It was the first time Severus had witnessed the miracle of Kindred Magic and had a direct comparison of what would have happened to Hermione without his magic working to heal her. Yes, he had experienced its magic working on himself, twice: first when he regrew his own arm and Hermione took away the pain, and the second time when she pulled him back from death's door. But this time he was the one helping her recover and even though hers and Potter’s treatment only varied by the physical contact he and Hermione had shared, Hermione was so much better off than her friend.
Potter’s skin was pretty much gone in the morning, his open flesh still red and angry, and it was obvious that the boy was in pain. Severus did what he could for him by applying a regenerative salve and giving him a strong pain potion. In the end, Harry would be all right, and his skin would still regrow without leaving scars, but it would be a long way for him.
Hermione, on the other hand, greeted him with a big smile when he re-entered her room, all of her bandages gone, exposing a new layer of rosy, unblemished skin. She was clad in a loose nightshirt now that left her arms and feet bare. Poppy had obviously applied a warming charm onto the girl’s bed, as Hermione did not see the necessity to cover herself with her blanket. And involuntarily his eyes were pulled towards her exposed ankles, fixating on the creamy skin like he had not seen anything as fascinating before. Merlin, he needed to get a grip, and soon.
With the willpower of a true Occlumens he forced his eyes back to her face, assessing the healing process underway. She looked much better. Yes, the formerly wounded areas still looked new and tender, but there were worlds between hers and Potter's recovery. And he had been the one making it possible, all without speaking a single spell. Somehow this realization was it, what made the whole thing real for him. Because this should not have been possible, Hermione recovering almost completely in a matter of hours when all he had been doing was holding her. Still it had happened, he had made it happen - something good – and not the usual catastrophes that seemed to follow him throughout his life. Severus had been the one making a difference – really making a difference – and it wasn’t through Albus’ scheming or by serving an evil master.
“Madam Pomfrey said tomorrow I would be able to resume classes,” Hermione said, greeting him with a beaming smile. “How is Harry?”
Severus walked closer, unable to take his eyes from her face. “He will recover,” he said seriously. “But for him, it will take time. I expect the results to be equally... satisfying though.”
Hermione nodded, her face signalling that she had understood why that was. “I see. Do you think I could still visit him though? Just for a bit? I imagine you will resume your teaching duties today.”
He sighed inwardly. He did not want to go back to teaching those brats and leave Hermione in this room, all by herself. Well, not totally. There was still her grumpy-looking, cheeky cat. Still, leaving her felt wrong, it felt like he would have to leave a part of himself behind. But he would have to do it, because how in Merlin’s name should he explain this sudden attachment to her, or anybody else? Or was it possible that this was their bond acting up again, making him feel the way she felt? Was this desire to stay with her even his, was it real ? Well, it was as real as Severus healing her without casting a single spell, he realized with a jolt of panic - which made it pretty real in his eyes.
Merlin, he was being sucked into this bond deeper and deeper, and he did not know how to get back out. But what if he was not meant to?
“Harry, how are you?” Hermione found herself saying an hour later, sitting at her friend’s bedside, wide-eyed. If Severus had not told her Harry would be all right, she would have surely panicked, seeing him like that. Because it was only now that she realized that she must have looked almost the same some hours ago, and how bad things could have been, for both of them.
“Singed,” her friend replied with a crooked smile on his lips. “I feel like a skinned rabbit - or maybe a boiled lobster. Decide for yourself which one it is, I think either comparison is quite fitting at the moment.” Hermione looked at him sympathetically and it was only a moment until his smile disappeared and his look turned serious. “I am glad you’re already feeling better, Hermione. How did Professor Snape patch you up so quickly? It was him, was it not?”
Hermione nodded shyly. “It was him. He did everything for you he could, Harry, and he promised me you’ll be all right, too. For you, it just takes a bit longer.”
Her friend nodded seriously. “I imagine you can not tell me why, until I’ve finally learned Occlumency, right?”
She nodded sadly, but Harry just smiled.
“Well, it appears I do have a lot of time now, all of a sudden. And confined to this private room there won’t be much distraction here anyway. Before I get bored out of my mind, I might as well put that time to good use, huh?”
Hermione nodded again, this time with a happy smile. “I could teach you, a bit. I don’t know much, but I have read some books…”
Harry snorted. “Of course you have. Alright, teach me. And who knows? With you, I might even finally learn. I definitely want to, because I can feel that there’s a lot you’re not telling me.” He looked at her meaningfully.
“I… there is.” She sighed. “And I wish I could tell you, at least some of it. Because I feel like I desperately need someone else to talk to.”
Harry smiled understandingly. “Then let’s get into this. I might not be as brilliant as your Professor Snape, but I will not let you down, Hermione. Or at least I’ll do my best not to.” Harry grinned crookedly, half of it hidden by the bandages still wrapped around his head. “So how do I go about this?”
When Hermione entered the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning, whispers could be heard throughout the room. She could see several students turning around to get a better look at her, before concentrating back on their food, with something like disappointment on their faces. Hermione sighed and for a moment she wished to be back in the private ward, or the new private quarters she had been given by the Headmaster. What did they expect to see? The answer came as soon as she sat down at the Gryffindor table, next to Ginny.
“They said you were badly injured,” Ron said to her, his tone dark. “Can’t have been so bad then, when you’re back already, with not even a mark on you.”
For a moment Hermione just stared at her former friend, unsure what she should even say to this. But finally, she replied: “I was lucky to be treated immediately, Ronald. Things could have been much worse.”
Ron looked at her with a disappointed headshake, before turning away without saying another word to her. Instead, she heard him say to Lavender, who was sitting right next to him: “I can’t believe Dumbledore gave them private quarters, just because Harry messed up his potion. But I guess they were always his favourites.”
Hermione wanted to say something, but she was held back by Ginny’s hand on her leg. “Ignore my prick of a brother. It’s just his usual jealousy talking,” she mumbled. “I’m glad you are alright. I was so worried about you - both of you.”
Hermione nodded, casting Ginny a friendly smile. “Thank you, Ginny.”
“Did you see Harry? How is he? Dumbledore hasn’t said much, but from what your classmates told me, it was bad...” the female redhead murmured in a worried tone.
“Harry will need some more days to recover. But I was told he will be all right,” she assured the girl. “You could ask Madam Pomfrey if you could visit him - maybe not today, but tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you. He’s pretty isolated right now.”
Ginny looked at her hopefully. “Do you think Madam Pomfrey would let me see him?”
At that, Hermione shrugged. “Just ask her, Ginny. The private ward is just for Harry’s protection after… after what happened. But that doesn’t mean he should be forbidden from seeing his friends, don’t you think?”
Ginny smiled. “Absolutely. You’re right. I’ll ask her right after school. Thank you, Hermione!”
Hermione nodded with a happy smile, before starting to butter her toast. Harry would be so happy when Ginny came to visit. It wasn’t like he was trying to hide the crush he had on the youngest Weasley. And maybe it wasn’t too late, and Ginny still wanted him. Then at least two of them could be with the person they loved. With a rueful smile, she took a bite from her toast, her thoughts returning to the day before. Severus had dutifully visited her after he had finished his lessons, and entertained her by reading to her and discussing some advancements they could make on their microscope, once they had finally implemented the light crystal. But after a while he left, reminding her that he still had work to do, and Hermione let him go, knowing that she would not see him until the next day, when he hopefully came to visit her in her new quarters. There would be no more waking up in his arms or listening to his heartbeat, Hermione thought, and given the fact that she was still his student and Severus did not even seem attracted to her, she would have to learn to accept that.
Those humans could be frustratingly thick, Crookshanks thought, casually strolling through the corridors of the castle. He had thought that after having slept in the same bed, obviously enjoying each other’s presence, his mistress or the raven-man would have realized that it was finally time to make a move and pounce already . But even though it was obvious that it was what they wanted to do, they skittered away again, acting like they were not interested at all. Idiots!
The raven-man was the perfect mate for his mistress; his fingers were gentle and patient and scratched his ears just right . He did not have a high or unnerving voice, was not smelly, and he had a collection of most interesting snacks on his shelves. Crookshanks had eyed them all himself, when the raven-man had briefly housed him in his chambers. What else was there to want? The raven-man would be the perfect master for him, this Crookshanks could feel in his whiskers. But obviously his mistress could not see it, or was still undecided.
Maybe it was time for him to do something about it, time to show his mistress just what she was missing out by letting that human roam the castle unclaimed. What if he instead attached himself to another human instead? No, that could not be tolerated, it would be a total waste of opportunity. Which meant Crookshanks needed to do something to prevent such a totally unacceptable outcome. Luckily his mistress usually followed his advice, and he already had a pretty clear idea of how to advertise the raven-man to her as a worthy mate.
‘What a shitty day’, Hermione thought while strolling back into her new private quarters, which were located in another part of the Gryffindor Tower. She had really looked forward to joining classes again, but all she got from her classmates was dark or jealous looks. Especially her old dorm-mates seemed unhappy or jealous about her moving out of their shared room and a few times she could hear Lavender talking about her behind her back. The most laughable theory she heard was that she and Harry had orchestrated his accident themselves, to get private quarters, so that they would be undisturbed in their lovemaking. The idea was absolutely ridiculous, but somehow it was still worth spreading. Gods, Hermione hated teenagers, herself included, because those ridiculous hormones were really not helping to remain calm and not start crying in front of her classmates.
With Harry still confined to the hospital wing it felt like back in first year again, when she was friendless and ridiculed by her classmates. Of course it was not true, because she had friends now, except that none of them were at her side during the day. And so she struggled on, alone, while keeping her mind focussed on the fact that she would see Severus in the evening.
She would have been fine , even though her heart ached most of the day and her chest tightened, making it hard for her to breathe, as her desire to be reunited with her mate grew. But Hermione knew they would see each other in the evening and that this would have to be enough.
With a sigh she put her bag down on the floor and walked to her bed, attempting to throw herself onto the soft covers and close her tired eyes for a bit. Only when she came closer she saw that there was already something on it. Right on her pillow there was a huge giant's toe, while her blanket was holding several eyeballs and something that looked like the brain of a rat. It had already left wet spots on her blanket.
What a gruesome sight! And even though Hermione objectively knew that those were only potion ingredients, someone would still have needed to put them there. And the wards on her new rooms should have prevented just that. Currently Severus was the only one she had given the permission to, to enter her chambers, and he, for sure, would not have done such a thing to her.
Bugger. Somebody had been to her supposedly secure chambers. And he had left a gruesome message for her.
“Grumpy,” Hermione called for one of the house-elves, her voice toneless. It was only a moment until the black-haired, batty-eared servant appeared in front of her, looking at her expectantly.
“How can Grumpy be of service to Miss Hermione?”
Hermione sighed. “Could you please go and get Professor Snape for me? And possibly Professor Dumbledore, too?”
The elf nodded dutifully. “Of course, Miss. Grumpy will go and get them right away,” the older male elf squeaked, before apparating away. Hermione stared at the place where the little servant had just disappeared and waited. It would be better if she did not touch anything in the room until her Professors were here. Because who knew what else the intruder had left for her?
It was only a few moments until her door opened and Severus strode into the room, his face alarmed when he sought her out.
“What happened?” he asked, just as the Headmaster appeared right in front of her out of thin air, and only a moment later she remembered that Albus Dumbledore’s position allowed him to apparate inside the castle.
“Somebody has been to my room,” she explained, motioning to her tastelessly decorated bed. “I think they left a message or something.”
The men turned towards her bed and while the Headmaster’s expression remained calm, Severus’ expression became dark. “No one should have been able to enter these rooms,” he said, his eyes seeking out the Headmaster. “Miss Granger has to grant permission to someone seeking to enter these rooms personally, as you very well know. Apart from the both of us and Miss Granger, no one should have even been able to enter.”
Professor Dumbledore nodded. “This is indeed quite worrisome.”
“We need to look into this, check the wards,” Severus said, before his eyes sought her out. “Have you touched anything?”
Hermione shook her head. “No. I only dropped my bag onto the floor, that is all.”
“Good. Leave everything here. You’ll be staying in my quarters until we find out who did this to you. And we will find out, I promise.” Hermione nodded hesitantly and watched Severus turn back towards the Headmaster.
“Can I trust you to look into this, Albus? Because I am not leaving Hermione all by herself, after yet another incident. Do you have any objections against her staying in my rooms? Next to yours, they are the best warded rooms of the castle…” her friend said calmly.
But Albus Dumbledore looked at Severus with a kind, grandfatherly smile. “Why would I have objections? I think it is a splendid idea. As you said, there is hardly a place where Miss Granger would be better protected.”
For a short moment, Hermione thought she saw a twinkle in the old man’s eyes, but when she looked again, it was gone. “Do you have any objections against staying with Professor Snape, Miss Granger? Just until we have discovered who did this to you.”
Hermione shook her head, a little smile appearing on her lips. “Professor Snape is always very kind. I have no objections against staying with him,” she said as calmly as possible.
The old man nodded. “Splendid!” he said, clapping his hands together. “Then I suggest you take Miss Granger to your rooms immediately. I will stay behind and assess the wards.”
Severus nodded. “Very well. I suggest we use the house-elves’ services to get us there and remain silent about the incident for now. We would not want to tip off whoever did this. Maybe they’ll try to enter your chambers again if they believe you’re still living here.”
Professor Dumbledore nodded. “A good suggestion, my boy. Do not worry, Miss Granger. We will have caught the culprit in no time.”
It was only moments until Hermione and Severus stood in his private chambers, the house-elf that had just apparated them disappearing with a silent pop. Under normal circumstances, Hermione would have been thrilled to be back here, especially as it looked like she would be allowed to stay in Severus’ quarters for a while. But right now happiness was the last emotion she felt, fear and shock being most prominent on her mind at the moment. And so she just stood there, in the middle of Severus’ living room, staring at the fireplace without really seeing it.
Even though lots of things had happened to her at Hogwarts over the years, the place had always felt safe to her. But after the last few days, she just felt like danger was lurking behind every corner and she wouldn’t even recognize it when staring it in the face. The thought that this intruder would have been able to reach her in her sleep terrified her, especially as he had not decided to do so and instead just left this unsettling message for her. What did he or she even want?
“Everything will be all right, Hermione,” Severus said from behind her, his tone reassuring and gentle. “Nothing will happen to you inside these chambers, they are safe.”
“How do you know?” she asked tonelessly, not even turning around to face him. “My room was supposed to be safe, too. This schoo l was supposed to be safe but I no longer feel like it is. I’m scared…”
“That is only natural,” her friend replied, his voice now sounding much closer than before. He must be standing directly behind her, even though he did not touch her in any way. “Fear is what makes you pay close attention to your surroundings and by that, keeps you alive. I have been afraid for years, Hermione, and I am not ashamed to admit that. Still, I swear I’ll protect you, from whoever wishes you harm. You’re safe here.”
She nodded, telling herself that he was right, but she could still feel the tears well up behind her eyes. Her bottom lip started to quiver as she tried holding them back, but it was like the waters were rapidly rising behind a dam and she knew it would be only a matter of time until they just flooded over.
“I think I need to sit down,” she mumbled, her voice already shaking. She could slowly feel her torso tightening, making it harder and harder for her to breathe, even though Severus’ presence usually helped against this kind of feeling. “I don’t feel very well…”
“Of course,” she heard Severus say from behind her, his hands carefully gripping her arms, guiding her towards his sofa. She went with shaky legs, stumbling the last steps, as she felt the corners of her vision darkening already. She barely made it to the sofa, her legs giving out just as she reached it, so that she fell down on it with an inelegant thud. Severus sat down next to her without hesitation, turning her around so that she was sitting sideways now, her legs propped up in front of her on the seating, her head resting on her knees. She could feel her friend move closer, his arms closing around her from behind. Shortly after, her back was pressed against his lean chest, his arms and legs closing around her body like a shield, giving her the feeling of being held and protected.
“I’m here, all right? And I’m not going anywhere,” Severus murmured into her hair. “Just breathe.”
She nodded mutely, taking a deep shaky breath, then another one. But it was of no use, because a moment later she could feel her tears flood over, the dam behind her eyes breaking. “Please don’t leave me,” she sobbed, hiding her face in her knees. “Don’t leave me alone.”
“I’m not,” Severus promised, his voice calm and soothing. But Hermione just shook her head, knowing that he would leave her again, sooner or later. And she dreaded that moment already.
It had been an excellent plan, Crookshanks concluded, as he watched his mistress and the raven-man from his new spot in front of the fireplace. Both of them were seated on the sofa, their bodies entwined in a way that told him they would not let go of each other anytime soon. Perfect. All it had taken were a few well placed gifts from his mistress’ suitor and the girl had already moved into his quarters - taking Crookshanks with her. And it looked like they were going to stay, he thought, looking at his mistress’ trunk that had just appeared in the corner of the room. His feeding dish and his basket arrived a moment later and he walked over to the latter, lying down with a satisfied purr. He should have intervened much sooner, he concluded, his fur heating up just nicely by the fire. Here he could lie in peace, without any other humans shooing him away or disturbing his well-earned rest. Never again. No, his mistress would stay right where she belonged, Crookshanks would make sure of that. As soon as she decided otherwise, a few well-placed gifts would probably be enough to remind her what she was missing out on. It had worked perfectly this time, after all. But looking at those two he doubted if that would even be necessary. Because the raven-man looked like he would not let go of her anytime soon. Excellent.