Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
"I thought of asking Horace Slughorn."
"He's - adequate, I suppose, Albus, but I could name you a dozen candidates who are more so."
"Yes, but I want someone who will be happy to retire gracefully once you are well enough to resume your duties - assuming that you wish to."
"And assuming that I will ever again be capable of doing so - which at present doesn't look very bloody likely, does it?"
"It's early days yet, dear boy, and you must give yourself permission to rest before you can hope to recover. Stop fretting, lie back and let us wait on you...."
"You were going to say 'hand and foot,' weren't you, and then you thought better of it."
"And what if I was? The principle is sound, even if the... details are a bit off."
"How's my favourite patient then?"
"Asleep. Do you have to be so obnoxiously lively at such an ungodly hour of the bloody morning?"
"Absolutely. It's part of the job requirements for hospital doctors. And you're sounding a lot better - cantankerousness is a very positive indicator of health, I find."
Now that Snape had recovered enough muscle-tone, and enough blood-pressure, to be able to sit up properly without fainting and to hold a fork without dropping it, he preferred to feed himself wherever possible - to the point that he threatened to bite Poppy if she tried to spoon-feed him, on the grounds that if she was going to treat him like a bloody toddler he might as well act like one. His dislike extended to having other people cut up his meals for him, so he tended to live on things which could be managed one-handed - macaroni cheese was a favourite. So was spaghetti, since even though he made an appalling mess with it, people with two hands fared no better.
Adrian still came every two or three days, through a complex arrangement which involved 'phoning the Weasleys and getting them to Floo someone to come and collect him. He had started Snape on mild exercises now, designed to strengthen his arm and his spinal muscles. But as November wore on into December he now tended to turn up in the evening rather than the morning, often bringing interesting food to sit and share. Snape was spoilt for choice as far as things to eat went - the house-elves fluttered solicitously about, plying him with kedgerees and risottos and chicken drumsticks, and seemed to want to feed him until he was spherical - but it was curiously enjoyable to do something as raffish and unregimented as eating Muggle fast-food out of greasy paper; and to have someone to eat it with.
Poppy Pomfrey stood one night in the doorway to Snape's rooms and watched them - the two dark heads bowed together as the young surgeon attempted to teach the older man how to use chopsticks, the bed littered with tin-foil trays and the Potions master's long, white, poet's hand enfolded and guided by Adrian's black, blunt fingers. Square, practical hands the boy had, a carpenter's hands she thought - but she supposed that Muggle surgery and carpentry had a lot in common.
Seven weeks after his traumatic return to Hogwarts, now, and he was beginning to be able to talk sensibly to visitors for more than a few minutes at a time. His colleagues from the Hogwarts staff came, anxiously, torn between concern for his suffering and fear of his temper. Even some members of the Order of the Phoenix came - including Remus Lupin, tentative and tongue-tied. The interview was an unsatisfactory one, since neither knew what to say to the other, but at least they managed to be reasonably civil.
"I, uh - " Lupin looked down at his hands, the fingers twisting together nervously of their own accord. "Harry said that - well, that - He Who Must Not Be Named claimed that you and Sirius... but that can't be right, can it? Apart from the fact that you hated each other's guts, when would you have found the time?"
"I should have known you came here for Black's precious sake, not for mine" replied Snape dourly.
"No I - I wanted to see how you were. I was really... we all were. Even Mad-Eye. But I was just - curious."
The other smiled a twisted smile. "No, Lupin, you can rest assured I wasn't lusting after Black's scrawny, flea-ridden body."
"When I was - when He Who - " He started to shiver, slopping the tea out of the cup he was holding, and Albus - whose turn it was to sit with him - took it from him deftly and then folded him close.
"You don't have to talk about it if you'd rather not, dear boy."
"No I - it was.... B-Bellatrix found out, I'm not sure how, that it was I who tipped the Order off about the fight at the Ministry. Maybe it was from something she got out of Kreacher. I knew if He - if He found out that I'd been spying on Him almost from the outset, all the disinformation you and I fed Him over the years would be wasted - He would know it was false. So I - I tried to convince Him that I had been His loyal servant up to that point, but that Black and I were lovers and when I heard Potter say that Black was being t-tortured...."
He shuddered, turning his face towards the older man's chest, his snowy beard: though it still seemed strange to him, to meet kindness where he had expected scorn, from a man who had been so harsh and unyielding over his transgressions in the past - the great Albus Dumbledore, whose avuncular twinkle had hidden an iron heart. As a youth he had cringed before the old man's wrath and stammered for forgiveness; as a man, fire-hardened, he had met it with equal harshness of his own. "He took everything else from me: after they had - hurt me enough I couldn't hold my barriers any more, not my body and not my mind, but He - He can't comprehend love, He doesn't have the wiring for it, so He'll believe any foolishness of those who do. He - He wanted it to be true, so that He could sneer at the thing He can't have, can't feel so I - I think I did manage to deceive Him, in that at least. And I knew that - that He would probably want to taunt you with the details of what He'd done to me and if it included that, Lupin here would know that it was false, that I had still lied to Him and that I hadn't - hadn't betrayed you completely."
"I don't see that you betrayed me at all - not that I'd be worrying about it if you did, the circumstances being what they are."
"I should - should have found some way to keep Him out, instead of which He - He stripped my mind of information about the Order." Acceptance and genuine-seeming concern from Dumbledore still left him floundering as if the floor had been yanked sideways out from under him, but cringing and pleading had, shamingly, become his default position. "Albus I - "
"Hush, now - if you still managed to mislead Tom at all, you were doing much better than one could reasonably expect. You deserve a medal - literally - and I mean to see that you get one."
"A medal!" And there went harshness, bang on cue, even if it was directed at himself. "Just because I managed to keep one corner of my mind clear while I was - mewling for mercy and spilling every secret I possessed."
"Hush, shshh. You can do no more than your best - and your best is very good."
"I wish it had been more."
"I wish I was twenty years old, and smoulderingly beautiful, and having an athletically sexual affair with a rich handsome bachelor twice my age - but we have to play the hand life deals us, dear boy."
When the water-level was low Hagrid - who found it difficult to force his vast frame through the narrow tunnels which led to Snape's quarters - moored a boat by the window and sat talking companionably through the rippling, aged glass, while Fang sighed and drooled and pulled fierce, wrinkly faces at the giant squid.
"I brought you fish and chips tonight - with proper mushy peas. Got to have mushy peas, leik!"
"You're being northerner-than-thou again, aren't you?" He reached out to take the greasy paper parcel, and found that his hand was shaking.
"Oh God, Addy - to have food when I want it, to have clean water when I'm thirsty. You can't imagine."
"Aye, well - you have to see them as a treatment, leik; not a - an infestation."
"I'm glad I was too dazed to take much of it in. Really I am."
"It was pretty hairy - but it could've been a lot worse."
"Well, with some burns patients, leik, the distribution of the burns means that the scarring on their chest hardens like a load of old leather and restricts their ribs, and you have to cut, leik, notches in it, like one of those all-of-a-piece expanding string bags, so the skin can stretch. I was terrified I was going to have to do that with you - but the really deep burns were spaced out enough that I didn't have to."
"Thank God for small mercies, then - I have enough scars already, without ending up covered in polka-dots."
"You mean to tell me, Potter admitted to being the only virgin in the room and I missed it? Damn!"
"It was - " He pressed his face against her shoulder, still shivering slightly, although the intensity of the flashback was beginning to fade and he was no longer breathing in great gulps. "I remembered... they hung me up by my hands - while I still had both hands although it must have been after they began to, to disjoint me, I could feel the burning where my fingers - and they whipped me raw, hung up like that, and that was bad enough, but then somebody - Antonin I think - decided to up the stakes by breaking my wrists. Then I had to, to stand up on my toes all the time, for hours, days maybe, it felt like forever, trying to take the weight off my hands, until my legs cramped and wouldn't bear me, and all the time people were hitting me or hexing me or - you know. Forcing - " To his own horror and embarrassment he felt hot tears running down his face and dampening Hermione's nightdress, but she made no attempt to pull back, instead stroking his hair gently.
Hermione rocked just a little, smoothing his untidy hair. "I know," she murmured, trying to stay calm and soothing. As much as she wanted to cry at the thought of what he'd been through, it wouldn't help a bit. "It's... well, not exactly all right, now, but over. We won't let anyone else hurt you." She cuddled him against her, trying to be tactful about it... while it obviously reassured him, it might embarrass him that it was her doing it.
"You donít know." He bit back a choking sob. "Everyone says that but you don't know, you can't know - how do you even know it's over? They've taken me out from Hogwarts once already, how do you know they won't - come back for me?"
"Well, I don't know what it was like, obviously," Hermione agreed, untangling a nascent knot in his hair with absent fingers. "But I do know what happened, in a general sense, because of the condition you came back in. That's what I meant - that you didn't actually have to spell things out, because when you said 'you know' I did, in fact, know." Semantics felt like such a relatively safe subject. "And they won't get you again, believe me. The ghosts and portraits are on constant watch, there's always someone with you, there are so many protective wards up around both the castle and this room that a flea couldn't get in - literally, Madam Pomfrey warded against anything that might bite and cause an infection, even a tiny one - and I have a suspicion that your blanket has been charmed to attack anyone who tries to hurt you. Professor Flitwick was very upset about you." She considered. "And in case all that doesn't work, all the secret passages have been blocked up, there is a general order out to students and staff for them to stun any intruder from hiding if at all possible, and Professor Dumbledore has had a word with the staircases."
"And we must just hope that it wasn't nitwit, oddment, blubber or tweak.... It would be just like Filius to give a whole new meaning to the term 'security blanket,' wouldn't it?" He shut his eyes, pressing his face against her by now rather damp shoulder. "If you know what they did to me," he said in a low voice, "then you do understand that I mean that they - that they forced me. That way. That they made me... made me prostitute myself to them."
She nodded, hugging him very gently. "I know that they - that they raped you, yes," she said, her voice wobbling only the tiniest bit. "But it wasn't your fault, and you mustn't think for a minute that it was. It's... I don't know if wizards ever discuss it, I've never heard it mentioned, but Muggles do, and there are experts on the subject of post-rape trauma and things, and they say that most victims will often wind up blaming themselves. Feeling as if it's your fault - that you should have done something different, or fought harder, or something - is normal. And I'm sure they told you that it was, that you deserved it... but you didn't, and you don't need to blame yourself for something that happened to you." She paused. "Not that that's exactly how you put it, but it sounded like that was what you meant... as if they'd changed you, somehow, made you less than you were."
"Always by the book, Granger?" he jibed. "If a nine-headed hydra broke through that wall and we both simultaneously erupted in flaming boils you'd have an index-reference for it, wouldn't you? But they certainly did - change me, that is. Whether I am less - I certainly feel to myself as if I am, as if this... mutilation of limbs is only the outer sign of a more intimate or symbolic loss. They broke me, they smashed me in, I had no defence, they stole my - integrity, in the literal sense, my intactness. They broke the castle, they broke the castle and took me. During the day, sometimes, I - I can remember where I end and everything else begins but at night, at night" he said fretfully, staring blank-eyed at the candle-shadows on the wall, "I can still feel them driving into me, opening me up, I don't want to be opened up but they break down all the barriers and I am nothing, a dirty, broken, violated thing without boundaries and I can't tell where the world ends and I begin any more, the castle is me I am the castle if they could break the castle they could break me, they did break me, if they broke me they can break the castle, they could take me and break me all over again....
"And I know, damnit, that I could use that; if I could only find the centre and remember who I was I could really use that, that sense of being everywhere and nowhere - use it magically, yus kin - but they won't let me, they won't let me have a centre, every time I try to rebuild myself they force their way into me again and scatter me apart." He hunched his back under her hands, shuddering, and laughed bitterly. "God, I'm so bloody feeble. I should be comforting you, not you me, but having somebody hold me - at first I was almost shitting myself with terror if anyone touched me but once I recognized.... Having a friend touch me, having a friend touch me, it dilutes, overwrites the memory of them touching me, at least for a moment, and being held - being held is an anchor I can hang on to. If I can't find my own centre, I can centre myself on you and not feel so - so totally bloody lost."
She held him closer, rocking a little, making little soothing noises until his breathing slowed down and the sudden near-delirious ranting eased to a halt. "You are not feeble, and you should not be comforting me. I'm not the one who needs it. I can't... I wish I could fix it, somehow make it better. I hate that I can't, and I'd do it in a moment if I could. But...." She rested a hand gently on his chest, right over his sternum. "Take a deep breath. Focus on my hand... touching you, but not hurting you, a friend's hand giving you something to focus on... and another deep breath...." It was a wobbly one, but it counted, and she cradled him protectively with her other arm. "I'm here," she said softly. "And none of us would ever, ever let them have you again. I promise, we won't ever leave you alone and vulnerable, not for one moment, you'll be as safe as we can possibly make you...."
He put his hand up to cover hers and leaned his weight against her, such as it was. His eyes were closed in a face as white and translucent as wax, but slow tears still leaked out from under his thick lashes, and repeated small tremors chased across his skin. Almost inaudibly, he whispered "I'm lost, I'm lost, I can't find me - please don't let them find me. Please, please, don't let them have me - not again. Please, not again."
"Shhh...." she whispered back, rocking him gently. "Nobody will hurt you again. We won't let them. I won't let them. You're safe now, and nobody's going to hurt you any more." She pressed very lightly against his chest, reminding him to breathe again. "And you're not lost," she added firmly, because she was damn well not going to LET him be. "You're... just gone a bit astray, is all. It will get better, I promise it will, it's just going to take some time...."
"A stray dog," he muttered, "got lost on the road, Padfoot is after me.... Why won't the bastard leave me alone? I can't tell when I'm dreaming any more and when I'm not - are you a dream, Granger?"
"No, I'm not a dream. And Padfoot isn't after you, either, not any more." She shifted his slight weight a little, letting his head settle more comfortably against her shoulder. "After all, if you were going to dream up someone to comfort you, I shouldn't think they'd have bony shoulders, would they?"
"A very good point," he admitted sleepily. "A very sharp point. And - the Dark One might invent - invent simulacra of Albus and Minerva to torment me with false hope, but I can't see him thinking of copying you or, or Lovegood. I notice you didn't mention the Floo network in your security list" he added, in a much more alert and Snape-ish tone of voice. "Should I expect darling Lucius to erupt out of the bloody fireplace?"
"The Floo network has been disconnected and blocked. Even the one in Professor Dumbledore's office is locked down now. There's no way for anyone to suddenly appear or disappear anywhere in the grounds, excepting unauthorized Portkeys... and those would set the wards off at once." She thought the pedantic attention to detail was a good sign... and explaining the exact steps taken would surely be more reassuring than vague reassurances of safety. "And Hagrid has taken steps to prevent anyone flying in by broom - the Thestrals, I think, although I've been rather afraid to ask. He's also patrolling the grounds at night with Fang and Buckbeak, in case someone tries to sneak in. He was very upset about you, too, and I think anyone he DOES catch sneaking in will be very, VERY sorry about it. Probably immediately."
"I like the idea of using Thestrals against Death Eaters - that's quite... poetic. But I'm not sure disconnecting the entire Floo network is a good idea: suppose there was an urgent message? Tell Albus - tell Albus to open one fireplace again, in a warded room, and have an armed team watching it round the clock - then reopen the others and divert them into that one room.... That way, if anybody does come for me he can catch the bastards. We might as well get some use out of the situation." He shivered. "I think they - I think they must have brought me in by boat at about four a.m. the day before you found me - I must have been lying there for about thirty-six hours, thanks to that little fool Sweeney not checking the stores when she was asked to. Tell Albus - tell Albus he needs to watch the water, I think they brought me in over the loch. But it's so hard to - I ought to remember, I need to remember, it could be important for security to know just how they got in but I was in so much fucking pain I can't make it come clear in my mind, even with a Pensieve."
He started to shake in earnest again. "Oh, Christ, it hurt so much. And I'm so fucking weak - physically weak, I mean, so don't lecture me - I'm exhausted all the bloody time and yet I can't get tired enough to sleep. That - the book Lovegood read me, Amalthea, the unicorn-girl, she said 'Even when I wake, I cannot tell what is real, and what I am dreaming.... I remember what cannot have happened, and forget something that is happening to me now.'" He gasped and shook his head as if coming up from deep water. "Same - same thing, I'm lost and drifting not properly sleeping, not properly waking, and then I dream that I'm awake, I dream when I'm awake I think and it hurt so much, it all hurt so fucking much and when I dream it I can't tell that it isn't still real, if it still hurts so much what does it matter if I'm still there or if I'm only dreaming it, they're still hurting me either way.... What can you give me to prove that - that this is the real reality and the other one is done with?"
She hugged him close again, rubbing his back slowly. "Shh.... The mermen are already on the alert but I'll tell him about the lake - and the Floo. And I still don't think you'd ever dream about me, but if you need to be convinced...." She thought a moment, then grinned suddenly. "We've just started on Probability in Arithmancy. It's terribly interesting... Professor Vector says you can even use it for foretelling the future, in a very limited, statistical way. Much less woolly than Divination, just a matter of working out what's most likely to happen. We have to do three feet on it for Monday, and I'm going to leave it until the weekend because we're covering Anomalic Statistics on Friday and I'm sure I should include that... not that I don't know what they are, of course, I've read the textbook quite thoroughly, but Professor Vector often mentions things that aren't in the book and if I try to do my homework ahead of time then I'll just have to go back and rewrite it later. I've made some notes, of course... a foot or two... but it's really so vexing to have to rewrite a whole three or four feet just to insert a few salient points in the third paragraph. It's really much more convenient the Muggle way, with pages, instead of having everything on the same sheet. Spells of amendment really don't work for squeezing in more than a few dozen words."
"Footnotes are acceptable, you know, provided you number them carefully and are neat about it. And I often used to dream about you, Granger, before.... When I was feeling particularly insecure, I used to dream that you were asking me questions I couldn't answer, in front of the whole class, which I seemed unaccountably to be conducting in my underwear. If you... if you like, go over to that bookcase in the corner there, by the cloak-stand, and bring me that big, light-green book there with the black lettering at the top of the spine. That's got three chapters on Anomalic Statistics and I happen to know it's the book Vector cribs most of her ideas from, so I can talk you through Friday's lecture in advance.
"I'm not convinced about Arithmancy, though. Calculating frequency-nodes for forthcoming events is one thing, but deriving magical associations from the numerical values of the letters of the alphabet seems so - arbitrary. Surely in another alphabet - in Hindi, say, or Iroquois - the same letters, the same names, would have quite different numerical values? And I don't see that using the ancient Chaldean alphabet makes it any less arbitrary."
Hermione settled him very carefully on his pillows before going to get the book - Principles of Arithmancy by Solaris Tusian - and hurried back to the bed, sitting down beside him and opening the book eagerly. A New Book... and Arithmancy, her very favourite subject. "I love Arithmancy... I mean, it's a bit disorienting the way the numbers don't always come out the same, but it's fascinating. I agree with you about the letters of the alphabet, though... I'd think it would work best if you used numerical and alphabetical systems that belong together... that are from the same time and language, I mean. Applying Roman numerals to, say, Sanskrit just seems a bit random."
Snape nodded tightly and leaned against her, shutting his eyes and trying to get his breath back without letting on that even being left without the anchor of her touch for one minute had shaken him badly; the embarrassing truth was that being held all the time had left him rather phobic about not being. He had no one to blame but himself - he should have told her to Accio the damned book, instead of fetching it in person. Or done so himself: but his arm and his magic were both still so weak he was afraid to attempt to move such a heavy volume. "That... stretches credulity a little less far, I agree. But Divination... divination does work, in fact, but the problem with it is that it is extremely subjective. To an undisciplined mind - and dear Sybill has one of the least disciplined minds I have ever encountered, even when she hasn't been hitting the cooking sherry - it can be almost impossible to separate true vision from mere imagination." He reached out and tugged the Tusian book into a more convenient position. "Now - you will have to cast the wand-light, Granger. I have only one hand, and I need that to turn the pages."
She tucked her arm under his thin shoulders, helping to support him in a comfortable sitting position, and murmured "Lumos" as she lifted her wand and tucked it into her hair so she wouldn't have to hold onto it. "There. And I had dreams about you too, you know. Mostly nightmares.... I'd get to class, and look at the blackboard, and I couldn't read it. I'd forgotten how to read, and you would tell me to start my potion and I just wouldn't know what to do. And then everyone laughed." She shuddered, leaning against him. "They weren't all nightmares, though. There was one time when you turned up in my dream making a potion that smelled like strawberries that you kept insisting would fend off werewolves. It worked quite well, except we had to fill water-balloons with it to throw at them because we had to get it on them and we didn't want them to get close enough to pour it on." She paused and blushed. "Sorry. I do ramble a bit sometimes."
"Rambling through fields of strawberries, Granger... I'll have to try it on Lupin and see what happens." He settled back comfortably with his head on her shoulder and her warm breath tickling his ear, and thumbed the book open at the right page. "Now. Tusian says that for events with a probability density of less than point two per cent occurring over the current lunar month...."
Hermione found herself enjoying the impromptu lecture immensely. The subject was fascinating, he understood it well, and besides that, it was good to hear him sounding... not happy, exactly, but interested and at ease. The lines of pain in his face relaxed slightly, his head resting easily on her shoulder, and she snuggled down a bit beside him so the pillows supported them both.
And then she looked down at him and her heart thumped suddenly. Nothing turned over, there were no fireworks, no imaginary blows to the chest, no burning of any description. Just a thump to indicate that she had, against all sense, taste, and reason, managed to fall suddenly and hard for someone who couldn't possibly ever return it.
She missed the next few sentences entirely as she struggled valiantly to keep her sudden horror from showing. It was just a crush, that was all. (No it bloody well isn't, a part of her insisted, we've had crushes, this isn't anything like the same.) She'd been looking after him, holding him, protecting him, it was perfectly natural that she should get... attached.
Even if she knew perfectly well he was never going to reciprocate.
That particular thought made her want to cry, and she bit her lip hard to counter the urge. Belatedly, she realized that he was starting to slow down, his voice getting fainter. "You're starting to sound sleepy again," she said, amazed at how level her voice was sounding. "Want to finish this in the morning?"
"Mmm" he agreed rather muzzily, "but make sure you do wake me in time to finish it for you. Since I'm keeping you awake half the night when you should be sleeping or studying, it's the least I can do." Awkwardly, for he was still very weak, he rolled over onto his side and curled up against her, with her arm round the back of his shoulders and his own arm draped across her waist. "I'm sorry you should have to waste so much time, Granger, holding on to such a, a piece of human wreckage just to keep him from drowning."
"It's not a chore" she replied earnestly. "It's a pleasure to - " and then turned bright pink and refused to say any more.
"I can see the advantages of having a captive audience who shares your interest in Arithmancy and arcane incantations," he murmured drowsily; "especially given the - limited intellectual range available to you in Gryffindor. But unless you have very advanced and peculiar tastes, it can hardly be a pleasure to have a, a grown man who ought to know better snivelling on you like a bloody two-year-old."
"Oh, it can," she said seriously, smoothing his hair back from his weary face. "It's so much better than doing nothing. With you alone, I've been unable to help more often than I want to think about, and there have been more than enough other times as well. This... it's something, that I can do, that will help. You know, I'm sure you know, how much better it is to be able to do something, no matter how small, instead of nothing." She tugged the blanket up over both of them, extinguishing her wand and setting it on the table beside the bed. "And it's a positive joy to hear you snivel... not that you do, it's more of a whimper usually... when we were so afraid we'd lose you altogether."
"Would that have been so terrible?" he said into the sudden near-darkness of the firelight. "To all intents and purposes, you did lose me. You thought you were getting back a, a whole man, mentally if not physically; one who could still be of use, to the Order and to the school, even if he could no longer function as a spy. Instead - instead you got back someone who can be - nothing but a burden, someone whose mere presence compromizes the school's security and endangers everyone in it. If I were less selfish I would turn my wand on myself and rid Hogwarts of the burden and danger that I am; but fucking Lucius and his merry chums have taught me so fucking much about helplessness and the impossibility of action that I still can't gather enough mental resources to do it."
"You shouldn't, and please don't even think it!" she exclaimed, half sitting up. "We didn't want you back just because you were useful, we wanted you back because we didn't want to lose you. And maybe it was selfish, of us, to try to keep you alive when you'd been hurt so much, but we wanted to keep you with us, to help you if we could, no matter how long it takes or how much looking after you need!"
"But why?" he said painfully. "What purpose do I serve? What possible good am I - like this?"
"You don't have to be useful to be valued," she said softly, wishing that someone older and significantly wiser were here to have this conversation in her place. "You... are important, in and of yourself, to more people than I think you realize. You don't have to serve a purpose, you just have to be here, and safe." She lay back down, tucking her arm under his shoulders again. "I, for one, am glad that you're... well, not 'all right' as such, but alive and hopefully capable of being so again someday...."
"If I'm useless, how can I be valuable? It's not as if I'm very bloody ornamental, is it?"
"You're yourself, and valued by some of us at least for that," she said softly, shifting to settle his head on her shoulder again. "I wish I could explain it better... but I'm glad you're alive. Not because you're useful, or potentially useful, or even decorative, but because I don't want you to go." She blushed in the dimness, wondering if her new, sudden awareness of her feelings showed at all. "And I know Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore feel the same... and Professor Flitwick cried when Adrian said you were going to live, and so did Hagrid, and... people care about you. They want you to be safe."
"Hagrid would cry if he found out that a Blast-Ended Skrewt was going to live." He frowned at the shadowy room. "I suppose... if Minerva were hurt, for example, I could see the point in wanting her still to exist, even if she could no longer work. But I don't - I don't see myself as part of the set of people who might be wanted for themselves. Nobody has ever wanted me for myself before, so why should they begin now? I am - not particularly pleasant to have around, after all."
"Maybe they're starting now because they didn't realize how important you were to them until they thought they'd lost you," Hermione suggested. "People do that, you know. We take other people for granted, and we don't always tell them that they're important to us. Or maybe they thought you knew." She yawned, snuggling down a bit. "And you can be pleasant to be around. That Arithmancy lecture just now was very nice."
"Good Lord," he said with an answering yawn, snuggling down too and leaning against her in sudden contentment. "If students are starting to find me pleasant company, I must be losing my touch."
In the morning, Snape was sleeping so soundly and so apparently contentedly that Hermione didn't like to wake him any earlier than she had to, so she slid her arm out gently from under his bony shoulders and padded barefooted to the bathroom, leaving the door half-open so she could see if anyone came into Snape's rooms that shouldn't be there. She was just stepping out of the shower, dripping, when she heard a bang and a yell from the direction of the bed-sittingroom.
Grabbing a strategic towel with one hand and her wand with the other, she shot wildly through the door just in time to hear Snape say "It's all right Dobby, really, I'm not - angry. Just don't creep up on me without warning like that, all right?"
Hermione sagged back against the door-post, so overcome with relief that it took her a moment to realize that she was wearing nothing except the towel, clutched somewhere in the loose vicinity of her bosom, and that Snape was raising one long sardonic eyebrow at her and smirking. Colouring violently and cursing him under her breath, she backed hastily into the bathroom and threw her day clothes on.
Telling herself she was allowing Snape privacy to speak to Dobby, she drew several long, deep breaths, and did not venture out again until she heard the second sharp bang which told her the house-elf had left. As soon as he had done so she gritted her teeth and re-entered the bed-sittingroom, since she couldn't leave Severus on his own (when had he become "Severus" to her?). He smiled at her with a faintly mocking, knowing look, but made no reference to her earlier deshabillé as he settled into her arms, comfortably and with relief.
"That was Lucius's old house-elf - poor little brute" he said with some animation. "Lucius treated him like - well, you can imagine. He fixated on me when I was a teenager because I was the only one in that circle who didn't actively ill-treat him, and I'm touched that he's still so concerned about me, but he damn' near gave me a heart-attack. For one ghastly moment I thought I was at Malfoy Manor - before I took in the clothes and the cheesy grin. Cheesy in more senses than one - God, his breath. And really, you never want to wake up eyeball to eyeball with something with eyeballs like that...."
Without warning, he gave a wild and rather cracked laugh and began to shake, pressing himself firmly back into Hermione's hold. "House-elves with bad breath! This m-must be real," he stammered, shuddering until his teeth rattled, "because if I im-m-magined being - being saved I wouldn't imagine that."
"Yus kin" is a north Derbyshire expression, from the sort of area Snape probably comes from. Literally, it means "You are kin to me:" metaphorically it means "You understand what I'm saying."
This chapter has been re-edited in accordance with the new backstory in Deathly Hallows, to comment on the fact that Albus had sometimes been very hard on Snape in the past, before he was injured. Also, in view of JK's post-DH revelation that Albus is gay, not bi, his dream-date has been changed from "a rich sultry widow" to "a rich handsome bachelor", and his description of his ideal twenty-year-old self from "handsome" to "smoulderingly beautiful", in order to avoid having the word "handsome" twice in one sentence.
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