If the choice were mine to make


The rest of the night passed without anything much happening. Hermione watched over Snape, trying to make him drink the Strengthening Potion and some water from time to time and checking his status every hour, but he didn't seem to be in any serious danger. She also kept checking on Snape's potion. Apart from that she tried not to fall asleep.

In the morning Hermione set Dumbledore's portrait to watch over Snape again, then had Rose take her to her parents to collect Crookshanks. With her parents gone on holidays someone had to look after him.

When the elf had taken her and Crookshanks back, Hermione took the chance to go outside and have a quick look at the house and its surroundings by daylight. As she had guessed, it was a rather large, two-storeyed stone cottage. It stood in a spacious, well kept garden and was surrounded by what looked like a forest. A gravelled path came out from under the trees and led to the entrance door. Over the treetops Hermione could discern some mountains in the distance. Perhaps she was in Scotland or Wales? Or even Ireland?

She returned back into the house again and let take Rose over watching Snape for a few hours to get some sleep. The elf had prepared a guestroom for her further down the corridor and Hermione sank onto the bed with a sigh of relief. Like the rest of the house the room was well kept but rather bare. Obviously Snape wasn't much into decorating. But she hadn't really expected that, had she? Hermione smiled, then yawned. She was terribly tired. Lazily she watched Crookshanks jump onto her bed and then turn around treading the blanked with his paws. Finally satisfied, he settled down next to her, purring loudly. She reached out to caress him but soon fell asleep, his purring in her ears.

Far too soon the alarm clock jerked her out of her sleep again. She needed to check on the potion, and when she had done that Hermione felt too worried about Snape to go back to sleep. Madame Pomfrey had told her that his condition would get worse and worse and that she should expect the crisis during the second night. After this he'd hopefully wake up again.

Snape's bedroom was now filled with daylight, but the bright day didn't lessen the pang that Hermione felt when she saw him lying in his bed like this. She asked Rose for something to eat and settled down in the armchair again. In spite of Madame Pomfrey's words, during the day there was hardly any change in Snape's condition. Short periods in which he was lying still alternated with longer periods in which he was tossing and turning in his bed, sometimes mumbling incoherent words. More than once Hermione woke up with a start, finding that she had dozed off in her armchair. But in the evening it was clear that, indeed, this second night would be much worse than the first. Snape was shaking again and turning in his bed so violently that Hermione cast a barrier around it so he wouldn't accidentally fall out and hurt himself.

Snape's mumbling was also much louder now, and from time to time she could understand single words or parts of sentences. Then, shortly before eleven o'clock, Snape suddenly gave a whimpering sob.

"Please, Pa, don't hurt her," he said, his voice frightened and pleading. "Please, don't."

Hermione stared at him, feeling very odd.

"Why don't you leave him," he suddenly went on in an urgent and entreating tone. "Please, why don't we just go away? Or why don't you fight him, you can do magic, you could easily overpower him. I could help you, Ma. Please, why don't you do anything?"

Snape went on muttering but Hermione couldn't understand what he was saying. Actually she was grateful for this. She felt thrown by this involuntary glimpse into what must have been his childhood and didn't really want to be witness to more of it. It was like secretly listening to something she wasn't supposed to hear.

Snape would be furious when he found out. Perhaps he wouldn't want to be around her any more after this? Perhaps he'd just chuck her out and never write to her again? The thought was painful and Hermione pushed it away, feeling miserable.

But when he woke up he must realize that she hadn't had a choice. When Rose had asked her for help, and when Madame Pomfrey had asked her to stay she couldn't decline to do so. She was Snape's friend, for God's sake. Or at least she saw herself as his friend, even if he probably didn't. So she would keep on watching over him as well as she could and worry about the rest when he woke up again.

Hermione rubbed her temples, feeling terribly tired. But there was no way she would go to sleep now. And so she sat curled up in the armchair which she had moved next to Snape's bed, staring at the man who was tormented by his past.

Shortly before two o'clock Hermione perceived a subtle change in Snape's face. Until now it had been very tense, or twisted with pain. Now it was suddenly full of furious anger, uncannily reminding her of how he had often looked at Harry.

"I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!" Snape suddenly spat.

Hermione recoiled, shocked by his words. As she stared down on him, on the fury and contempt in his face, she suddenly felt very strange. Of course she had known that at one time in his life Snape had been a follower of Voldemort and had probably believed in his ethos of pureblood supremacy. But to hear him express it was frightening. He didn't believe it anymore, she was quite certain of it. But it was jarring to hear him express it, to see this side of him rise up from the past.

Hermione was jerked out of her thoughts when Snape suddenly gave what sounded like a choked sob. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, in such a desperate tone that Hermione felt her throat constrict. "Please forgive me. Please, I didn't mean it, I never thought…please…" the rest was unintelligible again, but Snape's body was still shaken by choked sobs, his hands frantically clutching his blanket.

From that point on it got worse and worse. Snape cried out more than once and his face was now continually contorted with pain. Hermione felt nearly sick with pity and helplessness.

"I won't do it, Dumbledore," he suddenly said, his voice surprisingly normal. "This is madness, you can't demand this from me." After a while he went on in an anguished whisper, "don't ask that of me. Please." He was silent for a few seconds, then said so quietly Hermione hardly heard it, "And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?"

Hermione felt a great lump in her throat, wanting nothing more than to comfort him but not knowing how to do that. With an effort she tore her eyes away from Snape's anguished face and poured herself another cup of coffee, cradling the hot cup in her hands, grateful for its warmths.

"Don't call me coward!" Snape suddenly cried out, startling Hermione. His face was twisted with despair and hatred, and his breathing harsh. Hermione's heart was hammering. Harry had told her about this, about Snape's flight and his attempts to stop him. She felt very cold as she stared at Snape's deathly pale face.

Suddenly his eyes opened and he became terribly still. Hermione thought for a moment that he had woken up, but realized quickly that he didn't see her. He was still far away, caught in his memories.

"No," Snape whispered, his voice full of fear. "No, please, it's not her, please…" His voice became frantic again, obviously pleading with someone. "Hide them all. Keep her – them – safe. Please. Anything, I'll do whatever you want, but you have to save her!"

Hermione's thoughts were reeling. What was he talking about? She stared down on Snape who suddenly seemed not the person she thought she knew. What had happened to give so much pain to him? And whom was he talking about?

"NO!" he suddenly cried out, a cry of endless desperation. A single tear ran down his white face and his hoarse throat voiced words that she couldn't understand.

On an impulse Hermione reached out and took his hand. Until now she had avoided touching him, but that was the only thing she could think of doing now. His fingers were ice cold. She had no idea if it helped, if he even noticed. His eyes were still open, but he showed no sign that he knew she was there.

"I thought you were going to keep her safe," Snape said, his voice broken by silent sobs. "I wish I were dead." He seemed to rally a bit after that, his breathing became steadier, but the pain and desperation didn't leave his face. "Never tell, Dumbledore!" he suddenly said, his voice urgent. "I cannot bear…" He stared in front of him in silence for a few minutes, then closed his eyes again, his face still drawn by intense suffering. Hermione was grateful that she didn't have to see the anguish and desperation in his eyes anymore. Her heart was hammering wildly and only now did she notice that her face was wet, too.

There were more attacks in the hours that followed, but none as terrible as that one.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save him," Snape suddenly whispered nearly two hours later. "I'm sorry he died. And his friend…I couldn't hold him back. The poor girl."

Hermione felt a strange jolt. Was he talking about her? About Harry, Ron and her? She leant closer, but Snape had fallen silent again. He seemed to calm down now and his breathing was easier.

She relaxed at bit then, her mind in turmoil over what had happened. Hermione felt terribly drawn and tired, not because of the lack of sleep, but because of what she had witnessed. Most of it she didn't understand, but Snape's intense anguish had touched her deeply. Suddenly her own sorrows seemed rather small. How had he been able to live with such memories, such desperation? And what did it mean? Had there been a woman he had been close to, a woman he couldn't save? And was this somehow wound up with the reason why Dumbledore had trusted him so completely? After all they had never found out the true reason for Dumbledore's trust. Was it because of this woman?

Somehow that was a disconcerting thought. Don't be silly, Hermione told herself. Why should it be so surprising to find out that Snape has once been in love? You of all people know that he's no monster. But try as she might, Hermione couldn't get rid of an odd feeling, as if her world had subtly changed and she didn't yet know how to find her way around.

Softly Hermione put Snape's hand, which she had held all the time, back on the blanket. She found that she could make him swallow some Strengthening Potion and water without much effort. Then she wrung out a piece of soft cloth in cool water and washed the sweat from his face. It was as white as marble and if she hadn't seen the slight rise and fall of his chest she would have wondered if he was still alive. A wave of sudden tenderness washed over her as she looked down on Snape's still form. Hermione hesitated for a second, then reached out to stroke his cheek very lightly. She drew her hand back immediately, her mind reeling, and sat there staring at the sleeping man. He would be all right now.

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