Everything in the castle was tinged purple-blue from the twilight light streaming in from the castle's ten thousand windows as Ginny Weasley made her way down to the hospital wing. She had her wand tucked up her sleeve so that she could easily reach it, though she couldn't articulate why. There was no Death Eater presence in the castle any more, but she had the same feeling of constantly being watched that she had had then. After the second time she almost hexed a student who came around a corner suddenly, Ginny was forced to admit that maybe being on high alert and having her wand to hand wasn't the cleverest idea in a castle full of children and victims of war, especially not when there was overlap. She reluctantly put it away.
It took her a long time outside the doorway to make up her mind about going in. She wasn't planning to stay long, but even the idea of willingly checking up on Malfoy was an unpleasant one. Even if she and Malfoy were no longer mortal enemies, Ginny couldn't forget whose father had given her Riddle's diary and she was not immune to her boyfriend's deep dislike of his childhood nemesis. She did not want to put herself in a room with him if she didn't have to.
It was only the thought of how sick Hermione had looked that morning when she woke Ginny up that was making the Gryffindor do this at all. She knew her friend was keeping a lot to herself, and much of it she couldn't puzzle out without Hermione's help, but this she understood. Hermione needed to know what happened. She had known as soon as Hermione had explained Malfoy's accident that Hermione blamed herself. It didn't make sense, but emotions often didn't.
Knowing she was stalling, Ginny grinned hollowly at the door frame of the infirmary. When she thought about what she had gotten out of growing up at Hogwarts, in a war, all she could come up with was, "Emotions don't make sense." Cutting-edge stuff.
Fuck it. She went in.
She had been prepared to see Narcissa Malfoy there, but she wasn't prepared to see Draco awake. He was white as bone and half sitting up in the bed second from the door. His mother was sitting beside him holding his hand and neither of them was speaking. They didn't acknowledge Ginny's entrance.
There was another chair pulled up beside Narcissa's. Ginny took it and sat in silence for a minute.
"I don't... blame her."
"I don't blame her," Malfoy repeated in a creaky voice. "That's what... you wanted to know..."
"I wanted to see how you were, as well," Ginny said, hoping she didn't sound as defensive as she felt. Apparently she did, because Malfoy didn't dignify her statement with an answer. "What do you remember?"
Narcissa Malfoy said sharply, "Now is not the time."
"I'm sorry," Ginny said, not caring if she sounded sorry. She hesitated for a second to see if Malfoy would give her anything and then got up to go. "I hope you feel better soon, Malfoy."
"Weasley... It was like... like being shoved... but..." Malfoy stopped to cough so hard Ginny was worried he might spit out a lung. Naricssa Malfoy was glaring at Ginny as if she was testing whether looks really could kill, but Ginny stayed put. Malfoy resumed his statement. "Shoved but all over," he said. "Not in one place. Didn't see."
Ginny stared at him. It was probably bad form to ask Malfoy to repeat himself when he was struggling to talk, but she wasn't sure she understood. "I - thank you. Feel better soon." She left.
As Ginny walked back through the halls to the Gryffindor common room, there was nothing in the world that would have stopped her from walking with her wand in hand. Thinking about her brief exchange with Malfoy, Ginny was less scared of what her wand could do to harmless students than she was of the possibility that her wand might not do her any good.
"I looked up wandless spells," Granger said some minutes into their potions lesson, when Snape had almost succeeded in forgetting that she was there. "I'm sorry I pushed you about it." She met his eyes with her characteristic bravado.
"You didn't know." Even he wasn't sure if he was accusing or excusing her. He hadn't expected her to take the quintessential Gryffindor approach of saying exactly what she was thinking. It was his own mistake, really, but he was thrown by her bluntness.
"No, I didn't know," she said, turning back to her work.
Snape would have been happy to let the conversation die there, but Granger carried on talking as if she hadn't just alluded to torture and murder committed by someone in the room.
"It's strange that I didn't know, isn't it?" she asked.
Snape wasn't sure what he was meant to say to that. "Yes, Miss Granger, it is strange that you somehow escaped having to cast soul-rending curses without even a wand between you and the deed." "Yes, Miss Granger, it is odd that you didn't know something." "Yes, Miss Granger, it is odd I haven't written a treatise on the subject." He said nothing.
"I suppose it doesn't seem odd in isolation, really, but if you think about it as a more general problem, it starts to be worrying."
Snape glared at her back and did not answer. He had brought this on himself, he knew, but he had hoped directing Granger to this part of his past would make her less inclined to seek wandless magic instruction from him. Instead she talked on steadily without any waver in her voice, but without managing to conceal her anxiety. Her shoulders were stiff and her arms poking out of her blouse seemed impossibly thin and fragile. Snape wondered if it was his imagination that made him think he could see the bumps of her spine beneath the fabric of her shirt.
"I couldn't tell you why lifting an object is easier than moving it sideways—I mean, I could, obviously, because I took the trouble of seeing what research had been done. Then I asked the Room of Requirement to give me some spaces with different gravity and I played around with it. That's not the point. The point is that most students couldn't tell you."
"Watch that or it will bubble over."
Continuing to stir vigorously as per the instructions, Granger lowered the heat around her cauldron. "I just think it's strange. It doesn't make sense not to teach students things like that." Tilting her head thoughtfully so that a curl of her hair almost fell in her potion, she continued, "For that matter, it's odd that it's only now that I'm looking at what goes into the construction of potions."
Snape wondered if she even expected an answer by this point, because she seemed less nervous now and perfectly content to discuss this with herself. He tried to concentrate on a table in the Potions journal that lay open before him. A fire of 170 degrees made a pain potion that was mild but long-lasting. 180 degrees gave better short-term results but had more side effects and a reduced time frame for effectiveness. Snape had to admit that Granger was right: none of his students would have been able to hazard a guess as to why this was.
He said, "It's meant to come up in apprenticeships and job training, the logic being that most students who come through Hogwarts don't need to know, say, why certain Charms are easiest to reverse."
Granger, who had given up on pretending she wasn't just talking to herself and was muttering quietly into her cauldron, looked startled that he had said anything. "That makes some sense, I suppose, but even so, it seems like an outdated approach. Don't you think the first-years, for instance, would make a lot fewer dangerous mistakes if they understood some of the theory behind what creates explosive results in potions in general? I know it's not just chemistry, but even so there's a logic.
"My mortar potion needs to sit for a few minutes now." She turned to face him.
This was the flaw in the lesson he had assigned her. Snape had told his student to pick one of three mortar-toughening spells from her book and brew it. Two of them could be made at the same time, because their preparation times overlapped nicely, and he would have Granger brew them both when next she came for a lesson. The third, which she was doing today, had half an hour of bubbling to do in the middle and Snape was aware his student expected him to use the time to teach her something else. If he had been free to thwart her expectation, he would have, but he didn't want Dumbledore to think for even a second that he was sabotaging Granger's attempts to get an apprenticeship. That would have led to a conversation full of "My dear boy"s and "Sure Severus"s.
"If you had to teach potion-building," he said, "how would you do it?"
She looked shocked that he would ask her opinion. Snape was starting to think that everything he did surprised her and felt an odd urge to shout, "Boo!" to see if her reaction was any different from how she responded to anything else he said.
"I guess I'd probably take some time before each potion to ask the students how they would make a potion to do what the potion we were planning did. And after we practiced it we'd analyse how it worked and see if they had improvements to suggest. With the younger ones you'd have to acquaint them with a lot of theory. With the older ones you'd probably want to let them experiment a lot, but that would mean a lot of wards and supervision." She frowned. "I reckon the main problem would be steering them away from dangerous combinations. The way we do it right now, there are only so many things that can go wrong, so you as the teacher can be prepared for all of them. That wouldn't be the case if people were allowed to experiment more."
Snape nodded grudgingly. "How would you fix it?"
And so the time passed. The Socratic method was not Snape's preferred teaching style, being short on shouting and long on students talking, but it was effective with Granger. She often talked herself round to a half-sensible point of view without Snape having to do anything other than listen.
Listen he did, with a mixture of respect, resentment, and pity. She was so eager to share her ideas her hands darted here and there and once almost knocked a beaker off her workspace. Once or twice she asked if he thought her suggestions could be implemented in the new Hogwarts, to which Snape only grunted. She was unfazed. Only when her potion needed to be tended to did she stop talking and even then Snape could hear her muttering to herself.
Dumbledore could go to Hell. To Hell with him and his ideas and Granger's excitement. Snape wished Granger far away, for his sake and her own. Snape sat behind his desk and listened and watched her and asked her questions and registered a chill deep within his bones.
Still, a soul-deep chill was so standard for Snape that it wasn't even enough to ruin his night. On the whole, it wasn't a bad lesson until the end, when it abruptly got a lot worse. Granger was gathering up her things to leave and then she paused and said softly, "I thought he was his father for a second. I was terrified and... I didn't know if I wanted to find him alive or dead."
Snape ignored her. He didn't know what he'd done to give the impression he cared, but after so much time spent listening to her cheery, naive ideas, he was too tired to mock her the way he wanted to.
She continued, "I can only imagine what it must have been like for you. I understand how close you and Malfoy were before." It wasn't clear whether she meant Lucius or Draco. Either way, she did not understand, not at all. "I know that what happened the other night must have been frightening for you, so I'm sorry. That that happened."
Snape scribbled a T over an essay so viciously that he ripped the parchment. "I do not require an apology from you, Granger. I am not a child to be coddled and soothed because I saw something scary in the nighttime. Get out."
She got out. Oh, how he had fallen, if he couldn't muster up the energy to rip one sorry schoolgirl to shreds. Damn Dumbledore for that.
And damn Hermione Granger. He was scared.