Minerva sat in her office, her mind occupied. Her thoughts lay on the young woman down in the hospital wing. She remembered how enthusiastic Hermione had been when she had accepted her offer of a position and how she had been the first to turn in her syllabus. 

Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice she hadn't heard for a few days. She looked up at Albus' portrait to see him smiling at her, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Minerva," Albus said, "you seem occupied. What do you have on your mind besides the return of the students?"

"I never could keep anything from you," Minerva replied. "It's Hermione Granger. She collapsed earlier today. I just received a message that Severus and Poppy are on their way to talk to me about their findings."

"Oh?" Albus asked as he pulled out a sweet and popped it into his mouth. "Sherbet lemon?"

"No, thank you," Minerva said, raising her eyebrow at him and wondering how he could give her one to begin with since he was in his portrait. She also was surprised that all he had to say about Hermione collapsing was, 'Oh?'

Albus chuckled. "You know where they are usually kept, Minerva, just in case you change your mind." His eyes twinkled once again. "So, about the esteemed Professor Granger. I was wondering when you would have a meeting of the minds concerning her condition."

Minerva looked at Albus' portrait sternly. "Do you mean to tell me, Albus, that you knew about her condition?"

Spreading his arms, he answered, "Heavens no, Minerva. Not at all. But she is good at hiding things, isn't she?"

"I don't know how it is possible, Albus Dumbledore, but you are more annoying in death than you ever were in life." Minerva rubbed her temples in frustration. "I have no doubt about her abilities, but her health concerns worry me."

Albus chuckled. "Your esteemed Severus Snape used to tell me the exact same thing," he said lightheartedly. "But indeed, her health would be something of concern. Do ensure that she is being completely honest with you. If she has a secret she feels she must hide, she will do it with no regards as to how it will affect her."

"I will be certain to do that, and yes, I know that she is an overachiever. Look at what she did during her third year here. She was one of my very best students, but she was always afraid that what she was doing wasn't good enough."

"But of course, how can I ever forget?" Albus asked. "She was an exceptionally bright student, and I am sure she will be an excellent teacher and mentor."

Minerva nodded and was about to say something else, but then a knock came at the door. "Please, come in," she called out.

The door opened, and Severus and Poppy swept into the room. "Minerva," they both murmured in greeting.

"Good afternoon. Please, sit down," she said, offering them each a chair in front of her desk. "I understand that you are here to give me an update on Hermione's condition."

"Yes," Poppy said. "She's resting comfortably right now and will hopefully be well enough to attend the Welcoming Feast tonight."

Minerva took a sharp breath in. "Have you been able to determine what is wrong with her?"

Poppy and Severus looked at each other before Poppy made a facial gesture to Severus to indicate he should be the one giving the explanation to Minerva. Severus sighed as he faced Minerva.

"Unfortunately, yes," Severus said quietly. "She was hit by a curse whilst she and her... friends were in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year –"

"What does that have to do with her current condition, Severus?" Minerva interrupted.

Severus scowled at Minerva. "As I was saying," he said even more quietly, in a tone which indicated he was annoyed, "she was hit by a curse whilst she and her friends were in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year. The deliverer of that curse was Antonin Dolohov."

A gasp interrupted Severus, but he ignored it and continued his explanation.

"Luckily for Miss Granger, Dolohov delivered that curse non-verbally, which essentially bought her more time –"

Minerva looked sharply at Severus. "Are you saying that she could die?"

Severus snarled at Minerva. "If you would stop interrupting me, woman, you would know the details as we know them at the moment." He glared at Minerva before he continued. "The curse Dolohov used was one of his specialities. It’s a slicing hex, which, if cast verbally, would have surely resulted in death if not attended to immediately. However, because it was cast non-verbally, it became a time-released slicing hex that’s triggered by stress. The more stressful the event, the more pain she will experience."

"So that is what caused her to pass out today," Minerva concluded. "Do you know the extent of the damage yet? It has been nine years since that curse was cast on her. What can be done for her?"

"She is on a course of pain-relieving and Blood-Replenishing Potions at the moment," Poppy said. "It's a shame she is not living in the castle because she really needs to be monitored very closely. I will insist that she meets with me every morning to ensure the curse doesn't cause any more damage than it has already.

"The most important thing is that she not be exposed to high amounts of stress," Poppy continued. "And, Severus and I agree on this point: until we figure out a cure, the fewer people who know about this, the better."

Minerva nodded gravely. "I will do everything I can to make sure her stress is minimised. Do you know for certain that she has told you everything? Albus and I were just discussing how she likes to keep things a secret, especially when she is trying to prove herself."

Severus nodded. "I figured as much," he said softly. "However, she confided in us the relevant injuries she had suffered during the war."

Poppy nodded her assent. "She was less than forthright, that is for certain," she added. "But we impressed upon her the importance of telling us everything if she wanted to be cured."

"Thank you for telling me, Poppy and Severus. I will advise the other professors that she is not well, but I will not tell them the nature of her illness. I am certain that Remus and Neville at the very least will want to go and see her."

"Of course," Poppy said. "I hope they will exercise restraint and not spread this news."

"It would be highly preferable if they do not know the exact nature of Miss Granger's injuries," Severus added.

"But then again, we cannot prevent her from telling the others if she so chooses," Poppy interjected.

Minerva nodded. "I don't know that she will want to tell anyone. She has never wanted anyone to pity her, for as long as I have known her."

Severus raised an eyebrow at Minerva, but didn't make any comment.

Poppy nodded and added, "Well, that should be enough to reassure us."

Severus looked as if he was deep in thought. "Minerva," he started slowly, "Miss Granger expressed interest in assisting us in developing a cure for her affliction. Given that we need to minimise her stress levels, what are your thoughts as far as granting or denying her wish is concerned?"

Minerva thought for a moment. "Given her persistence, I would grant her wish conditionally. As long as it does not affect her negatively, I would allow her to help you. However, if she starts to show any sign of tiredness or pain, she will have to stop. I understand her need to be involved; she was always proactive. But if it starts to make her the slightest amount worse, she will need to be pulled from the project."

Severus sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. That was not exactly what he wanted to hear from Minerva, but he knew he shouldn't have been surprised at her response. Apparently, Poppy seemed to share his sentiments.

"But, Minerva, to subject that girl to more work when she probably has enough to be getting on with might be the death of her!"

Severus glowered at Poppy. Poppy's expression softened somewhat as she added, "Well, you know what I mean; I didn't mean having her join this project would literally kill her."

Minerva offered Severus one of her rare smiles. "I seem to recall a certain Potions master who was very ill this time seven years ago. Someone who did not want to rest, who wanted to help with his own cure. It's not easy to wait for results when you can be a part of the process."

Both Severus and Poppy scowled at Minerva. "You do have a point," Severus muttered.

Poppy shook her head. "I certainly can't refute that." Then she turned to Severus and started shaking a finger at him. "If I hear that girl is being overworked, a pox shall be upon your black, glossy head, Severus. Mark my words."

Severus rolled his eyes while Minerva tried, but failed, to hold in her laughter.

"You two are going to be the death of me yet," Minerva said, shaking her head. "Now, I will give Remus and Neville the barest details. I am certain that the two of you have better things to do than to sit here, keeping me company all day. Please keep me up to date on how Miss Granger is doing."

Severus and Poppy stood up. "Very well," Severus said as he turned on his heel and swept out of the room.

Poppy looked rather amused as she watched Severus leave the room. "Honestly, Minerva," she said, "I think that man is really a drama queen in disguise."

They were startled by a familiar voice, clearing his throat rather loudly.

"Ladies," Albus' portrait said, "please do remember who the true queen is in this room."

Poppy rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Albus, if you were living, I would be throwing a pillow at you right about now."

Albus laughed a deep, rich laugh.

"And to think I fancied you, Albus," Minerva said, shaking her head.

Albus laughed again. "Oh, Minerva, I am truly flattered. But alas and alack, I am but pigment on canvas."

"Not to mention being the queen of Hogwarts castle," Minerva said, giving him a wink. "With classes starting tomorrow, I daresay our first years will have their share of explosions, spills, and injuries. Shall I see you tonight at the Welcoming Feast tonight, Poppy?"

Poppy smiled as she inclined her head. "You shall, Minerva," she said.

Hermione stood up slowly from the bed she had been resting on since the afternoon. She was feeling no pain, but she felt a little shaky. Nevertheless, she was determined to attend the Welcoming Feast. Remus and Neville had come to visit her a couple of hours earlier, and it had been apparent that they didn't know what was wrong with her, since they had told her that they had hoped her anaemia would improve and that she would feel better soon. The explanation that they had been given worked out so well that she thought she'd use it with Ron as well. After all, it was the truth. The visit had cheered her up greatly, and she had thanked them for coming to visit.

She pulled on the robes she'd bought for the feast and checked herself in the mirror. Other than looking a little pale, she didn't think she looked that bad. Even though her hair had calmed down considerably since her student days, she still used liberal amounts of Sleekeazy when she wanted to look nice, and she had applied it before putting it in a French twist. As she examined her work in the mirror, she was very happy with the results.

Poppy came out of her office with a pain-relieving potion and a pitcher of water. "Hermione," she said, "if you are so insistent on attending the Welcoming Feast, you will have to drink more of this potion and an entire glass of water before you may go." She then put a stern expression on her face as she started wagging her finger at Hermione. "But, young lady, at the first sign of pain or discomfort, I will order a house-elf to bring you straight back here where you will stay until breakfast tomorrow morning. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Poppy," Hermione said meekly. She took the potion and drank it, then drank the glass of water. "I wouldn't admit this when Severus is here, but I am a little scared. I don't want him to look at me as someone who is weak because I still think he looks at me as one of his students. But I know I can tell you."

Poppy took the vial and the glass from Hermione and looked at her with an assessing eye. "Hermione," she said, "it's okay to be a little scared. And please do give Severus a little credit. I don't think he sees you as weak."

"I hope not," Hermione replied. "Well, let's go to the Welcoming Feast and greet the new students."

Hermione and Poppy made their way to the Great Hall, and Hermione took her seat next to Neville and Remus.

"Oi, Hermione," Neville whispered, "when it comes up, you'd better eat the spinach. I don't want to see you have another anaemic episode."

Hermione made a face. "Well, I guess if it's going to make me feel better, it will be worth it. Maybe one of these days, someone will develop a spell that will make food like spinach taste better."

Remus leaned over and whispered into Hermione's ear. "It's not that bad," he said softly. "In fact, it's quite good for you."

"I know how good it is for me," Hermione said brusquely, then lowered her voice as the older students entered the Great Hall and took their seats. "I want to enjoy my first Welcoming Feast, so let's discuss this later, shall we?"

Remus and Neville rolled their eyes as they looked over the students at the tables. Neville was sharing his impressions of some of the more memorable Gryffindors amongst the current crop of students with Remus and Hermione when everyone quieted as Filius, fulfilling his role as Deputy Headmaster, led the first-year students into the Great Hall.

"Oh, Merlin," Remus breathed, "I'd forgotten how small the firsties look!"

Hermione smiled as she watched the newest students enter the Great Hall. "Remember when we first arrived, Neville? How Trevor got away from you and how Draco got Sorted into Slytherin right away?"

"How could I forget?" Neville asked. "I was so scared that I didn't belong because everyone thought I was the closest thing to a Squib!"

"And look at you now, you're a professor! A lot of people told me I didn't belong because I was a Muggle-born." Hermione smiled at Neville. 

"I was a bit of a misfit myself," Remus said. "No one knew I was a werewolf, and Albus had to make so many special arrangements for me."

"Here's to being misfits!" Hermione said, smiling at Remus and Neville. "I really wouldn't have it any other way, would you?"

Remus and Neville looked at each other. "Erm, no, Hermione," Neville said softly. "It was really painful at the time."

Hermione reached over and gave Neville's hand a squeeze. "You have become a wonderful wizard, and I am very proud of you. You are one of my best friends."

"As are you," Neville said with a smile.

Remus cleared his throat. "As touching as all this is, I believe Filius is getting ready to start, as he's got the stool and the hat in hand."

Sure enough, Filius placed a three-legged stool on the ground in front of the first years and then set the Sorting Hat on top. This effectively silenced everyone in the Great Hall as they waited in anticipation for the hat to break into its annual song.

I've been around for many years.
Seen a lot of smiles and a lot of tears.
I've seen peace and I've seen war
I've witnessed these walls fall to the floor.

But now the war is over and the day is here
To do away with anger and unfounded fear.
The raven and the badger, the lion and the snake
Should call a truce for the future's sake.

For years ago, the founders of this ancient school
Sat around and thought of each and every rule.
I know that there was one who did not like the plan
But now there's no more bloodline of that ornery man.

So let's all work together and each do our part.
Cast aside your prejudices and look into your heart.
We know that we can do it, together we can live.
Each of us has a part, a gift that we should give.

What will be your answer? Will you hear my call?
Will you turn away, or will you be standing tall?
For now I look you over, each and every face.
I know that we can make our world a better place.

As soon as the Sorting Hat finished, applause rang out throughout the Great Hall.

"That's a nice message of unity, don't you think?" Neville asked.

"I agree," Hermione said, daring to glance down at Severus and wondering if the Sorting Hat knew more than they gave it credit for.

Filius took a large scroll out of his pocket ("I often wondered how he managed to fit that huge thing in his robes," said Neville), unrolled it, and announced to the first years, "When I call out your names, you will sit on the stool, and I will place the hat on your head. When it announces your House, you will go and sit at the appropriate House table.

"Alexander, Adrian."

A small, brown-haired boy walked hesitantly forward, sat in the chair, and had the hat placed on his head. After what seemed like a few minutes, the hat shouted, "HUFFLEPUFF!" 

Filius removed the hat, and Adrian Alexander hopped off the stool, ran off to the Hufflepuff table, and sat down amidst applause and cheers from his fellow Hufflepuffs.

Hermione watched as the rest of the students were sorted. There was one young girl who was Sorted into Gryffindor who reminded her of herself at that age. She was eager, excited, and even had curly hair, although not as curly as hers had been at eleven.

It didn't seem long before Fidelia Zamora was sorted into Ravenclaw, and Minerva stood. 

"Now, everyone, tuck in."

Hermione looked eagerly at her plate as the food appeared, and soon the hall was filled with students and staff alike talking as well as the sounds of dishes being passed.

"Ah," Remus said as he put some steak and kidney pie on his plate. "I had forgotten how wonderful the Hogwarts food is."

Neville placed a slice of watercress and herb quiche on his plate. "If you're not careful, you could gain a lot of weight here. We're not young students with a wildly high metabolism rate anymore."

"Says the one who probably spends all his free time wrestling exotic plants in the greenhouses," Remus said as he piled some chips on his plate.

Hermione chuckled. "I probably will have to take Ron some food home each night. Thankfully, we know where the kitchens are and have known where they are for some time, thanks to you," she said, winking at Remus.

Remus blushed. "Well, erm, it's not exactly information that should be made freely available," he said.

Neville chuckled. "You'll have to admit, it was very useful information to have whenever we wanted to have a House party after Quidditch victories."

Hermione, Neville, and Remus laughed merrily as they continued their meal.

Severus, who was sitting at the far end of the staff table, wasn't eating much himself. After having provided for himself for so long, he was finding the food a little bit too rich for him. He served himself a bit of spinach salad, but spent most of the time pushing his food around his plate. From time to time, he stole a glance across the table to Hermione to assess how well she was tolerating the crowd and the food.

Poppy glanced pointedly at Severus' plate and at Severus before following his gaze across the table to Hermione. "I think she's holding up pretty well, Severus," she murmured.

Severus gave a curt nod in response as he sipped his pumpkin juice.

Poppy looked again at Severus' plate and frowned at him. "You're not eating all that much, Severus."

Severus scowled at Poppy. "And why does this concern you?" he hissed.

Poppy rolled her eyes. "Don't play that game with me, young man," she said sternly. "You need to eat to keep up your strength."

Severus scowled at her again before turning his attention to his plate with a muttered comment that sounded like, "Bloody busybody."

After the food had been eaten, both dinner and dessert, and the plates were once again gone from the tables, Minerva stood up and walked to the podium. Pointing her wand at her throat, she cast Sonorus and cleared her throat.

"Now that we have all eaten, I have a few announcements before we are dismissed for the night. First of all, our Head Boy is Stephen Bizzell of Slytherin House, and our Head Girl is Victoria Gershenson of Ravenclaw."

This announcement was met with much chatter, as, usually, the Head Boy and Head Girl were from the same House.

"Prefects, please look for notices from our Head Boy and Head Girl regarding Prefect meetings." Minerva consulted her notes. "As always, the Forbidden Forest is off-limits to all students, as is Hogsmeade Village to anyone who is not at least a third-year student. Quidditch tryouts will be held next week. Please see your Quidditch captains if you are interested in trying out for the House team. Lastly, Mr Filch has a list of items that are banned from use at Hogwarts, most of which may be purchased at Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. Any student found with these items in his or her possession will have them confiscated and may receive detention."

She took a deep breath and continued. "Those of you who were here last year will notice that we have a few new faces on staff. First of all, I would like to welcome back Professor Severus Snape, who will be resuming his positions as Head of Slytherin House and Potions professor."

Severus inclined his head slightly in response. There was a smattering of applause, with the loudest applause coming from the Slytherin table. Mostly, students were looking at him curiously, as they had heard many stories about the "brave, selfless Potions master who had spied on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and protected the son of his long-time love." There were a few gasps from those who thought Severus had died shortly before the end of the war.

"I would also like to welcome back Professor Remus Lupin, who is the new Head of Gryffindor and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor," Minerva added.

Remus stood and acknowledged the applause, with the loudest cheers coming from the Gryffindor table. There was also some curiosity from the students, particularly from those who had heard he was one of the war heroes. There were also a few gasps from those who thought Remus had been killed by Death Eaters along with his wife during the final battle. Overall, the applause greeting Remus was more warm and sustained than that which had greeted Severus.

"Finally, I would like to welcome a new professor to Hogwarts. Please join me in welcoming Professor Hermione Granger, who will be teaching Transfiguration."

Hermione stood up and smiled at the applause and cheers she received, giving the students a slight bow. She wasn't surprised when she saw students whispering to one another, as she knew that her name was known by most people in the wizarding world. At last, she took her seat, her heart feeling light.

Everyone in the Great Hall stood and joined in singing the school song. Once the song was over, Minerva cleared her throat once more.

"Now, I know how excited and eager you are to get to bed, so off you go. After all, classes start early tomorrow morning." Minerva cast Quietus on her throat after making this announcement.

When the students were dismissed, Hermione was surprised at how tired she was. She looked up and noticed Poppy coming to her.

"Hermione!" Poppy called out.

Hermione smiled at Poppy because she had almost expected it. "Hi, Poppy."

"Hermione," Poppy said as she came up to Hermione. "I just wanted to check on you and see how you're doing."

"I'm fine," she assured Poppy. "I'm just a little tired, that's all. I'm going to go home and get a good night's sleep."

"You haven't experienced any burning or light-headedness all evening, have you?" Poppy asked.

"No, I just feel tired. I'm looking forward to going home and getting some sleep."

Poppy nodded. "All right, young lady," she said. "You may go. But don't strain yourself, and try to go to bed straight away. I will need to see you early tomorrow morning before your first class. Please give me at least thirty minutes of your time tomorrow morning."

"All right, I will make sure that I am here in enough time. Thanks for all you did today, Poppy," Hermione said. "I really appreciate it."

Poppy nodded and placed her hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You're very welcome, dear."

Hermione turned to leave the Great Hall through the staff entrance. Much to her surprise and irritation, Severus was waiting for her at the door. She blew some stray hairs away from her face in an irritated huff as she approached him.

"Miss Granger," Severus said quietly, his head inclined slightly in greeting.

Hermione's eyes narrowed as she regarded the Potions master. "Mr Snape," Hermione returned quietly. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Severus raised an eyebrow at her. "I must discuss a matter of utmost importance with you."

Hermione looked at him and nodded. "I am feeling rather tired. Would it be okay with you if we walk while we talk, or do you have to patrol tonight?"

Severus shook his head. "No, no patrol," he said. "And yes, that is acceptable."

"Thank you." Hermione took her cloak from the hook hanging just inside the door and put it on, then went through the door as Severus held it for her. When the two of them were outside, she turned to him. "Am I correct in guessing that this has to do with my wish to assist you with finding a cure?"

Severus gave a slight incline of his head. "Indeed," he said. "The Headmistress, Madam Pomfrey, and I had a discussion about this earlier today. We agreed that you may assist us in finding a cure on a few conditions: the most important being you must ensure your stress levels are down to a minimum, as your symptoms are entirely stress-induced, and secondly, you must not tell anyone about our work or the true nature of your condition."

Hermione nodded. "I won't tell anyone. I have been using the excuse that I have anaemia, and that is what is causing my symptoms. Ron has enough on his mind, and I don't want him to worry about me. If he knows about my condition, it may only make things worse."

Severus gave a curt nod, and they lapsed into silence for part of the walk. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed how tired and pale Hermione appeared. He sighed inwardly as he thought of what he was going to tell her. "Very well, Miss Granger," he said. "We will need to do some research first before we can devise a plan of action. If I recall correctly, you are quite adept at library research, considering some of those essays you had written whilst a student here."

Hermione was wondering exactly what he was going to say to her, but she didn't expect what he said. A disbelieving chuckle escaped her before she could stop it. Was he really giving her a compliment, or was he simply using it as another way to say that she was a parrot? She glanced at his face and did not see a sneer upon it, so she figured that was a good sign. "It is true, I do enjoy doing research."

Severus gave another curt nod. "Indeed. For the first couple of weeks, I recommend we research this curse. It will be easier at the beginning of term when there won't be as much homework to mark. Most of what we will need should be in the Restricted Section in the library. I may have a couple of books that could assist us in this endeavour.

"We should start with slicing hexes. Another area to examine would be the effect that casting a normally verbal spell non-verbally would have on the target of interest. If we start with trying to understand completely the theory behind these hexes as well as the theory of verbal versus non-verbal spells, we could start thinking of possible ways to counteract the curse that afflicts you."

Hermione listened and quietly processed the information that he had given her. It seemed like quite a daunting task, but it wasn't the first daunting task she had undertaken in her almost twenty-six years. The difference was that the task was usually done for someone else, namely Harry. She looked at Severus and wondered something. She wanted to ask him, but she also was afraid of what he would say in response.

"Once we study our notes, we can start devising a cure," Severus continued. "I think we will need to use both charms and potions or, most likely, a combination of the two. Once we get to that point, we might have to work in the lab. I have ample lab space near the Potions classrooms in the dungeons where we should be able to work undisturbed."

Hermione nodded. Noticing that they were close to the flat she shared with Ron, she turned to him. "Thank you for walking me home and for allowing me to work with you." They arrived at the front door, and she smiled at him. "I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast, then?"

Severus bent his head as his hair swung forward to cover his face. "Indeed, Miss Granger. Good evening."

"Good evening." Hermione gave him one last smile before opening the door and entering the flat. Crookshanks ran to greet her, and she bent to scoop him up in her arms. "Hi, Crookshanks. Did you miss me?" she asked, rubbing her face into his thick fur and listening to him purr.

Ron went halfway down the stairs, clad in a fluffy orange and black towel. "Oh, you're here," he said. "I didn't hear you come in." He went downstairs and gave Hermione a kiss, much to Crookshanks' displeasure, as he growled when Ron crushed him against Hermione's chest. "How was your day, love?"

Crookshanks squirmed from her arms, and she let him drop to the ground to return Ron’s hug. "You know, you two are going to need to get along," she said, shaking her head. "As for my day, it went very well. I don't think I told you yesterday, but Remus was made Head of Gryffindor. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man," she said. "And for the first time in history, we have a Head Boy and a Head Girl from two different Houses. The Head Boy is from Slytherin, and the Head Girl is a Ravenclaw."

"Oh, really?" Ron asked. "But that's really good on Remus that he's the Head of Gryffindor." He winked and nudged Hermione in the ribs. "I'll bet he'll let them get away with a lot of things. He won't be as strict as McGonagall was."

"No, probably not," Hermione agreed. "How about your day? When did you get home? Did you have something to eat?" She gently broke away from him so that she could remove her cloak and hang it up, then made her way over to the couch. "I need to get these shoes off. Maybe I'll try a Cushioning Charm on them tomorrow. Or maybe I'll just charm my trainers to look like fancier shoes." She handed him the bag that she had brought from Hogwarts. "If you haven't eaten yet, I brought you something."

He opened the bag and his eyes widened. "Oh, Hermione! I think I love you! This is most excellent!" He Summoned a plate from the kitchen and pulled out steak and kidney pie, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an entire treacle tart. He also pulled out a flagon of pumpkin juice that was kept at the right temperature with a judiciously placed Cooling Charm. "This is brilliant! A real Hogwarts dinner!" He gave Hermione a hug and a short, sweet kiss. "Thanks, love," he murmured before he sat down and tucked into his meal.

"While you are eating, I think I'm going to go upstairs and relax in a hot bath." She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek, then slowly stood up. Making her way out of the living room, she was glad that he was too engrossed in his food to notice how slowly she was walking. 

Fifteen minutes later, she was soaking in a hot tub and enjoying it immensely. Snape's actions had been quite confusing, to say the least. Earlier in the day, he had been yelling at her, throwing her into a classroom, and basically saying that she had no business being a teacher. And not half an hour ago, he had walked her home. He had tried not to show it, but his concern for her seemed obvious. But did he simply see her illness as another puzzle, another challenge to solve, or did he really care about her well-being?

She could feel her eyes starting to close as she puzzled over the mystery that was Severus Snape.

Ron enjoyed his meal so much; it took him back to simpler days when Harry, Hermione, and he had been students at Hogwarts, enjoying their meals in the Great Hall with their other Gryffindor mates. He smacked his lips in satisfaction and then Banished the used dishes to the kitchen where he used his mother's Cleansing Charm to clean them. He listened for the usual sloshing of water that occurred whenever Hermione bathed and was rather puzzled when silence greeted him. Hermione never took quick baths, and he became concerned.

He took the stairs two at a time and went into the bathroom. Shaking his head, he regarded Hermione fondly. Her chestnut curls cascaded over the edge of the tub, and her face looked angelic in its repose. He smiled gently as he noticed her chest rising and falling slowly and steadily as she breathed. She was the loveliest sight he had ever seen, and his love for Hermione felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. Summoning the fluffiest, non-Chudley Cannons towel from the linen closet, he Levitated Hermione out of the bath and gently wrapped her in the towel. He allowed the Levitation Charm to dissipate slowly as she landed softly into his arms, and he carried her out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into their bedroom. After laying her gently on their bed and lovingly arranging her hair on the pillow, he kissed her tenderly and slipped underneath the covers next to her where sleep very quickly claimed him.


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