If the choice were mine to make

Awake again

Snape felt terrible when he woke up. His head was pounding like mad and when he carefully opened his eyes the dim light filtering through the drawn blinds caused so much pain he closed them again immediately.

What had happened to him?

Slowly the memories came back. His breakthrough with the potion…the wine…the strange reaction it caused…and then a blurred jumble of terrible memories, unbearable anguish and endless despair and guilt…

Snape's eyes snapped open in spite of the pain and he scrambled into a sitting position. He realized that he was in his bed and automatically reached for the wand which was always lying beside him. But it wasn't there.

A sudden noise next to his bed made him jerk around. He found himself staring at Hermione Granger.

"What are you doing here?!" he shouted, or would have shouted if his voice had produced more than a hoarse whisper.

She got up from the armchair in which she had been sitting and bent over him. Only then did he notice the look of relief on her face. "I'm glad you're awake," she said and reached for a decanter with water from a nearby shelf. "Drink that, you must be very thirsty."

Snape was burning with questions but knew that she was right and took the glass of water she filled for him. He emptied it thirstily while she went and opened one of the blinds to let more light into the room. Snape winced. The pain in his head was making him dizzy and he felt as exhausted as if he hadn't slept for several days. When Hermione returned to his bed she poured a glass from a bottle he had never seen before and handed it to him. "Drink this, it'll help," she said.

Snape sniffed the potion distrustfully. "A Headache Potion?" he croaked.

Hermione nodded and he drank it down, glad for the relief it brought. Only when he had done this did she sit down next to his bed again.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice still raspy but much better now.

Hermione looked uncomfortable. "It seems that someone tried to poison you. With the Memorate Potion. Luckily you drank only a little and got to a bezoar in time."

Snape drew in his breath. "I see." He grimaced. "That certainly accounts for my headache."

Hermione was already handing him another glass. "Drink this. It's a combined Headache and Strengthening Potion."

Snape took the glass, but didn't drink it immediately. "Did anyone check on the wards?"

Hermione nodded. "Dumbledore did. They are intact."

Snape drank down the potion but still looked at her warily. "But that still doesn't explain why you are here."

"Rose came to me," Hermione said. "You mustn't be angry with her," she quickly added when she saw that Snape's face got clouded. "She thought you were dying and was mad with fear. Dumbledore was gone and I was the only one she could think of asking for help."

Snape stared at Hermione, then gave a short nod. "I see. Don't be afraid, I'm not angry with her. I'm not someone who takes out his anger on his house-elf."

Hermione smiled in relief and a strange mixture of emotions overcame him. Resentment that she was here, in his house, but also an odd and heady gladness. Snape quickly pushed it away. There was more pressing business now, like trying to make sense of what had happened.

"But how did you know about the Memorate Potion?"

Hermione looked guilty again. "I'm sorry, but we called Madame Pomfrey. We didn't know what was the matter with you and were worried that you wouldn't wake up again."

Snape shut his eyes in annoyance. "That was Dumbledore's idea, wasn't it?" he asked. "Well, I suppose in this situation there was nothing else you could do," he conceded grudgingly, opening his eyes again. "How long was I unconscious?"

"About 34 hours. It's nearly half past 8 a.m. now."

"And where is Poppy?"

"Unfortunately she couldn't stay."

Snape stared at Hermione. "So she left you here alone?"

"Yes." The young woman looked uncomfortable. "She told me to send Rose if I needed help." Hermione threw him a quick, rather self-conscious and worried look, then swiftly turned to the shelf where Poppy had obviously left a few other potions.

Snape was glad that she wasn't looking at him. If she had been the only one to look after him all this time, she must have witnessed what the potion had done to him. He had no memories of what had happened during the last hours, had no idea how vocal he had been while he had relived the worst times of his life. But he certainly wasn't thrilled by the thought that Hermione might have heard his most terrible memories.

"Drink this," she said, handing him another glass and he downed it without question. How much does she know? was resonating in his head. Suddenly another thought struck him.

"I have to go to the laboratory," he said, trying to get out of his bed.

Hermione immediately caught his arm and gently held him back. "Your experiment is all right," she said. He threw her a doubting look but stopped and sank back into the pillows again. "I found your notes and followed the instructions. Is it the Anti-Werewolf Potion?"

"Yes it is, and I think I might have made a breakthrough."

Her eyes lit up and she looked at him excitedly.

"But we won't know for certain until it is finished," he went on.

"Don't worry," she said, "I'll make sure it turns out fine."

"Still, I think I should have a look at it," he insisted.

Hermione however shook her head vehemently. "Madame Pomfrey told me to see to it that you'd rest. You should sleep now."

Snape snorted. "I feel perfectly fine. I'll get up."

"No, I don't think you will," Hermione said, sounding a bit guilty.

"What do you mean," Snape asked, alarmed. He threw a suspicious look to the glass he had just drunk from. Suddenly he had to yawn. "Did you give me a Sleeping Draught?!"

"Sorry," Hermione said. "I'll see you when you wake up again."

"You sneaky, traitorous Gryffindor," Snape mumbled before sleep claimed him.

When Snape woke up again his head felt much better. But when he opened his eyes he found himself staring at a rather hairy, rather ugly face which was hardly ten inches away from his.

Scrambling up into a sitting position, he saw a large ginger cat with a strangely squashed face lying next to him. The cat's yellow eyes followed him and the tip of its tail twitched lazily, but apart from that it didn't seem daunted in the least.

Snape stared at it. It was the only living thing in the room and a quick glance at his watch told him that it was 13 minutes past 2 p.m. He looked back at the cat again. "You must be Hermione's familiar," he said, eying it carefully. Somewhere he had already seen it... Snape's eyes narrowed. "Wait, you're the cat that helped Black!"

Crookshanks threw him an innocent look, then started licking his right front paw.

Snape wasn't fooled by this behaviour and kept on staring at the cat suspiciously. "You're no normal cat, are you?" he finally said. "I bet there's a good part of kneazle in you."

The cat was still grooming itself, for all appearances oblivious to the penetrating stare of the wizard. Hermione's familiar. She was here, in his house, and what was worse she had seen him through the last days and nights when he had spilled Merlin knew what secrets from his past. Snape winced. He didn't remember the details of his dreams, but he knew his worst memories well enough to be certain that the last two days and nights hadn't been pleasant. He still felt terribly exhausted and when he tried to remember his dreams he was overwhelmed by a choking feeling of terror and pain and guilt. And she had been with him the whole time…

Snape groaned quietly. Hermione shouldn't be here. He didn't know if his house was still safe, after all someone had managed to poison him. Looking around, Snape found his wand lying next to his bed. He reached out for it and quickly performed several spells to check if his protective wards were still in place. As Hermione had told him, everything seemed fine. And yet someone had intruded into his house. Someone who knew that he was still alive, someone who obviously bore a grudge against him.

Snape didn't want Hermione here, in his house, his deeply personal space. And not only because of the potential danger. It was acceptable to meet her in London, or in Stratford, on quasi neutral ground. But this was his house, his private sanctuary, and he didn't want her so close. Especially didn't want her to see him like this. Merlin, she'd been in his bedroom!

Snape stared at the cat, his thoughts turning around the young woman and what she might have heard and seen during the last two days. He had to make her leave as quickly as possible, for her own safety. But he couldn't just chuck her out after everything she'd done for him. It had been good of her to come to look after him, to care for him…

Did she care for him?

Snape angrily recalled his thoughts and suddenly realized that the cat was staring at him with a knowing stare that was definitely un-cattish.

"You should go and tell your mistress that I'm awake," Snape growled, feeling slightly ridiculous to be daunted by a cat.

Hermione's familiar yawned lazily, then got up, stretched, and finally hopped off his bed with a flicker of its tail. When it arrived at the closed door, it jumped up lightly to open it and left the room.

Snape looked after it for a few seconds before he gingerly raised himself out of the bed. He felt weak, but not so weak to prevent him from getting up. Next to his bed stood a bottle with what he recognized as the combined Headache and Strengthening Potion. Snape poured himself a liberal glass and downed it quickly. Apart from the headache and exhaustion there shouldn't be any lasting after-effects of the Memorate Potion.

After sitting on his bed for a few more moments, Snape felt himself well enough to get up. He also noticed that he was rather hungry, but that would have to wait. He needed to take a shower, to dress and to look after his potion. And then he'd go and find Hermione.

After a few minutes Snape left his adjacent bathroom, clean and in his usual clothes. He felt much better, and he was just about to go to the laboratory when there was a tentative knock on the door.

"Come in," he called, and Hermione entered, the cat at her heels.

"You drugged me," he said accusatory. "And then you set your familiar to watch over me. I'm sure he shed on my bed."

She smiled, seeing that he was obviously better. "I'm sorry," she said, but there was no remorse in her voice. "How are you feeling now?"

"Better. Quite well enough to get up. And I won't let you drug me again."

She threw him a scrutinizing look, then nodded. "Very well. But I'll have to inform Madame Pomfrey that you're up. She wants to examine you."

Snape snorted. He wasn't at all keen on facing his former colleague. She would be very angry with him, and she would ask questions. But he knew that he couldn't keep her from coming. "I'll be in the laboratory. And then I'll eat something." He hesitated and added, "How about you. Are you hungry?"

"Definitely. Oh, Dumbledore would like to see you."

"I thought so," Snape replied. "Please tell him I'll come to my study as soon as I'm finished with the potion."

When he entered the laboratory, Snape half feared to see his experiment spoilt, but Hermione had taken good care of it. He wouldn't be sure until it was finished, but it looked all right.

Although he was soon done with checking on the potion, Snape didn't leave the laboratory yet. Was he trying to put off facing Hermione? Ridiculous, he thought, but knew that, indeed, he was. After what had happened, Snape felt tense and uncomfortable in her presence. He didn't know what he had said under the influence of the Memorate Potion, and there was still the wretched business of that kiss in Stratford. Suddenly a cold hand gripped his heart. What if he had said something about that? But wouldn't she behave differently if he had? And her kiss didn't really qualify for one of the worst moments of his life, on the contrary…

Snape quickly recalled his thoughts from that dangerous territory. No, Hermione had behaved normal, a bit cautious perhaps, but that was to be expected, after all they had left the safe territory of their 'business'-meetings in London and Stratford. This was a completely new situation, one in which both of them didn't really know how to behave towards each other. But if everything went according to Snape's wishes it would be a very short situation indeed.

When he finally left his laboratory and went to his study he found Hermione deep in conversation with Dumbledore's portrait. The elder wizard's face lit up when he saw Snape.

"Ah, Severus," he said, positively beaming. "I am glad you are better. I am sorry for the measures we had to take, but they were necessary."

Snape nodded curtly. "I suppose so." He turned to Hermione. "Have you informed Poppy?"

"Yes, she'll arrive in about an hour." Hermione hesitated, then went on. "I was discussing this with Professor Dumbledore. Do you have any idea who did this to you?"

Snape exchanged a quick glance with the elder wizard. "Unfortunately not. There might be a candidate, Gerold Wilson, a man whose sister was murdered by Death Eaters…" Snape saw comprehension dawn on Hermione's face, comprehension and the question if he had been present, if he had been involved. He met her questioning eyes unflinchingly and without showing any emotion. "But there are more than enough candidates," he went on. "If it isn't someone related to a victim, it could be a former Death Eater or someone related to them."

"That's what I thought," Hermione said, looking a bit pale.

"The Ministry still hasn't found Gerold," Dumbledore cut in. "Perhaps you could make me a list with other possible candidates, then I'll see what I can find out about them."

"Thank you," Snape replied. "The Memorate Potion could give us a clue. It's not a widely known potion and the recipe is not readily available. Moreover, you have to have a certain skill in Potions to be able to brew it. Of the Death Eaters who are still alive and who are not in Azkaban any longer, there is none with the necessary knowledge.

Dumbledore was looking pensively. "If you ignore death and prison, who could have done it?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "You think that not only I could have faked my death? Well, Karkoff of course. Lestrange and possibly Rookwood."

"What about Wilkes and Chatswold?"

Snape shook his head. "Wilkes is definitely dead. And Chatswold is simply not clever enough."

"Who are they?" Hermione asked. "I've never heard their names."

"Aramis Wilkes was killed by Aurors in the First War," Snape explained. "He was very young when he joined, a Ravenclaw who was lured by Voldemort's promises of knowledge and glory. Very competitive and quite skilled in Potions. He'd probably be able to brew the Memorate Potion, but I saw his corpse, he's definitely dead. Constantine Chatswold on the other hand was helpless in Potions. And he left the country before Voldemort was defeated the first time. Bellatrix had killed his sister, who was something like Voldemort's favourite. Chatswold was furious, especially when Voldemort didn't want to do anything about it. So even if Chatswold had the necessary skills, there would be no motive for him to take revenge on me."

"Then what about Lucius Malfoy?" Hermione asked. "Even if he himself might not be able to brew the potion, I'm sure he knows people who could. He and Narcissa got out of Azkaban two years ago, didn't they?"

"Yes," Dumbledore nodded. "And they certainly have a motive."

"And just a few weeks ago Draco apologized to me," Hermione went on. "He seemed sincere, but perhaps he knows that you and I are working together?"

Snape threw her a penetrating stare. "You think they might have used you to get to me? I had hoped that Draco's regrets were sincere. But you never know with Lucius. In that case you could be in danger, too."

Hermione shrugged. "It was just an idea. We don't know for sure."

But Snape wasn't soothed by this. How stupid of him not to realize that her association with him had put Hermione in danger right from the beginning. "Even if it isn't Lucius, if whoever did this knows where I live you're in danger in any case," he said, his voice tense.

"But we don't know if he knows where you live, do we?" Hermione replied, meeting his gaze defiantly. "I'm certainly not leaving if that's what you're implying."

He stared at her, at her serious expression and the raised chin. Stupid Gryffindor bravery. "No, we don't," he conceded. "I got the wine from a merchant where I order by owl. Whoever did this might have tampered with the bottle at the merchant. I'll send a letter to ask about my last order."

"Do that," Dumbledore nodded. "And write me that list. And I'll have a special eye on Malfoy."

"Very well," Snape replied, still feeling worried about Hermione's involvement in all of this. "Let's go and eat something."

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