I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you don't understand me.
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
When Harry and Kingsley were gone, Miss Granger came up to Severus' bedside.
"Sorry about earlier, sir. It wasn't you, not really...but if you could…not grab my arms again...?"
Severus nodded. Given her earlier reaction, he had no intention of grabbing her arms again, but he couldn't say so and the will to emote that on his face was overridden by the anger that rose within him. He gazed at her as if he could bore the answers to his questions out of her head. Perhaps he could've done if he had either the energy for a wandless legillimens, which he didn't, or if he had his wand. And there was one of the myriad questions burning in his brain. Where was his wand?
The other questions had to do with the situation he found himself in. He had just been freed from two masters who'd bound him in service for almost twenty years. And now, within his first waking hours, he found he was indebted and obligated to someone else.
It could've been said that he owed a life debt to James Potter. Severus wasn't sure if magic actually played a role in the owing of a life debt or if it was just something one chose to acknowledge. He'd certainly never felt a geas where James Potter was concerned. Perhaps it had to do with all the wrongs James had done him, or the fact that Severus discharged the debt in his watch care over Potter's son.
This situation with Hermione Granger was entirely different, however. Even if magic didn't compel him, obligation would. Obligated...indebted...again. Would he never be his own man? Gratitude and howling fury warred within him. Why did she save him? What did she want from him? What did she expect from him?
"Ah," she said. "I see you have questions before we go on."
"Why?" Severus asked in a raspy whisper, and he pointed to her and then to himself. Merlin, the pain rendered every spoken word precious.
"Why did I save you, you mean? Well, why wouldn't I if it could be done? I mean, look at what you've done for us through all these years. You essentially did the same thing, repeatedly, for us, so I don't know why it should be such a surprise that someone else would do the same for you."
Severus had been primed to repudiate her if pity were the answer either in expression or in word, but as hard as Severus listened and searched her face he found no evidence of such. All he detected was that Hermione looked both amused and confused that he would ask such a question. Severus knew she was a quintessential do-gooding Gryffindor, but Dumbledore too had been of that house, and in his experience, no one did something for him unless they expected something from him. If it wasn't pity, then this must be the catch. He'd just as soon find out whatever it was that she wanted now.
"I see you're dissatisfied with my answer...and have additional questions. I don't know what else to tell you on the matter," she said.
"What?" Severus pointed to Hermione, "want?" and pointed to himself.
Now she looked incredulous and confused. "Why would you think I want something from you?...Ah!" she said after a moment as if she'd hit upon some explanation. "Is that really how Slytherins operate? This for that in everything?"
Severus lifted an annoyed eyebrow and then, with his fingers drew half-moon shapes over his eyes and made a sign for a beard.
"Dumbledore, you mean? Well, can't argue there, I guess." She gave him a tentative look. "Just so you know, he regretted it. He, well his portrait, told me so...said it was necessary, and I guess I can see why...but it was obvious he cared for you a great deal."
Miss Granger let him process that in silence for a moment. Part of Severus scoffed and derided her naiveté; part of him found some comfort and hoped that it was true.
"I can see why you would expect otherwise. Who could blame you, really? All I can tell you is that we don't operate like that. Never have done. I didn't do it expecting to get anything in return. No ulterior motive, promise. You've done a lot for us over the years and deserve anything we can do to help you...but really, that just made it something we especially wanted to do...made it an honor. I'd have done it anyway."
Hermione Granger didn't even realize how backwards she had it all. Even if she were that...self-sacrificing, it didn't erase his debt. It couldn't even be counted as repayment as she suggested. All his good deeds...and weren't those muddy waters?...were recompense for the wrongs he'd done, fulfillment of the vows he'd made trying to gain absolution. And what wrongs had Granger committed to make amends for? Exactly none that required the enormity of what she'd done and was doing for him still. Regardless of whether he'd requested such measures or how wanted or unwanted they'd been, the debt was entirely on his side...again.
Severus shook his head a little. Sooner or later, something would come up. It irked him that he'd have to wait for it like he was on retainer.
She seemed to sense what was on his mind. "You don't look satisfied. You're going to be waiting for me to spring something on you until I give you some sort of answer, aren't you?" Hermione shook her head. "Okay, fine. I don't want you to worry about this."
She sat on the side of the bed and looked him steadily in the eyes. "Look, all it really amounts to is this: I offer you my help and friendship and I don't want anything in return. It's freely given; you don't have to pay for it and I don't want you to try to. But you seem to need me to give you some sort of something I want from you, so here goes. If there's anything I want from you, it's your friendship in return. But only if it's willingly given. That's it. I don't want anything from you that you don't want to give. If that's too much, simple courtesy will do and you can consider yourself off the hook otherwise. I won't abuse whatever it is you choose to offer. If, later on, I have a request to make of you, I'll do so straightforward, no obligation involved. Will that satisfy?"
Severus didn't know quite what to make of that.
"Well, think about it, anyway," she said when he didn't answer. "Let's get on with the morning, shall we?"
He did nod to that.
"I thought you might try a bit of milkshake. I know it hurts to swallow, but Madame Pomfrey advised starting small...humming or talking just a little bit, fluids...whatever you can tolerate without pushing it and working your way up a bit every day." Miss Granger held up the milkshake in question.
Severus grimaced a bit and nodded again.
"Alright. I gave you level 2 pain potion just before I went to change your dressings, so keep it in mind. I can't give you more for five hours." She looked at him as if he were a puzzle to solve. "I'm a little worried about your wounds here," she indicated her own lower abdomen, "with the move to sit up. I'm going to adjust the bed, hold your hand up there's any sharp pain or it feels wrong, okay?"
He almost wanted to roll his eyes, but considering the not inconsiderable pain that came with swallowing and trying to speak, Severus decided not to berate her caution. After he nodded his head again she adjusted the bed so that it slowly brought him up to sitting. It wasn't pleasant. There was enough pain to warn him off stupid moves, but nothing felt like it was tearing open. He only managed two sips of the milkshake before the prospect of an additional five hours without more pain potion prompted him to quit the attempt.
Miss Granger nodded at him and took the milkshake. "I'll spell in the rest," she said.
Severus was a bit alarmed, not so much because she could cause potentially fatal problems if she performed spells of that sort wrongly. That was unlikely; she was Hermione Granger, after all. No, it was that his bladder was already on the full side, she was putting even more in, which meant it would shortly get worse, and how was he supposed to take care of that? And how exactly had she been taking care of that all this time? Anger rose again. This was a really reprehensible situation.
"I imagine the loo will be an issue soon. I've been doing removal spells, but Madame Pomfrey said to quit doing them when you woke up," Hermione informed him. 'First Potter plays nursemaid, and now, what? Granger is to take me to the loo?' Severus fumed silently. Thankfully, it turned out she had more sense than that.
"You're not to get up or go anywhere unassisted until those wounds are closed, which they should do within the week, but I'd planned on having Kreacher apparate you there and back. I thought perhaps, he could take you, and bathe you after...sponge baths till the wounds close, I'm afraid. You can shave and whatever and I'll go brew some more pain potion while you're at it." she said with an air of waiting for his response.
Severus wasn't about to argue with this plan, all things considered. He nodded again. Miss Granger called the elf and after giving instructions, said. "I'll come wash your hair when I'm done...Oh now, don't look like that. You'll see. That's been nearly the only time your eyes haven't been scrunched in pain. At least give it one go before you argue."
He scowled but didn't argue. Severus wasn't sure why he wasn't fighting it all more, except it was all so strange and there wasn't much point anyhow. Having spent the last year worrying about them probably had a part in it. Then Hermione Granger had saved his life and requested only courtesy and friendship in return. He still needed time to mull that all over, but it he wished to feel less obligated, being churlish at this point was counterproductive. Also, he hadn't forgotten the fear in Hermione's eyes that had stopped him in his tracks and made him feel worry and regret. It all prompted him to tread lightly, as it were, or at least to tread less heavily.
Clearly Miss Granger been expecting the fight he wasn't raising. "Hmm. You know, I'm not complaining, but I expected to have more of a fight on my hands. Thought I'd have to channel Poppy, but it turns out Harry's method works just fine: 'Here's the deal, here's the plan, ignore the plan if you want to and see what happens, and there you go.' Much less drama and hovering that way...by far preferable, don't you think?" She gave him a small smile. "Mind you, if you undo all my hard work I'll be tempted to whop you and get all overbearing." She smiled again and left the room. Impertinent chit!
Severus felt a little more human by the time Hermione returned. The pain, he found, was worse with the first big movement and eased a bit with continued smaller ones.
He smirked to himself. Poppy would probably fall over in shock to see it, but Miss Granger was right, 'Harry's method' was preferable. If they could manage straight forward without the overbearing, he would behave without the overdoing…maybe. He might even attempt to cooperate and exercise his nearly non-existent patience…when he felt like it.
It was with this decision in mind that Severus consented to the hair washing Hermione offered. At first, it had been every bit as odd as Severus had expected it to be. And then she'd begun to massage his scalp. For someone prone to tension headaches, it was heaven. She talked to him a bit, and he thought she mentioned something about his hair being fine and soft, but he didn't really heed her words, he just focused on the feel of her fingers. Severus did notice her little smirk. His face must have let on more than he'd intended, namely that this was his new favorite thing. Just great. He pointedly ignored her smug amusement.