Severus cursed the Aurors for their incompetence.
Not literally, of course, although he was seriously considering doing so.
Rounding up the remaining Death Eaters was a priority, they’d said. Walden Macnair, Rodolphus Lestrange, and Augustus Rookwood were still at large. The Snatchers were next on their list, they’d assured him. They’d get to them, just as soon as they could.
Too little, too late.
Hermione was asleep, her head resting peacefully against the soft green of the Saint Mungo’s pillowcase. She looked so peaceful, so calm. They must have given her a Dreamless Sleep potion.
The bandage on her arm would come off in a few days. She’d heal quickly, the Healers had said.
As if what had happened to her could ever really heal.
Severus wondered why he’d come, why he was standing here, looking down at her as she slept. Would he have visited Rolanda or Pomona or Trelawney if it had been one of them lying here? Had he visited Minerva when it had been her on this bed?
He’d gotten so good at lying, he could almost lie to himself. But not quite. He knew why he’d come this time.
He liked her.
It surprised him to admit it, even in his own mind, but he honest-to-god liked her. She was intelligent and witty. She smiled at him even when all he offered in return was a scowl. She was someone with whom he could carry on a diverting conversation.
Simply put, she made his life more pleasant by being in it.
She wasn’t altogether horrible to look at, either.
Severus considered her wounds with something like fear. What would she be now? Could she remain herself after what had been done to her? Would her smile come so easily? Would her inner beauty be diminished by this evil?
She stirred, her eyes opening.
“Severus?” she asked, puzzlement settling over her features.
He sat in the chair beside her. “Yes, Profess—” He stopped, remembering what she’d been saying to him since the year began. “Hermione. It’s me.”
It was a tired, pained smile, but it was genuine.
The next moment, it was gone. Her eyes fell to her bandage.
“Did they catch him?”
Severus nodded. “Potter and Weasley took him to Azkaban personally.”
There were tears in her eyes when she looked at him again. “And . . . my injuries . . . ”
He didn’t speak for a long moment—long enough for the implication to become clear. “I’m sorry, Hermione.”
The tears came freely now, and she turned her head to sob into her pillow. Without thinking, Severus grabbed the hand nearest him, the one attached to her uninjured arm. To his surprise, it seemed to calm her.
“I suppose I’ll have to give up my position now,” she said, her voice weak and wavering.
“No,” he said firmly. “I won’t allow it. This isn’t your fault. You can’t be punished for something that was done to you.”
One corner of her mouth quirked upward sadly. She seemed to be studying him. “Really, Severus?”
His stomach wrenched as, once again, his own past actions came back to accuse him. “Perhaps I was . . . mistaken before.”
“I wish it didn’t take this for you to see that.”
Severus had no response.
He reached into his robes and pulled out a flask.
“Drink this,” he said, holding it to her lips.
She did so, her face contorting with disgust. “It tastes vile. What is it?”
“A promise,” he said, his expression grave. “I’ll brew this as long as you need it, until something better comes along. Then I’ll brew that, as well.”
She looked up at him with wide eyes, understanding dawning. “Oh, Severus . . . Thank you.” Then she looked again to the flask. “What day is it?”
He brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. “Six days before the full moon.”
Her voice cracked with renewed sobs, and her grip on his hand tightened.