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She had to be dead. Nothing alive was that still.

Snape had seen dead bodies before, and even petrefaction was not a phenomenon new to him. Still, this bothered him. She was his student. Things like this weren't supposed to happen at Hogwarts.

They always did somehow, and this shouldn't have surprised him. She wasn't the first, and she was a prominent Muggleborn. Still, she was the first to actually die. The others had, he suspected, been extraordinarily lucky.

McGonagall, who was visibly struggling under the girl's weight, said sharply, "Severus!"

He took his eyes off of the girl's white hands and stepped forward to take the student from his colleague. "I'll get her to the hospital wing," he said quietly, and didn't comment on the damp gleam in Minerva's eye. After all, she hadn't seen the things he'd seen, but she knew enough to realize that Madam Pomfrey could do little. "Go get Albus," he said. McGonagall nodded and hurried off, her shoes clicking hollowly on the stones.

Snape held the child gingerly, as if cradling this corpse gently could make up for all the dead bodies he'd disrespected in his time with the Dark Lord. He kept his hands wrapped in her robes, but as he shifted her to a more tenable position, her skin brushed against his hand.

And Snape stopped breathing. "Minerva," he called hoarsely, "Minerva, stop."

She turned back, and he extended the rigid girl to her. "Come here!"

She shook her head. "I can see from here, Professor Snape. I realize that your students have as yet been unaffected, but please, try to understand how this feels for me."

"I do," Snape snapped. "If you'd listen for a moment, and come over here as I said, you'd understand."

Startled, the teacher complied. Her step was minute and measured, and when at his indication she reached a hand to touch Hermione, he saw that she was trembling.

She frowned at him. "What?"

Making no attempt to hide his disdain for her ignorance, Snape pointed out, "She's warm."

"Well, yes, we just found her. She can't have been here long."

He gave her his best glare, and he didn't have to force it. "If you'd paid any attention to any of your classes besides Transfiguration, you'd know what this means." He didn't miss the humour in the fact that even in this dire situation, Minerva still took the insult personally. "Whatever did this-" and he had his own suspicion what that might be "-there are a few elements of petrefaction that hold true in all cases. Among them is the cold. Those who find petrified bodies report that the skin is always icy to the touch. Miss Granger is, if anything, running a slight fever. Ergo, she is still alive."

"But how-"

He cut her off impatiently. "I'm not sure. But Minerva, did you say you found a mirror beside her?"

"Yes. Why?"

Thank Merlin for mirrors. "Nothing. Go see Dumbledore."

Snape proceeded with extreme caution now. If he was right about the girl's condition, then her bones were brittle as glass, and any sudden jolt could shatter her fragile form.

It was hard to protect her, because she was in an awkward pose, with one hand extended out before her. And was that a scrap of paper in her outstretched hand? Snape held the girl steady with one hand, while the other worked between her fingers, If he was careful, he could just get it out.

After a moment of awkward grappling, Snape achieved success, and he flipped the paper between the fingers of his free hand to unfold it. He scanned the paper rapidly. Miss Granger had evidently come to the same conclusion he had. Then one brow shot up.

Pipes.

It almost made up for stealing his ingredients. "Five points to Gryffindor, Miss Granger," he muttered. "Pipes, indeed."

Snape worked the paper back into the girl's hand as best he could and continued on his way to the hospital wing. Far away, in the Great Hall, five rubies fell.