is a hot day and it's the only place with enough shade to not get uncomfortable right away. Do you approve of my suggestion?"
Hermione nodded with a smile. "I'll go almost anywhere as long as you're getting me out of the Infirmary, Professor" she admitted with a smile. "I think I'm slowly starting to get cabin fever."
Professor Snape looked at her for a long moment and it was absolutely impossible to guess what he was thinking. "Very well," he finally said, the corner of his mouth twitching into something like a smile. "Come on then, Miss Granger. And let me know if you start to feel tired or want to return. It is not advisable to tire yourself out too much."
"Yes, Sir," Hermione answered him and followed him through the corridor with a smile on her face. Her belly was fluttering happily at the prospect of finally getting out, even if it was with Professor Snape as a chaperone.
Miss Granger was in surprisingly good shape for having suffered such a strong curse. Severus still remembered the picture of her cursed flesh, still swollen and tender from the foul magic, that had seeped into it. He hadn't been aware of it right away, but he suddenly felt the strong need to curse Dolohov or at least hurt him, when no one was watching. Maybe one of his curses could accidentally stray and hit him during the next Death Eater raid? No, that would probably be too risky as he could not compromise his position as Dumbledore's spy. Still, the need to somehow hurt this bastard grew stronger with every time he watched the girl slow down and lean against a wall for support.
"Maybe we should go back," he calmly suggested, after it happened for the third time. Miss Granger's eyes immediately snapped up and she fixed him with an almost desperate expression.
"No Sir, please. We are almost outside, now. I would really enjoy some fresh air and a change of scenery," she pleaded.
His first impulse was to scold her for being unreasonable, but a moment later he realized that going back would mean his visit being over, which would not leave him with any new data to work with. No, he needed to spend a bit more time with her, for scientific purposes of course. "As you wish. We can walk a bit further. If I remember correctly there is a tree pretty close to the castle. It will provide enough shade for us to sit down and enjoy the fresh air."
He deliberately underlined the last words to remind her, that she had been the one uttering them. To his astonishment, the girl simply smiled at him in return. "That would be brilliant!" she uttered and a moment later she had started walking again. Somehow he was strangely pleased by her words, his body humming happily, filled with the strange energy that seemed to seep into him, as soon as she was near her. He would have to be careful to not get too dependent on this feeling of contentment he had started to experience in her presence. Because when it was done he would only have an unnecessarily hard time to readjust to the loneliness again.
They sat down below the tree, Severus making the quick decision to transfigure a large blanket for them. The action was promptly rewarded by another appreciative smile from the girl.
"It's a beautiful day," she exclaimed with a happy sigh and sat down. Severus carefully chose a spot a bit farther away from her and lowered himself to the ground. He chose to not reply. He would not ridicule himself by talking about the weather. On the other hand, they could not simply sit here in silence, even though this usually was what he preferred. But if he wanted to find a way to regularly interact with the girl without her realizing they had a special connection, then this would take some planning and effort from his side. Therefore he chose the first topic that came to his mind and said: "In your last potions essay you wrote, that the addition of Moonfairy dust would improve the effectiveness of the Cramp Reliever. Where did you get the idea from?"
He could feel the girl's focus shift towards him, as her eyes suddenly fixed him with a proud expression. Every other student had probably refused to answer or mumbled something about not being able to remember. But this was Hermione Granger, the witch that was always eager to answer his questions and she did not disappoint. Severus saw her taking a deep breath before her caramel-brown eyes lighted up with interest. It was probably the first time he encouraged her to share her thoughts with him and a moment later she did so with an eagerness that was rather catching. Her argumentation was sound, he realized with a pleased little smile. Maybe these next hour wouldn't be as dull as he suspected. Luckily Miss Granger was an intelligent conversation partner. This would make this whole situation much more bearable, Severus thought.
Time of exposition : 2 hours, 34 minutes, 45 seconds
Physical interaction: none
Severus stared at the notebook in front of him with a shake of his head. Things had rather gotten out of hand, considering that he had only wanted to spend an hour of his time with the girl. But somehow time had flown by rather quickly with them discussing various aspects of potion-making, he had never even suspected her to have an understanding for. And Merlin he had enjoyed it! Dumbledore had been right. The both of them were more similar than he had first realized and he didn't only mean them being able to share an intellectually stimulating conversation. No, in some ways the girl really reminded him of himself as a teenager, only that she had been lucky enough to find herself some loyal friends that supported her and kept the bullying at bay. Weasley and Potter had always been eager to defend her against anyone trying to bully her and for a moment Severus asked himself if his life would have taken a different turn if he had had equally loyal friends. It might have. Well, there was no going back for him now. The past could not be undone, he had learned that the hard way.
With a sigh, he dipped his quill into the ink and after a moment of hesitation he continued to write:
The subject could be easily swayed to indulge in intellectual discussion, which made being exposed to her presence much more bearable. I should remember that approach if the need arises to instigate further contact. She has proven to be more intelligent than I so far realized, as she was able to properly discuss several topics, without permanently citing from a book. Therefore the conversation was much more manageable as I did not constantly feel the need to silence her as I do in class.
He left it at that and started to note the measurements of his heart rate and other relevant factors he had magically tracked during his meeting with Miss Granger. Later that day he would visit her again, to change the dressing of her wound again, as Dumbledore would keep Madame Pomphrey otherwise occupied. If things went well, Miss Granger would soon not be too averse of meeting him, which would make seeing her regularly during the new school year much easier. Her holidays were a problem though. As it looked it would only be a few days, until the girl returned to her parents. In order to keep their strange connection a secret he would still need to see her during that time, but he would find a way to do that, without her noticing.
"Professor Snape?" Hermione asked carefully, as the man carefully took off her dressing in the evening. Their walk in the morning had gone rather well and the man hadn't insulted her once. This made her hopeful he would not sneer at her right away when she addressed him.
She was right. The man just looked up at her with a contemplative gaze. "What is it?"
"Madam Pomphrey told me that this scar would never totally fade. Is there some way to hide it for a while? Maybe a long-lasting glamour or a cream?"
Hermione saw his brows knit together in annoyance and she could tell he attempted to brush her off, so she hastily continued: "I… might not have told my parents the truth about my injury, Sir. I don't want them to remove me from school and so I did not tell them about our trip to the ministry, the basilisk or You-Know-Who."
"You did not tell them anything, did you?" he asked with a shake of his head. At least he no longer sounded annoyed with her.
"Not really, no. Hogwarts is the place where I finally don't feel like a freak, where I found some friends. I don't want to lose that, Sir. I know I'll have to tell them, probably soon, but maybe I could just enjoy this last summer…"
She broke off, realizing how stupid and egoistical she sounded. The Professor would be right to scold her for her childish behaviour. But he didn't.
"I would strongly advise against casting a glamour on a cursed wound, Miss Granger," he said pulling a face as if he spoke from experience. "It usually does not end well. But there might be other ways to hide it for a shorter amount of time. I'd have to look into it, though."
Hermione looked at him with wide eyes. "You'd do that for me, Sir?"
The man looked at her with a crooked smile and gleaming eyes. "I might if you are willing to make up for the time it takes me, to create something for you. You seem to be rather efficient in preparing potion ingredients. Would you be willing to work some evenings in my lab and assist with brewing?"
Hermione had expected anything but not that, which might be the reason she simply stared at the man, her mouth hanging open. "I'd love to, Sir. I'll work very hard and I will not disappoint you, I promise!" she said and for a moment she had the urge to just hug the unruly man for his unexpected kindness. But that would probably end with him sneering at her and taking his offer back.
"You better not," he said and dipped two of his long fingers into the container holding the green balm, that he would once again have to apply to her wound. Hermione followed the motion with a small smile on her lips. She could not believe how lucky she was. Working with him in the lab wasn't a chore for her at all. She would surely be able to pick up some things while she watched a potions master brew. Merlin, she could not believe how lucky she was!
Time of exposition: 20 minutes 33 seconds
Physical interaction: for 2 minutes and 30 seconds
Again, the test subject did not show any aversion against being touched. The change of the wound dressing showed a massive improvement in the wound. The application of the healing salve alone again stimulated a vast regeneration of the curse damage within minutes, that can not be tracked to the ingredients of the salve alone. This is supporting the hypothesis of increased healing or self-healing due to physical contact. Even though I feel highly uncomfortable exploring that particular path of my studies any further as it will require touching the girl in the future, the subject’s need for medical care leaves me with no other choice than to tend to her injuries. Still, mutual healing may be useful in the future, should I need healing once returning from a meeting. It is definitely worth it to find out if the dual healing could go both ways.
The test subject agreed to assist me in my lab after the holidays. She was not even hesitant to do so. Maybe this will provide a chance to extend the length of exposition to her even further and therefore note any other effects on my magic or mental state. Spending time in her presence, however tedious it might appear to me, seems to have a positive effect on both . I will need a plausible reason for the subject to be seen near me or in the classroom after hours. Also I will need to ascertain what the girl tells her “friends" of our continual interactions.
"Why did you agree to accompany Potter to the Ministry, knowing that this was probably a suicide mission?" Severus found himself asking two days later. He had again taken her on a walk and this time they managed to walk to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where he again transfigured a thick, soft blanket for them to sit down on. When Miss Granger continued to make as much progress, he would soon have to send her back to her parents, which was when the problems for him would start. He still did not know how to meet her then, especially as he did not want to point out their strange connection to her. Knowing about it she would probably feel pressured to spend time with him or feel obliged to befriend or Merlin forbid fall in love with him and that was a disaster he wanted to avoid at all costs.
For a moment Miss Granger did not react to his question and stared unseeingly towards the castle. Finally, she sighed and looked at him with a resigned expression. "Harry is my friend, Professor and I'd do almost anything for him. I know this sounds stupid, but I had always problems making friends. Before Hogwarts, kids used to avoid me. They thought me strange and not just because of the strange accidents that used to happen around me. I was too bookish, or too grown up in their eyes and so I was often bullied or simply ignored." The girl's expression was guarded, probably because she expected some sort of nasty comment from him. How should she know that he exactly knew what she was talking about? It had been the same for him, only that he had already made a friend before coming to school - a friend he would have done anything for. But that wasn't the point right now.
"Just because Potter is your friend does not mean you should help him getting killed, Miss Granger," he said, focussing her caramel brown eyes with a serious expression. "I know this is not easy, as your friend tends to be reckless and to not think things through. But that is what you can help him with. Don't tell me you haven't at least considered that this… vision could have been an attempt to trap him?"
The girl sighed and finally lowered her gaze. "I told him it probably was, which is why he finally agreed to floo-call Grimmauld Place and check if Sirius was alright. We only reached Kreacher, the house-elf though, who told us that Sirius was not there."
"I see," Severus replied calmly. He could not help but ask himself what would have happened if he had sent somebody to the Ministry right away that day. Miss Granger would probably have never gotten hurt and the strange connection between them might have remained undetected until today. He found himself not knowing if he liked that idea. "It is not my place to judge your decisions, Miss Granger, but let me tell you the following: before this war is over, you'll have to make many difficult and probably dangerous decisions. Not only you but all of us. If you want you and your friends to survive, then you'll not only need to be a brave Gryffindor, you'll need all the cunning and carefulness of a Slytherin as well." He looked at her meaningfully. "Mr Potter and Mr Weasley do have enough bravery to last you through the war, but from time to time it will be your job to hold them back and let them reconsider. This might not make you very popular with them for the moment, but maybe this will make the difference between dying and surviving."
The girl looked at him with wide eyes and for a moment he had to fight the strong urge to comfort her. He was already almost overstepping the fine line between teacher and student, but he had to make sure the girl understood the danger of being too careless. "I know that the right decision is not always the easy one, Miss Granger and considering that I am a Death Eater I know plenty about making the wrong decisions."
Damn, he did not want to say that, but somehow the words just slipped out without him realizing until it was too late. The effect was immediate, as the girl's gaze suddenly grew hesitant and her bottom lip disappeared between her teeth. A moment later he could see her tormenting it nervously. "Why did you join the Death Eaters, Sir?" she finally asked quietly but still loud enough for him to hear. He looked back at her with a regretful smile.
"There is no simple answer for such a complicated question, Miss Granger. I had several reasons back then but to explain them I would have to tell you about my past, which I will not do," he said calmly and immediately he saw her nod.
"Of course, Sir. I didn't mean to pry or to disrespect you," the girl hastily assured him with downcast eyes.
"A question is rarely a form of disrespect, at least if it is asked accordingly. As long as you accept your question not being answered…"
"I don't," she assured him, interrupting him mid-sentence.
"Good. And now we should probably head back to the castle. It's almost lunchtime," he said and without waiting for her reply he pulled himself up to his feet. Miss Granger followed his example a moment later. Somehow this discussion with her had developed to be much more personal than he intended to. But somehow he realized that he could not find himself to regret that. Miss Granger had not flinched away from him after his confession of being a Death Eater, she had not judged him for it, just asked after his reasons for making this discussion. What would have happened if he had told her about his past? Would she have understood or maybe even tried to comfort him? He pushed the thought away with a sigh. Trusting people was always a mistake, one that he would not make again. He would make no exception to this self-made rule, not even for one Hermione Granger.