Lay Me Low – Part One

Summary: Severus’ anger at Sirius Black’s attempts to seduce Hermione raises questions about his own feelings towards her. The past and the present mesh together in a story of protection, betrayal and trust. Rating is for later chapters.

Characters:: Albus Dumbledore, Alecto Carrow, Amycus Carrow, Bellatrix Lestrange, Bill Weasley, Dobby, Draco Malfoy, Ginevra Weasley, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Hogwarts, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Luna Lovegood, Minerva McGonagall, Narcissa Malfoy, Neville Longbottom, Poppy Pomfrey, Regulus Arcturus Black, Remus Lupin, Ronald Weasley, Severus Snape, Sirius Black, Tom Riddle (Voldemort)
Genres: Angst, Drama, Epilogue, What Epilogue?, Erotica, Friendship, General, Romance      Warnings: Character Death, Explicit Sexual Content, Language, Murder, Violence

This fic was started almost three years ago, and it literally helped me learn how to write. I guess you could say it is my love letter to the SSHG pairing. It is a long, epic fic – almost 290K. I realise that’s not for the faint-hearted, and if you finish and you’re still on speaking terms with me for making it so long, you get an ice-lolly! ;)

Let me tell you what this fic isn’t. It isn’t always pretty, or bloodless, or nicety-nice, or homogenised. It isn’t G-Rated. People die quite horrible deaths in this fic; there is explicit sexual content in this fic between consenting adults, there is violence. If you want sexless romance and a Severus who always does the right thing and a Hermione who is always good and virtuous and honest, please hit the backspace key NOW. You have been warned.

What this IS is a parallel-canon fic, and where I could, I tried to show how canon could have gone. It’s a morality play about duty and honour and love and passion. If you think you like those things, stick around – I think you’ll be happy with what you find.

Anti-Litigation Charm: None of the characters belong to me. They belong to JK Rowling, who let my entire reason for reading the Harry Potter series bleed to death on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. I’m building a better world.

For Sempra and Mimi

You can find Tobias Snape’s favourite record The Albion Band, Rise Up Like The Sun, online. T

Prologue: And So It Ends…

Lay me low, lay me low, lay me low,
Where no one can see me, where no one can find me, where no one can hurt me.

Show me the way, help me to say, all that I need to
All that I needed you gave me, all that I wanted you made me, when I stumbled you saved me.

Throw me a line, help me to find something to cling to,
When the loneliness haunts me, when the bitterness taunts me, when the emptiness eats me.

Lay me low, lay me low, lay me low,
Where no one can see me, where no one can find me, where no one can hurt me.

He sat, watching the girl sleep. He did that often now. It wasn’t necessary, he told himself, and he wasn’t needed, but he couldn’t stop himself.

The fire smoldering in the fireplace was welcome down in the dungeons, even in summer, but the moisture in the castle walls of Hogwarts made the room as close and stuffy as a sauna. He smirked at the growing kinks in her already-untameable tresses, caused by the humid air. He was tempted to move her hair from her slightly shiny face, but he was afraid it would cause her to stir. She looked so peaceful, in spite of the wild mess fluffing around her face, he was loathe to disturb her slumber.

The girl sighed in her sleep, and kicked the duvet away from her body. There was a slight sheen of sweat on her forehead, and his sensitive nose detected the faintest sweet/metallic tang of approaching menses in her perspiration. She was restless because of the heat, and while every instinct told him to cover her, he resisted. She would only become more uncomfortable until she woke, and he wasn’t there to wake her. He was there to watch over her.

Severus Snape sometimes questioned the precise moment he’d known how much he hated Sirius Black, but he didn’t bother too much with the whys. He knew all too clearly why and the reasons were varied and bottomless.

Black’s godson, Harry Potter, and his friends Granger and Weasley, probably wouldn’t believe it to see him now, but Black had been one of the handsomest wizards of his age. He was tall, dark, aristocratic, cruel and secure in his looks and his pureblood status. He was as gaudily plumed and vain as Lucius Malfoy’s peacocks. He was suave, sophisticated and learned; in other words, everything a poor, half-breed, badly raised, unattractive, touchy Northern boy like Severus Snape was not.

Black had been erudite and glib, and the young witches fluttered around him like geishas when he held court in the Gryffindor common room. He had only to crook his wand at one and she came running, thrilled to be Sirius Black’s next conquest. It irritated Severus to see witches with brains, intellect and good looks, reduced to having the self-confidence and esteem of garden gnomes after Black had loved and left them, but they all seemed unable to resist the shallow, arrogant wizard.

Severus never would have believed that Lily Evans would be one of those witches, and for a long time she wasn’t. In the end, she was too much a temptation for Sirius, and in true dog-in-the-manger style, his self-imposed hatred for Severus had been the impetus to saturate Lily with his charm, and barring that, the charm of his best friend, James Potter, the git. It had been Sirius and James Potter who’d taken Lily away from him.

Severus was forced to admit even to himself that they’d probably stolen her away long before he’d sealed his fate with her, losing his temper and calling her a Mudblood. They’d turned the only female, besides his mother that Severus had ever cared for, against him. The so-called Marauders had made life a misery for anyone in possession of a penis at Hogwarts during their reign. For that, he would never forgive them.

It still rankled every time he remembered Albus’ cavalier attitude, when Potter and Granger had assisted Sirius in escaping two years before. Up to that time, everyone in the Wizarding world, Severus included, had thought Sirius Black had been Lily and James’ Secret Keeper, and had betrayed them to the Dark Lord. It had landed him in Azkaban, where he belonged, and Severus had wanted to see Black kissed by the Dementors so badly, he could almost taste it. His fury at Potter and Granger was so manic, only the strongest Containment Charm cast by Albus had kept him from confronting James’ son.

It no longer mattered when, last year, the Dark Lord returned, and once again Severus was unwillingly driven into his role of spy for the bloody Order. Peter Pettigrew, the little rodent, had finally been revealed as Lily’s true Secret Keeper, and Black was exonerated by the Order, but where had Albus’ sympathy been while they still thought Sirius had betrayed Severus’ only love? Oh, Dumbledore had been the first to exploit Severus’ guilt and remorse over it, but what of Severus’ own grief and redemption? What had Severus done, since that night so long ago, but atone for his sins? When would forgiveness come? When would he be allowed to rest?

Sighing, Severus dropped the quill from his ink-stained fingers, and poured himself a glass of heavy, red wine. Why in Merlin’s name was he thinking about this now? He knew the partial answer was that Lily was never far from his thoughts, and that his blame and self-abasement were inoculated in him as deeply as the Dark Mark that mutilated his arm.

He looked down at the Mark, disgusted. If he were a braver man, he would cut off his arm, move away, possibly to the States or Australia, and start over as a Muggle. Where no one would find me. It was like the words to an old Muggle song his dad used to listen to… Lay me low, where no one can see me, where no one can find me, where no one can hurt me…

In a moment of self-pitying weakness, he passed a trembling hand over his eyes. Gods, he wished there was such a place on this earth, where there was no hurt, no fear, no dread… Just one place on earth where he could be safe and not be afraid… where the loneliness and fear wouldn’t crush him… Oh, Lily, I am so lonely…

Surrounded by children and faculty every moment of almost every day, but Severus Snape felt more alone than if on a desert island. He was truly not a man who wished for, or expected much, but even his meager hopes were beyond him now. He had to face the fact that he, Severus Snape, was staring down a short, very dark tunnel, one that was growing shorter and more perilous with every passing day.

It’s not that he wanted to die. He would never willingly take his own life. He only wished every night, when his few hours of sleep finally took him, that he would simply not wake up.

He straightened and took several deep, calming breaths. This was not the time to give in to his dark emotions. He had a job, and it was abhorrent, and he hated it and his life. But he’d sworn to it, and there was no turning back. He sighed harshly, and sniffed slightly. With a flick of his hand that was almost subconscious muscle memory, he drew his hair from his eyes and straightened his spine. He was not a coward. He told himself that every day. Perhaps, if he told himself often enough, he would one day believe it.

There was an Order meeting tonight, and he was expected to attend. Both sides expected it. The Dark Lord had insisted that Severus go and report back to him later in the evening. It would be a long night, punctuated by flights of fancy, boredom, ire and pain, should his report be met with disapproval.

He dreaded going to Grimmauld Place, squeezing into the narrow old house, surrounded by Order members who resented and distrusted him, and students who hated him and maligned him. Mostly, he hated knowing that bastard Black would be there, taunting him, doing every tiny thing in his power to cripple the already waning trust the rest of the Order placed in Severus.

Bastard. They had no idea-

The clock chimed, and he rose slowly and took another deep breath. He would hold his head high, and he would defend himself. He would show that shallow fuck Sirius Black what bravery was. He wouldn’t let him get under his skin again. He wouldn’t allow Black and Lupin to gang up on him, Lupin ineffectually trying to calm the mutt down…

And he wouldn’t let them paw her.

He Apparated to the meeting purposefully early, before most of the rest of the members arrived. Ostensibly, it was to get a seat at the back, and not have to ‘mingle’ with the rest of them, but in reality he needed to be there before the so-called Golden Trio were allowed to arrive. It was the beginning of the Christmas hols, and they would be at the Burrow, but Arthur Weasley had already announced they would be coming with him and Molly to the meeting. Potter wanted to visit his godfather, and the other two would be stuck closely to him like the worst toadies.

Severus let himself in quietly so as not to disturb the harridan portrait of the late Mrs. Black, and he made his way soundlessly into the Library. He could already hear Black’s unctuous voice, and Severus froze, listening intently, his anger rising with each breath he took.

The Granger girl was already there, and he could sense from her stance that she was uncomfortable and uncertain. Black was already touching her, pressing in close, already trying to put his arms underneath her Muggle jumper, saying things like “This could be our little fun secret, couldn’t it? Nobody has to know, do they? You don’t want to upset Harry and give him the wrong idea, do you?”

And the look on her face! Fear and disgust, and underlying it, a latent, innocent arousal, awakened, unbidden, unwanted, shocking and shaming the girl even as it was being summoned against her will.

Suddenly, Sirius pressed her against the bookcase, pushing his slim hips lewdly against hers. He pressed his hands against either side of her head, trapping her against the dusty shelf.

“I can’t help it, dear. I think about you constantly. I’ve missed having you here. You’re so beautiful. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that, love?” He was already leaning in, leaving the girl little choice, when Severus quietly cleared his throat.

She looked up at Black uncertainly, and her fearful eyes flickered toward Severus. It was an invitation any man could read. Any man, it seemed, except Sirius Black. Help me.

Severus kept his voice steady and slightly bored. “Miss Granger, might I have a word? I think you missed part of your holiday assignment in your haste to escape the castle yesterday.”

Both she and Sirius froze at the initial sound of Severus’ imperious voice in the doorway, and Hermione threw him a glance that was at once frightened and grateful. She quickly ducked under Sirius’ arms and strode toward her Potions professor, and Severus was mildly alarmed to see her shiver slightly.

“Thank you, sir. I’m sorry.” She gulped and smiled weakly at him. “I was in rather a hurry yesterday.”

“Indeed,” he retorted, smoothly, his voice soft and silvery. Severus kept his eyes locked on Black’s, daring him to interfere.

Hermione stood before Severus, waiting for him, and he stepped aside, sweeping his arm toward the door to usher her out of the Library. As the girl moved past him, she walked with her head down, her face scarlet. Severus glared at Sirius, who simply smiled and quirked a knowing eyebrow.

“Assignment, Snivellus? Don’t you think you could come up with a little better excuse than that?”

Severus gave Black his second-best sneer. “I don’t need an excuse to rescue the child from your clutches, Black.” He stepped closer. “Leave. Her. Alone,” he hissed, his black eyes flashing in anger.

Black merely laughed. “Jealous, Snape? Don’t be. I’m sure there’s plenty to go around. She is a lovely little peach, isn’t she?”

For a moment, a red mist covered Severus’ vision and he drew his wand. “Shut your filthy mouth or I’ll shut it permanently, Black!”

“Oh really?” Sirius retorted, his playful stance hardening. “And what sort of message will that send, Snivellus? The great Severus Snape, dueling over a little girl!”

Black’s once-handsome face grew pale and ugly. He spat, “You don’t fool me, Snape! You’ve been sniffing around her little tail since her third year! Oh, Remus told me all about it! You’re just jealous that she’s turning to me for a little experience. How can I help it that she’s curious to know what it’s like to be with a real wizard? She certainly wouldn’t learn it from you!” His gaze swept down Severus’ form with contempt. “Do you honestly think a little treat like Hermione would ever be anything but disgusted by her greasy Potions teacher?”

Severus snarled in rage and raised his wand. A steadying hand grasped his wrist, and Remus Lupin murmured quietly in Severus’ ear, “That would be very unwise, Severus. I don’t know what’s going on between you two this time, but the other Order members are arriving and I think you both should join us.”

Almost spitting in fury, Severus lowered his wand and strode from the room, Black’s laughter ringing behind him.

In the corridor, the Granger girl stood frozen, her eyes wide and troubled. He brushed by her without so much as acknowledging her presence, even when her heard her softly spoken, “Thank you, sir.”

With the terrifying speed that made him such a deadly dueling opponent, he whipped round and faced the girl, still seething. “If you’d stop flaunting yourself in front of every wizard you see, you wouldn’t be in need of rescuing, Miss Granger. Perhaps the next wizard to come upon you and Black may not find the thought of fucking you so…” He raked his eyes over her slim frame, a look of pure distain marring his features. “Unpalatable.”

With those words, he quickly disappeared into the front room, leaving the bewildered girl standing in the hall. He did not see her dash up the stairs and ward her bedroom. He did not know that she wept in shame during the Order meeting, which was tedious and unfruitful, and cost him several moments under the Cruciatus Curse later that evening.

She did not know that the meeting was so tedious because Severus could not get her stricken expression out of his mind, and had paid little attention to the actual motions of the meeting. Nor did she know that, while he screamed and lost control of his bodily functions under the Cruciatus, he was thinking about how he would feel if he had to watch her suffer. She did not know that, in one brief, selfish, yearning moment of self-preservation, Severus Snape sealed her fate alongside his.

One: Not Enough Fingers To Count The Cost

Show me the way, help me to say all that I need to
All that I needed you gave me, all that I wanted you made me, when I stumbled you saved me.

Severus managed to Apparate safely back to Grimmauld Place after the meeting, his head spinning and his guts churning. It was later than he realised, and he lurched through the door, covered in his own waste and almost sobbing with humiliation. He didn’t really remember why he’d chosen to return here, except it was closer, and he doubted he’d make it back into the castle without splinching seven shades of shit out of himself. Navigating to Grimmauld had cost him every ounce of his remaining strength. He staggered into the library, just as his stomach emptied. He vomited on the carpet and himself, pitching forward, unable to right himself before he fell in the pool of his own sick.

Severus lay on the stinking carpet, whispering the prayers he prayed when still a lonely and sad first year at Hogwarts. Please, he prayed, let me die. I don’t want to live anymore. It hurts. I want to go home. I want my grandmother. The thought of Black or Potter, or anyone for that matter, seeing him like this was enough to make him vomit again. How the fucking mighty have fallen,, he thought, wiping snot from his face.

Surely, he’d endured everything a wizard should be forced to endure. Surely, by now, he had paid for his sins. His muscles were cramping painfully, his joints were filled with ground glass, his bowels were fluxed and bloody. Tears of pain and degradation streamed down his face, and when he looked up and saw the white, shocked face of Hermione Granger staring down at him, her face full of pity and horror, he grew angry and bellowed, “Get out of my sight, Granger!”

Only he didn’t. He didn’t have the strength to whisper, much less bellow, and anger used too much energy. The sound came out little more than a whimper and unmanned him so much he pounded his fist on the carpet in mortification. The action snapped the girl out of her shock, and she rushed to his side, heedless of the filth that covered him and the floor beneath him. She knelt beside him and placed a gentle, shaking hand on his cheek, which was bright red and burning with curse fever. She whispered, “It’s alright, Professor. I’ll help you. Just try to stay awake. I’ll be right back.”

He heard her soft footsteps fading as she galloped into the kitchen, and slowly he dragged himself into a sitting position, his back arching painfully, as his muscles locked in a rictus of agony. His body bowed backward, as if pulled by a sadistic archer, causing him to gasp. He drew in great, agonizing, sobbing breaths, and wanted nothing more than to curl up into a ball and slip into oblivion. And the Granger girl was witness to it all. He would just have to Obliviate her, if he survived the night.

He could see her out of the corner of his eye as she ran back into the Library, closing the door behind her and warding it ferociously. She had a bowl of water and a pristine white cloth. What the silly fool thought she would do with that, he had no idea…

Hermione eased behind him, trying not to jostle him, and said in a quiet voice, “Lean back on me, sir. Please. I’m here to help.”

Helpless to do anything but obey, Severus allowed her to pull him back against her chest, and he found his breathing eased a little in this position. His legs, which were sprawled out in front of him, ached and jerked spasmodically. Silently, Hermione reached around and unbuttoned his coat, and drew his sweat-soaked shirt aside, allowing the air to cool his feverish skin. He shivered, and she absently set the fireplace to a roaring blaze.

She then cast several charms in succession to ease his suffering. Cleansing charms, warming charms, healing charms. He felt the cleansing charms sliding over his body, ridding him of the issue from his stomach, bowels and kidneys. She cleaned his clothes. The warmth soothed his rigid muscles. Gradually, the cramps in his legs eased, and he fully collapsed back on her in exhaustion, his head lolling on her slim shoulder. His hair was sweat-soaked and greasy, and she whispered a charm that made his scalp tingle and his hair was clean and dry. She pressed a cool hand against his brow, and he gave a little, harsh sigh, the sound of a tired, ill-used child.

For a long, sweet moment, he wanted nothing more than to lie against this warm and tender pillow, where he felt safe and cared for. It was a false safety, but the compassion, he reasoned, was probably genuine. The Granger girl may be little more than a cub, but she was as loyal and powerful as her House’s mascot when it came to defending the weak. While he hated thinking of himself as her ’cause of the hour’, it really was comforting to sit here, the last of the Cruciatus tremors receding, feeling, if not exactly cherished, at least protected. He relaxed, and his body slumped against hers, but she held him fast.

“Granger,” he croaked, fighting consciousness, “Tell the Headmaster –” He choked suddenly, and she shifted gently behind him and placed the end of the towel, soaked in water, against his parched and rancid mouth. He sucked on it gratefully. When he could swallow without gagging, she gave him a glass of water, but only allowed him to take tiny sips. When he dribbled, she cleaned him. She soothed him.

“Please don’t try to speak for a while, Professor,” Hermione whispered, her voice shaking. She was shivering from fear. “Please just rest. I know you have important things to tell Professor Dumbledore, but they can wait.”

He dozed for a moment, fighting sleep, fighting the warmth of her slender form against his back, the milky scent of her skin, the feel of her tiny but capable hands on his ribs, keeping him steady and upright. She pulled her mad hair out of the way so that it didn’t irritate his face, and she remained blessedly quiet as he sat on the floor of the Grimmauld Place library, an undignified, boneless puppet with severed strings.

Once he was stabilized, she fished out several potions he’d secreted about his person, in the likely event tonight’s outcome would be as predicted. She thumbed them open and helped him to down each one, crooning comfort to him as if he were a child. He knew he should tell her to shut up, to stop being nice to him. After what he’d done earlier, she would as likely spit in his face when she found out.

She rocked him slightly, as she would a child, and it irritated him. He wanted to tell her to stop, that he wasn’t worthy of this gentle ministration, but he couldn’t because no one had ever rocked him before. It felt beautiful, almost pre-erotic. He shook his head. This is Hermione Granger, for fuck’s sake!

He wanted to be angry at himself for this weakness, for allowing a young girl to baby him, but it took too much energy. The real truth, once he confessed his betrayal, would turn her away from him in disgust and loathing. It was what he deserved. He just didn’t want to deserve it yet.

Oblivious to his thoughts, Hermione whispered softly as she rocked him, her breath sweet and ticklish against his cheek, “I won’t tell a soul, Professor. I promise. I won’t tell anyone.” He could hear her crying, and her trembling vibrated into his body. Her tone grew darker. “I know how to keep secrets.”

He stiffened, but kept his head forward. With effort, he drew breath. “He has no right.” His voice sounded foreign to his own ears.

“I don’t encourage him. I swear I don’t.” Her voice was so sad, like a desolate wind blowing through a ghost town. “I don’t think of him that way. I’m a- I’m not one to…I don’t encourage him.”

“I know you don’t, child.” Severus tried to raise his hand, for some reason, but he could not remember why, and it flopped down onto his lap. Hermione pushed his hair from his face with trembling hands. She was gentle, and her touch was kind. No woman, save Poppy Pomfrey, had willingly touched him with such tenderness since Lily. But that was long before she turned against him. The Granger girl would, too, no doubt…

“This is wrong,” he muttered to himself, and he felt her breathing behind him. His body relaxed, and gradually the warmth allowed life to seep back into his aching limbs. He would be almost too sore to move tomorrow, but he knew he had to get on his feet while he had some resolve left. “I asked for this. You did not.” With the last of his remaining strength, he wheezed, “Help me to at least sit up in a chair, Miss Granger.”

The move from sitting to standing took almost five minutes, and by the time they managed to get him on his feet, Severus was shaking and dizzy. Hermione helped him to a nearby chair, and he fell into it, gritting his teeth against the pain and the stabbing, icy feel of the Cruciatus backlash. Unsure what else to do, Hermione, standing behind the chair, gently rubbed his shoulders. It didn’t really help, and truth be told, it made his muscles ache a little, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask her to stop. It would mean the loss of her touch, and that was the only thing that made him feel remotely human. Right now, he felt more like a whipped dog, seeking comfort from any friendly hand, and he despised himself for it.

Hermione sensed that her ministrations weren’t really helping, but instead of moving away, she threaded her fingers through his hair and began to massage his scalp and his temples in slow, gentle circles. “My father gets terrible tension headaches, and Mum does this for him,” she offered, her touch sure and comforting. “He says it helps, but tell me if it doesn’t, and I’ll stop.”

He had no intention of telling her. It felt wonderful, and his blinding headache eased. It was the Headache Potion, he told himself, but her gentle massage felt like heaven. His shoulders eventually relaxed and he made a little sound of relief that brought tears to Hermione’s eyes. She pressed her warm hands against his neck, and he felt his throat relax. He swallowed, and Hermione gave him some more water. He took the glass, and was relieved to find his hands steady again.

This had been a bad one. Frustrated that the Order meeting had gleaned no useful information beyond the antics of Delores Umbridge and the Ministry’s interference with Hogwarts, the Dark Lord had been irritable and petulant. As punishment, Severus was presented to some of the junior Death Eater members to ‘get in a little practice’. This meant clumsy, uneven attempts at executing the curse, all thrown at him at different intervals. The ringing laughter, the abject humiliation; it was all fuel to remind the Dark Lord’s spy and punching bag to provide more useful information in future.

It had been a sickening display of entertainment; Severus made a very handy target for their gathering powers, and he found himself thrown from one to the other in some sort of obscene game of pass the parcel. Eventually the real sadists joined in, and he bit his lip until he tasted blood, as his trousers were unceremoniously yanked down around his ankles. Buggering was a favourite sport of both Mulciber and MacNair, and the Dark Lord was feeling especially generous tonight. Once they’d had their pleasure, the curses began again, the youngsters falling upon him without even giving him a chance to pull his trousers up over his bleeding rectum.

Severus had tried to be silent. He tried to think of Lily. He had screamed. He’d wept as he emptied his bowels and the others had laughed as if it were the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Some of his own Slytherins were amongst the witnesses; some were amongst those casting the Unforgivables.

In a delirium of misery, he thought back to the previous hours. He remembered how hurt the Granger girl had been when he turned on her, after extricating her from Sirius Black’s clutches. If I live through this,his traitorous and rapidly deteriorating mind whispered, I won’t let her go through anything like this. I will protect her from this. From Black and Lupin. From Weasley and Potter and Dumbledore. From Black… permanently. I will lay her low… I will protect her… I can protect her… I will hide her away, where no one can see her….no one can hurt her… no one can find her… no one can hurt me

Just as he thought he would die from the torturing curses, he heard himself scream, “Please, My Lord!” He gathered the last reserve of strength he possessed. “I have news of a more…personal nature,” he spewed weakly, gasping and praying for some sort of release. He was almost mad with the pain now, and the only thought he had was of… her. What was her name… Hermione. Granger. Granger. If you’d stop flaunting yourself in front of every wizard you see, you wouldn’t be in need of rescuing, Miss Granger. Perhaps the next wizard to come upon you and Black may not find the thought of fucking you so…unpalatable…

“Indeed, Severus?” Voldemort’s red eyes perked with mild interest. “And what personal news, pray tell, would be of any importance to the Order? Or, more importantly, to me?”

The Dark Lord raised his arm, and the curses ceased. Gasping, clutching his stomach, trying not to soil himself again, Severus had raised his head and met the slitted, amphibian eyes of Voldemort. Severus projected images for the Dark Lord, hating himself, but willing to do whatever it took to survive the night, to not die in this hell, surrounded by taunting, screaming demons enjoying his torment.

He projected images to the Dark Lord. Some were from his imagination, some exaggerations of actual events. Anything to make the pain go away… An image of Hermione Granger, laughing and talking with Harry Potter, both carefree third years. Severus, protecting her from the transforming werewolf Remus Lupin, feeling her little fingers clutching at his waist in terror, seeking his assurance… Severus watching her dance with Viktor Krum at the Yule Ball, projecting jealousy and animosity toward the unworthy Krum…

Seeing her at Grimmauld Place, during the later weeks of the summer months, watching her prance around the house in skimpy Muggle clothing, unaware that she was enticing him, tempting Black … and tonight, Severus stepping up to Black, his unspoken threats… her gratitude toward him… he exaggerated her expression, made her seem more mature, more…enamored, more inclined to show her gratitude to Severus. Gods, how he hated himself…

With every fibre of his will, Severus pushed the feelings of desire and lust and corruption toward the Dark Lord. He pushed the longing to deflower, to ruin, to break the will and spirit of Harry Potter’s smartest and most devoted acolyte, to weaken the boy’s defenses, to make him less of a threat. And more importantly, to make Hermione Granger a weapon to defeat the Potter boy.

When he was done, and the Dark Lord broke away from Severus’ mind, he smiled. “So, my Potions master has finally succumbed to the lure of his young charges? I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.” Something in the vicarious tone of the Dark Lord’s voice hinted at an undercurrent of lust, of that which had been all but shriveled from his body. “It seems the girl has developed a fondness for teacher. Do you share in this, obsession, my friend? Do you desire this, this Muggle, Severus?”

Drawing himself up to full height, Severus hid his relief well. The Snake had bought his story. “I tell you this because I believe she has… an infatuation for me. I have fostered it for a little while now, my Lord.” He feigned an air of aversion. “I do not particularly care for children, especially this one. But if she can be…” he shrugged, and sneered, “corrupted, my Lord? If she is pruned from Potter’s resources, he is seriously diminished. And, with all humble respect, my Lord-“

Severus hesitated. He still wasn’t thinking straight. He was about to potentially step into a very poisoned glen. He had to be very, very careful here.

“Yes, Severus? Continue.” Voldemort watched his spy carefully. He was intrigued that Severus, of all his followers, would succumb to the lure of something so mundane as sex, and sex with a young Mudblood, no less. It pleased him. It was another weakness to exploit, especially if the chit was the first to actually warm the dark man’s blood after all these years, since the Evans girl. He had given her the chance, and she’d chosen death over Severus. The Dark Lord could not be blamed for that.

Severus licked his lips. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon…. “I ask this boon as one who asks few favours, My Lord. If the Granger girl could be, shall we say, persuaded to the glorious cause, she would be a formidable ally.”

Several of the Death Eaters within earshot hissed, Malfoy especially. “That little Mudblood girl? Really, Severus, having a dirty bit of trim on the side is one thing, but to actually suggest her worthy-“

“She’s an incredibly valuable, intelligent little Mudblood girl, Sire,” Severus expanded, his confidence growing. “She’s clever enough that it would have to be a gradual change, and it would take time, but she is, in Dumbledore’s opinion, one of the most powerful witches of her age.”

“What does the opinion of that old fool matter to the Dark Lord, Severus?” Bella Lestrange hissed. Several of the younger Death Eaters close to her laughed with her, until the Dark Lord’s words cut off the sound of their derision, like switching off the Wizarding Wireless.

“Dumbledore is a powerful wizard in his own right, Bella.” The Dark Lord’s voice was cold and every minion automatically lowered his head. “To underestimate an opponent is to strengthen him, my sweet.”

“I’m sorry, M-My Lord,” she stammered, a look of panic in her eyes. “I only meant that, next to your wisdom, your greatness-“

“I understand, I understand, my dear,” Voldemort soothed, stroking her cheek until Bella preened with pleasure. “Your love and devotion sometimes blind you to the truth of unpleasant matters.”

He turned and continued stroking the dark-haired woman’s face. “But think of such a bright, young witch under your expert tutelage, my dear. You could mold and shape her into your beautiful image.”

Bellatrix had dropped to her knees and purred to the Dark Lord her thanks, her eyes gleaming with lust, aroused as always at the thought of corrupting the innocent, and ripping away the soft underbelly of the uninitiated.

Voldemort then turned to Severus. “I will grant this boon, Severus. It is a worthy pursuit. But,” he said, drawing his wand and aiming it at his spy, “one you should have mentioned in the beginning, and spared me all this time wasting. Crucio!


Severus sat in the Grimmauld Place library, as Hermione brought him a cup of tea and a final potion to settle his stomach. He felt it turn and sour within as he stared into his cup. He caught a motion out of the corner of his eye and looked up. Hermione was holding something in her hand, silently returning it to him: his Death Eater mask. She looked grave, but underneath was a sympathy that held no judgement, no accusation. He took it from her and their fingers touched briefly before she released it.

He sighed. What had he done? What in the name of the seven gates of Hades was he thinking?

The girl stood opposite him, watching him carefully, as if she half expected him to keel over any second. Finally, she said, quietly, “Sir, is there anything else I can get you? Some food? Anything?”

Severus shook his head. He was still too exhausted and miserable to talk. Finally, he raised his dark eyes to her, and Hermione gave him such a look of compassion and pity he felt as if he would vomit again. “I don’t need your pity, Miss Granger. Besides, you make a rubbish nurse.”

She sat back for a moment, then a new light gleamed in her eye. “Well, sir, I’m afraid you’re going to have to put up with me. Because tonight, I’m all you’re going to get. Remus and Sirius are out feeding Buckbeak, Harry and the Weasleys are at The Burrow until tomorrow morning, and the only ones here at Grimmauld right now are you, me and Professor McGonagall, and even she’s out visiting a sick friend and doesn’t plan on returning until the morning.” She gave him a rueful smile. “I’m the last biscuit in the tin, as it were.”

She waited for him to answer with a scathing retort, until she realised he was completely, deeply asleep. His face had relaxed a little, but still held a careworn look, no doubt from the horrific ordeal he’d endured this evening. She lunged forward just in time to catch the falling teacup from his relaxing fingers.

She transfigured the chair into a small bed, and quietly moved it nearer the fire, so that he would be warm when he awoke. She changed a towel into a large, fat quilt, and the chair cushion into a pillow. She debated on transfiguring his clothes into pajamas, but changing clothes while still on the wearer was ever a tricky spell, and she didn’t want to disturb him any more than necessary. In the end, she satisfied herself with removing his dragon-hide boots, and sat them at the foot of the transfigured bed. She stood back and looked down at her Potions professor.

In the firelight, he looked as severe as ever, but warmth and comfort had softened his features, and to Hermione he looked… distinguished. Noble, in his own way.

Hermione sighed. Severus Snape was not a nice man. But she was convinced he was a good man. He knew what Sirius was attempting to do to her, and it troubled him. Unlike Sirius, Hermione trusted him. She had not wanted to come to Grimmauld Place, but could come up with no excuse to stay behind, and almost the moment she’d arrived, Sirius had tried to corner her at every possibility. She knew she ought to say something to Mr. Weasley or Harry, but Sirius had a way of knocking every argument into a cocked hat, and she found herself wondering if she was, in fact, sending him signals of attraction.

She had been flattered during the late summer hols when he’d found an opportunity to spend some time with her alone. He had told her how pretty she had become. “My, how you’ve blossomed, my dear,” he’d said. When she told him that she was almost eighteen, his eyes had gleamed, and he’d moved in closer, whispering that she was almost a woman now, and that he’d like to show her the pleasures a wizard could bring to a witch grown. What had started as an innocent flirtation had turned into something that made Hermione distinctly uncomfortable, and when she’d confessed this to Sirius, he’d laughed it off.

“Oh, come now, Hermione, what’s a little fun amongst friends? You’re almost of age, you know. You’re still a virgin, aren’t you?” When she reluctantly nodded, his voice became softer, more seductive. “Are you sure that a boy is really what you want right now?” He’d given her a look of knowing sensuality, and she had found it repellent.

“I’ve got to get back upstairs. The boys-“

“The boys are outside.” Black’s eyes had raked up and down her body, and she felt undressed. He put his arms around her. “Why don’t you and I go upstairs for awhile? It can be our fun little secret.”

She’d felt almost sick with fear, not knowing what to do or say, when Remus Lupin appeared. She’d never been so happy to see anyone in her life. She couldn’t get out of the house quickly enough. She could tell that Remus really didn’t approve, but something kept him from rebuking his friend. Perhaps Remus surmised that Sirius had been through so much, he hadn’t the heart to chastise him.

No, Sirius Black was not the wizard she wanted, and his increasingly insistent advances made every trip to Grimmauld Place almost as much an ordeal for Hermione as Death Eater meetings were for Severus.

She shook her head. No. She could not, would not cheapen her professor’s life by trying to compare her petty little problems with his. She could never live the way Professor Snape had to live, enduring horrific beatings and cursings and playing both ends against the middle. She looked down at his sleeping form just as he rolled over and made a soft little sigh. Once again the sound went straight to her heart.

No, he wasn’t handsome. No, he wasn’t the nicest person to be around. But she’d rather spend time in his company than Sirius, or even Remus, for that matter. He had always pushed her to excel, had challenged her beyond what she thought herself capable of. He had forced her to find solutions beyond her book knowledge. She didn’t always agree with his teaching methods, but she couldn’t argue the results. He was the one professor whose praise she sought above all others. She had never received it, but she also had never felt its lack.

Professor Snape didn’t bullshit them or bombard them with useless decrees. He didn’t punish them for trying to learn how to defeat Voldemort. She had a sneaking suspicion he knew about Dumbledore’s Army, but kept his own counsel about it. He didn’t keep them in the dark or withhold knowledge from them because they were too young.

She trusted Professor Snape. No one would put themselves through this hell for a cause they didn’t believe in.

She sat down in a nearby chair, in case the professor woke and needed anything. She was wide awake, her wand ready, in case Sirius returned alone and tried to interfere with the sleeping wizard. She’d show him! The fire was warm, and she shook her head to clear it… perhaps she should go and get some coffee… she would do just that, in a moment… she would just rest her eyes for five minutes…

She awoke to the sound of various Weasleys tumbling around the house, and Harry’s voice calling, “Hermione, aren’t you up yet? Breakfast is ready!” She looked around the library, the awful events of the previous evening flooding back into her memory. The fire had burned down to smouldering ashes, and the room was cold again.

The chair she’d transfigured into a bed for her professor was back to its original shape, and the bowl of water and towel sat empty and dry by the door. He was gone. It was as if he’d never been there.

The only remaining evidence of the night’s activities was the thick comforter Hermione had changed from a towel; it was draped and tucked around her securely, keeping her warm in the drafty library.

Two: From The Waiting To Hear

Shame in the smile, the look of lonely eyes can’t count the cost of this compromise,
So we sing this song when we’re forced to face fear,
It’s a long, long way from the waiting to hear.

“Miss Granger, a word, please?”

Hermione stole a quick glance at Harry and Ron, as the rest of the Potions class slunk out of the dungeon classroom. Even the Slytherins looked as if their scales had been singed. There was none of the casual chatter that followed the chiming bell to end class for the weekend; everyone was too shell shocked into sullen silence.

Professor Snape had been particularly vitriolic today, his patience short, his temper shorter. Poor Neville had been ostracized for the afternoon, after a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at a simple Pimple Reducing Potion. Professor Snape had been so angry; Hermione thought he would burst a blood vessel.

Sending the boy out of the room, he’d then blamed Hermione for not paying attention to Neville’s rapidly deteriorating potion until it was too late, and hideous, vile yellow sludge was climbing out of the cauldron and dripping onto the worktable. Hermione’s notes, along with her peace of mind, had completely disintegrated, and knowing Professor Snape, were quite ruined for the day.

As Harry and Ron filed out of class with the others, Hermione received sympathetic looks from her two friends, who made a point to glower at their Potions professor. Their resentful stares might have been invisible for all the acknowledgement they received, but it made Hermione feel a little better nonetheless. After all, Professor Snape had been so flipping nasty to her!

“Yes, sir?” she began, remembering to keep her eyes slightly downcast. It was ostensibly to show respect, but after Harry’s disastrous attempt at Occlumency, Hermione was taking no chances by risking a glance into those dark, flashing eyes.

For a moment, the professor studied her carefully, then, with a deft wave of his hand, Summoned a chair. His voice was diffident, almost casual. “Please sit down, Miss Granger.” Hermione sat carefully, feeling even more trepidation. First he bit her head off, now he was almost…courteous?

It had been a week since classes had resumed after winter holidays, and Hermione had not seen her professor since that horrible night she’d found him befouled and broken in the Grimmauld Place library. She was even more dismayed, after eavesdropping on a conversation between Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey, to discover that Professor Snape had spent the first two weeks of the Christmas holidays in the infirmary under Madam Pomfrey’s care. Hermione’s ministrations, it seemed, had only been adequate to get him mobile enough to make it back to Hogwarts.

The events of that night had lingered in her memory since, even manifesting itself in her nighttime dreaming. At first, they were common-or-garden nightmares, in which Professor Snape was lying there bleeding, while Hermione was frozen to the spot and too afraid to move, or help. Inadequacy dreams, pure and simple.

In the last few days, since she’d returned to Hogwarts, the dreams had taken on a different… complexion. She would be massaging his temples and he would suddenly grasp her hand and hold it to his cheek. She would bend down to take the teacup from his hand, only to find him grasping her face and pulling her toward him.

The latest dream was the most unsettling. Two nights ago, it had started like the others, with her finding Professor Snape on the floor. Then the dream changed. Instead of finding him huddled in pain and degradation, he’d suddenly reached for her and pulled her down, pinning her underneath him, looking around quickly, as if to make sure they were alone.

His body was warm and the weight of him on her abdomen gave her a feeling that she could only describe as… pleasant pressure. He was hard and unyielding, and her limited experience with the opposite sex told her that what she felt pressing against her pubic bone was his erection. She looked into his eyes and they were large and dark, liquid and hypnotic. Framed by long, black lashes and lids that slowly closed and opened, they filled her vision to nothing more than their dark, beckoning gaze. She lost all will to move, content to lie beneath his comforting, crushing weight, lost in his eyes forever.

He’d caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, and in a voice woven of silk and velvet, he purred, Lie down with me, Hermione. Here, no one can see us… no one can find us… no one can hurt us… His hair hung down like a curtain that encompassed them both, and she could feel his breath, warm and sweet, against her face.

His voice was soft and tender, and the smile on his face was so unlike his usual scowl, that, when he leaned down, and hesitated, she rose from the floor and pressed her lips to his, as if to seal his words with a kiss. It wasn’t like kissing Ron, or even Viktor… The professor’s lips moved over hers so softly, and he smelled of patchouli and freshly mown grass…

She’d awoken with a start, gasping, sweaty, and definitely stirred, her heart pounding. It was bizarre in the extreme. She was almost unable to look up at the Head Table during breakfast that morning. She could barely make it through her Potions lesson that afternoon. As the evening wore on, she felt increasingly foolish about her reaction. She was a young woman, after all, with desires and biological needs. She told herself it was just a manifestation of the need to protect, and to be protected. Sealing with a kiss, for Merlin’s sake! It was, after all, only just a dream.

Professor Snape, for the most part, had treated her no differently than he had before that night at Grimmauld Place. If anything, he was a little more impatient with her, and Hermione supposed she understood it. She, Hermione Granger, Gryffindor swot and Harry Potter’s best mate, had seen him at his most vulnerable and helpless. It had to cut deeply for a private wizard like Professor Snape to be seen any other way than in complete, iron-clad control.

As she sat in front of him, Hermione thought of all of this, and wondered if he was about to make her take some sort of wand oath not to reveal what happened that night. As she considered even suggesting it herself, he stood quietly and began to pace. “Miss Granger, I am a private man-“

“I know sir, and I meant every word I said! I won’t tell a soul! In fact, I’ll even take a wand -“

“I’m also a very impatient man who doesn’t like being interrupted!” He had whirled to face her, his movements sharp as lightning, and he winced to see her visibly shrink from him. He sighed, and suddenly scrubbed his face with his hands. It was a very un-Snape-like thing to do, Hermione thought. It made him more human. It was oddly appealing. It also made her think of him pulling her down on the floor with him in her dream. She shifted in her seat a little, and blushed, to his confusion.

“Miss Granger, if we could manage to sit still and listen for more than five seconds without waving our hands in the air or interrupting, it would be most appreciated.”

“Sorry, sir.” She slumped tiredly. She was never going to understand or please this man. She certainly was never going to end up lying on the floor with him. She blushed again, causing her professor even more confusion.

With a slight huff, he straightened again. “As I was saying, I’m a very private man, and I wanted to – to thank you for – assisting me. I was at a distinct disadvantage, and quite… vulnerable at the time.” He looked over her shoulder, unwilling to meet her eyes. “I appreciate your efforts to help me maintain a modicum of dignity.”

Hermione watched him carefully, and her heart told her to hear the apology, the humiliation. Gods, what this man must go through, she thought, and her soft, tender heart went out to him.

When he hesitated, she ventured, almost timidly, “And, are you well now, sir? No lasting injuries?”

His voice was surprisingly mild. “I am quite well, Miss Granger, thanks, in great part, to your quick thinking and assistance. I am not a man who seeks out help unless absolutely necessary, but I am… grateful that you were available. I am also aware of your discretion.”

He sat down in his chair and glanced at her troubled face. Again, his eyes slid away from hers, unwilling to meet her gaze. “I am not used to being … treated with sincere compassion, Miss Granger. I found it… most comforting.”

Hermione felt tears prick her eyes, and looked away. The more she tried to stem the rising tears, the more they pooled in her eyes until one single tear spilled down her cheek, and she dashed it away, embarrassed. Her lips trembled, and she felt foolish, childish. Taking a deep breath, her voice shook. “You – you shouldn’t have to – to endure that, Professor.”

She sniffed as another tear fell and rolled her eyes, waiting for the derisive comment. When none came, she said, “I can hardly stand the thought that you have to face that monster and – and allow – allow him – ” She openly wiped the tears from her eyes and brushed the back of her hand against her running nose.

A hand cupped the back of her head, almost gently, and when she opened her eyes, he was standing beside her, holding a white handkerchief to her face. She looked up uncertainly, and he placed the handkerchief over her nose.

With an unreadable expression, he softly commanded, “Blow.”

Obediently, she complied, and for some reason, it made her laugh in spite of her embarrassment, to be sitting here, having Professor Snape, of all people, blowing her nose like a first year. Apparently, it was the reaction he wanted, for he released both her head and the handkerchief at once, and resumed his seat.

Hermione blew her nose again and wiped her eyes, feeling absurdly better. There had been something singularly reassuring about the feel of his hand on the back of her head, and it made her realize that he was, after all, a man. Before everything, before professor, before wizard even, he was just a man. A man who was willing to sacrifice too much of himself.

She felt a little calmer. “I’ll clean this and return it to you, sir,” she said, indicating the snowy white fabric. He made a careless gesture, waving his long, elegant fingers dismissively.

“No matter. Now, Miss Granger, there is another reason I wished to speak to you.” This time, his eyes did not break from hers, and she felt caught in his gaze. His eyes were large and dark. Where no one can find us… She glanced away, feeling both invaded and somehow guilty. For a terrible moment she was afraid he had Legilimised into her mind and seen her dream of him. She gulped.

“Yes, sir?”

Again, he hesitated, and frowned. She could see his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed. She could see the faint line of the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow, a smudge of ink on the tip of a long, tapered finger. It was if she were absorbing every speck of minutiae in him, and it made him uneasy.

Finally, he took a deep breath. “I wish to ask you about your relationship with Sirius Black.”

Hermione swallowed, and felt her nervousness increase two-fold. “S-Sirius?” She dropped her eyes. “I – I don’t know- I didn’t-“

“Miss Granger, please don’t misunderstand me,” Professor Snape intoned, his voice soft but intense. “From the first time I saw him… interacting with you at Grimmauld Place last summer, to the night when you and I… I was under the impression that his… advances were, shall we say, less than welcome. If I am mistaken, I would like to be enlightened.”

Hermione looked up, puzzled. “Begging your pardon, sir, but why?”

His scowl deepened. “I will caution you again not to misunderstand me, Miss Granger. I merely point out that I saw-“

“No, sir. Forgive me for interrupting,” she added, quickly, flushing. “I meant-” She hesitated, her posture crumpling with embarrassment.

“Well? Merlin’s sake, girl, spit it out!”

His impatient tone stiffened her spine, as he knew it would, and she was able to draw herself up slightly. “I only meant that, well sir, you made it quite clear that night you don’t have a very high opinion of my character, and I wondered why someone like yourself would even care about the real truth of the matter.” She slumped again, the effort of speaking her mind almost too much to bear. “No one else does,” she muttered, almost to herself.

The professor was silent for a few moments. He was beginning to look uncomfortable. Perhaps he was now wishing he’d not brought up the subject. Hermione was forced to agree. He pressed his lips together as if pained to continue. “To be perfectly honest, Miss Granger, as you no doubt know by now from Mr. Potter’s hopeless attempt at Occlumency, the history between myself and Sirius Black is rather strained.”

Hermione’s bewilderment ramped up another notch. She shook her head slowly. “Umm, I’m not sure I understand, sir. Harry never discussed your lessons. He only said they weren’t working and that you’d ended them.”

It was almost worth this entire, awkward conversation to witness the bafflement on Professor Snape’s face. He was utterly nonplussed at her comment, although he quickly hid it behind his usual look of disdain, and she could tell by the slight frown between his eyes that he wasn’t sure he completely believed her. Uncertain how to proceed, Hermione sat still, the only outward sign of her insecurity was the twisting handkerchief between her busy fingers.

In the silence Hermione became sure the professor was going to challenge her, but something made him change his mind. “Well, that puts a different spin on things, then,” he said, softly, almost silkily. “Miss Granger, are Sirius Black’s advances welcome?” Each word was spoken carefully, pushed at her like smoke rings; each word carefully placed like chess pieces on a board. “I would appreciate total honesty. I am aware this may be difficult, but I assure you my motives are honourable.”

It was her turn to look surprised. With pure, unadulterated, Gryffindor integrity shining from every pore, Hermione replied, “I can think of no reason they would be anything less than honourable, sir. However you feel about me personally, you’ve never behaved… inappropriately toward me or any student – in that way.” She gave him a look full of trusting, blind conviction. “It simply isn’t in you, is it?”

Oh, gods, that hurt. Hurt right down to his magical core. It hurt worse than any Crucio he’d ever received, more than any insult, any rape, any curse. It hurt as much as Lily, as much as… Severus found himself hoping he’d be summoned tonight, to be punished. He deserved it, after what the girl had just said. After what he’d done.

Rather sourly, he shook his head. “No, Miss Granger. That is not something I would ever entertain. I’m not known for my kindness, but I should hope I’m not seen as that type of predator.” He managed a half-hearted smirk. “I am glad you understand this, at least.”

“Yes, sir.” Hermione dropped her eyes, and after a heartbeat, she glanced up, and saw his bland expression, patiently waiting for the answer to his question. She closed her eyes, feeling the flush of shame rise from her neck to her face. “At first, I was flattered.”

She gave him a sad little smile. “I’m not blind about my looks, Professor. I know what people say.” She stole a quick glance at him. “You’ve said it yourself. Bushy-haired, know-it-all, pushy, bossy, buck-toothed, skinny, insufferable-” She cut herself off as Snape’s hand, which had been propped under his chin, hit the table with a thump. She could see the disapproval in his eyes. Professor Snape hated her tendency to over detail things.

“Sorry. It’s just that, he and Remus were so nice, at first.” She favoured him with that little apologetic smile again. “Sirius told me I was growing into a lovely young witch. Who doesn’t want to be told they’re attractive, especially bushy-haired swots like me?” she ventured, and when he did not reply, she gave a little shrug. “I thought he was being kind.”

Hermione’s expression darkened. “Then he started – ” she swallowed, “touching me. When I passed him in the hall, or sitting beside me at the table.”

She cringed, as she looked up and saw her professor listening and watching intently. “I thought at first it was accidental. Then he started,” she looked away, mortified that she was confessing these things to Professor Snape, of all people. “He started.. he touched me…

“I can’t tell Harry. He loves Sirius so much, and I don’t really know how he would react. I don’t want to be the cause of a disagreement or bad feelings between them, or worse, I don’t want Harry thinking I’m somehow leading Sirius on.” She made an impatient gesture. “I can’t tell Ron, because he’d tell Harry, and, well, we’re right back to square one. Sirius is Harry’s only family now, besides the Dursleys and they hardly count.”

Severus made an unconscious gesture of agreement. Petunia, gods. That sour-faced, dried up crone, old at the age of ten, with her superior airs and graces, treating him like the Spinner’s End trash he was…

“So you see, nobody wants to hurt Harry, especially me. I can’t not go to Grimmauld with everyone. I’ve tried that and it got so awkward I just gave up and took my chances. Until that night when you saw…”

She looked at him, her uncertainty and childishness gone. With a surprisingly strong voice, she said, “I’m not a prude, Professor, and I’m not ignorant about what goes where between a witch and a wizard. I may not have much experience, but I do know when someone is trying to seduce me. If I had wanted Sirius Black, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Her eyes met his. They were a woman’s eyes. “And if I had welcomed his advances, I would have had ample opportunity to act on it, and neither you nor anyone else certainly would have heard about it from me.”

Professor Snape was silent for several more heartbeats. Hermione could not be sure, but for a moment she thought she saw a satisfaction, a triumph, in his dark eyes. He took a deep breath, let it go, and pursed his lips.

Finally he rose from his chair. “Miss Granger, I think you and I better go to the Headmaster.”


Hermione looked from Professor Snape to the Headmaster, then back to Professor Snape. For a moment, she wasn’t sure if she should laugh or hex her Potions professor. Both options were sounding very good right now. Both men stood still, waiting for her to respond; the Headmaster with a serene, almost amused expression, Professor Snape with barely concealed impatience and resentment.

Finally, the silence stretched, until Hermione felt it would snap if she remained quiet. “Let me make sure I understand this clearly,” she said, slowly, taking a few deep breaths. “You told Vol-

Professor Snape hissed, and Hermione recoiled. “-The Dark Lord, that I was in love with you. That I was, what word did you use? Infatuated with you.” She stole a look to her Potions professor, but he stared stonily at the ground. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t really understand. Why would you do that?”

Hermione was reeling from the confession Professor Snape had just made. Apparently, the Headmaster already knew about it. Hermione had never been so flummoxed in her short life. Professor Snape had told Voldemort that he could use her obsession with him to corrupt her and use her against Harry.

“I guess I do understand the ruse, of making him believe that isolating Harry would weaken him,” she said, slowly. She looked at her professor with doubt-filled eyes. “What I don’t understand is why you told him I was in love with you?” She looked from one man to the other. “I’m not usually thick about things, but this is really beyond me, sir. Why on earth would you want me, of all people, to be in love with you? Pretend to be, I mean.”

“Try to look at it this way, Miss Granger,” Professor Dumbledore interjected, and Hermione saw Professor Snape’s eyes flicker toward the older man. There was resentment clearly in her professor’s eyes, and something less definable. It was not, she was certain, aimed at her. It was that indefinable depth in Severus Snape’s eyes that would come back and haunt Hermione two years later.

“Professor Snape is very concerned with things that are happening since Tom Riddle has returned. He’s also expressed your reluctance to speak with anyone about the perceived treatment you received from Sirius.”

Hermione’s head rose slowly and she looked at the Headmaster. She then looked at Professor Snape. The word ‘perceive’ suddenly enraged her. Her eyes narrowed. “Now, look, Headmaster! I don’t see where -“

“Ahem.” The trio turned to see Dolores Umbridge mincing in the door. “Headmaster, am I early for our meeting?” She looked at her wrist watch. It meowed. “Four o’clock, wasn’t it?”

Both Hermione and Severus glowered at the little pink toad, while the Headmaster, ever the gentleman, stepped forward. “Not at all, Dolores! You’re perfectly on time, as always. Professor Snape and Miss Granger were just leaving.” He looked at the two of them patiently. “We can continue our chat at a later time, I think, Professor Snape. Good day, Miss Granger.”

Professor Snape made a small formal bow and ushered Hermione from the Headmaster’s office. By the time they reached the hall outside the stone steps, Hermione was seething.

“Perceive? Perceive? He’s acting like we’re making it up! He’s talking like I’m trying to-“

Professor Snape was striding down the hall as Hermione walked with him, struggling to keep up. He too, was furious. “Acting as if this was all a joke?” he growled to himself, and Hermione looked up at him in alarm. “What does he think I’m doing out there? I’m not doing this because I want to-“

” – Letting that pink nightmare run the school with her stupid bloody decrees! She’s hurting people and he does nothing!” Hermione kept up with Professor Snape’s long strides, almost running beside him.

” – It’s not like I like being his sodding sacrificial lamb… Greater good, fucking Potter…”

“Wait!” Hermione grabbed Snape’s arm with such force it spun him around. He looked down where her hand gripped his arm, then at her, hostility radiating from him.

“Unhand me, Miss Granger! I’m not to be pawed at!”

Hermione huffed in disbelief. “What is the matter with you? Are you insane?”

Shock stilled his tongue for a moment, then he shook her hand from his arm and continued striding down the hall. Hermione had no choice but to follow him. “Oh, no, you don’t. You have to talk to me about this.”

“I am under no obligation to do anything according to your whims, Miss Granger, and I will remind you that you are in danger of losing a rather large amount of house points. Not to mention garnering a month of detentions.” He kept his eyes ahead as he raced down the stairs towards the dungeons, knowing full well she was right behind and would not be deterred.

Hermione was livid. “Don’t be childish! Be that as it may, Professor, you obligated yourself to me the moment you told Voldemort-“

“Do NOT say his name!” he hissed, turning around and grasping her arms painfully. “Childish? Really? I know very well what I’ve done.”

Hermione implored, “Then explain it to me! Please, Professor! Explain what you’ve done.” Her voice softened, “Explain it so I can help you. So I can help prevent another night like the one in Grimmauld.”

The punishing grip on her arms loosened, and he looked into her large amber eyes. She was as open and soft as a newborn, full of concern and confusion. He had caused all this. He closed his eyes in defeat.

He sighed, and Hermione suddenly wished she was anywhere but here in this place with this wizard. “Very well. Come with me, Miss Granger. I fear our conversation will not be suitable for this open a forum.”


By the time they reached Severus’ study, he had calmed down somewhat and was able to think a little more clearly. Blast Dumbledore! He felt like hexing the old fool.

Severus never should have gone to him and confessed what had happened that night. He thought the man would help him find a way out of the hole he’d dug for himself. Instead, Dumbledore had been angry, and his insinuations and suggestions made Severus realise that Dumbledore misinterpreted his motivation the same way Black had done – Albus believed Severus secretly wanted her for himself as a spoil of war, and would play both ends to get her.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Albus! Why in Merlin’s name would I want that child-“

“She is not a child, Severus. She is going to be eighteen in a matter of months, as you well know. And your reasons can be easily explained, as one who knows your history.”

“She’s a student, and as far as I’m concerned, that makes her a child!” he spat, furious that Dumbledore would intimate that Severus’ motives had been anything other than self-preservation. “I was being tortured, Albus! I had just come from Grimmauld Place, where I was witness to that mangy cur molesting the girl in the library!” His tone had changed, without his realizing it. “She was vulnerable and scared and I pictured her in my mind. The Dark Lord saw her, and I had to think of something. Forgive me for being human!” He despised himself for the lie, but it was a small lie to cover a bigger one.

“I know, I know, dear boy,” Albus soothed, and placed a fatherly hand on Severus’ shoulder. “I cannot imagine what you were going though. It is regrettable, but I know you did what you thought was the best thing-“

“It was the only thing, Albus!”

Dumbledore sighed. He walked over to the window and looked out onto the Quidditch pitch, where the Hufflepuff team was going through their paces. “Your first and only allegiance is to Lily’s son, Severus. You know that. I want… assurances that your motives are, shall we say, pure of heart? That Miss Granger knows this is only a ruse.” Albus turned and gave his Potions master a hard stare. “I want to be sure that you know it is only a ruse.”

He turned back to the window. “Have a word with her, Severus. Find out if she would be willing to go along with the deception. Anything that will divert Tom’s attention from Harry can only be to our advantage while he grows and achieves the level of skill needed to accomplish his destiny.”

Severus leapt to his feet. “And her destiny, Albus? Or mine? You don’t actually expect me to go through this farce, do you? The girl is repulsed by me!”

Albus turned to his Potions professor. “Then, dear boy, you must find hidden depths with which to change that, won’t you? Allow her to get to know you. She may surprise you. She has hidden depths of her own. Even a wizard as shallow as Sirius has known that for quite some time now.” He turned his back to the room and gazed out the window, a sure sign of dismissal.

As Severus reached the door, Dumbledore called after him. “I will think on it, Severus. In the meantime, perhaps you should ascertain whether or not Sirius’ actions are as unwelcome as you believe. And,” he added, “that your actions are motivated by nothing more than the need to protect a student.”


Severus now sat, facing this student, who looked at him with an agonizing mix of bewilderment, trust and anger. He met her glare and held it until she dropped her gaze.

That’s right, Severus. Be offended. Let your self-righteous indignation cover up the real truth, because your guilt and your self-loathing will mangle and chop up your blackened, dark heart if you don’t. You’ve seen the girl. Albus was right. You’ve admired the fire and the spirit and the intellect you see behind those cat’s eyes. She’s wasted with Potter and Weasley. You’ve dreamt of her. You want to protect her, hide her away. You want her for your own. And you know she’ll never come to you willingly. You dirty, sick, twisted pervert, he thought, his self-loathing rising like bile, leaving a horrible taste of guilt in his mouth.It isn’t in you, is it, Professor? Isn’t it, little one?

She chanced another look at him, and licked her dry lips. “Dumbledore…doesn’t believe me, does he?”

“No.” He said it without inflection or emotion, as if it was of no import. “He didn’t believe me, either.”

“About why you told Vol-The Dark Lord I was in love with you.” Her voice was almost as bland as his. He looked at her carefully.

He was a spy. He was a petty, bitter, lonely spy who had nothing to live for except to see that Potter fulfilled a bloody prophesy issued before the boy was even born. His only love had turned on him and died because of his foolish decisions. His one true friend had died a horrific death because he had persuaded him down the wrong path. Severus realised he himself was facing a very short, very bitter path ahead, alone. It was the loneliness that would kill him in the end. It would make him reckless, and eventually he would seek out death to crush the loneliness.

Why not seduce this innocent, trusting young woman? Why not enslave her with the prison of his own design, weaving such a spell of dark seduction and promise that she would never wish to leave, as long as his silken lash caressed and pleasured her? Why not corrupt her, mold her into what he needed? He had done it before to terrifying success. He had made mistakes that time. He had learned from them and would not make them again.

And in the meantime, she would grow of age, to warm his bed and stimulate his mind, and whether or not Potter or the Dark Lord won would be no matter. He could shut away the guilt and the remorse and the betrayal of everything and everyone, even her, and they could go. He could just disappear, steal her away, where no one could find them…

“How old are you, Miss Granger?”

Hermione looked puzzled, and answered warily, “Seventeen, sir.”

Seventeen. He had taken his Dark Mark around that age. He thought of the power he’d craved, the revenge he’d sought, the woman he cherished. All would be his under the command of the Dark Lord. Hadn’t Lord Voldemort promised him these things? Hadn’t the words been spoken from his own lips? Ashes. All that was left of his burning, covetous ambition was ashes. Ashes were the dreams of Severus Snape, and every day he relived them, only to see them burn into nothing.

The dark seduction was indeed pleasurable, but voracious. It could never be satisfied, for it could never be allowed to grow in the light. He had tried to feed it in his early days as a Death Eater, after Lily abandoned him to the darkness. It had exhausted him, jaded him to the point of seriously considering celibacy. He had driven his desires like a wild horse, but in the end, it was not pleasure he had ever really craved, ever really, truly wanted. That had died on the day he hissed a foul name into the air, destroying a friendship that had meant more than physical pleasure…

Hermione. Oh, he could seduce her, even keep her. But would she ever truly be happy? And why, gods damn it, did he care for the happiness of a seventeen-year-old girl – and why did it seem so integral to his own?

Severus sat, regarding her so intently he could feel her growing discomfort. He hadn’t been so different, really, at that age. If he were honest with himself, they were very much alike, painful thought it was to admit. Thin, awkward, ostracized, proud and arrogant in their knowledge, eager to show off their skills. Self-conscious, hypersensitive to criticism, but cunning and resourceful when necessary.

He continued to contemplate her, his admiration reluctantly rising another notch. Clever little witch. Age had given her the poise she so sorely lacked as a youngster, showing off her knowledge, always having to be the first, the best, the correct answer. Oh yes, Miss Granger. I’ve not forgotten the stolen Boomslang Skin, the enchanted galleons used to gather your little vigilante playgroup. Those boys couldn’t find their bollocks with both hands. You’ve been the instigator all along, haven’t you, little one? Potter doesn’t have the brains. And without you, he doesn’t really have a chance.

He sneered at himself. And where has your superior intellect and cunning landed you, Severus? It had turned him into a bitter, lonely hermit, and he’d had encouragement from his professors, if not from peers.

Well, he had been admired once. The loss of that friendship hurt almost as much as losing Lily, and was twice as hard to reminisce over. He pushed the thought away, knowing that, if he contemplated it for long, it would come back and torment him until he could never make it go away. It raised the darkness in him, and for a moment, he allowed it to touch him, to slide over his soul like a wanton caress.

What, then, would Hermione be in ten years’ time, bowed under by his overbearing hostility? Severus Snape knew all too well his shortcomings. He also knew how to use his assets to great advantage. He could corrupt her. He was sure of it. She was untouched, he knew it. She could fall so easily for the right combination of innocence and knowledge. Knowledge was her lust. Praise was her aphrodisiac. She was as ripe as Eve had been in the garden, and like Eve, she would fall to his silken, Slytherin tongue.

A soft, sensual word of praise, spoken in a tone of voice pitched with intimacy and experience. An intense heat found in the eyes that could hint of both threat and promise. A practiced, knowing touch at a vulnerable moment of his choosing, and his making.

He looked into her eyes, as clear and clean of reproach as a unicorn’s. They were starting to show tension under the weight of his contemplation. Pinned by those liquid, dark eyes, Hermione jumped slightly, as if prodded by an unseen hand. Severus realised he’d been staring so long, she thought he was using Legilimency.

Severus mentally crossed his fingers and decided to do the only thing he hadn’t tried – he would tell her the truth.

“You ask me why I want to know, Miss Granger. I’ll tell you. No Slytherin tricks, no guile. The honest truth.

“I hate the way he looks at you. I hate the way he gropes you. I hate the way he throws his conquest in my face!” Now the emotion was there, crackling around the edges of his formidable self-control, and it filled Hermione with consternation. She watched him carefully, a little warily.

“There has been no conquest.”

“There will be.”

She huffed. “I think I have a little say in it, Professor. I am not attracted to Sirius Black, nor do I have any plans in future to be.”

Severus was shaking his head, and a grim, almost cruel smile slashed across his face. He rose from his chair in his alarmingly sudden way. He walked toward her, bearing down, seduction by intimidation.

“It doesn’t matter what you want, little girl. Sirius Black is Harry Potter’s godfather.” Each word was spoken with tongue-tipped contempt. “And we all know that Mr. Potter’s happiness and welfare are the most important considerations to the hopes of winning this war. Harry Potter’s godfather has him wrapped around his undersized little tool, Miss Granger. What Harry Potter’s godfather wants, he gets, because giving his godfather what he wants makes Harry Potter happy!”

“Harry’s not like that!”

“The hell he isn’t! Nothing’s too good for Sirius Black!” he spat, giving full vent to his resentment. “Ever since I’ve known him he’s been the same. He can’t stand the thought of another wizard having something or someone first! How many times did he seduce a girl just because he could, just because another man wanted her?

“He’s always been able to get his way! Look what he’s done to every young witch to cross his path! Right now, today, all he’d have to do is to tell James he wanted you and you’d be on his doorstep in stockings and suspenders with a big bow tied around your arse before you could say Nimue’s Bristols!” Severus wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, removing the flecks of foam. He was panting as if he’d been running. The darkness was riding him, the pale rider on the pale horse, galloping through his mind unchecked, unheeded.


“What?” Severus turned to the young woman, his anger rushing hot and uncontrolled through him. For a moment, Severus thought she had called him Harry. She was shaking her head, and there was a fearful look in her eyes.

“‘All he’d have to do is to tell Harry he wanted me’. You just called Harry, ‘James’, Professor.”

Severus stared at the young woman, stunned at what he’d said. And just as it possessed him, the darkness left him, cracked, blasted apart and opened by the little ray of light sitting across from him. Rage and humiliation drained from him, leaving him shaking and almost in tears. For a moment, he was a skinny seventeen-year old-again, telling Lily Evans those same words, trying to convince her that James’ and Sirius’ motives were far from honourable.

Here he was, twenty years later, trying to convince Hermione of the same thing about Sirius and Remus. It was as if history was doomed to repeat itself over and over in his mind. Oh gods. He ran a shaking hand through his hair, and his breath came in great sobbing gulps, although his eyes were dry and burning.

Hermione stood slowly and walked toward Severus. She approached him very carefully, as if afraid of incurring bodily harm. She put a gentle hand on his shoulder, as if to calm him. “I think you’d better sit down. Please.”

Obediently, Professor Snape sat down in his chair. He no longer looked angry or confused, just exhausted. “Miss Granger,” he began, then sighed. It was a pitiful sound of a defeated man, a man who knows the war is lost but must keep fighting anyway. “Once again, I am forced to rely upon your discretion.” He looked down at his desk, and sighed again. “I-I’m not behaving in a manner that befits either your teacher or a gentlemen.”

“I’m not offended, truly. Please don’t distress yourself further, sir.” Hermione looked up at her professor, and decided to push. “This is some – some vendetta between you and Sirius, isn’t it? This isn’t really about me, is it?”

“It is for him. He’s decided you’re- you’re – “

His hesitation and uncertainty emboldened her. “You promised me the truth. No Slytherin tricks. No guile. All of this wasn’t just to save yourself. You could have done that any number of ways.” She threw caution to the winds. “Why did you tell the Dark Lord I’m in love with you? So you can get revenge on Sirius Black for something that happened when you were my age?”

“No!” He shook his head, furious, confused. He looked at her, still gazing at him with no hint of recrimination in her eyes. “Yes. It is partially. I will admit that. Can’t you understand? Sirius will seduce a witch just because another wizard is in the picture.”

“And you think that’s what he’s doing with me?” Hermione shook her head. “Are you the – what did you call it? The wizard in the picture?”

Severus looked at her, his black eyes growing dark. She could not break his gaze. He stilled to the point where she could no longer hear even his breathing. He raised his chin, and his lips relaxed and parted slightly. His expression changed into one that Hermione could only think of as ‘hungry’.

What do you think, girl? I want you for myself. Sirius may be an imbecile, but he’s smart enough to know why I desire you, he thought, just as agonizing pain seared up his forearm. His Dark Mark roared and pulsed as if it had a life of its own. Severus gasped and hissed, his arm convulsing with the pain, his fingers curling and bending unnaturally as the muscles spasmed and contracted beneath the seething, writhing flesh.

“Not now,” he all but moaned to himself, and pressed his arm to his side until the painful summoning subsided. He swore under his breath, then rose and found himself face to face with Hermione. In the few seconds the Mark had drilled its pain into his nerve endings, he’d quite forgotten she was there.

A/N: The words are from my songwriter friend, Christopher Branch. This is another example of how inspiration can come in many forms.

Three: If I Am To Be Condemned For My Sins, Let Me Commit Them First

Walking too fast, thinking too hard, too many thieves now, to let down your guard.
Strange as it is, stranger it seems; who told this life it could fall apart at the dreams?

Severus and Hermione looked at one another, over the space of a few heartbeats. Oh, please, please, don’t make me go to him again, Severus silently begged, but the deaf, blind gods stayed silent and indifferent. He closed his eyes to master his fear, hating that Granger, of all people, was witness to it. He felt like a helpless child again, looking up into the eyes of his drunken father, cowering, anticipating the swaying stance, the sound of the belt sliding from his trousers. He had pleaded silently for protection then as well, knowing none would come… Lay me low…

He gasped, and drew himself to full height. Remember your purpose, he told himself. He could almost hear Albus saying it. Whatever punishment the Dark Lord metes, you deserve it. You dirty, little scrote of a man…

“Miss Granger, please leave now. I have to –” He hissed as the Mark burned again. The Dark Lord was impatient now. Severus panted, angry that the girl was still there, staring at him. Through clenched teeth, he urged, “Merlin’s sake, girl! Go!”

She was shaking her head. “It’s him, isn’t it? He’s summoning you, isn’t he?” Severus could only nod, grasping his aching arm to ease the pain. “What will he do to you?”

He rasped, “I cannot say, but it will not do to keep him waiting.” He calmed, and made his voice gentler. “Miss Granger, if you wish to help, please go and tell the Headmaster I was summoned. I’ll return when I can.”

She stepped closer. “But he’ll want to know about us! You’ve told him about me, and he’ll expect some sort of update!” She dropped her head, casting about for any idea. “Can you – can you make up something? Can you show him – I don’t know – me thanking you or, or something, anything?”

Hermione looked into his eyes with absolute trust, and as the pain subsided, his Slytherin heart whispered, Make her. Make her pretend. Make her give you some little scrap of her comfort in this godsforsaken mess you call your life. Make her touch you –

And the darkness that was never far from him, that he fought every day, settled into his belly like a heat, a latent, sensual power. It was a power of knowing that she was ripe and sweet for plucking. A few honeyed words, a soft, innocently placed touch, and soon she wouldn’t need to pretend…

As if she’d read his thoughts, she looked up at him, her eyes bright and fearful. She grabbed his wrists in her hands, and when he looked down at her small hands, encircling his wrists, she rung them to get his attention. “Look at me, Professor!”

As he stood still, Hermione stepped back, looking down at his feet. She smiled, as if recalling a pleasant memory. She lifted her gaze to him, and the glow in her eyes almost made him stagger. It was a knowing, warm glow, and it made her look older, more worldly, more knowing. For a fleeting, thankfully transient moment, the visage of seventeen-year-old Bellatrix Black came to mind. Mercifully, it was gone just as quickly.

Hermione moved closer, and Severus almost took an involuntary step back. She still held onto his wrists, pinning him in place. She laughed softly, modestly, and he wasn’t sure if the sound frightened him or aroused him. His mind was telling him one thing, but his traitorous body, quite another…

“Professor,” she said, her voice sweet, her expression fond, “I wanted to thank you again.” She lowered her head modestly. “I am afraid to be in the house alone with him. He – ” She shook her head. “He thinks I owe him. He said that I should feel grateful for his attention. He thinks he should be the one I give my – “

She stopped again, and blushed. Blushed, for Merlin’s sake! She looked at him with admiration shining in her eyes. “I know I’ve never been one of your favourite students, but at least you don’t force me to do something against my will.”

“Nor will I,” he said, his voice soft and light, easing into his role like the practiced actor he was. “You are quite safe here with me, Miss Granger.” Of its own accord, his hand reached to cup her cheek. She closed her eyes, and nestled against it. Severus’ eyes grew wide, as he felt his cock roar into life. Oh, Merlin, what is the girl doing? What might she do, if I allow it?

In spite of his rapidly spiraling thoughts, he smiled at her outright audacity. He raised a delicate, expressive eyebrow. “You’re a good girl,” he crooned. His soft words were rewarded with her brilliant smile, her eyes lighting at the praise. There – oh yes, there it was. The heat of Hermione Granger: praise. Her treasured, truest lust. Just as he had done before his summoning, his lips relaxed and parted into a smile worthy of a lover.

His eyes slid slowly over her, starting at her mouth, and traveling, first down her body, then returning to her face. He felt powerful, basking in her open and enthralled admiration. She was watching him intently, her body still. Her mouth was also parted, and Severus could see her rapid breathing, her pulse flashing at her throat.

“Yes, such a good girl, Hermione,” he repeated, slightly breathless, caressing her name with a voice that was soft and silky, that promised so much. It was a voice he’d used a hundred times to get what he wanted. It had enticed quite a few females, willing and unwilling, into loosening their thighs and sharing his bed or his coin. It was a voice he’d used to assure victims when there were no assurances to be given. It was used to placate and seduce when the revels called for the innocent to suffer, and he could offer nothing more than a soft command to close their eyes, and dream. He used his one true beauty, and it soothed even him.

He could see the flush on her skin, and knew his beauty had produced it. He returned her predatory, knowing smile. As his hand slid from her cheek, she turned her head slightly, and his fingers brushed against her lips. They were soft and heart-shaped, and they pursed slightly against his fingertips. He dragged his middle finger across her bottom lip, his movement so subtle, it could almost be construed as accidental. He could feel the soft puff of her breath against his finger. For a sweet, dirty moment, Severus imagined what she would do if he slid his longest finger between her lips and into her warm mouth. He could almost feel her tongue cradle it, swirl around it as she suckled it. He could imagine her, eyes closed, lost in the longing, not fully understanding, but welcoming it nonetheless…

He sneered down at the girl, the powerful darkness feeding these stolen, forbidden seconds. He could hear her breathing increase, and he felt an electricity pulse between the two of them, and he knew she felt it as well. They were both breathing heavier, and their chests rose and fell in unison.

It would be so easy, the dark voice told him. She’s so willing to do whatever I ask. I could say almost anything at this moment, doalmost anything, and she would respond…

Caught up in the fantasy, Hermione looked modestly down at his hands. Her voice was almost a whisper, and her eyes were lidded. She touched the tip of her tongue to her top lip, and Severus’ raging hard-on tightened his trousers painfully.

She murmured, “I’m so glad you’re there. You’re the only one who believes me.” She brought the full battery of her tawny eyes to meet his, and he felt a shiver run up his spine. Her lips trembled, and she looked up at him beseechingly. “I don’t want to go back there with Ron and Harry. He doesn’t understand. No one does, even Dumbledore. He doesn’t believe me, either. Harry’s so blind where Sirius in concerned.”

Severus touched her cheek again, and Hermione rubbed against his hand like a kitten. He stroked her soft skin with his thumb, and lightly crooned, “Shh. It’s alright, child. You don’t have to go if you don’t wish it. I’ll ensure you never have to.” He felt her shiver, and he knew at that moment, she would be his. And underlying it all, under the darkness, under the lust, was that pulsing, tiny light that wanted him to do the right thing, to keep his promise to her. Where no one can find us…

“But the holidays – “

“Can be spent here. I require assistance on a Potions project. I’ll arrange it with the Headmaster. It will give you a reason to stay away from Grimmauld, and no one would be the wiser.” His voice was as far removed from his teaching voice as possible. It was creamy and rich, and the girl responded so beautifully to it. Watching her, Severus could almost forget they were playing a desperate game of charades. More than that, he could feel the needy urge to forget it was only a game…

She was looking at him with dawning hope in her eyes. “Would you – would you really want this? Would you allow me to assist you, Professor?”

He favoured her with another sneer, and made an appreciative humming noise. This time, he dialed in a touch of soft menace to his sinful, silken baritone beauty. It was seduction itself, more than even his words. “Oh, yes, I want this as well. I very much want you here, Hermione.” His pronunciation grew more clipped with each word; each consonant savoured and presented, each vowel tasted in his mouth like ripened fruit.

“Yes. Very, very much.” He could see her blush again, and her lips flushed a luscious shade of pink. He found himself aching to discover if her little nipples were the same, dusky hue as her pouting lips; oh, those sweet, little pink nipples, begging to be nibbled, like the heart-shaped lips, that were parting…

“Thank you, Professor. You always make me feel safe.”

And it was over. Safe. The word instantly dashed ice-cold water over his libido, and deflated it like a nail driven into the tyre on a Muggle automobile. Severus felt a sickening urge to send her screaming from the room. How dare she tease and flirt with him? How dare she make him want her, then plunge a dagger in his desire with one tiny word? Who the fuck started this?

The Mark sizzled under his skin again, and he grunted in pain. The last of his dispirited lust was tamped down to nothing, as he tried to deal with the pain.

Hermione saw his sudden discomfort, and looked up at him expectantly. “Do you think it was enough?” She smiled weakly. “I was afraid I was laying it on a bit thick. Perhaps you can, oh, I don’t know, tweak it in your mind or something?”

Severus was stunned. He knew the whole little sordid exchange was as substantial as a glamour, but he had sensed her responding. He frowned, and she made a little gesture, a modest shrug. “I used to do Stage School during summer hols.” She sobered. “I never thought I would be using it to save someone’s life, but I’m really glad, Professor.”

He stared at her, openly surprised. He took a deep breath to soothe his ruffled ego, which had deflated somewhat, along with his cock. Smirking in his usual manner, he replied, rather formally, “I must say, it is the theatre’s loss that your calling lies elsewhere, Miss Granger.”

It was her turn to look confused. Was he paying her a compliment, or had he been caught up in what had just happened, as well? And why did he sound so disappointed in her? Gods, the world may as well stop turning, for all she knew of what had just happened.

For several more heartbeats, they regarded one another. Then Hermione said, “Sir, perhaps you’d better go. I don’t want to be the cause of his displeasure.”

Severus nodded, then turned to go. His mind was racing, and he needed to master himself quickly. The girl had, truth be known, rattled him more than he was willing to accept.

As he turned, he said, “Tell the Headmaster I was summoned – “

“I know. I will.” For several seconds, Hermione watched him prepare to leave. As he reached the door, she impulsively called out, “Professor!”

He turned, impatient, fearful, “What, Miss Granger? I have to leave now!”

She rushed to his side, and, reaching up on tiptoe, placed her hands on his shoulders. After the slightest of hesitations, she gently kissed his cheek.

He stared down at her, his expression unreadable. “Miss Granger? And which play are we enacting now?” He sneered. “The Passion of Christ?”

This time, he was sure her blush was genuine, as was the hurt in her eyes. “No! I mean, I’m not! Just – be careful. I can’t bear the thought you might be hurt again. Especially not because of me.”

He gave her another stiff little nod, and whipped around. Almost before she could register it, he was gone, striding out of the room.

Hermione sat down shakily, her bravado gone. She had told Professor Snape it was all an act, yet, she was trembling. She touched her face; she could still feel the warmth of his palm against her cheek, the whisper of his fingertips brushing over her lips. She could feel every small callous on the pads of his long fingers, could smell the crushed rosemary as they lingered over her mouth. She could still hear his voice saying her name, gently, almost affectionately. She could see the heat in his dark, obsidian gaze. It was the singularly most erotic thing that had ever happened to her in her short life. Her body had all but hummed when he stroked her cheek, and she’d felt cold and hot at once. She was almost sure her knickers were wet.

And when she’d kissed him, and asked him to be careful, she had prayed for one brief moment that he would return her embrace. In those few short minutes with her professor, she dimly understood why Sirius Black had not so much as stirred any latent emotion, other than revulsion. She understood desire now. It had a name and shape and form, and Hermione was deathly afraid her body had decided that form was her Potions professor.

He started this, she thought, somewhat petulantly. Him, with his talk of hating Sirius Black, of convincing that madman Voldemort that she was infatuated with him, that she could be seduced into betraying Harry. And Professor Snape had made her knickers wet, and made her tremble merely by cupping her cheek and calling her his good girl. And what play are we enacting this time? Why did he sound so offended by it? These are his rules, aren’t they?

Hermione touched her lips again, trying to remember the feel of his fingertips, the sound of his voice. Oh, gods, Hermione thought, closing her eyes. What if this isn’t just a game?

Suddenly, she felt very ashamed of herself, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint why. She waited a few minutes, until her mind emptied of the inexplicable feeling of guilt, and rose to find the Headmaster.

He was waiting down the hall from Professor Snape’s office. She walked quickly towards him, but Professor Dumbledore seemed in no hurry to move away. She waited until she was close enough to be able to whisper to him.

“Sir, Professor Snape wanted me to give you a message. He’s been – “

“I know, Miss Granger. I encountered him as he was leaving. He asked me to come down and make sure you were alright.” Dumbledore gave her a fond, fatherly smile. “He seemed to think you might be a bit… agitated.”

“Well, sir…” She glanced quickly around, but they were quite alone in the corridor. It was a narrow hall, free even from portraits. “Aren’t you worried for him? After all, the last time he was summoned…” Hermione stuttered to a halt, unwilling to mention that night, that one, strange night, which had made so many changes in the status quo.

“Miss Granger, Professor Snape is a very capable wizard. He is the one man I trust with my life. I have every confidence that he will return to Hogwarts soon, and without grievous harm. You must trust in his ability to take care of himself.”

Hermione stared at the Headmaster. She was still smarting from his remarks about her and Sirius. Now, to blithely dismiss Professor Snape’s potential peril seemed callous in the extreme. A sense of grave injustice flared within her, but she quickly remembered that she was now a player in this dangerous game. Immediately, Hermione tried to rearrange her expression into a calmer one.

“Yes, sir. Thank you. Well, I’m going to be late for dinner.”

“Indeed. Enjoy your meal, Miss Granger.”

“Greasy git. Why does he constantly have to pick on you or Harry?” Ron asked. At least, that’s what Hermione hoped Ron had said. With the contents of an entire plate of food in his mouth, it was hard to tell, exactly. “Where is the old Dungeon Bat, anyway?”

“Don’t say things like that about Professor Snape,” she said, her tone automatic, absent-minded. Hermione stole a glance at the Head Table. Professor Snape’s place was empty. Hermione was tempted to tell the boys that their professor was out possibly risking his life for the Order. It probably would have effectively shut them up, but the words stuck in her throat. She desperately wanted to talk to Harry about Sirius as well, but every time she opened her mouth, the opening gambit sounded either too forced or too accusatory. Harry sensed she wanted to speak to him, and had given her several opportunities, but like her, didn’t seem to be able to break the seal.

She wondered if she should go and wait for Professor Snape by his office. As a prefect, she had any number of plausible reasons to be there, but she was still loath to take her chances down in the dungeons, near the Slytherin house quarters.

As the last of the food disappeared, Ron and Harry rose. “Are we still on for tonight?”

“What?” she said, looking up at her dark-haired friend. Harry smiled down and gave her a playful little shake.

“Hello? Earth to Hermione? We were going to have a planning session for the next – ” He quickly glanced around. “You know, special meeting?”

Ah, the D.A. strategy meeting. She’d completely forgotten about it. She smiled and stood. “Of course. I’m going to change. I’ll see you later, yeah?”

As the boys left, Hermione risked a final glance up at the Head Table. Only the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall were left, chatting away like old friends. Disappointed, Hermione finished the last of her pumpkin juice, and was about to leave, when a drawling voice behind her said, “Looking for Lover Boy? I told Father I can’t understand what he possibly sees in you, but, then again, Snape’s no oil painting, either, is he?”

Hermione whirled to see the smirking, pointed face of Draco Malfoy, sneering down at her. Of course! Lucius Malfoy would have been at the Death Eater meeting, when Professor Snape was hurt. Draco could have been there as well, for all she knew. Choosing to ignore Draco, Hermione silently rose and started to walk away. From behind, Draco softly called out, “Hey, Granger, what do you get when you cross a Mudblood with a Potions master?”

Hermione turned and gave him a cool look. “Oh, I don’t know, Draco. A Malfoy?”

His pale face flushed with anger. “Shut your grubby mouth, Granger! You’re going to have to learn some manners around your betters, girl. There are some who believe that a wizard who can’t keep his witch under control deserves a little beating himself. I wouldn’t be so smug if I were you!”

Hermione stood still for a moment, then walked back to the Slytherin table. She hissed, “Shut up, Malfoy.” She looked him up and down, carefully. “Here’s a riddle for you, Draco. Do you know how easy it is to castrate a ferret? No?” She gave him a look of pure disdain that would have made even Professor Snape proud. Glancing down at his crotch, she sneered, “Keep annoying me and you’ll find out firsthand!”

She walked out of the Great Hall, but not before Draco called back. “Enjoy it while it lasts, Mudblood. When he gets tired of you, he’s already promised the rest of us can play with you.”

Hermione’s blood was boiling, but she smiled mirthlessly, as she walked toward the Gryffindor common room. She may not be in possession of Slytherin guile, but she was strong enough to learn how to control her emotions around Draco Malfoy. If Professor Snape had a hidden agenda, she would be clever enough to find it. As she made the long walk to Gryffindor Tower, her initial exhilaration faded, just as Draco had planned. His parting shot had put just enough doubt in her mind, as to exactly the conditions Severus Snape had bartered, when he made his pact with his Dark Lord.

“You’re rather late, Severus,” the Dark Lord hissed, as Severus knelt down, and kissed the hem of his robe. “Dallying with your new toy, no doubt.”

“Forgive me, My Lord,” Severus said, lifting his dark, liquid eyes to Voldemort. “I confess she has provided more distraction than I am used to indulging.”

Severus forced his body to remain relaxed, as he allowed the Dark Lord to invade his mind. It was always a sickening sensation; there was a corpulent feel to the Dark Lord’s invasion of Severus’ mind, a subtle sliding against his consciousness. It felt oily and rancid, as if something rotten stroked the corridors of his soul.

And there she was… You always make me feel safe, Professor… you don’t have to go back there, child… stay with me… I will protect you from Black… I don’t want to be with Harry…. Hermione, looking up at him with that soft, trusting glow… The dormant, innocent arousal, the more knowing pull of desire, when he called her his good girl… He pushed all his want, his need to possess the girl, his erection, the feel of the physical pulse in his groin as she touched her soft lips to his fingertips.

Finally, the Dark Lord sat back on his throne. “You’ve done well, Severus. Already, the girl is pulling away from the Potter boy.”

“Really, My Lord?” came the drawling voice of Lucius Malfoy. Severus turned and faced the blond aristocrat. With an expression of mild puzzlement, Lucius flicked his gaze to Severus. “My Draco tells me that the Granger girl and Potter are as close as ever. Apparently, they’re working together with several other students in some sort of clandestine Defense club, where the girl is one of the leaders.”

He gave Severus a smug smile. “It hardly sounds like a young girl forsaking her best friend, Severus.”

Severus gave Malfoy a withering, patronizing stare. “It does, if you do not wish to draw any undue attention to yourself, Lucius. I’ve told the girl that she must carry on as always. She understands that she must not show any outward signs of rebellion, or our association ends.” He tutted slightly at Malfoy. “I think you’ve grown soft, Lucius. You used to be much more… Slytherin.” Malfoy’s face darkened, his pale, grey eyes growing glacial.

“Children, please,” Voldemort interrupted, and both Severus and Lucius lowered their heads. “You know it pains me to see my loyal lieutenants squabbling. Of course, the girl must act as if nothing is amiss. Severus will teach her the ways of his house, Lucius, and when her loyalties are revealed at my triumphant moment, the Potter boy’s anguish will make my victory sweeter,” he hissed, smiling his unholy glee into the room.

“Rome was not built in a day, my dear Lucius, and neither is vengeance. Let my Potions master brew his young lover in her time, and she will be all the more flavourful and potent for his patience. I seem to recall, Severus,” Voldemort smiled, stroking the dark man’s hair fondly, “That you ever enjoyed the taste of willing flesh more than that which is taken by force.”

Severus willed his body not to shudder in revulsion at the Dark Lord’s fondling, possessive touch. “Indeed, My Lord.” He allowed his eyes to slide toward Malfoy again. “I find the idea of rape to be a huge waste of energy that can be better spent in more… pleasurable pursuits.” Some of the Death Eaters laughed, knowing it was a barb against those who had took him by force, whose selfish cruelty was only too well known.

Severus had never enjoyed the tang of rape, which was why he privately thought the Dark Lord frequently used it as a punishment for him. Severus would always take celibacy over forced molestation, and this pleased the Dark Lord. He was only too happy to appease his loyal Death Eaters’ darker appetites now, to keep them sated, dependently under his thumb. However, when the war was over, he would need acolytes like Severus, whose minds were not slaves to their basest desires.

Severus was saying, “She is an intelligent young witch, who craves knowledge over everything. Once she has tasted the forbidden fruit, she will only crave more. Already she asks questions. It will be only a matter of time until she is ready for her answers.”

Voldemort decided the Mudblood girl was a pleasant diversion for the Potions master. Already forced to live the life of a monk in the soft nest of Hogwarts, Severus eschewed all but the occasional dark revel, and only then when under the most imperious command of his Master. He occasionally frequented the Knockturn Alley whores, who gratefully accepted his coin, but turned their faces away, as if being forced to copulate with a golden idol or animal.

If the young girl could give Snape her loyalty, and willingly warm his bed, she could give Voldemort another string to his bow against Harry Potter; against Severus, even. If properly motivated, she would provide wise counsel to the Potions master. She would certainly keep him on his toes, until she was no longer of use.

The Dark Lord stroked Severus’ face in a fond caress. “Rise, my friend. Now, when is the next Order meeting?”

“Next week, My Lord. I plan on antagonizing the blood traitor, Black, into a confrontation. If I can convince Potter that Black is molesting his friend, it will be one more distraction to demoralize the boy.”

Voldemort nodded, pleased. “Well played, my friend. The game is afoot, then. Isolate the boy, until he stands alone, and he will fall. I am pleased with your report, Severus. Return to your school, to your little plaything.” His smile was a hideous thing. “Kiss her goodnight for me.”

Severus stood, and kissed the hand that had stroked his hair. He stood and faced the Dark Lord, resisting the urge to wipe his mouth. “You are too kind to me, My Lord. And to her, as well.” He looked up at the Dark Lord with fevered adulation. “I will mold her into a fitting jewel for your throne.”

“I have every belief you will, my friend.”

Severus bowed again, and turned to leave the room.

“And Severus? When you go to the Order meeting, take her with you.”

A/N: Song lyrics are from ‘Waiting To Hear’ by Christopher Branch, one of my Songwriter friends, from his album ‘If All These Things Are True’. Used with permission

Four: There Are Wounds That Stir Up The Force of Gravity

I could not say no to the light of my desire; I’m not asking so much.

But you roll-call the passion:

His lips ? No. His back ? No. His face? No, no, no – I’m not asking so much!

Severus Apparated to the same point he always used, just outside the wards of the school. He stood still for a moment, looking down at his feet, letting his stomach catch up with the rest of him. He could see little whorls in the dust, showing the patch of dirt he used over and over, Apparating and Disapparating from Hogwarts. How many times in the last six months had he been summoned before the Dark Lord, and thankfully returned to this same spot, with his body and his sanity intact? How many times had he returned with neither?

He looked up at the castle, his home for so many years. He hardly thought of his house in Manchester as home. It was merely the place he had existed, until he came here. Hogwarts had ever been refuge and haven, workhouse and prison. He loved it almost as much as he hated it. He had never wanted to teach, but his foolish, bitter choices had narrowed his options down to nothing, until Dumbledore picked him up that horrible, hideous night, and gave him a choice of life over death. Severus was no longer sure he’d made the right decision.

Hogwarts would forever stand as a symbol to him, of what he’d had and lost. At one time, he thought he could eventually atone for his sins. Lately, especially on nights like this, he knew that to be no longer true.

As he walked past Hagrid’s hut, Severus saw the half-giant standing on his top step, peering out into the night. A lantern was in his raised hand, bathing the ground around his door with soft light.

Silently, Severus nodded to the large man, and Rubeus returned the nod with a gentle smile, stepped back inside, and closed the door. Dumbledore would often notify Hagrid that Professor Snape might be returning from a meeting the worse for wear; more than once, since the Dark Lord’s return, Hagrid had carried the injured wizard up to the infirmary, in the late hours of the night.

Severus found it rather comforting, that Hagrid would often wait up, just in case. It was always a relief to both of them for Severus to be able to return to the castle under his own power, rather than taken there, cradled like a battered child, in the arms of the soft-hearted Hagrid. Severus, to be honest, also appreciated the fact that Hagrid never judged him.

Only now could Severus allow himself to think of Hermione. Would she be waiting, worrying about him? Why did the thought that she might, seem so sweet to him? How could the silly ramblings of a child give him such pleasure, such a feeling of hope that, after all, they might be able to find safety? Perhaps together?

The meeting with the Dark Lord had ended several hours ago, but Severus had made an unscheduled stop, before returning to the castle. As he left the presence of the Dark Lord, he had been almost overwhelmed with relief, and a brittle, uncertain joy. He felt shaky, and feverish, and, truth be told, randy as hell.

He remembered the little play with Hermione with incredible clarity, as if reviewing it in his mind like a Muggle film. It had been intense, and arousing, and had left him wanting more. It had been a long time since he’d given in to his desires, other than to relieve himself with his hand. That would not do tonight. He needed to celebrate.

He Apparated into Knockturn Alley, bristling with the exhilaration of surviving another night without torture. He was thrumming with life, and relief that he was not dead, or, at the very least, physically abused again. His heart was beating wildly, and shortly, he found the right witch, paid her price and cast the cleansing charms on her, the protective charms on himself, and the notice-me-not charm on them both. He had just enough self-restraint to push her face against the wall, in one of the Alley’s many alcoves, release his eager cock from his trousers, bend her forward and plunge into her, with a growl of satisfaction.

He was finished in a matter of minutes, enjoying the anonymous heat of the nameless, almost faceless woman, hearing her grunts mingling with his, as he pounded into her, wanting only the life-affirming release of fucking a willing cunt. His pleasure mingled with the sweet knowledge that he’d survived one more encounter with death.

He did not stop to analyse why he’d chosen the whore with honey-coloured, bushy hair, or how much he enjoyed wrapping his hands in it as he engaged her body.

Behind his tightly closed eyes, he didn’t have to analyse who he pretended to fuck. As his climax roared from him, he didn’t question why he’d silently formed the word, Hermione! over and over on his lips, as his issue shot hard and hot into the hired vessel. It did not please him on some level, but completed him on another.

Once he’d finished, and cleaned himself, he walked away, feeling dissatisfied, as he always did with prostitutes. It was true, the witch was just a whore, but he hated the feeling of this indifferent, meaningless screw. It never occurred to him that he was not a sex-deprived pervert.

He was a loved-starved man.

It would have humiliated Severus to realise he did not know there was a difference. He only knew the feeling that he had done something pointless. He merely considered it a dark necessity, one that would never truly satisfy him, because the darkness was never satisfied. Merlin, his brother Death Eaters would laugh themselves apoplectic if they knew his weak, childish thoughts.

He walked slowly, deliberately, up the school steps, counting them, as he always did. It calmed him, prepared him for his briefing with the Headmaster. He knew he was merely whistling in the dark. No amount of counting was going to calm him tonight. He had no idea what to tell Dumbledore. Severus felt restless and tired, all at once. His skin both tingled and crawled, from his encounter in the Alley.

On the surface, it had all started so simply. He wanted to show Black that Miss Granger could not be used to place another notch on his bedpost. Because he’d been unable to do so with Lily, he wanted to protect the girl from Black and the blind trust of her friends,. He wanted to be safe himself. He enjoyed Hermione, as someone who enjoyed intellect and cleverness. The young Gryffindor had been the most irritating of students, until he realised she was as hungry, as lonely, and as needy as he. He could no longer tell himself he wasn’t intrigued on a more physical level as well.

He’d started this mess, out of desperation and torture, and now he had to keep all the balls in the air. He’d done it before, but he had been a much younger man, with more reserves to draw upon. He was older now; the years had blunted his razor edge, making him a clumsier, albeit more destructive weapon. He had no right to the girl. His first mission was to ensure Potter lived to defeat the Dark Lord.

But what then? Would he be free? Would he even be alive to enjoy that freedom? If he lived, he wanted to start afresh. Could the little, curly-haired swot be the key to a new life? Would she even want to be? Could he place his love and regret for Lily behind him, permanently? Did he even have the capacity to love someone else?

He had felt her respond to him. His large, sensitive nose smelled the unbearably sweet scent of arousal. She had pretended to pretend, he was sure of it. Where did that leave him? Where did he want this to go?

Mainly, he just wanted it all to be over, one way or another. For Potter to win, or for himself to die. But it would be so sweet to run away, to grab Hermione’s hand and run. Oh, Lily, what have I done?

As he entered the back side of the castle, through the tunnel entrance to the dungeons, he thought about what he would tell Miss Granger. How would he explain that he had a job to do, that she was part of it, and he needed her to play the game as well?

There was time to think on it. First, he needed to shower, and wipe the stench of his own lust from his body. Then, he would sit down with a glass of wine, and give this serious consideration.

He walked toward his private quarters, off from his office, and saw a figure walking the halls in front of him. He sighed. He had faced one of his fears tonight; it was now time to face another. Then he smiled. Hermione Granger had come to him. She had come to HIM, Severus Snape.

Hermione sat in her room for almost an hour after the DA strategy meeting, arguing with herself about going to see Professor Snape. If she went to his private quarters, what on earth would she say to him?

Well, Professor, I just wanted to see how you were doing after your meeting with Lord Voldemort. And since, just by speaking to me, you made my knickers so wet that I had to change them, I thought I’d stop by, to see what you planned to do for an encore… Of course. Then, she’d just slide out of the room, on a slime trail of his scorn.

On the other hand, what if he were injured, and needed her again? That’s stupid, Hermione. The man has been doing this for months now, and he was just fine before you blundered in on him at Grimmauld.

But he had already told Voldemort about her, before she’d found him there. He was already upset with her, when he left Grimmauld Place that night, which was why Voldemort saw her in the professor’s mind in the first place. She had caused his punishment.

It had been that guilt that had made her start the strange little charade, the one that began with her pretending to be infatuated with her professor, and ended up with her – well, being infatuated with her professor. She thought of his voice, how sweet and seductive it had sounded, like the softest silk sliding over her nerve endings, awakening her to feelings she’d never experienced before.

She paced her small room, chewing on her bottom lip thoughtfully. We’re in this together. I should at least make sure he’s alright. Hermione grimaced. She was doing a pitiful job, fooling even herself. He had stirred something within her, something dark and forbidden and oh, so, tempting. She lay on the bed, very still, trying to remember the feelings he’d evoked, when he touched her cheek. His fingers were so sensitive…

Stop it, stop it, stop It! She raged at herself, embarrassed. If her professor knew what she was doing, what she was thinking, he’d probably be mortified. They were acting out a scene for him to replay for Voldemort. That was all it was. What play are we enacting this time? The Passion of Christ?

Gods, she’d made a fool of herself. And now, she didn’t know what to think, or believe. Professor Snape had promised that she didn’t have to go back to Grimmauld again. But was that just another part of the game? Maybe I could ask him.

No, you’ll go to bed, and ask him at a more appropriate time, she told herself. She was still telling herself this as she threw on her cloak and headed out the door.

Severus would have known it was her from a mile away. Her absolutely unreasonable hair, fluffing out in every direction, her slightly toes-out walk (which he remembered reading somewhere was a tell-tale sign of ballet training), and her tense posture, all told him even from this distance, that Miss Granger had come to his quarters. His soft boots carried him down the hall behind her, and he made an impulsive, but potentially disastrous decision. She was still walking away from his door, and any minute now, she would turn and…

“Miss Granger?” Hermione jumped, with a little squeak, and as she spun around, her eyes widened in shock. Before Severus could react, she turned and ran so quickly, he barely had time to register her terror-paled face. “Miss Granger!” he hissed, but fear had given her wings. She flew down the hall as if the hounds of hell were after her.

Severus felt something shift from the top of his head, and he cursed silently to himself, as the heavy cowl fell from his hair. He was still in his Death Eater robes. The girl was racing down the corridor, and it would only be a few feet before she was in view of the staircase. From there, she would run straight toward the Ravenclaw Common Room, screaming that there were Death Eaters in the castle…

As she ran, she suddenly whipped out her wand, and cried, “Expecto Pat-

Impedimenta!” he shouted, and the girl was stopped so suddenly, it looked like an invisible arm had yanked her around the waist, and held her aloft. “Muffliato!” Severus called, and Hermione’s cries for help were silenced, her Patronus left unsummoned.

He ran from behind, removing the heavy robes as he ran, saying, “Miss Granger, please don’t panic. It’s me, Professor Snape.”

Suspended in midair, the young woman looked as if she was floating underwater. Her hair, which had been streaming behind her, was twisting and turning in the magic current of the spell, tangling hopelessly. As he grew near, Severus put an arm against her back, and another around her waist. He whispered, “Finite Incantatum,” and caught her neatly as the canceled spell dropped her to the floor. He steadied the frightened girl on her feet, and she turned huge, tear-filled eyes to him. He stepped back, feeling foolish and, no doubt, looking the part as well.

“I’m sorry, Miss Granger,” Severus began, and made a half-hearted gesture at his robes. “I had forgotten about these.”

The girl was shaking, and she turned her face away from him for a moment. She gasped, “I thought for a moment… I thought…”

Severus put a steadying hand on her shoulder. “Calm yourself, Miss Granger,” he said, sternly. Experience had taught him that a nearly hysterical student could be placated more with a firm voice than a soothing one. “I apologise for jinxing you, but I had to stop you, before you mistakenly alerted the entire school that we were being invaded.”

Hermione looked at him, shaking her head, then she sagged with relief. “I’m the one who should be apologizing, sir. I saw the robes, and I just panicked.” She made a little gesture of frustration. “I feel so foolish! I came down to see if you were alright, and the moment I saw you, I started running like a first-year!” She gave him a beseeching look. “How am I supposed to help Harry if I run like a fool every time I get scared?”

Severus felt a momentary stab of fierce, hot, irrational jealousy. He’d just risked his life in front of a madman for the chit, and all she could talk about was helping bloody Potter! Severus could feel the sting of betrayal, the same betrayal he’d felt when Lily chose James. It was happening again, and he had risked his neck for her! Again! Anger severed any latent feeling of tenderness or remorse. His brows lowered, and his voice sounded hard, flat and final.

“I suggest in future, Miss Granger, that you refrain from sticking your bushy head where it doesn’t belong, and perhaps you won’t find yourself running from imaginary peril. Lion, indeed!” He sneered down at her, enjoying the shocked hurt in her eyes. “You certainly won’t win points for the famous Gryffindor courage.”

He turned on his heel, not wanting to see the reaction of his words. It had hurt like fuck when he’d walked away from Lily, and felt the distance growing between them, along with her silence. He didn’t want to stick around to hear that silence again…

“Now wait just one damn minute!” Severus froze in his tracks, and slowly turned to see Hermione Granger, striding after him, her amber eyes thunderous, her wild hair almost crackling in anger. “Don’t you dare walk away from me after saying something like that!”

Stunned that a student would challenge him so vehemently, Severus whirled around and stalked back to her. “I would advise you to lower your voice and change your tone, Miss Granger. Thirty points from Gryffindor for your insolence.”

That stopped her. She never lost points for her House. For a moment, he thought he had cowed her enough, but she merely changed tack, and continued walking toward him.

“Fine. I probably deserved that.” She came close enough for him to see the sweat on her forehead, the corkscrew curls of her hair, where the Impedimenta Jinx had twisted and knotted it. She was still breathing heavily, and he waited for her to speak.

She drew herself up to full height. “You frightened the devil out of me – I came down here to see if you were alright, or if you were hurt, or needed help. And you scared me, you jinxed me, you insulted me, then you took house points away from me!”

She had worked herself up into a state, and now stood, breathing hard, staring at her professor, who was looking at her as if she were from another planet. Frustrated, Hermione raised her hand to wipe the perspiration from her forehead, only to be met with the complete tangled mess that was her hair.

She huffed. “AND you’ve tangled my hair into knots! How am I supposed to fix this?” She looked into his stony face. After a moment’s silence, she sighed. “But you are alright, aren’t you?”

Severus opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again. He was completely overwhelmed by the little witch’s impudence. He was still smarting from her remark about Harry, angry at her self-righteous outburst, and flummoxed that she’d had the cheek to stand up to him. He was the one who walked away, head held high. He was not followed. How dare she -

Amidst all the conflicting emotions, was the sudden realisation that, before he’d frightened her into her sudden dash, she’d been here because she was worried about him. After all the anger, her first words were, ‘But you are alright, aren’t you?’.

He sighed. “Come with me, Miss Granger.” He stared at her hopeless hair with growing dismay. “Perhaps I can help you, and we can discuss this little… outburst with calmer heads.” He gave her hair another glance, and shook his head, bemused.

For a moment, he thought she was going to refuse to come with him. She merely looked at him, waiting. Severus smirked, realisation dawning. “I am quite unharmed, Miss Granger. Thank you for your concern. Right now, our most pressing matter is, shall we say, a little less perilous.”

Once they had returned to his study, Severus excused himself, and took the opportunity to change back into his regular school robes. It would not do to be seen here with Miss Granger in anything other than a professional setting, no matter how much he would prefer it otherwise.

“Now,” he said, drawing his wand. “Let’s see if we can address this.” He pointed his wand at her crazed hair, made a figure-eight motion with his wand, a downward slashing movement, and intoned, “Teresdec Orocuros!”

Hermione felt his magic slide around her hair, untangling the unmanageable mess, as if being brushed by unseen hands. Her hair began to smooth and curl of its own accord, into long, luxurious ribbons. The curls slid around themselves. One slinked around her arm. Severus smirked as one daring little curl reached out and attempted to slip around his wrist, like the tendrils of an octopus.

“Cheeky,” he murmured, watching the curl insinuate a tentative grip on his wand. Hermione watched in fascination, as her hair reached to slink around her professor’s hand almost possessively. Before it could wind its way around him completely, he dropped his arm, and stepped back, studying his work.

“That’s a little better, I think, Miss Granger,” he said, a self-satisfied smirk crooking the edges of his lips.

“That’s – that’s wonderful!” Hermione laughed, watching her hair smoothing and curling, as if alive. “You’ll definitely have to teach me that one, Professor.”

“Indeed, although you may have to take a few running starts at it. Usually, if you make a downward motion of your wand, your hair will straighten. Yours, however, apparently desires to do otherwise.”

Hermione laughed, her cheeks turning pink. She pulled the searching curl back, and let it twirl around her finger. “It usually does. My mum always said my hair had a mind of its own, but I’ve never seen it manifested so literally, until now.” Her hair finally settled around her head in soft, curling waves. She smiled her thanks at her professor, and he nodded his acknowledgment.

Now that the initial terror of the evening had passed, Hermione felt drained, and completely idiotic. She’d taken one look at the menacing figure striding down the hall, and instead of assessing the situation, she’d turned tail, and ran like a first-year. He must think I truly am a dunderhead, she thought.

It was only as she was about to reach the main body of the castle, did it occur to her to conjure her Patronus, to warn the DA. She shuddered now, at the thought that she might have actually sent it. Oh Gods, what a hideous mess she’d come so close to making! She felt a bit shaken at the thought of how much damage she could have wrought.

“Miss Granger?” Hermione looked up at her professor, who had obviously asked her a question. She’d been too immersed in her own embarrassment to notice. Feeling even worse, she gulped. “Yes, sir? I’m sorry. I was – “

“Indeed,” was the rather dry reply. He looked only slightly patient. “I merely asked, would you care for tea?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, thank you, sir. I really should to return to Gryffindor Tower. I’m going to have to avoid Mr. Filch, as it is.”

“Yes. In future, Miss Granger, perhaps you could refrain from taking unnecessary risks, however well intended. While I am flattered you were concerned for my welfare, I wish to remind you that I am a fully grown wizard, and capable of taking care of myself.”

His tone sounded testy and crabbed, and Hermione felt as if she’d completely ruined the golden glow of their earlier time together. She nodded, suddenly unable to meet his eyes. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry.” She rose to leave. “Goodnight, sir. I apologise for my poor manners earlier.”

“Miss Granger, wait.” Hermione looked up into his pale face, and could have sworn she saw something… it was gone before she could categorise it, but it certainly wasn’t anger, or disappointment. It was…

Professor Snape tilted his head slightly, and, had it been anyone else, flirtatiously. Smoothly, he drawled, “Correct me if I’m wrong, Miss Granger, but you did attempt to conjure a Patronus earlier. Is that correct?”

Her face froze in uncertainty. The conflict in her face, of caution warring with the desire to show off her skills, made Severus want to laugh. He could almost see the wheels turning as she stammered, “Well, sir – Actually, I did, but – ” She turned frightened eyes up to his, and he felt a little, hard knot form in his belly. It was sweet and welcomed, but he didn’t truly understand, or trust it.

“Would you please conjure it now?” His voice could have given silk lessons. “For me?”

Again, Severus suppressed a laugh, at how her reticence disappeared, replaced by delight at the chance to show off her abilities. Immediately, she raised her wand, and after giving him an indefinable look, cried out, “Expecto Patronum!”

A bright light flashed, and from her wand sprang an otter, playful and saucy. It swam in the invisible waters of magic around Severus, watching him intently, its expression flirtatious, and inviting. With another muttered spell from Hermione, it quickly swam away into nothingness, leaving the room darker, and, to Severus’ mind, a bit bereft.

He turned to the young witch, and gave her a short nod, a look of grudging respect in his customary scowl. “Quite impressive. Very few witches your age are capable of such a fully-formed Patronus, Hermione.”

Hermione felt her stomach flutter at the sound of her name, sliding from his lips. She blushed, and ducked her head. “Thank you, sir.” Pride won over self-consciousness, and her pleasure at his praise seemed to be its own Patronus. She rewarded him with a smile, the likes of which were seldom reserved for Severus Snape. “Thank you!” she repeated, feeling absurdly pleased at his compliment.

For a moment, Severus dropped his eyes, thankful he had taken his passions to a more experienced witch tonight. The pull of this young woman was like that of a succubus to him, and he hated himself for feeling its lure. What’s more, he hated her for pulling him in, albeit innocently. He loved Lily, didn’t he?

It was time, he deduced, to put her back in place, both in her mind and his own. He continued his suave enquiry. “And, will you tell me…” He hesitated, and locked his gaze with hers. “How you learned to conjure it?”

Hermione, locked in his stare, knew she had been trapped. If she lied, he would know. If she told him the truth, her suspicions of his knowledge of the D.A. would become fact. Oh, gods, she thought. I’ve destroyed us.

“Hermione?” his voice was like chocolate, dark and intoxicating, and she shook her head, knowing what would happen next. He tilted his head, in that almost-flirtatious manner, and a smirk played about his lips. “Hermione, is there something you don’t wish to tell me?” He stepped toward her, and Hermione knew she should try to block him out. His eyes were filling her vision, large, liquid, black – mesmerizing, and draining her will…

“Come here, Hermione.”

Come. Here. Hermione. The three most seductive words in the English language, when issued from that stunning, velvet-lined throat. Hermione shook her head, even as she walked toward him. Was he casting an Imperio? Her feet moved toward him of their own accord, and she could no more stop herself, than stop breathing.

When she got close enough to touch, he gave her a sneer that was almost sensual. “Look at me,” he whispered, and she felt him enter her mind, and he moved effortlessly through her consciousness, gently probing, opening her, peeling back the walls of her resistance, like the most delicate pages of a book. He was a scent, and a flavour, and a hypnotic voice, moving within her mind…

Her fear – Death Eater!… running down the hall, feeling his spell yanking her off her feet and suspending her in the air… talking with Harry and Ron, “We should work more on shielding this week, there are still a lot of weak spots” … Draco… “Snape’s already promised we can have you when he’s through with you”…

She could feel his anger at this, and he changed within her mind, grew harder, colder, then changed again to something else, something warmer, desirable… You’re a good girl, Hermione…. oh, yes, such a good girl… touching me, Professor Snape is touching me… I like it…it feels good, forbidden, wanted…

And suddenly, she was alone again. He was gone, and she felt chilled. There was a slick taste in her mouth that had nothing to do with him in her mind, but something that had been in his mind, earlier… She was falling, her mind sizzling with the implication of what he’d seen, and now what he knew.

Strong hands gripped her arms. She heard a sob escape her throat, a sound of humiliation and fear, and suddenly, she was sitting in a huge chair, and her professor was kneeling down in front of her, apologizing.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said, his eyes bleak. He was holding her hands in a painful grip. “I shouldn’t have! I just wanted to – “

He jumped up and strode away from her, running a hand through his sweat-slicked hair. “I had no right,” he rasped, the silkiness gone from his voice. He sounded upset and angry, but not, Hermione realised, at her. This anger was self-guided. He turned to her. “Sometimes, I think I may be going mad.”

Hermione watched him carefully. “I’m frightening you, Miss Granger. I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I can’t seem to get a grip on my emotions.” He looked almost in tears. “I practically raped your mind, like one of the Marauders. I’m not like this,” he pleaded.

His eyes grew darker, angrier. “I think of Black pawing you, touching you. He knows I…” Pain snaked around him. Suddenly, a dark, liquid fire settled in his belly, and he felt his body flush with hunger. Looking at the girl, he felt a crippling desire for her. He could take her now, no one would know… He could Obliviate her afterward. He could take her over and over, feel her warm maiden’s blood splashing over his rigid cock…

“Ahh!” he cried, suddenly understanding. The soft, slimy touch of the Dark Lord… the forced kiss of his hand. The Dark Lord had given him the Votumtactus – the Dark Caress. What a fool he’d been! Hadn’t he seen Death Eaters use the spell to incite one another’s bloodlust, to enable them to prolong their stamina for a raid?

Panicking, Severus backed away from the girl. He held out his hand, as if to hold her at bay. “Miss Granger. Please listen to me. If you care anything about me, you’ll leave now. I am not well. I must go see the Headmaster.” He was almost visibly cowering. “Please, please do this for me. I promise I’ll explain, if you’ll just go now!”

Hermione looked at him, her concern warring with her fear. “Sir, should I call the Headmaster?”

“No! You can’t be seen with me now! Please!” Shaking, Severus forced himself to calm. “Miss Granger – Hermione, I have been cursed, and I don’t wish to hurt you, but I will if you stay.”

Hermione could see the anguish and fear in his dark eyes. Seeking to soothe him, she said, reassuringly, “I’m not afraid – “

“You should be! I will hurt you, witch!” His fear changed into anger, and his eyes blazed at her. “The Dark Lord knows I desire you, girl, and if you stay, I’ll take you against your will!” He drew his arms around himself, as if holding his own body in check. An almost helpless look of longing passed over his face, and his voice became intense and silvery. He took a deep breath through his large nose, and closed his eyes, ecstatically. “I can smell you, I can almost feel you – if you let me touch you, I’ll take you on the floor like a – “

Severus’ eyes flew open, and he raged, “Please leave! Can’t you see I have no control over myself?” He swallowed, panting. “I promise it will pass. Just, for the love of Merlin, girl, leave, while I still have the strength to let you go!”

Hermione nodded, and turned to leave. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I will let you know. Don’t come back until I allow it – GO!” he thundered, and almost wept with relief, when she fled from his study. Gods, he wanted her, wanted to pull her down on the floor and punch another hole in her. It would feel so good, and her cries would sound like sweet music. His thoughts began to race, and run wild and voracious in his mind, feeding on the uncontrollable lust the Dark Caress produced.

He grinned savagely. Black will never have her. I’ll howl my pleasure so loudly, he’ll hear it, slinking in his coward’s den in Grimmauld Place… She belongs to me. She is mine… I’ll take her over and over and I’ll smell her maiden’s blood and it will inflame me more and I will fuck and fuck her I’ll fuck her in front of Black and laugh as she comes on my cock I can call her back -

He actually opened his mouth to call her name, knowing she would return to him, out of sense of concern, the latent desire he’d raised. She trusted him. She believed he would protect her. He made her feelsafe

A tiny pearl of light broke through the madness, and it was small, and pure, and shaped and scented like her. He knew with certainty he’d go mad, rather than allow anyone to hurt her. He had dragged her into this. He would hide her, even from himself, if necessary.

He staggered to the fireplace, snatched a handful of Floo powder, and announced, “Headmaster’s Quarters!”

Hermione made her way quickly to Gryffindor Tower, as alarmed and frightened for her professor as she’d been at Grimmauld Place. And through her worry, and anxiety, were his words, playing over and over in her mind: The Dark Lord knows I desire you, girl…

A/N: Title and opening lyrics are from the song Gravity, by Rickie Lee Jones. The Hair Spell is dedicated to the great Sempraseverus, whose drawings of Hermione’s hair inspired Severus to create it, just for Hermione.

Five: Take Me In, Tender Woman, Sighed The Snake

…Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight
But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite.

“I saved you,” cried that woman, “And you’ve bit me even, why? You know your bite is poisonous, and now I’m going to die!”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin, “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in!”

“Take me in, oh tender woman, take me in, for heaven’s sake, Take me in, oh tender woman,” sighed the snake…

“Circe’s bird, Headmaster! What happened to the poor man?” Madam Pomfrey’s face was strained, as she looked down at the twitching, sweat-soaked Severus, held in place with magical restraints. As he writhed on the infirmary bed, he groaned and muttered, his eyes wild, his skin paper-white and waxy.

Dumbledore looked grave. “He has been the victim of a dark curse, Poppy. The poor boy wasn’t even aware of it. It only manifested itself upon his return to the castle.”

Madam Pomfrey looked down at the Potions Master. He was so pale, he seemed to glow in the moonlight streaming into the infirmary windows. “Which curse is it? Is it something you know how to counter?”

“Only time will counter it, Poppy. He’ll need to remain restrained like this for several days, possibly a week, until it works its way out of his system.”

Poppy nodded at the Headmaster. She noticed that he had not deigned to answer her question. She licked her lips, and delicately asked, “Is there a potion that I can give him to relieve his suffering?” When Dumbledore did not reply, Poppy pressed, “Albus? If you won’t tell me the curse, will you at least tell me what I can do to help him?”

Albus looked over at his Potions master, and thought for a moment more. “Votum Nexus should relieve some of the symptoms.”

Poppy looked at him in shock. “Why? Votum Nexus is a potion to induce impotency!” She made a sound of puzzled incredulity. “Besides, Albus, that takes two days to brew. It’s not exactly something I keep on hand here.” They looked together at the twitching, moaning man on the bed. Poppy shook her head. “He’ll go mad during that time.” She huffed, frustrated. “What exactly is wrong with him, Headmaster?”

Dumbledore merely looked down at Severus. Madam Pomfrey shook her head, completely nonplussed. “Albus, why are you being so reticent? How am I to help the boy, if you won’t tell me what has cursed him?”

“The curse itself is unimportant. His reaction to it is my chief concern. I may have to place him in an enchanted sleep, Poppy.” The Headmaster turned and walked toward the door. He turned back, his eyes sad and thoughtful. “Keep him as comfortable as possible, my dear. I’ll return momentarily. Professor Umbridge requires my attention.”

Severus heard the muffled sounds of the Headmaster and Poppy Pomfrey, but it was little more than a buzzing inside his head. All he could feel was heat, and a desire so voracious, it threatened to drive him mad. He thought of her… The desire to take her was so overpowering, it was painful. When he stumbled into the Headmaster’s study, he was ready to tear the school apart to get to her.

He had no doubt in his mind that he would have hunted her down and taken her where he found her, were it not for the powerful restraints that bound him to his bed. His body ached for her, his Muse, his charge, his lover. It twisted his allegiance to Lily; it diluted his pure love and devotion to his friend. He fought against it, but every time he tried to picture Lily, her image would disperse in a puff of smoke, to be replaced by -

He could see her… she would kneel at his feet, and her mouth would take him to heaven, sliding over his turgid, straining cock as he tangled his hands in her wild hair… she would rub against him wantonly, allowing him to fuck her in a thousand ways… if she wanted to conjure a cock of her own and bugger him, he would let her. He would let her make him her slave… he could hear her, smell her, feel her… she was his goddess, his mistress, his succubus, his lover. She would hide him away, where no one could see them…

No, she was not his lover! He didn’t love her. You don’t love what you want to crush and demean and fuck and rape and hurt… He whimpered. She’s a bloody student! I do not desire students!

Please don’t let me hurt her! he thought, praying to those cold, indifferent gods again. He honestly did not know why he bothered to beseech them. She was his goddess now. She was the only one who could give him what he needed to remain sane.

He could see her face, sharp with intelligence, and tender with compassion. She thought he was a good man.

He’d show her! Oh, Lily, why have I been made to suffer so? When will my peace come? When can I rest? Tears slid from his eyes, and he wept. Oh, I want to die so much… Oh, I want her so much…

The Dark Caress burned and twisted painfully through his system, threatening to reduce him to a sobbing, tortured wreck. Gods, I can’t take this! The Dark Caress was at its peak now, riding him like a whipped horse, heedless of direction or destination. The humiliation he felt was crippling, like a Crucio that caused an indeflatable erection, mindless and consciousless, except for its target.

He was no longer a man; he was a driven machine, one that would chase her relentlessly until he had emptied every last part of himself into her, body and soul. That’s all he wanted right now. He wanted it more than anything. More than his acceptance letter from Hogwarts, more than his first wand, more than his first set of fine dress robes.

More than Lily.

He wished he had his wand. He’d kill himself. It could only bring relief. The Killing Curse would be cold, as if stored in a block of ice… Yes, the Avada would feel like ice, cooling his fevered brain, as it sliced his body apart and he slipped away… Hermione? Where are you? Take me away, please… where no one can see me, no one can find me, where no one can hurt me… don’t let them hurt me anymore… If you could just hold me again, I would be safe…

I have never lusted after a student. I’m not one of those shabby little perverts who… oh, gods, I am, I am! Oh, why has this wild-haired little swot of a girl done this to me?

He did not know that he wept in his fevered sleep, or that the Headmaster had heard his pleas for help, or that, deep in her sleep, Hermione had heard him as well, and had woken, frantic, frightened, longing for the arms of someone to hold her, and hide her away. She had tears on her pillow, and a feeling of complete and inconsolable desolation that caused her to sob unaccountably for almost an hour.

She had a guilty feeling that she’d called a name in her sleep.

By the following Monday, Hermione was almost frantic with worry over her professor. Potions class had been taught by Professor Sprout, with the explanation that Professor Snape was feeling under the weather, and would return in the next day or so. No one except for Hermione seemed to mind that their Potions Master wasn’t present. Draco had been so insufferably smug she’d wanted to smack him, but she kept her own council.

After dinner, Hermione sat in the Common Room, pretending to study, but in reality she was reviewing the events of the previous weekend. Had it really been just three days ago that she’d been asked to stay behind in class to speak with Professor Snape? It seemed like she’d lived a lifetime since then. Her strange, hot dreams returned. She ran aimlessly, looking for Professor Snape, not knowing why, only that they could protect each other. She seldom found him, and when she did, their liaisons were so intense, she was afraid she might be moaning in her sleep; she tried to stay awake until everyone else was asleep.

She found herself desperately wishing she were older, or at least, wiser. She was already looking forward to the Easter holidays; she needed to talk with her mother. Mum always had a gift for putting these kinds of things into perspective.

Later in the evening, when she heard Professor McGonagall’s voice in the Gryffindor common room, Hermione knew instinctively the woman was coming to speak to her. There was no doubt in her mind, and before the older witch walked into the room and said, “Beg pardon for the interruption, but I wonder, Miss Granger, if I might have a word?” Hermione was already drawing her school robes over her t-shirt and denims.

Together, she and Professor McGonagall left Gryffindor tower, disturbing a mumbling, none-too-sober Fat Lady, who’d been having a nightcap with one of the witches from the Macbeth portrait. Hermione and her Head of House headed toward the infirmary.

As they walked, Hermione glanced at Professor McGonagall from time to time. For someone who wished to have a word with Hermione, the professor didn’t seem to be in a very big hurry to do it. Finally, as they walked, Hermione plucked up the courage to ask, “Professor? Could you tell me what this is about?” Her voice sounded ridiculously loud in the empty hall, and Professor McGonagall continued walking.

“The Headmaster will be able to explain things better than I, Miss Granger,” she said, fixing Hermione with a look that made her feel absurdly guilty. “I will rely on your discretion on these matters, especially with Professor Umbridge and her Inquisition Squad skulking about.”

Shocked that her professor would say anything negative about another faculty member, Hermione nodded. “Yes, of course, Professor.”

They entered the quiet infirmary, and something of the stark, clinical look of the long rows of beds made Hermione’s heart beat faster. It was as if the walls of the ward held old memories. It felt as though spirit chalices of anxiety and distress hung from the walls of the room. Hermione realised she felt like this in every hospital she’d ever visited.

“Wait here, Miss Granger. The Headmaster will join you shortly.” With those words, Professor McGonagall gave Hermione a brief smile, and left her alone with her thoughts.

Hermione was standing at the end of the main ward, beside a door she had never noticed in all the times either she, Harry or Ron had ended up in the infirmary. Instinctively, she opened the door and looked inside. There was one patient there.

As if being led by an unseen hand, Hermione drew near to the figure on the bed. She was shocked to see Professor Snape lying on the narrow cot. He looked painfully vulnerable, in his sleeping shirt, his body covered in sweat, restlessly moving on the bed.

Tentatively, she stepped closer. There was a small basin of water on the table beside his bed, and almost automatically, she dipped a towel into the water, squeezed out the excess, and placed the damp cloth on his forehead. He whimpered in his sleep, and at the touch of the cool compress against his skin, he gave a little sigh, and opened his eyes. They were bloodshot and unfocused.

“Miss Granger?” he whispered. Wordlessly, she nodded. He closed his eyes, and Hermione felt sick with pity. He looked so helpless. Every time he was called to that madman, he had to suffer.

Her professor coughed, a sharp bark of a noise. “Am I dreaming?”

“No, sir. If you’ll remember, you felt unwell and asked me to leave, but Professor McGonagall brought me here tonight. The Headmaster – “

“Listen to me!” His eyes were frantic, and he seemed to radiate heat. Hermione was starting to think he was delirious. “I need to speak with you, Miss Granger. You must help me.”

“Of course, sir. Tell me what to do.” Hermione leaned over, her troubled eyes gazing into his. He gave another of his short, sharp barking coughs. He closed his eyes, tightly, as if bracing himself for something unpleasant.

“So innocent. You are, aren’t you? Such an innocent little girl,” he murmured, and Hermione’s breath caught. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. Her heart ached for him.

“I don’t understand, Professor. Please try to rest. Don’t distress yourself. You’re not well.”

Tears ran unchecked down her face, and when he opened his eyes, he frowned. “Why are you crying, Miss Granger?” His expression changed, became more knowing, sly. “Are you crying for me?”

She nodded. “You shouldn’t have to suffer like this,” she whispered, fearfully looking around, in case someone entered the room. “I’m sorry. This is my fault.”

He licked his lips, and she poured a glass of water, and holding the back of his damp head, Hermione carefully put the glass to his lips. He drank it thirstily. Once his thirst was slaked, he collapsed back on the bed, his eyes a little clearer. “Your fault? Hardly, Miss Granger. I brought it on myself.”

“What do you mean?”

He tried to rise, and that’s when he must have realised he was restrained. “I would tell you, but I can’t while I’m tied down.” His eyes drifted out of focus, and a look of pain flashed across his face. He moaned, and again, Hermione’s heart broke for him.

He turned to her, as if he remembered something important he needed to tell her. “Miss Granger, listen to me….”

She leaned in, closer. “Yes, sir?”

He smiled. “Closer, Hermione.” There was a bright glint in his eye that didn’t look real to her, as if he was a glamour. His voice was so tender, and when he spoke her name, it sounded like music, even through his tortured throat.

Obediently, she leaned down. As she looked into his deep, liquid eyes, he made a soft, little moaning sound. “Oh, Hermione.” She felt her body tremble; and she leaned in closer to him, her body aching with this indefinable, overwhelming need for… what?

He shook his head, a soft smile playing about his lips. Sleepy-eyed and languid, he crooned, “Lay me low, where no one can see us, where no one can find us, where no one can hurt us…” His eyes were pleading, beautiful. The eyes of a lover. They were, at once, innocent and knowing, dark and light, gentle and wild.

Hermione gasped in surprise, as the words he had spoken in her dream came back to her. “What – where did you –”

He collapsed back on the bed as the Headmaster entered the room. Hermione guiltily stepped back from his bed; she felt as if she’d been caught sitting in his lap.

She turned to Dumbledore. “Headmaster! What has happened to him?” She looked down at her professor, concern darkening her eyes.

Dumbledore looked grave. His eyes followed hers down to the sleeping wizard. “Professor Snape has been cursed.” He looked at her carefully. “Miss Granger, I need to ask you some questions, and I need you to be very honest with your answers.”

Irrationally, Hermione’s feeling of guilt increased. “Of course, sir.” Although her voice sounded confident, she found it difficult to meet his eyes.

For a moment, Dumbledore seemed content to keep his gaze on his Potions master. Without taking his eyes off the man on the bed, the Headmaster asked, “Miss Granger, were you in Professor Snape’s presence at anytime on the evening after he returned from his… meeting?”

Hermione hesitated. Dumbledore put an assuring hand on her arm. “Please understand, Miss Granger. You are not in trouble, I merely need to ascertain if Professor Snape made contact with anyone after his time with… ” The Headmaster gave her a significant look, and Hermione dropped her eyes.

“Well, sir, I did see him for a short amount of time.” She blushed. “I was worried about him. After the last time…”

A low moan made the two of them turn to the man on the infirmary bed. He twisted and turned on the sweat-soaked bed. Hermione turned troubled eyes on her Headmaster. “Sir, isn’t there anything you can do for him? He seems to be in agony!”

“If his present course of treatment doesn’t bring him peace, I will put him in an enchanted sleep, Miss Granger. He’ll be able to rest easy then.” Dumbledore gave her a piercing look. “You must tell me, Miss Granger. Did Professor Snape do or say anything, that seemed… inappropriate?”

Hermione stared at the Headmaster, shocked. Once again, she got the feeling that, whatever the Headmaster’s agenda, it didn’t include making his Potions master comfortable, or ease his suffering. “No, sir! He didn’t seem quite himself, but he was a perfect gentleman!”

Dumbledore patted her shoulder again. “I never doubted it, Miss Granger. Now, you may return to your Tower.” He turned away from her, and Hermione realised she was being dismissed again. Emboldened, she remained.

“Sir?” Dumbledore turned back to her, expectantly. She blushed again. “Could I help? I mean, he looks so helpless, and he’s been so protective of me. Please?”

The Headmaster glanced up at Hermione. She was looking down at Severus with a mixture of concern and compassion, and her young heart was showing in her face. Whatever Severus Snape had ever done to this child, she undoubtedly cared for him. So she is the target, the Headmaster thought.

Dumbledore reached over the professor’s body to Hermione. “Your wand hand, Miss Granger.”

Silently, Hermione held out her right hand, and the Headmaster gently grasped her wrist, turned her hand palm face down, and laid her palm over her professor’s heart. His body was shockingly hot.

Professor Snape jumped, as if he’d received an electrical shock. Then, his body relaxed, and a look of profound relief spread across his face. He made a soft sigh, and he settled into a deep, peaceful sleep.

“Fascinating,” Dumbledore said, and released Hermione’s hand. He muttered a spell that Hermione did not hear properly or understand. Professor Snape slept easily, and his entire body grew still and quiet. The only sound in the room was his soft, deep, not-quite-snoring breathing.

“You may remove your hand, Miss Granger,” Professor Dumbledore said, startling Hermione out of her reverie. She found herself loath to take her hand away from the warm, moving chest of her professor. It felt right, to stand there, touching him. However, she knew she needed, for propriety’s sake, if nothing else, to move away from the sleeping man.

Finally, as if in slow motion, Hermione took her hand away from her professor’s body, and was surprised to see her fingers tremble. She looked up at the Headmaster, a look of complete bafflement on her face.

“It is apparent that you have some feelings for Professor Snape, Miss Granger.” He cocked a stern eye at her. “I must ask you if your feelings are entirely suitable.”

Stunned, Hermione felt her temper rising. How bloody DARE he say such a thing? “Sir, I can assure you that my feelings for Professor Snape are the feelings that any student would have for a teacher they admire – deep concern and esteem. With all due respect, I find your insinuations insulting, sir.”

Dumbledore turned to Hermione, a mixture of concern and warning in his eyes. “Miss Granger. You are dealing with a man who must risk his very life for our cause.” With a sweeping gesture toward Professor Snape, he continued, “To distract him is to make him vulnerable to this sort of treatment on a regular basis. He is under tremendous pressure.”

Hermione listened quietly, feeling her blood heating to the boiling point. Up to now, she had always admired, almost revered Hogwarts’ Headmaster. Now, she did not like what she saw when she looked into his eyes. Eyes that witnessed her anxiety about Sirius, and dismissed it; that had watched Professor Snape suffer, and looked elsewhere; had regarded Harry’s frustration over so many matters regarding Voldemort, and had not explained himself. And now, he was telling her to leave alone the one person who needed them both the most.

Through gritted teeth, she answered, “Professor Snape is under tremendous pressure because you bid him to prostrate himself before a madman in the name of your cause. I don’t see evidence of your concern, other than how to use him for your best advantage.

“If I am a distraction, sir, then I will find a way to use that to his best advantage. Professor Snape has never done anything or said anything inappropriate, but I cannot say the same for you, sir!”

“Miss Granger, I must warn you – this is not the time – “

“Then when is a good time for you to listen to the fact that the only person making inappropriate statements or gestures to me is Harry’s godfather? You were only too ready to believe the worst of Professor Snape, but you all but accuse me of lying about the unwelcome advances of Sirius Black? You are more prejudiced than You-Know-Who!”

Hermione raised her head defiantly. “I will be by tomorrow evening to see after Professor Snape’s health, sir. Until then, I bid you goodnight.”

She turned on her heel and stalked away, shaking, gulping for air. When she reached the door, she fled.

Dumbledore turned to his master spy, lying helpless and pitiful on the infirmary cot. His eyes were thoughtful. “She has all but sworn allegiance to you, Severus,” he said softly, to the sleeping form. “And you are sworn to protect Lily’s son. She will be a formidable ally in preparing Harry, if you will but only treat her as such.”

He sighed heavily. “And if you will not repay her infatuation with one of your own.”

After a more-or-less sleepless night, Hermione spent the next day in a haze of exhaustion, wondering how to convince her friends to leave her alone with her thoughts. Ron was nagging her to help him with his Charms essay, which actually meant he wanted her to write his Charms essay. She finally plucked the messy parchment from his hands with an irritated, “If I do this, will you please leave me alone?”

“You’re a star, ‘Mione! Thanks!” Ron said, then proceeded to ask Harry and Neville to join him in a game of Exploding Snap.

“The last time, I swear,” she muttered under her breath, as she jotted down the salient points on Ron’s parchment.

As she looked over Ron’s hopeless essay, Harry approached her quietly. “Hogsmeade, this weekend.” He dropped his voice conspiratorially. “Sirius is sneaking out of Grimmauld to meet us in the Shrieking Shack. I promised him we’d get him some chocolates from Honeyduks.”

Hermione felt a sickness pooling in the pit of her stomach. She gave Harry what she hoped was an apologetic smile. “Actually, I wasn’t planning on going to Hogsmeade this weekend.” She gave a little shrug. “I’ve got a mountain of work to do.”

Both Ron and Harry began to protest. “C’mon, Hermione – “

“All work and no play – “

“You can’t miss Sirius. He wants to see us.”

Hermione rose. “Look, I’ll try, okay? Now, I have to go to the Library.” Before either boy could respond, Hermione was heading out the door of the common room.

As she stormed down the hall, she heard the sound of someone calling her name behind her.

“Hermione – wait up!” She turned to see Harry running to catch up with her. He fell into step.

“Hermione, is anything wrong?”

She turned and looked at him shortly. “What do you mean?”

Harry caught her arm, and pulled her to a stop. “Hermione, we’ve known each other for a long time.” His expression was earnest. “I know something’s wrong. Can’t you tell me?”

Hermione looked into his tired eyes. This had been a hideous year for Harry. He’d spent a huge part of it being accused of lying about Voldemort’s return. He’d been tortured by Dolores Umbridge, denied the chance to play Quidditch, and forced to take a large group of students in hand to teach them defense.

In an attempt to prevent Lord Voldemort from looking into his mind and discovering the plans of the newly reformed Order, he had tried, and failed, to learn Occlumency. Harry had so few joys in his life, and Sirius was one of them. Hermione realised she simply could not tell him what Sirius was doing. She would have to protect herself as much as she could. Professor Snape or no, she had to learn to take care of herself – after all, what was the DA about, if not learning to protect yourself?

So she smiled, and tried to put her friend at ease. “Nothing’s wrong, Harry. I’m worried about my O.W.L.s, not to mention Umbridge’s goon squad trying to shut us down at every opportunity.” She gave him a little hug. “I’m going to do a little solitary studying in the Library. I’ll be back later, okay?”

Harry gave her a quiet, contemplative look, and Hermione knew then he didn’t really believe her. “Sure, Hermione. But give Hogsmeade some thought, yeah? You could really use the break.”

She smiled. “What time?” she asked in a tone of resignation, but she kept her voice light. Harry returned her smile.

“He’s going to meet us there around three o’clock. He’s going stir crazy over at Grimmauld.” He looked hopeful. “So you’ll come?”

“I’ll think about it, okay?”

With a nod, Harry turned and headed back to the Common Room, leaving Hermione to continue her journey alone.

The infirmary was quiet, as Hermione slipped into the large ward. Madam Pomfrey was nowhere to be seen, and Hermione walked rather hurriedly to the private ward that held her professor. Her footsteps sounded unnaturally loud on the stone floor, and she felt like a fugitive, stealing into the room, long past visiting hours. She already had an excuse ready should Madam Pomfrey appear –

“Miss Granger! What are you doing skulking around the infirmary? It’s almost curfew!” The mediwitch’s voice was pitched low, but Hermione jumped like a scalded cat nevertheless.

She whirled around and put on a bright, false smile. “Madam Pomfrey! You startled me!” She took a deep breath.

The older woman put her hands on her hips. Narrowing her eyes, she retorted, “I may remind you, Miss Granger, you’re the one sneaking around – I believe I’m the one who’s supposed to be startled!”

“Yes, Madam Pomfrey,” Hermione replied, meekly. Trying to remember her cover story, she smiled uncertainly. “You see, I’m feeling a little bit – well, it’s sort of embarrassing, but –” She gulped and tried again, growing flustered at the mediwitch’s increasingly disbelieving expression. “Ginny Weasley is feeling a bit under – that is, she’s not – “

Madam Pomfrey huffed, and something like a smile played about her lips. “Honestly, Miss Granger! You may be the smartest little witch in this school, but you are the worst liar I’ve ever met.” Her expression softened, and she gave the door a quick glance. “If you wish to see Professor Snape, why didn’t you just say so?”

Hermione, gobsmacked, stammered, “I – I didn’t think you’d allow it.”

Madam Pomfrey sniffed. “Well, normally, I wouldn’t. It’s highly irregular, you know.” She sighed, and gave Hermione a pitying look. “But just between you and me, my dear, I’m not entirely happy with the Headmaster at the moment. He’s making me work with my wand hand tied behind my back on this.”

Hermione visibly sagged. “I know! Professor Snape was in so much pain when I came in, and the Headmaster just seemed so, oh, I don’t know, reluctant to help him.”

The older witch nodded. “I never wish to speak ill of Professor Dumbledore, but his behaviour has me puzzled.” She looked at Hermione appreciatively. “I saw how Professor Snape reacted to you. You have a knack for healing. A witch doesn’t have to earn a degree from St. Mungo’s to be a natural Healer.”

Madam Pomfrey straightened, and nodded to herself, as if she’d just made an important decision. “He’s been very restless, even in his sleep.” She gestured. “Come, child. Perhaps you can help where I cannot.”

Hermione wordlessly followed Madam Pomfrey into the private ward, and together they approached the bed of her professor. In the soft moonlight, he looked like marble, if marble could frown and scowl and move, as if unable to get comfortable.

Softly, Madam Pomfrey leaned down and smoothed his hair from his forehead, in an unconscious imitation of the Headmaster. It was a tender gesture of affection, as if he were a small boy. “He’s just so uncomfortable. Professor Dumbledore is having the necessary potion made for him, but until then…” the mediwitch sighed, and gave a little shrug. Hermione understood. It was hard, watching him suffer. Her mind went back to Grimmauld, on the night this all began, and the pain and humiliation she’d been witness to. All she’d wanted to do was to make him feel better, to give him some comfort.

Hermione pulled up a chair and sat down beside her professor’s bed. Without thought, she laid her hand over his heart, as she had done with the Headmaster, and Professor Snape’s shoulders relaxed, and he sighed in his sleep. It was a pitiful sound that tugged at the hearts of the two women. They looked across his still form at each other.

The mediwitch sighed. “He has suffered so much. He never complains, never says anything. But oh, sometimes he cries, Miss Granger. He doesn’t even realise it.” The older woman gazed at the wizard. “He’s very proud. It would trouble him to know we were fussing over him like this.”

A silvery Patronus, in the shape of a badger, appeared in the room with them, and the two women turned from Professor Snape to watch it. It opened its mouth and Professor Sprout’s voice said, “Poppy, I’ve had a little accident with one of my flowering Crown of Thorns plants, and I’m in a bit of a snare here! Can you come down and bring some Essence of Dittany?”

Madam Pomfrey sighed. “The woman is going to be the death of me! Her plants cause more injuries than the Quidditch pitch any day.” She looked uncertainly at the sleeping man, then back to Hermione. “Well, I suppose leaving you here won’t hurt, and you do seem to be able to comfort him.” She gave Hermione a smile. “I’ll be back in two ticks.”

And just like that, Hermione was alone with her professor, for the second time.

Six: Love’s Got A Lot To Answer For

That little white lie you’ve been couchin’ seems to be the last straw. Now there’s going to be an eruption,
Love’s got a lot to answer for

That crack you made only half jokin’, has poured salt on his soul. And if there must be retribution,
Love’s got a lot to answer for

It’s not the same as infatuation, it comes from deeper down, it won’t be played about with, it won’t be pushed around, I could have told you what’s in store;

Love’s got a lot to answer for…

Severus had only pretended to be asleep when Hermione and Poppy entered his room. Inwardly, he wanted to cringe as Poppy confided to the girl about his condition, but he found himself too strung-out to care.

The Dark Caress sizzled and burned under his skin, especially around the Dark Mark. There, the tattoo itched and scorched, inflaming his mind and overloading his brain with intense signals from Miss Granger. It heightened his senses to a blinding peak. He could smell her scent; the soft smell of her soap, the even more enticing aroma of her body. She smelled warm and tangy and so delicious he wanted to…

No. Don’t think it, because the thought will start running around in your mind until all you can do is think about it. But she smells so delightful, and she would taste like nectar… all innocent and new and oh, she would respond to my touch as wondrously as I would to hers… Touch me, Hermione…

He tried to tell himself it was the curse alone that made her so irresistible. But she had touched him, long before the curse had been cast. He was a fool if he believed that, once the curse dissipated, his feelings for her would return to that of a teacher for his student. You make me feel safe, Professor. When would he feel safe? I don’t lust after students. She was another burden to add to his growing list; first Lily, then…

When Poppy left the room, he decided he would try to salvage some sort of future for himself out of this situation. Barring that, something he could show the Dark Lord, so that his Master would not feel the curse had been given in vain. To a Death Eater, the Dark Caress was a prized gift from their Lord and Master. It would not do to show a lack of gratitude.

“Miss Granger?”

Hermione looked up, and saw her professor watching her, his expression one of puzzlement and pain. “Why are you here? Where is Madam Pomfrey?”

Hermione smiled, and pressed a cool hand against his forehead. Magic could do much, but the human touch was equally as powerful. “Madam Pomfrey was called away, so I’m afraid I’m the last biscuit in the tin again.” She said it lightly, but in reality, her heart was pounding. Just being this close to him gave her such a feeling of conflict.

Even lying here, helpless, he was fascinating. His hair was tangled and oily, he was disheveled and sweaty, and yet she found herself feeling drawn to him. Riding fast behind her increasingly baffling attraction to him was her fear for his health, which drove her desire away with one guilty wave of its hand.

Professor Snape looked at her, his eyes squinting in the light. He looked so pale and fragile; it was strange hearing such a lovely deep voice, coming from his wasted frame. “Miss Granger, it’s not safe for you to be alone with me.”

Hermione smiled. “Sir, you are as weak as a kitten. And, in case you’d forgotten, you are restrained.”

Her professor struggled briefly against his bonds. Without looking at her, he replied, “Do not presume to feel safe, Miss Granger. Restraints can be broken.”

“I’m not afraid.” She looked into his liquid, dark eyes with conviction. “I know you’re the last wizard on earth who would hurt me.”

He looked at her for a long time, and closed his eyes. Even with the curse scoring grooves of lust and aggression into his tired mind, he felt the most un-Slytherin-like compulsion to tell the truth. “I don’t want to hurt you, lass.” He looked at her. “I would never hurt you willingly. But there may come a time when I have no say in the matter.” He dared to look into her soft, amber eyes. They were troubled, and troubling.

Hermione shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand what’s going on. The Headmaster won’t even tell Madam Pomfrey.”

Professor Snape snorted. “No, I suppose he wouldn’t.” He stole a glance at her. She looked so innocent, so good… so willing. “Miss Granger, I’ve been given the Dark Caress, and you are my target.”

She stared at him for a moment. He could almost see her mental gears grinding together, trying to find some memorized reference on the subject. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that is. What does it mean?”

“The Dark Caress is a curse created by the Dark Lord. It was given to Death Eaters to increase their strength, as well as their courage. In the early days, the newly initiated Death Eaters were given the caress before they went on Muggle raids. To the witch or wizard cursed, it fills them with desire to control and dominate their target. As the Death Eaters became more jaded and corrupt and depraved, they used it to enhance… sensations at the Dark revels.

“Most of us have a moral code that we will not break. The Dark Caress obliterates that moral code. It gives the cursed one a feeling that they have the right to do or say anything they desire.”

In spite of his weakness, Professor Snape coloured slightly, and grimaced. “Now, it is primarily used to lower inhibitions of both the cursed and the target.”

“And a Death Eater cursed you so that I would be your target?”

“No, Miss Granger. The Dark Lord himself cursed me.” His tone was as bitter as gall. “It’s like some grisly party favour to him. He knows I don’t…” Hermione’s professor pressed his lips together in a thin line. “I do not think of students in this manner. He was giving me permission to lose control with you.” His sighed, in frustration. “I have brought this on myself. I apologise that you are affected by my weakness.”

Hermione watched him carefully. She felt slightly ill. “Oh, Professor. I’m so sorry.” She swallowed. “It’s my fault; I caused this.” At her declaration, Professor Snape looked at her thoughtfully. “If you hadn’t been thinking about Sirius and me, the Dark Lord wouldn’t have seen me, and you wouldn’t be here.” A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she brushed it away impatiently. “I’m sorry. My emotions are getting the better of me.”

“It is part of the curse, Hermione.” His voice was molten, dark. Yes, that’s right. Let her believe the Dark Lord discovered her. How would she feel if she knew you betrayed her to him?

“It is a transference curse. The target of the curse feels the dark pull as well. That is why you must stay away from me. I can almost control myself if you are not physically so near. My emotions, my desires, my needs will reflect in you, and yours in me.” He paused, and looked away. “You are the reason I am restrained.”

A small, dark voice buzzed in his head, taking over and pushing truth beneath the desire to entice her, to intensify her feelings of protectiveness and care. “It is why the curse is so hard to break. It will fade in time, but it will not go completely away. Both parties become willing subjects to it until it is broken.”

Hermione felt herself go cold for a moment. She was deathly afraid to ask the question, and yet, she already felt she knew the answer. She looked down into his dark, fathomless eyes, and something like his usual smirk passed across his face for a fleeting moment.

“The wheels are turning so fast I can hear them, Miss Granger.” His eyes burned into hers, then he turned and looked at the ceiling. “Ask.”

Hermione swallowed. With a mouth as dry as dust, she asked, “How is it broken, sir?” He was quiet for so long, she thought he would refuse to answer.

Go on, lie! the curse insisted. He resisted as long as he could, but the Dark Caress was still too fresh, too swift, still running too hard in his veins. He turned to look at her again. “How do you think, Miss Granger?” He gave her a look of pure hunger.


Hermione felt her body flush. She could actually feel heat radiate from her chest, up into her face, and down into her groin. She stood very still, trying to master her thoughts, unable to meet his eyes, afraid that he would look into her mind and see them.

Severus cursed himself silently for the blatant lie. The curse would wear itself out after a few days, but it still compelled him to lie, to do whatever it took for her to come to him. It was a curse of subterfuge and manipulation. He tried to correct himself, and opened his mouth, but the curse would not let him speak. He lay back on his pillow with a growl of annoyance. Half-truth was about the best he could manage.

Fighting every instinct, he ground out, “The curse can be controlled. I have sworn to protect you from Black, Miss Granger. I will not have you swap one predator for another.”

Hermione shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir. I – I don’t know what to say. I’m not – ” She felt a little queasy at the thought of saying this to anyone, much less Professor Snape. “I’m not … experienced.”

For a moment, he, too, was quiet, and Hermione realised he was as embarrassed as she. Somewhere in her mind, she wondered just how much experience he could boast of having.

Quietly, he replied, “That scarcely has any bearing on the situation, Miss Granger. Left unchecked, it wouldn’t matter.” He, too, was having trouble meeting her eyes. “Nothing would stop me from taking… From taking what I want. And, I’m afraid, Miss Granger…”

He met her gaze. She could see him struggling to remain in control. “Of what, sir?”

He spoke as if he hadn’t heard her. “That is the way the curse works. It is an insatiable hunger that must be fed.”

Hermione persisted, “Professor? What exactly are you afraid of?” She felt herself growing hot, then cold, the same way she had in his office, when he’d stroked her cheek, and called her his good girl. “What are you afraid of?” she asked again, her voice husky.

He turned his head, and his onyx eyes met hers. They glowed like wet coal. With a slight smile of pure sensuality, he purred, “I’m afraid you’ll let me, Hermione.”

She was in over her head. She knew it now. There was that feeling of being totally inadequate, that she so often felt in his presence. She wasn’t mature enough to handle this, and knew she’d better get mature pretty quick, or this whole thing would engulf them under the tidal wave this whole situation had become.

She took a deep breath, and bit her lip. Now was the time for Gryffindor bluntness, not Slytherin guile. “I am attracted to you.” The instant the words left her mouth, she wanted to pull them back in again. Any moment, he would be chiding her for her clumsy Gryffindor candor.

Instead, he replied, almost mildly, “That is the curse. Once I’ve touched you, it is ignited – “


He frowned, irritated at the interruption. She held his gaze, and shook her head.

“No. I was… before.”

He merely stared, his eyes hooded and unreadable. She flushed again. “I felt this way before you were summoned. Maybe even before that. The curse has nothing to do with it.”

He shook his head. “You merely think you are attracted to me.” Don’t hope! Don’t think! Don’t feel, you fool!

“What is the difference in thinking and being?” she challenged.

He scowled. Even flat on his back, it was an intimidating frown. “May I remind you, lass, I’m a Death Eater, a spy, and almost twenty years older than you?”

Hermione stood her ground. “May I remind you that I knew all of this before? That you have always protected me and my friends? That you confessed to me that you cared about me? Before you were cursed? That your feelings for me have changed from a student to… something else?” She pressed on, blundering blindly, feeling her way through this awkward, intense tennis match played with words.

Professor Snape huffed and thumped his head down on the pillow. “My feelings are immaterial. I’ve learned that the hard way.”

“They aren’t if they – they aren’t.” Impulsively, Hermione put her hand over his. He calmed slightly. His eyes closed, and he lost some of the rigid stiffness in his limbs. Gently, Hermione asked, “Does it feel better when I touch you?”

He sighed. “Initially, yes.” There was a faint line between his sensitive brows. “But it will become torture until we – ” He turned away.

“Please, sir,” she said, and impulsively stroked his forehead. He sighed softly. He tried to move away, but the bonds held him in place. “Tell me to stop touching you because you don’t want it, and I will stop. But tell me the truth, so I can at least try to make you feel more comfortable.” She sighed. “Please tell me how I can help you.”

Professor Snape turned and looked at her. Her eyes were full of compassion, and pity, and it made him feel sick with guilt. He had promised to protect her. He’d just spent the last ten minutes manipulating her into almost climbing into bed with him.

A few more soft groans of pain, a pleading look, a softly worded request, and she’d be straddling him, doing whatever she could to ‘make him feel more comfortable.’ Oh, gods, he’d let her. He didn’t care if Dumbledore and Pomfrey and McGonagall and the entire fucking staff walked in on them, he wouldn’t let her stop until they were both – Oh, fuck it all!

“Don’t be so kind to me, Miss Granger. I do not deserve it.” He spat the bitter truth of his words, and he wanted to die. This was another sort of humiliation, an almost unbearable one.

Hermione shook her head. “I don’t understand you. Why shouldn’t I show kindness to someone who has helped me?”

He looked at her. His voice hardened, lost its pearly luster. “Do you have no memory? I have treated you abominably over the years. I’ve insulted you, ridiculed you, scorned you – “

“I know,” she said, quietly. She smiled ruefully. “And there were times when you hurt me terribly.” She took a deep breath. “But you’re just going to have to get used to the fact that I forgive you for it.”

“Do you know what they call you?” He tried to pour as much vitriol into his voice as possible. He sneered, “You’re a popular subject of conversation amongst the Death Eaters.” He gave her an appraising look through narrowed eyes. “They call you my little Mudblood whore.”

She grew very still. She looked at him with great dignity. “Is that what you call me? Not there, I know you have to join in. But in here?” She touched his forehead. “Is that what you me to yourself?”

Severus sighed. She may be almost twenty years his junior, but she outstripped him in sheer courage and strength and yes, even maturity. She was finer made. He looked into her eyes and saw hope behind the expectant expression. If he said yes, she would know he was lying. He somehow knew it.

“No.” He looked at her, and there was such conflict in his face. “I truly don’t understand you.” He watched her carefully, the relief flitting across her face. He would have to teach her to hide her emotions better. That would be their first task. Softly, he said, “You’re a maddening witch, lass.”

His words made her skin tingle pleasantly. Even now, his voice had the ability to cajole and bewitch; to make an insult sound like a caress.

To his surprise, she suddenly grinned mischievously. “I know. The sad part of it is, it seems to be one of my most attractive traits.”

Severus looked at her thoughtfully for several minutes. There was tenderness in her gaze, and absolute trust. He took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. Finally, he said, “Miss Granger, take out your wand.” When she hesitated, he said, “I’m not going to try to talk you into releasing me. The Headmaster’s spell can’t be reversed, anyway.”

Hermione, slightly hesitant, said, “But you could, couldn’t you? The curse… You could make me do things against my will, couldn’t you?”

His gaze followed the moon shining though the window, as if to avoid looking at her. He finally turned to her and gave her a look of pure shame. “Not after we do this.”

With his head, he gestured down toward his right hand, and turned it, palm upward. “Miss Granger, draw a mark across my palm with your wand. As you do, incant ‘Tergum Lubricus’.”

He waited patiently while Hermione obeyed him, drawing the tip of her wand across his hand. She gasped, as a line of blood beaded across his palm. She looked up at his face, her own frightened.

He was slightly breathless. “Now, do the same for yourself. It won’t hurt.”

When she hesitated, Professor Snape barked, “Hurry up, girl! If you are so eager to trust me, you must trust me completely!”

With an unsteady hand, Hermione drew the tip of her wand over her palm. “Tergum Lubricus.” It was more like a feeling of heat being laid across her palm, and soon the blood began to pool in her hand.

“Good.” She looked up and saw Professor Snape watching her intently. “Now place your hand in mine, Miss Granger. Our blood must mingle.”

“Are we doing blood magic? isn’t that part of the Dark Arts?”

Snape sneered. “Intent, Miss Granger. Surely you remember your DADA notes: Intent is the difference between the dark and light. Hurry now, Madam Pomfrey will return any minute.”

Finally, Hermione awkwardly placed her hand within his, bound as his was by his side. She had to lean down beside him, to press their hands completely together. She felt the warmth of his palm, as his fingers twined with hers. A tingle began in her hand, that shot up her arm and into her body. It felt like pleasure; it felt like torture.

Quietly, he lay back on his pillow, his eyes boring into hers, her face close to his. “By my blood, which flows to yours, I swear that I will not harm you in any way against your will, nor will I allow harm to come to you while I am able to prevent it. By this blood oath, I swear it.”

He was looking deeply into her eyes, and their faces were close together, almost touching. Hermione, shocked, held on. “By my blood that flows to yours, I swear that I will not allow harm to come to you while I am able to prevent it.”

She held on. Almost without thought, she looked into his obsidian eyes. Her mouth opened, and before she could give it rational thought, she whispered, “I swear I will never allow another to take what belongs to you. By my blood oath, I swear it.”

He looked at her, shocked. “What did you say?” Their magic swirled around them, and Severus felt it enter him, like a flaming sword piercing a martyr. It was an agony that felt like ecstasy; it was a pleasure that felt like punishment. It felt beautiful and gruesome and somehow perfect and perverted all at once. Professor Snape looked at her in dawning horror. He had not meant for this to happen. “You foolish girl! What have you done?”

Hermione was almost leaning over him, their hands locked together, intertwined. Their fingers spasmed against one another’s in a painful grip. Hermione felt the spell race through her body, into her chest. Her nipples hardened in pleasure. Her groin was suffused with delicious heat. She felt almost like her body was going to orgasm, and she froze in terror. She couldn’t, not now! She realised their foreheads were touching, and both were breathless and sweaty now.

As quickly as it happened, it was gone, and she gasped, breathless with the mortifying thought that her professor might have noticed the state of her body.

Severus felt the dark pleasure race through his body as well. His face flushed, as his cock twitched into life, feeling the heat of arousal. It was thankfully, blissfully brief, and he, too, collapsed in relief.

For a moment, Hermione lay against his shoulder, too weak to move. Madam Pomfrey would be returning any minute, but it felt so good to sit here, her head against his pillow. Any moment now, he would bark at her for her shameless behaviour, but she really couldn’t care less. She felt that comforting safety of being here. Even now, in his weakened state, he still felt like sanctuary.

Finally, he spoke, and she could feel his lovely voice rumbling in her ear. “Miss Granger, please sit up. Aside from being entirely inappropriate, it isn’t helping my cause at all.” Hermione sat up quickly, feeling sheepish and numb. She looked away guiltily, acutely aware of her body.

Finally, Hermione removed her hand. To her astonishment, the wound had completely sealed. There wasn’t even a scar to mark it. As she looked down at her palm, he shook his head. “What on earth possessed you to take an oath like that?” He looked shocked and angry and frightened.

Exhausted, still breathless, exasperated, she replied, “We look out for one another! We are in this together, Professor Snape!”

“There is no ‘together’! Don’t be stupid! You’ve set yourself up to get killed!” With a growl, he turned away from her. “I am not worth you making such a foolish oath.”

Hermione was stunned. “You’ve no right to tell me who is and isn’t worthy of my help, even if it is you!”

Professor Snape looked at her carefully. For a long moment, he studied the young woman. How had they come to this? Finally, he said the only words to make her leave. “Why must you persist with this charade of caring for me? You’re a child. A student!” He looked at her with cold, black eyes. “Can’t you leave me a little bit of pride?”

Hermione watched him for a moment. She said, quietly, “I know you. You care, even though you want me to believe you don’t. In fact, you care so little, you take a blood oath to protect me from harm, even from yourself. You ask me why I care?” She shook her head, and her eyes were tender and compassionate, and strong. “How can I not care, Professor?”

They heard footsteps in the infirmary, and Hermione, on impulse, leaned down and kissed his cheek. Her lips were a breath away from his. She rose quickly, and turned to leave. Then changing her mind, she faced him again.

“Goodnight, Professor. I will visit you tomorrow. I will learn to be of use to you.” Her eyes met his unblinkingly. “We can keep each other safe. Where no one can find us.”

Hermione walked out of the room without looking back. Although the wound was gone, her palm still tingled, not only from the blood oath she’d taken, but from the heat of being held fast in the hand of her professor.

The next evening, he was less agitated, more lucid. While he was still magically bound to the bed, he was now able to sit up. Madam Pomfrey allowed Hermione a few short minutes alone, while she made her rounds of her other patients.

“It’s Hogsmeade weekend, sir. Is there anything I can get you while I’m there?”

Her professor answered with a scowl. “And what, pray tell, would I want from Hogsmeade, Miss Granger? I’m scarcely on tenterhooks pining for a nose-biting teacup from Zonko’s.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. He could be so irritating at times! “I realise that, sir, but I thought there might be something you require from the apothecary, or some chocolate from Honeydukes.”

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Miss Granger, why are you telling me about this weekend? Why are you beating around the bush in very clumsy Gryffindor fashion?”

“You don’t have to be so insulting!” She looked at him defiantly, and he scoffed.

“Don’t sulk, Miss Granger.” His tone softened imperceptibly. “What is troubling you?”

She hesitated for a split second, then gathered her courage. “Harry and Ron want me to go with them to visit Sirius on Saturday. He’s going to sneak out of Grimmauld Place, over to the Shrieking Shack.”

Professor Snape scoffed. His eyes darkened. He growled, “The fool! He’s just itching to get caught! Here we are, fighting for our lives and he risks everything just because he’s bored.” He looked up at Hermione. Her expression was not one of commiserative frustration about Black.

Oh. Very good, Severus. The girl is looking to you for help, and you use it as an excuse to bitch about his total laziness.

“You could stay in the castle.” He watched her carefully. “You don’t have to go.”

“Well, that’s the thing. Harry is so insistent – “

“Miss Granger, you don’t have to do Mr. Potter’s bidding!” he snarled, and she glanced toward the closed door, half expecting Madam Pomfrey to appear.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to go there early, and I’m going to have a talk with Sirius. I’m going to tell him his behaviour is out of order, and that I feel uncomfortable around him because of it.”

For a moment, her professor stared at her, eyebrow on the rise. “Oh, really? Do you honestly think Sirius Black is going to heed your wishes, Miss Granger?”

Her chin rose. “He will, or risk having his bollocks hexed off!”

“Language, Miss Granger. Your attempted familiarity with me does not constitute having to listen to your fishwife’s tongue. Five points from Gryffindor.”

She coloured, fuming. “Sorry, sir.” She took a deep breath, which stretched into a stifled a yawn, and it was only then that Severus realised she looked exhausted.

“Miss Granger, are you not sleeping well?” Their eyes met, and she felt the heaviness in hers, and the disapproval in his. “I will not be amused if this affair has caused both of us to suffer, instead of just myself.”

She smiled. “I’m fine, sir.” She glanced at the clock, and jumped to her feet. “Is that the time? I’m sorry, sir, but I have to go. I have a – ” The letters ‘DA’ almost sprang to her lips, and she caught herself just in time. She gulped. “A study meeting, and I’m almost late.”

He tilted his head in that skeptical way that said, ‘I don’t believe you, but I’ll indulge you.’ He sighed. “Very well, Miss Granger. Heaven knows why you come here anyway. I fail to see what you hope to accomplish, pestering me every evening.”

She looked at him, shocked. Then she shook her head, a smirk playing about her lips. “It’s been nice visiting with you, too, sir. Goodnight.”

As she turned, he said, “Miss Granger?”

She turned back, her eyebrows raised in query. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, then huffed. “If you wish for me to accompany you to the Shrieking Shack on Saturday, you have but to ask.”

Hermione’s shoulders dropped, and she gave him a smile that he felt in his gut. Bastard, he told himself.

She shook her head. “Thank you sir, really.” She almost glowed with pleasure. “I think I should try to take care of this on my own. But I’m grateful for the offer.” She gave him a final smile, before she left him to his thoughts.

On Friday, Severus declared that the curse was gone. A careful examination showed no lingering effects, no dark magic. Late in the evening, after Miss Granger had paid her daily visit, he returned to his quarters.

Once he’d settled back into his rooms, he approached the fireplace, took a handful of Floo powder, threw it into the fireplace and shouted, “Number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Black, no doubt I’m interrupting a stimulating evening full of invaluable work for the Order, but I wish to speak with you.”

Severus was already in the Shrieking Shack when Sirius slunk in, a black, unkempt mutt. Almost instantly, he transformed into his human body, and looked around briefly. He spotted a mirror above the deserted fireplace, and preening into it, Sirius muttered, “Right, then, Hermione love, hurry up before the boys get here.”

A few minutes passed, and Severus stifled a laugh at Black’s restless pacing. Azkaban hadn’t managed to teach him patience, even after all this time. Restlessness and boredom were clearly written all over his face, and Severus allowed himself to be pleased at the small diversion he’d created, which ensured that the ‘Golden Trio’ would be late for their appointment with Harry’s godfather.

Just as Sirius seemed to be ready to jump out of his skin, Severus decided to make his move. He stepped out of the shadows, wand drawn.

“Yes, it’s very easy to get bored sitting around doing nothing all day long, isn’t it, Black?” Sirius whirled around, to find Severus standing there, smirking at him. He grinned mirthlessly at Sirius. “Oh, yes, all play and no work makes Sirius a very, very dull boy.”

Black, unnerved, managed to recover. “And what do I owe this honour, Snivellus? Surely you have better things to do than sneak around all weekend, spying on me?”

Severus snorted. “Oh yes, I do, Black. As a matter of fact, I have several things I have to do. It must be grand, sitting around in your house all day, waiting to do your utmost for the Order.” The sarcasm in his tone slashed through the room like a hex, and Sirius’ chin rose in defiance.

“You know,” Sirius snarled, “I’m not even going to dignify you with a reply.” He looked around the dusty room. “So when did you plan to tell me why you wanted to see me before Harry and Hermione arrive?” Severus noticed he didn’t even bother to mention Ronald Weasley.

Realisation dawned on Sirius’ face. “Oh, you must be here for Hermione.” Baby-talking, he said, “Does widdle Hermione need big bad Snivellus to protect her from me?”

“She’s a very capable witch, Black. She has no idea I’m here, and that is the way you will no doubt prefer it. I’m here to warn you to leave her alone. She doesn’t welcome your advances.” His subtle emphasis on the word ‘your’, did not go unnoticed.

“And you think she’s welcoming yours?” Black laughed derisively. “You’re even more pathetic now than when you were a snot-brained little oik slobbering over Lily.” Sirius sneered at his old enemy. “Do you honestly think Hermione would feel anything but disgust at the thought of your touching her?”

A sudden, white-hot anger rose in Severus’ belly, and his smile made even Sirius falter. With a quiet shrug, Severus drawled, “She hasn’t been complaining so far.”

Sirius scoffed, “Do you really expect me to believe that Hermione Granger wants you? I’ve seen the little chit up close. She’s willing to spread them for anyone who’ll give her a bit of sweet talk. And let’s face it, Snivellus,” Black said, “I’ll get her. I always do. I had Lily, and I’ll have her. It will be like old times, stealing the girl out from under your nose.” He gave a little mocking bow. “And in the end, we’ll have a right old laugh about you, Hermione and me.”

Black fully expected Severus to lose his famous temper. He’d pushed all the right buttons, and the dig about Lily had led to crossed wands more than once in their long, bitter rivalry. He sat back and waited for the explosion so he could laugh. Snape could take a lot of shite, but laughing at him was like a red rag to a bull.

Instead, Snape pulled his robes around his waist, and Sirius’ formidable self-assurance faltered, as Severus not only remained calm, but actually smiled. “You see, that’s where you’re wrong, Black. She and I have spent some very extensive enjoyable time together discussing this in private, and I’m afraid the joke is on you.”

For a moment, Black looked at Snape, his expression uncertain. It soon turned ugly. “Oh, you must get such a hard-on, thinking she would want you. You really are a sad little man, Snape.” Black was quiet for a moment. Almost gently, he said, “And what do you think will happen when I tell Harry that Professor Snape has been molesting his best friend?”

“I would think his best friend would then inform Mr. Potter that his godfather is the one who’s been doing the molesting, and I’m merely her protector.” Severus gave Black a smug little smile. He couldn’t resist, even though he knew Miss Granger would be less than pleased with his insinuation. “What we do to and for each other beyond that, is, I’m afraid, between Miss Granger and myself.”

Sirius shook his head. “And who do you think Harry will believe, Snivellus? A randy little witch, or the man who was his mother and father’s best friend?” When Severus didn’t reply, Black went in for the kill. “The Easter holidays are coming up soon, and everyone will be spending them with me. I’m Harry’s godfather, Snape. We’ll all be together, and I’ll remind Harry how wonderful his parents were, and how much I miss them.

“I’ll tell him how much his mother loved him, and how important he is to me.” There was something disturbing in Black’s eyes that Severus had never seen before.

Black continued, “And not only will Harry believe me, instead of his hated Potions master, but everyone else will, as well.” Sirius smiled mirthlessly. “No one trusts you, Snape, especially where a lovely young witch is concerned. The question is: what are you going to do about it?”

Severus knew at that moment, he shouldn’t have come. The effects of the curse had not left his system. He would have never risen to the bait, otherwise.

In his silkiest voice, Severus crossed his arms, and looked upward, as if contemplating. He replied, “Well, let’s see. What am I going to do about it?” He smiled almost sensuously. “Oh yes, that’s right.”

His dark eyes were cold, and his voice sounded like smoke sliding over ice. His smile was positively feral with lust. “While you’re convincing Mr. Potter and his syncophants to recommend you for sainthood, what am I going to do about it?”

In a lasciviously seductive voice, he purred, “I’m going to be tucked up in bed, popping a very, very sweet, juicy little Hermione-flavoured cherry.” In an almost-feline gesture, he licked his upper lip slowly, to pour a little salt in the wound.

Sirius was looking at him when something caught his eye over Severus’ shoulder. His smile grew equally smug. “Well, well. Hello, love.”

Severus whirled around, and found himself face to face with a very pale, very livid Hermione Granger.

Hermione looked at the two wizards for a long moment.

Sirius, the first to recover, smiled and crossed to her. “How lovely to see you, Hermine! How long have you been here?”

“Long enough, Sirius,” she said, her eyes never leaving that of her Potions professor. “Harry and Ron are on their way. I thought I’d try to get here a little earlier to speak with you, but it seems I wasn’t early enough.”

Severus stood still, waiting for the explosion. Merlin knew he deserved it.

Sirius was unmoved. “Wonderful! Professor Snape was just leaving, weren’t you?”

“Yes, he was.” Hermione looked pointedly at her professor. “And so was I.” She gave him a hard look. “Professor Snape? May I have a word, please?”

“Certainly, Miss Granger,” Severus replied, with a smooth calmness he didn’t feel. He swept by her, and Hermione, after giving Sirius a look of pure disdain, followed in her professor’s wake.

A/N: Quote and Chapter title is from Love’s Got A Lot To Answer For, by Nick Lowe

Seven: No Life I Own, No Liberty

Where Lagan stream sings lullaby, there blows a lily fair
The twilight gleam is in her eye, the night is on her hair
And like a love-sick leannán sí, she hath my heart in thrall
No life I own, no liberty, when love is lord of all

Severus and Hermione walked up the path towards the castle without exchanging a word. As they reached the steps, Harry and Ron appeared, heading down towards Hogsmeade, in the direction of the Shrieking Shack. They took one look at Hermione’s pale, rigid face, along with Professor Snape’s stony scowl, and concluded the worst. It was only later, that Ron confided to Harry, that Snape and Hermione looked a little alike when they were both pissed off.

“Hermione? Is everything alright?” Harry said, his eyes challenging Professor Snape.

Hermione looked up at her professor, her eyes thunderous. “I can’t come with you – right now. I – I have to go with Professor Snape. I’ve asked for some help on a Potions project, and this is the only time the Professor has.” She knew it sounded clumsy, even to herself, but it was the only thing she could think of.

“Why?” The boy’s insolence was intolerable, but Severus didn’t have the time, nor inclination, to call him on it. Instead, he glared at the boys as if they were somehow to blame for his inconvenience.

“Unlike your esteemed godfather, Mr. Potter, my spare time is rather more limited,” Severus growled, inwardly cursing the girl for forcing him to play the villain yet again. “I actually do have matters to attend to. I do not feel the need to justify my actions.”

“Hermione, are you okay with this?” Harry persisted, as he and Ron blocked their path into the castle. Potter looked up at his professor challengingly. “Why can’t you help her during the week, instead of making her miss out on her weekend time?”

Hermione was so angry by now, she felt like exploding. “Harry, it’s alright! Just – ” She huffed. “I’d like to get this done so I can finish the project. I’ll see you later, yeah?”

Harry looked at their professor with impotent rage and hatred, and Severus merely sneered in reply. Blasted little toerag, having the nerve to question him!

Hermione pushed past the boys, and Severus followed her closely behind. As they entered the castle, she turned to him, her eyes snapping with fury. “I think we need to talk, don’t you, Professor?”

Severus, bristling at the young witch’s tone, said, “If you insist, Miss Granger.”

Hermione’s eyes grew wide, and she visibly crackled with anger. “Where is the most private place you know, Professor? Because I have a feeling this will not be fit for first- and second-year ears.”

Severus pulled his cloak around him, as if pulling his dignity together. “Shall we go to my study, Miss Granger?”

Through gritted teeth, she said, “Lead the way, Professor.”

Without another word, Severus turned on his heel and strode down the hall; Miss Granger’s shorter strides forcing her to almost trot beside him.

By the time they arrived at the professor’s study, Hermione’s head had cleared of her blinding, humiliated rage, leaving only a chilling anger behind. They had walked (Professor Snape had walked and she had galloped beside him) in a silence that was churning with repressed emotions.

Hermione was still stunned at the conversation she’d overheard, and her mind was reeling at the implications of what both wizards had said. It was clearly a case of each trying to piss higher up the wall than the other, but it gave her a sickening feeling to know that it was all about her, and nothing to do with her academic prowess.

When did anyone start giving a monkey’s about Hermione Granger? Even after her disastrous date with Viktor Krum during the past year, no one noticed her, beyond her grades. It was true, she’d filled out quite a bit in the last year, and she’d changed, but so had everyone else. She had grown up, pure and simple. Why on earth did these two wizards (three, if you count Remus) feel the need to posture and snarl around her? It was baffling, and frightening. It was also exciting, and she felt guilty for feeling so flattered that these three powerful wizards seemed to be increasingly interested in her.

That’s sick, Hermione, she told herself. The very idea of Sirius, or even Remus, showing some sort of romantic interest, is just… oh, no, No, NO.

On the other hand, Professor Snape… why did he seem different? Of the three, he certainly wasn’t the most handsome. It would be like calling Remus the least ugly. But Hermione was, if nothing else, completely, sometimes brutally, honest with herself. Professor Snape excited her. There was an energy, a restless knowledge within him, that called to her. She admired his brilliance, his precision, his strange, compelling physical attributes, which, taken individually, never quite summed up the whole.

She had felt it when he’d made Lockhart look like a complete berk during their ‘duel’ in Second Year DADA. He’d thrown himself in front of her to protect her from the transforming Remus, and he’d held her back when she’d tried to chase after Harry during that mind-bending night that she’d helped Sirius escape. Professor Snape had been so angry when he realised what she and Harry had done, she thought he might hex her. She certainly deserved it. She’d already knocked him out in the Shrieking Shack. She still burned with shame about it.

And last year, when she’d gone to the Yule Ball with Viktor, and everyone had whispered behind her back (What’s SHE doing with Krum? Bugger that, what’s Krum doing with HER?), she’d gone off and stood in the snow outside, fighting tears of humiliation. For the first time in her life, Hermione had felt pretty, but after all the snide remarks, she felt the the callow awkwardness of being too young to be old and too old to be young.

As she stood on the steps, carefully trying not to cry, Professor Snape had passed by, glowering, angry, and she’d looked up into his eyes, and saw the same humiliation and helplessness she herself felt. He hadn’t spoken, but had given her a formal nod, and resumed walking. She had replayed that nod over and over in her mind, and she still didn’t know what it meant. She only knew that someone knew how she felt.

She tried to stem her rising feelings. She reminded herself of his contempt toward her, his sneering, hurtful remarks in the past… then she would feel his large, warm hand caress her cheek, and call her name in that stunning, sensuous voice… The Dark Lord knows I desire you, girl…

Hermione might have been a virgin, but she wasn’t exactly innocent. She had kissed several boys, and she had touched herself. She’d read her parents’ The Joy of Sex, and had dreamed tremulous dreams afterward. But this was off the map here. She felt her inexperience as if it were a character flaw to be ridiculed. Would he ridicule her? Or would he be just as fearful as she?

She had just entered the hallway of the Shack, when she heard Sirius taunting Professor Snape (Who do you think Harry will believe, Snivellus? A randy little witch, or the man who was his mother and father’s best friend?). She had purposefully contacted Sirius to meet her at two-thirty, because she wanted to talk to him privately, before the boys came at three. Feigning a trip to the library, she’d told Harry and Ron she would meet them at the shack.

What on earth was Professor Snape doing there in the first place? She had gone cold when she heard Sirius taunt her professor. She’d been so sick with anger and humiliation, she wanted to hex Sirius’ bollocks into another country. France wasn’t far enough away for it. Then Professor Snape had said – oh, gods, he’d said he would be…

She was still angry enough to be furious with his quip about ‘popping her cherry’, to be sure, but why did she feel her body traitorously respond in a way that was nothing like anger?

Once she and her professor were in his study, he warded the door, and placed a Silencing Charm on the outside. Together, they walked into the somber room, and Professor Snape set the fireplace ablaze with a flick of his wand. “Tea, Miss Granger?”

Tea’s not going to do it, she thought to herself. Out loud, she said, “No, thank you.”

Professor Snape’s back was to her, and she could see the tensely drawn muscles of his shoulders, and the severe bearing in his posture. At least he knows he’s ballsed this up, she thought.

“Would you mind explaining to me what that little exchange was all about?”

Severus turned and faced the little witch. She was standing still, arms planted on her hips, looking at him with unwavering eyes. He said, coolly, “That was a private matter, between Black and myself. It is none of your concern.”

She rolled her eyes. In a voice pitched low and angry, she shook her head and replied, “Are you really listening to yourself? Don’t you dare try to bluff me, Professor Snape!”

His eyes narrowed. “I do not care for your tone, Miss Granger. You forget, you are speaking to one of your professors – “

“Who just informed his ‘rival’ that he was going to take my virginity during the Easter holidays! Oh, please, Professor! Self-righteous indignation at this point is not only superfluous, but extremely bad taste!”

Severus stood, fuming, knowing the little chit was right, and there was nothing he could do about it. She had him dead to rights. He slumped, and he could feel colour suffuse his face.

Once again, he had been goaded into saying the exact wrong thing to the wrong person. All his life, he’d managed to push away everyone who’d befriended him, tried to care for him, or needed him. He’d just done it again. When he was younger, he’d blamed others. He’d blamed James Potter, he’d blamed Dumbledore, the Dark Lord, his parents. Everyone but himself. Now, he knew better.

He was so tired of feeling badly made, like an ugly doll, pieced together with mismatched parts. He didn’t seem capable of fixing it, either. He closed his eyes.

When he spoke, his voice sounded devoid of any life or colour or tone. “Of course, Miss Granger. I cannot explain the whys of my behaviour. I scarcely understand it myself.” He ventured a glance at her. She was still standing there, fuming, ready to pounce. “I fully accept responsibility for my words.”

When she didn’t move or speak, he sighed, and sat down in his chair. “I understand that you would rather not speak to me again, outside what is necessary. I accept this. I must ask, again, for your discretion.” He pulled himself together. “I trust you can see yourself out.”

Hermione stood, watching him, looking for traces of manipulation, and couldn’t find any. He looked defeated, embarrassed, and tired.

“It’s the curse, isn’t it? You still feel its effects, don’t you?”

He glanced at her, then shrugged. “Perhaps. And, perhaps, I just wanted to rub Black’s nose in – in something.”


He shrugged again, and it was a strange gesture, full of defiance and discomfort. He thought of Potter during their last Occlumency lesson, rushing past his defenses, watching his boy-self in all of his gauche, ill-bred, humiliated glory. He wanted to kill Black. “Payback, perhaps? If there are other reasons, I don’t want to explore them.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I think you’re going to have to, Professor.” She looked at the man who’d just boasted he would be her first lover. The strange thing about it was that she wasn’t all that sure he wouldn’t be. Alright, Hermione, you wanted to grow up. It’s time to grow up.

“You and I are going to spend a little time talking about this.”

Professor Snape looked at her strangely, as if he were unsure he’d heard her correctly. “My reasons for my behaviour are not important. I said some incredibly unforgivable things. And I said them to Black, of all people.” He stared at the fire, and his long fingers gripped the chair, as if holding on to his own life. “My pride, my fear, my life, Miss Granger. I have nothing.” His eyes glittered in the flickering firelight. “For a moment, I just wanted to have something.”

Hermione stared at her professor and sat down opposite. She was breathing heavily, as if she were about to cry. Severus hated crying females. As with most men, he felt foolish and helpless and pointless when they cried. Especially when he was the reason for their tears. He’d made more than one student cry. There was a fleeting satisfaction in it, but soon he was left with the empty, hollow feeling of just how cheap the victory had been. It was like fucking a whore. A brief, passing contentment, then a sliding, fading diminishment of his own humanity, and that of the woman’s.

He ventured a glance at her face, but her eyes were dry.

When she spoke, his eyes widened. She sounded like a girl who had decided to put away her childish things, and as she spoke, a woman emerged.

“Severus Snape, for the past few weeks, you and I have danced this little dance. You have allowed me to comfort you, you have suffered, you have pushed and pulled and turned my emotions inside out.

“You have treated me like a woman, but you’ve talked to me like I’m a child. You say you want me, and you brag to Sirius that you’ll have me, but you won’t even talk to me.”

He stared at her, feeling the same, sick feelings when Lily walked out on him. Hermione was going to do it as well. He felt his heart falter, and the loathing and anger he felt for himself built to such a pitch that he lashed out, rather than implode.

“What are you and I going to talk about, Miss Granger? Dumbledore’s Army? Oh, yes, I saw it in your mind,” he sneered, as the colour drained from her face. He pressed on, knowing he had to, or buckle. “You’re a child I’m responsible for. It doesn’t make me a saint. That’s Potter’s domain. I’m just trying to survive here until I’m no longer of use, and then neither you nor anyone else can claim any hold over me again.

“Are we going to talk about the Dark Caress? About sex? What’s the point? You’re a virgin, and I’m twice your age. Get out, Miss Granger. I have nothing further to say to you.”

He rose, waiting to hear the door slam. He deserved it. He needed her hatred, her contempt for him. It was the only thing he had come to expect from anyone.

A small hand closed over his arm and spun him around. Hermione was looking up at him, her expression unreadable. “That would be easy, wouldn’t it? For me to just walk away, to leave you with your self-pity and loathing, to justify to yourself why you aren’t worthy of anything good? It would be so easy to Obliviate me, so that I wouldn’t remember your cries in the dark, and your pleas, and your hurt, and your bravery, and your fear.” She took his hands in hers. “And your desire.”

“Miss Granger,” he growled, and behind the warning tone was fear, and hope, and they were equally as strong as the other.

“Are we going to talk about sex, Professor? Being a virgin doesn’t make me dull or stupid, any more than being experienced brings wisdom.” She could see him wavering, and she pressed her advantage. “Honestly, Professor, what do you expect? You’ve known me since I was eleven. Do you honestly think I’m going to leave this alone?”

“Bossy witch,” he barked, against his will. He was looking off to the side, and Hermione thought she heard a trace of pride in the insult.

She nodded. “We are going to talk about you, and what has brought you here, now, and this bond between us that neither of us fully understand.”

Severus closed his eyes, feeling as if he were drowning underwater. “What do you want from me, lass? Are you trying to take every last scrap of dignity from me?”

Hermione gave an exasperated little grunt. “No. I’m trying to convince you to trust me, and to believe in me.” He gave her a searching look, and she smiled. “You’re trying too hard to get rid of me. Well, I’ve got news for you, Professor. It won’t work. You and I are going to try to figure this out, and we are going to do it together.”

He scowled, and gave her a puzzled look. “Figure what out, Miss Granger? Do talk sense.”

For the first time since they’d arrived, Hermione smiled. “Sit down, please, Professor.”

“You really ARE the bossiest little witch,” he reiterated, but he reluctantly obeyed her, his eyes never leaving hers. She resumed her seat opposite.

“It’s true, I am. But I only boss those I really care about.” He snorted, and shifted in his seat, but something like a smile prinked the corners of his mouth.

Hermione rose, and stood above him, looking down like a little inquisitioner. “I want the truth, Severus Snape. From the beginning. From the day you arrived at Hogwarts as a first year, to five minutes before I walked into the Shrieking Shack.”

Professor Snape scoffed. “Oh, so not too much, then? And what else do you require, Miss Granger? The Sword of Gryffindor on which to impale me, should my tale not be to your liking?”

She pretended to consider. “I don’t know about that, but some tea might be nice.” She waited quietly. He hadn’t agreed, but he hadn’t refused her, either.

“Do tell, Miss Granger. And if I comply with this Scheherazade fantasy of yours, what then?” He sneered. “Going to make me your pet project? Another S.P.E.W.? Plan on knitting me a hat?” His voice grew more clipped, more like his teaching voice, as he struggled to regain control of the situation.

Suddenly, Hermione was in his face, bearing down on him. Severus was stunned that she could move so quickly. Her wild hair flew around her, and she stared down at him like an avenging Valkyrie.

“What do you want out of life, Professor Snape? Do you want to push me away so you can tell yourself you weren’t worth knowing? Do you want to seduce me, so you can rub Sirius’ nose in it?” She moved infinitesimally closer. “Or do you want a friend, who can help you, who knows you enough to keep your secrets, who can be there for you right under Dumbledore’s nose, under the nose of your Dark Lord himself? Where no one can find you?”

They were too close, Severus thought. He could see the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, the slightly greenish specks in her amber eyes. He could smell her scent, and he realised he was closing the distance. He leaned forward, breathing in the breath she’d just exhaled.

“What do you want from me, Miss Granger?” The silkiness of his voice was purposeful, as if brought to bear as a weapon. He was staring so hard his eyes were watering, and he blinked.

She looked down on him. “The truth, Severus Snape. From the beginning to now.”

She turned and resumed her seat, looking at him like a queen to be entertained. “Now, Severus.”

His breath left him in one large gasp. Insolent little witch! He felt rage burn within him, then dissipate. He felt contempt, which bled to nothingness. He felt fear, and it was wicked away. He tried to summon every emotion in his arsenal to fight this young woman and her imperious command, and they danced away from him like smoke.

It was then he realised he would do whatever she asked. And the agony and ecstasy of it was that he wanted to. His shoulders dropped slightly.

He closed his eyes. “I’m – ” He panted like an animal, the words forced from his lips almost again his will. “I’m afraid.” He looked into her eyes, and he saw fear there, too. In fact, he saw everything he’d ever felt, mirrored in the eyes of this young, untried witch.

“It’s alright to feel afraid, Professor. When you’re afraid, you know you’re doing what you need to do to survive.” She leaned forward and gave Severus a smile overlaid with a delicate lace of irony. “Nowadays, I know something is right for me to do BECAUSE I am afraid to do it.” She sat back and gave him an encouraging nod. “I’m going nowhere. I’m right here.”

He took in a long, shaking breath. It was several moments, as he gathered his thoughts. He looked like a child; he looked like an old man. He looked like the poor boy he was, thirsting for love and acceptance. “My parents were Eileen and Tobias Snape. I was born in Spinner’s End. It’s a small town in Manchester.” He drew his robes around him, and looked off in the distance. “A Snape is less than nothing in that town.” And so, he began.

It was an evening that Hermione never forgot, and later, when her world crashed down and threatened to crush her and everything she knew, she remembered sitting in her professor’s study, hearing his beautiful, beguiling voice. It had the barest hint of Northern inflection, rising and falling, spinning his tale into the night. He cast it over her like a spell in and of itself, and she remembered that, within this man, was her hiding place.

Severus talked through the next hour. Hermione made tea. He talked through the late afternoon. A house-elf brought them sandwiches.

At one point, he stood and paced, telling his tale. He spoke of his parents, and their neglect and abuse. He told her of Lily and Petunia, and learning about magic. He spoke of the Marauders and the bullying misery they spawned. The rage of the telling overwhelmed him. Hermione stood with him, feeling that he needed her to do so. At one point he wept, remembering the humiliation and fear. Hermione held his hand.

The evening shadows crept upon them, and still Severus talked. He was beginning to sound hoarse and exhausted. And still Hermione pushed and pushed him, like lancing a festering wound. The horrible accountability weakened him; they met it together. He spoke of Sirius, and the horrible trick he played that almost cost Severus his life; of James, his rival, of Lily and his unrequited love, of the horrible day he pushed her into James Potter’s arms forever.

He spoke of the Purebloods of Slytherin, who accepted him, and cultivated him into leaving his weedy Manc roots behind; how they taught him how to walk and talk and dress like a man of breeding. He told of his initiation with the Death Eaters, the heinous things performed on him, the hideous things he was required to do. He tried not to shock her, but as Hermione listened, she was so appalled at what he’d been through, she wanted to hide him in a cupboard and never let him out.

They drank innumerable cups of tea. There was even laughter at some point, and wistfulness. And at some point, Hermione wept for him. He spoke of his betrayal, the plea for Lily’s life, the loss of friends, the death of his first, his only love. He spoke of his hatred of James Potter, and why he hated the son for looking like the father. Hermione did not try to contradict, or come to Harry’s defense.

Severus told of pacts made with Dumbledore. He spoke of the return of the Dark Lord and Severus’ gruesome re-entry into the world of the Death Eaters, where he was, like with the Order, neither liked, nor trusted. He spoke of his hurt, his wish that he were not so different from everyone else, his belief that he was not destined for anything other than death and unhappiness.

Severus left out nothing, including contacting Black and arranging to meet him in the Shrieking Shack for the sole purpose of telling him to leave Hermione alone. By the time he’d finished, it was dark. He was exhausted, almost voiceless and cleaned out.

Hermione stood unsteadily, and knelt down beside her professor. He looked so drained, his skin was almost transparent. His large, dark eyes were red-rimmed and bleak. “So now you know, Miss Granger. I have told you everything.” He shook his head, and sighed. “They say confession is good for the soul. I cannot say I agree with them, but there you have it.”

Hermione felt as it she’d been punched in the stomach. Every time she tried to respond, nothing was adequate. Finally, she spoke her heart.

“I have one question. It is a very selfish question.”

“Ask.” His husky voice was wary, and he looked at her like she was about to deliver a physical blow. Hermione fervently hoped Tobias Snape burned in hell for hurting the boy that became the man before her.

“This whole thing with Sirius isn’t really about me, is it? It’s about Lily.”

He looked resigned, as if he had expected her to come to that conclusion. “Perhaps it was in the beginning. It isn’t anymore.”

“How can you say that? You said Lily was the love of your life.”

“She was the love of my youth. She was my first love and she broke my heart. And yes, I’ll admit I thought of you as being similar. At first. In reality, you are nothing like her.”


He sighed. How could he explain without hurting her? How could he tell her that Lily was stunning and beautiful, and Hermione was merely physically pretty? That Lily was a bit shallow and vain, and Hermione generous and complex and kind? That he had sworn to protect Lily’s son, and ended up wanting to hide Hermione away for himself?

The only truth he could confess was perhaps the least useful. “Lily – Lily wouldn’t still be here talking to me. She would have walked out long before this. Lily… had no staying power.”

“Then why did you transfer your feelings from her to me?”

“I didn’t!” he answered, suddenly angry. Angry and tired of having to explain himself over and over in the thousand different ways that life had shit on him. “You are different because you are different, witch!” He ran a distracted hand through his oily hair. “I wasn’t the only one who saw it. Oh no.”

He gave her a malicious little smile. “Why do you think I let it slip that Lupin was a werewolf during your third year? Because of Black? We had already discovered Pettigrew was the traitor! It was because I saw how he looked at you, even then!”

Hermione was stunned. “And you were jealous?”

He huffed. “It has nothing to do with – “

“And were you jealous?”

“Think, girl! I thought Sirius had betrayed Lily to the Dark Lord! I wanted to see him punished – “

“Were YOU Jealous?” He whirled around.

“Yes! Yes I was fucking jealous!” he shouted, suddenly ready to put lies and subterfuge behind him. “Yes, I wanted you! Clever little swot, who could do anything she set her mind to! Strong, brave, tough lioness, full of loyalty and potential! Barely bleeding, witch, and I fucking wanted you for myself! WE ALL DID!”

He wiped the fleck of foam from his mouth, and faced the young woman. He snarled, “Merlin’s balls, witch, I don’t know why! You’re the biggest pain in the arse I’ve ever met and I still want to get down on my knees and worship you! You make me so furious I want to tear you out of my heart with my bare hands and obliterate you from my mind and I know I’ll die if I do!”

He turned away from her and threw his teacup against the wall. It exploded with a horrific noise that was frightening and satisfying.”Gods, why was I born? I have done nothing but suffer and want and rage and hate and covet and it’s all for NOTHING because I can never have what I want!” He collapsed, sobbing, his cries horrible to hear. “Leave me be, witch. Leave me be, you demanding, maddening, bloody-minded succubus.”

And suddenly she was holding him, and he was holding onto her for dear life, weeping for everything that he’d lost. Everything he’d wanted, sifting through his grasping, clutching, useless fingers. His parents, Lily, his secrets, his lies, his fear. Hermione rocked him and soothed him, until they were sitting on the floor, his long robes pooling beneath them. “I hate my life,” he sobbed. “I hate knowing I’ve lost you as well.”

Hermione’s answer was to hold him closer. “Don’t be daft, Severus! If you’ve lost me, why am I still here, holding on to you?” She gave him a little shake. “I chose you, Severus. Not Sirius, not Remus, not the boys, I. Chose. You.”

“You’ll tire of me. You’ll come to hate me as well.”

She smiled, and rocked the troubled man. “I’ve tried hating you. But the reasons I like you far outweigh the desire to hate you.” She almost laughed when she felt his breath hitch. “And as far as growing tired of you, well, you’ll just have to make sure I don’t.”

Slowly, his tears subsided, and he found himself leaning back against her, in an unconscious imitation of their position on the night she found him wounded at Grimmauld. He was exhausted from talking and weeping. He felt like a flannel that had been wrung out, and left on the ground. The arms around him were strong and sure. If it had been anyone else on earth, he would have Obliviated them right now. But he couldn’t. He wanted her to admire him, even love him, too much. For once in his miserable life, Severus Snape thought he might have found his true prize, but like always, it was too little, too late.

Quietly, he confessed, “I once thought Lily was perfect, but we let each other down. I insulted her, and she turned her back on me forever. I turned to the Dark Lord for vengeance, and damned my own soul in the process. I’ve spent the last twenty years living a half-life, telling myself it was what I deserved.”

“You don’t have to live that life anymore. I’m here.”

He moaned. “Hermione, you are too young to know what you’re committing to!”

“I’ve known for the past five years what I’m committing to. I’ve got thick enough skin for both of us.”

For a moment, they both were silent, considering her words. Severus felt an unfamiliar, almost frightening tug of emotion. It felt like hope.

Hermione suddenly giggled. “Hermione-flavoured cherry! Oh, Professor, I’m never going to let you forget that!” Severus could feel her laughing against his back, and the absurdity of it all caught up with them, and he laughed as well, albeit reluctantly.

“I’m sorry. It was the crudest thing I could think of.”

She sobered. “It – it made me feel wanted.”

He could feel her tremble. Softly, he said, “You are, witch.” He felt her take a deep breath, and settle a little more comfortably. He thought that, for the first time in his life, he may have actually said the right thing.

For several moments, neither spoke. Finally, with a groan for his protesting limbs, Severus rose. His back was killing him, and he was sure Hermione’s legs were numb from sitting in the same position for so long. He stood, and offered a hand to help her to rise. She stumbled, and when he caught and steadied her, she looked up at him with an expression akin to regard. It broke his heart open, and he knew something had happened that would change their lives forever.

As she stood, he moved closer, until they were holding each other, lightly; the way old friends will hold one another. Gently, he put his arms around her and pulled her to his chest. She was a warm, comfortable, solid weight. The type of weight that feels good, that the bearer feels privileged to carry. He sighed softly, and placed a soft, chaste kiss on her mad hair, pathetically grateful that this infuriating little witch was still here with him, would be with him. He had been right. She was finer made.

He wouldn’t touch her. Not now. He would wait, and hope and pray to those indifferent gods to keep him alive long enough to give her something decent of himself when she came of age. And in the meantime, he would have to shield his true thoughts from The Dark Lord, from Dumbledore even. And he would have to teach her. She may have been his student for the past five years, but he had not begun to truly teach her until now.

“Severus?” she asked, his name sounding sweet in her mouth.

“Hmm?” he breathed, enjoying the feel of her warm, soft body against his. Now that he had drained himself of his emotions, he felt sleepy, almost sated.

To his secret disappointment, she quietly moved away from him.”I won’t care for you any less if you say yes, but I have to ask.” She took a deep breath and stiffened, as if preparing for a blow. “When you took me in your arms, were you thinking about her?” She faced him with immense dignity, as if she already knew the answer. “Were you – were you wishing I was Lily?” She gave him a look that was patently pragmatic, but there was something behind her eyes that was preparing for death.

Severus swallowed. He owed this child this much. He owed it to her to tell her the truth. They were locked now. He had set this course in motion; he would see it through, and see her safe.

He looked into her mind, and opened his to hers. It was an incredible sensation, but it wasn’t frightening or sordid. She could feel his desperation, and his fear, and his longing. And she could hear the soft, emphatic, honest, No.

He looked down at her hands. They looked like little birds, enclosed in his large palms. Softly, without guile, or intent, his voice nearly drove her to her knees with its beauty, its depth and colour and music. “For the first time in my life, lass, I find myself exactly where I wish to be.”

Hermione took his large hand in hers and pressed it against her left breast. He gasped, until he realised she was pressing his hand against her swiftly beating heart. He looked into her eyes, and the child behind the man shone through. Almost outside of himself, he whispered, “I have placed my heart with yours now. If you break it, or give it away thoughtlessly, I will have nothing left. I fear I will not survive that.”

Hermione looked up at her professor, and her voice filled the room with power. It was a beautiful, almost mystical sound, pre-erotic, female; it was the voice of the goddess. “I swear I will never allow another to take what belongs to you. By my blood oath, I swear it.”

He took her in his arms, crooning, his eyes closed, an expression of bliss briefly lighting his face and making him beautiful. Hermione felt as insubstantial as a dandelion on the wind, and when he took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tipped her face up to his, she felt her hips grow spongy and hot. He leaned down, and Hermione willed herself to keep her eyes open, to watch his liquid eyes close as he leaned down to touch his lips to hers. Her arms moved up on his shoulders, and she slid her fingers through his black hair.

His mouth was soft, and slightly swollen from crying, and as it moved against hers, it was warm and tasted of lavender tea. He smelled delicious, and he felt like home. Her belly swelled against his; she wanted to stay here forever…

The flame in the fireplace blazed up and they almost jumped apart from one another. From the flames, Professor Dumbledore called, “Professor Snape? Are you there?”

Putting a finger to his lips to keep Hermione silent, Severus walked over to the fireplace. “Yes, Headmaster. How may I help you?” A familiar, unwelcome face appeared in the embers.

“Ah, Severus. Yes, dear boy. Have you, by any chance, seen Miss Granger this afternoon?”

Severus felt his stomach lurch. They’d been talking for hours.”We spoke briefly, but I haven’t seen her for quite some time. Is there a problem?”

“Quite probably, no. But I would appreciate if you could meet me in my office in, say, ten minutes?”

Severus’ heart sank. “Certainly, Headmaster. I’ll join you shortly.”

“Thank you, Professor. Would you, perchance, check by the library? If you see Miss Granger there, where she no doubt is ensconced in one of the study areas, would you ask her to accompany you?”

Severus had heard that tone before. It was the tone Albus used to convey that, yes, I think you are lying, and yes, you’d better be able to cover your tracks and yes, you’re in trouble.

Resignedly, he heaved a resentful sigh, and replied, “Certainly, Headmaster. I’ll go and find the girl.”

“Good man. Thank you, Severus.”

Severus turned and looked at the young witch, and she rolled like quicksilver into his arms. He could still feel her soft lips upon his, and his body wanted more of her. Instead, he kept himself in check, remembering his promise to himself. He grew solemn.

He leaned forward, until their foreheads were touching.”We have roles to play, Miss Granger.”

She nodded. “I know that, Professor Snape.”

“Starting tomorrow, Occlumency lessons. Do not look Dumbledore in the eye. He is a more skilled Legilimens even than me.”

Hermione nodded. “I understand that you will continue to treat me the way you always have. Understand I will still act indignant.”

Severus smirked. “Well, Miss Granger, let’s see if all those years at Stage School will pay for themselves.” Impulsively, he kissed her smooth forehead, and they parted.

Roughly ten minutes later, they were ascending into the Headmaster’s study. To Hermione’s surprise, Harry was waiting. Professor Dumbledore was sitting with him, and looked as grave and unsmiling as she’d ever seen him.

“Ah, Miss Granger. I see that Professor Snape found you.” He cocked an eye at Severus, who felt his hackles rising. Hypocritical old poofter…

“Yes, Headmaster. She was precisely where you thought she would be. Buried with her nose in a book in the library, oblivious to all.” He gave Hermione a rather disdainful scowl. The Headmaster looked at Hermione as well, and she pretended to study a book on his desk.

“Your diligence will no doubt pay off in your exams, Miss Granger. I am sorry I had to take you away from your revising, but Mr. Potter asked to speak to me on a grave matter concerning you. And, unfortunately, Professor Snape, as well.”

Hermione glanced at Severus almost indifferently. “Professor Snape?” She turned to her friend. Harry was watching Severus with angry, accusing eyes. “Harry, what’s this all about?” She pretended to relax. “If this is about earlier, I told you it was nothing. I just needed to have a word with Pro –”

“Hermione, you don’t have to cover for him! If he’s threatening you – “

“Potter, what exactly are you insinuating?” Severus growled, his anger rising.

“Please, everyone. I must insist on calm.” The Headmaster held up a placating hand. He turned to Hermione. “Miss Granger, I’m afraid Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley had a clandestine meeting with Sirius Black today in the Shrieking Shack, and were given some rather… unsettling news.”

Hermione felt her lips go numb. “What sort of unsettling news, Professor?”

Harry, unable to restrain himself, blurted, “Sirius said when he arrived in the shack…” He swallowed, embarrassed. With a look of pure hatred, he directed his words to Severus. “He told me what you did.”

Severus turned to Harry with narrowed, threatening eyes. “Did what, Mr. Potter? If I’m to be condemned, I would like to at least know what Black has accused me of doing.”

Harry looked at Hermione. “Sirius told me. How he saved you from being molested by him.” He pointed an accusatory finger at Severus.

A/N: The title of this chapter and the opening verse is from the folk song, Lagan Love.

From Wikipedia: In Celtic folklore, the Irish: leannán sí “Barrow-Lover” is a beautiful woman of the Aos Sí (people of the barrow or the fairy folk) who takes a human lover The name comes from the Gaelic words for a sweetheart, lover, or concubine and the term for a barrow or fairy-mound.

The leanan sídhe is generally depicted as a beautiful muse, who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion.

Eight: I Cover My Ears, I Close My Eyes…

You don’t know what a chance is, until you have to seize one; you don’t know what a man is until you have to please one,
Don’t put your life in the hands of a man with a face for every season, don’t waste your time in the arms of a man who’s no stranger to treason…

Hermione looked from Harry to Dumbledore, shock choking utterance. She glanced at Professor Snape, who was literally about to explode. He hissed, “How DARE you accuse me of such a thing, Potter?”

Enraged, he took a step towards Harry, until Professor Dumbledore thundered, “Severus, NO!”

Panting, Professor Snape froze in place and looked at his employer, his expression incredulous. “Don’t tell me you actually believe this… this whelp?”

“Stop it, all of you!” Hermione shouted, terrified for her professor, frightened for Harry. “Please, listen to me!”

The three males in the room froze and turned to her. She shook her head. “Harry, I don’t know what Sirius told you, but he’s lying! Professor Snape was protecting me from him!”

Harry was adamant. “No! Hermione, he’s cast Imperio on you, or something! Sirius told me he saw Professor Snape – ” Harry looked at the Potions master with all the disgust he could muster. “Sirius saw him undressing you! He said you were trying to make him stop but he was too strong!”

To Severus’ surprise, Hermione laughed. “Harry, if I was being Imperused, why would I be fighting him?” Her laughter died, and her anger and indignation rose in its place. “SIRIUS IS LYING, HARRY!”

Harry shook his head, confident of his words. “I don’t believe you! He’s got you Confounded, then!”

Severus pounded his hand against the table in frustration. “Merlin’s sake, Potter, clean the rubbish from your ears! The girl’s trying to tell you something and you’re not listening!”

“Shut UP, Snape!” Harry shouted in retaliation, “I’ve seen how you look at her when you think no one’s watching – “

“And have you seen your perfect godfather slobbering over her as well, boy?” Professor Snape roared, and the two squared off, with Hermione between them.

“You dirty pervert! I’ll kill you if you’ve hurt my friend!” Harry screamed, near tears, and drew his wand. He was no match for a full grown wizard like Severus, and Hermione cried for the two of them to stop.

“Stop this NOW!” Dumbledore’s magically enhanced voice shook and reverberated through the study, and the three of them whirled to see the older wizard standing, his eyes blazing, his magic swirling around them. “I will not have you fighting in this school! Calm yourselves, all of you! I will hear each of you, in turn, and I will have quiet from the other two if I have to place a Silencing Charm on you.”

Harry, Hermione and Professor Snape stood still, resentment and antipathy emanating from the two younger men. Hermione looked between them, frightened for them both. Harry was angry, and when his temper got the best of him he could be unpredictable. Professor Snape, on the other hand, was a master duelist, a spy and a Death Eater, and a dangerous wizard in the calmest of times. His black eyes were flashing fire now, and Hermione realised she’d been holding her breath, waiting for the hexing to begin.

Dumbledore waited until the three of them quieted somewhat, and said, “Harry, it is a very serious allegation to accuse a Hogwarts teacher of an impropriety with a student. I would like for you to start at the beginning. Harry, would you please tell Miss Granger and Professor Snape what you told me earlier?”

Somewhat mollified, Harry gave Hermione a furtive glance, and began, “When Ron and I reached the Shrieking Shack, Sirius was there and he was very agitated. He asked me if I had seen Hermione and Professor Snape, and I told him that Ron and I had passed them on our way.” He glanced at Professor Snape.

“I told him they both seemed angry about something, and Sirius said, ‘Well, I know why Severus is angry! He didn’t get to finish what he started. I walked in here and caught him with his hand down Hermione’s knickers.”

“That is not true!” Hermione cried, and Dumbledore held out his hand.

“You will have an opportunity to speak, Miss Granger. Go ahead, Harry.”

Looking more uncomfortable, Harry said, “Sirius said he confronted Professor Snape, and Snape said – “

“Professor Snape, please, Harry.”

“Sorry, sir. Professor Snape said he was going to – to…” Harry’s face turned bright red, and he stumbled through the words, “Pophermionescherry.”

Professor Snape made a sound of profound disgust. “Really, Mr. Potter? Do I look like the type of wizard who would say something so grossly crude about a student? Especially,” he flicked a rather disdainful glance toward Hermione, “Miss Granger?” He looked so disgusted, that for a moment, Hermione felt a bit offended.

“Severus, please,” said the headmaster, holding up a hand to silence him. “I have stated I will hear both sides of the story, and I must ask you to cease until Harry has explained his side.”

Suddenly, white hot anger coursed through Hermione. Over a week ago, she and Professor Snape had spent an hour trying to convince Professor Dumbledore that Sirius was acting inappropriately toward her. The Headmaster knew this was all shite. Why was he humouring Harry, instead of telling him the truth?

Hermione stepped up to Harry. “Harry, I’m only going to say this once, and you had better listen.”

“Miss Granger – “

She whirled on him, and Severus remembered just how intimidating the little witch could be when angered. “No! Professor Dumbledore, you know the truth, yet you are acting as if Professor Snape and I have been lying all along, and I won’t put up with this anymore!”

Hermione, furious, turned to Harry. “Harry, the reason Sirius said that to you is because HE is the one who has attempted to molest me! Professor Snape has been protecting me!

“I am not Imperused, and I’m not Confounded, as Professor Dumbledore can no doubt attest. Sirius was bragging to Professor Snape that he could convince you that he was the one telling the truth, and it looks like he was right!”

Hermione turned to Professor Snape. “I’m sorry you’ve been dragged into this entire sordid mess, Professor Snape. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would come to this!”

“Indeed, Miss Granger,” Severus said, rather enjoying himself. Intimidating, yes; alluring, most definitely. It was almost entertaining to watch her, providing her anger wasn’t directed at him.

He turned to the son of his old enemy. “Think, Potter! Why would I wish to engage Miss Granger, AND in a place where she knew Black would be?” He curled his lip. “I have dozens of secret places in this castle at my disposal. Why would I attempt to molest a student in a public place, knowing that Black was expected there any moment?”

“You know why,” Harry retorted, his eyes narrowed. “Sirius embarrassed you all those years ago and you wanted to show him – “

“Harry, ENOUGH!” Hermione said. She began to weep. “How could you think such a thing about a professor – about me? I’m one of your best friends, and you’d rather believe Sirius than me? Harry, Sirius is the one lying to you. He’s the one I’m afraid to be alone with!”

Harry paused. The raw honesty in her voice was unmistakable; as he had stated before, he knew her too well. He saw the body language between Snape and Hermione, and he realised not only did she not appear afraid of him, but that she was obviously neither Confounded nor Imperused. For the first time, his conviction faltered.

“Hermione, why would Sirius tell such a lie?” His shoulders dropped, and Severus smiled inwardly. The silly young fool was starting to see sense, no matter how much it troubled him.

“Because he knows how hard it is for you to believe anything good about Professor Snape! And yet, it’s so easy to believe the only the best about Sirius! They don’t like each other, and both of them use every opportunity to discredit the other!”

Harry looked at Severus coolly. “But why would Sirius lie to me? He has nothing to prove to me! And why were you there, anyway, Professor? No one knew Sirius would be there except – ” Harry stuttered to a halt, and looked over at Hermione.

“You told Snape – “

“Professor Snape, Harry! He’s our teacher!”

Harry almost snarled at Severus. “PROFESSOR Snape, then, that Sirius was coming to meet us? Why would you do that?”

“Because I didn’t want to be alone in the same room with Sirius!” she all but screamed into the room. “I was going to confront Sirius and tell him to leave me alone, and I asked Professor Snape to come with me because he is the only one who believed me – he was there in Grimmauld Place – he saw Sirius try to -” She buried her face in her hands in humiliation and cried, and Severus knew that if Sirius Black were in this room, he would kill him right now.

As he unwillingly found himself longing to hold and comfort her, Severus’ palm suddenly grew warm, and a slight stinging sensation grew out of the invisible line Hermione had cut in his palm. His blood oath was calling to him. Hermione also looked down at her palm, and began to rub it absently with her thumb. She felt it, too.

Severus reluctantly turned away. “This is enough, Headmaster! Can’t you see the girl is obviously distressed?” He turned to Potter, his voice venomous. “You disgust me, Potter. You accuse your best friend of lying, you hurt and degrade her in front of the Headmaster and myself, you insult me, and all you can do is berate the girl for being brave enough to tell you the truth.” He gestured to Hermione, who was blotting her face with the handkerchief he had given her a lifetime ago. “This is why she wouldn’t tell you – she knew you wouldn’t be intelligent enough to believe her!”

“I think that will do, Professor Snape,” Dumbledore interjected, and both Hermione and Severus looked at him in shock. Ignoring them, the Headmaster turned to Harry and placed a fatherly hand on his shoulder.

“Harry, Sirius is not here to defend himself – “

Hermione felt her blood run cold. The Headmaster continued, “But Miss Granger is quite adamant, and so is Professor Snape, that these allegations are unfounded. I think possibly Sirius saw the two of them conversing, and came to an incorrect conclusion.”

Hermione shook her head in wonderment. She risked a glance at her professor, who stood like a statue, anger and resentment radiating from him.

“I’ll question Sirius myself, but until then, I expect this matter to go no further than these walls. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, his tone respectful, and he looked pleased that his concerns had been validated. Professor Snape gave the Headmaster a swift nod in reply. Hermione merely looked at the old man, her expression carefully neutral.

Severus glanced at her approvingly. She had dried her tears; she had not challenged Dumbledore further. She had, in fact, done rather much the same thing as he. She had erased all emotions from her face, and was waiting until she was given leave to go.

“Good,” Dumbledore said, pleasantly, as if the subject had been dropped. “Harry, why don’t you and Hermione run along? I’d like you to stay for a moment, Professor.”

Harry left immediately, and Hermione turned to follow. She gave her professor a quick glance, and he returned it. To anyone else, their glance would have looked indifferent, accidental. But it was a look of approval, and Hermione accepted it as such.

After the young man and woman had departed, Albus turned to his Potions master. “Severus?”

He merely turned and looked at the Headmaster, an eyebrow raised in query.

Albus was unhappy. “If there is any truth at all to what Sirius said, I will find out. This is not the time to be distracted by something so insubstantial and fickle as physical desire. Especially for a student.”

Severus remained still, then turned and looked at Dumbledore. He regarded the old man for several moments, his expression thoughtful and pensive.

Finally, Severus spoke. “I seem to recall that just under a month ago, I came to you, begging for help, because of what I revealed to the Dark Lord while under torture. I told you then that the girl was repulsed by me, that it would never work. And, what was it you said? Oh yes, ‘you must find hidden depths with which to change that. Allow her to get to know you’.”

His smile was wolfish. “Well, I have, Albus. She’s gotten to know me very well in the last few days, and we like what we’ve discovered. I’d say we’ve come to a very mutually beneficial arrangement, thanks in part to your advice, and I’m disinclined to change that right now.

“It’s been a long time since I gave you my life for ransom, Albus.” Severus’ smiled faded. “I was a foolish boy then, and I’ve been given no chance to grow up into anything other than a foolish man. I’ve reneged, but so did you, old man. I gave you the best years of my life in servitude here at this damned school. I made you a vow, to protect your precious Harry Potter, and I have kept my end of the pact very well.”

Severus’ eyes blazed with resentment and fury. “When the Dark Lord returned, I sat in my office and cried with pain from the Mark FOR DAYS. All because you wanted me to wait before I presented myself to him. You told me it would show him my loyalty to you, so that I could be a better spy. Do you remember what you said? ‘Think of it as a way to atone, Severus’. Well, I’ve atoned. I’m absolved.

“You made promises to keep Lily safe, and you failed. You have polished my guilt every day since, and forced me to live a life which has been unmitigated hell every moment of every day, as your indentured slave.” Severus leaned over, his face arrogant and cruel. “But you forgot that time passed, Albus, and Lily’s memory has returned to its proper place. You can no longer bully or extort me into spying for you. I do it now because I choose to, and I will cease to do it when I so choose. You have no further power over me beyond what I sanction to myself.”

Severus stood to his full height, and looked at his Headmaster. “And I will tell you this, old man. If you try to do anything, say anything, cause anything that will turn her against me, I’ll leave. If your actions bring harm to one mad curl on her head, I’ll take her, and we’ll go so far underground neither you nor the Dark Lord will ever find us. We. Will. Disappear.” His voice trailed into a hissing whisper, venomous and deadly.

He gestured to his forearm. “This can be removed. Now, I have told you what I will do. Now, this is what you will do. You will let us move forward in our plans to work together, and you will call Potter and Weasley AND Black off the girl. I’ve never performed the Killing Curse, but I would for her.”

Severus glared at the Headmaster. “Miss Granger and I are working together now, on how to defeat the Dark Lord, and keep Potter alive long enough to do it. We are not lovers, but we will be. I’m not your toy for the Greater Good anymore, Albus. I’ll help you, as long as it is gainful for me to do so.”

Severus leaned over the older man. In a voice so liquidly wanton, it almost made the Headmaster shiver, Severus purred, “And if I wish to fuck her on the Head Table of the Great Hall, you’ll allow it. You’ll give me everything I need to continue this despicable job. And though it all, you will leave me, leave us, alone.”

He turned to leave. “Do we have an understanding, Headmaster? You have your spy, you have your precious Potter, and I’ll have a reason to live after this thrice-damned war is over. Do we have an accord?”

Dumbledore sagged for a moment, looking every one of his hundred and fifty-plus years. “Yes, Severus. Yes, damn you. We do.”

Once Harry and Hermione descended the steps from the Headmaster’s office, he turned to face his friend. “Hermione, I don’t know what to think, or believe.” His troubled eyes met hers, and Hermione reluctantly felt sorry for her friend.

“Harry, I am telling the truth. Ever since last summer, Sirius has been harassing me every time we went to Grimmauld Place.”

Harry shook his head disbelievingly. “Why would he do that?” At her rather stunned expression, Harry hastily added, “I don’t mean, why would he find you attractive! I mean,” he hesitated, trying to find the right words. “Why would he, you know, if he knew you didn’t feel the same?”

Hermione sighed. “From what I know of him, Sirius was a bit of a player in school. I think he still thinks of himself as one.” She smiled ruefully. “I don’t think he likes rejection much.”

“But why wouldn’t you tell me?”

Hermione took pity on him. “Harry, I just felt it would be one more negative thing in your life right now. With all that’s going on, between Dumbledore ignoring you, Umbridge torturing you, the Prophet vilifying you…” Hermione looked at her friend sadly. “I thought I could handle it on my own. But I couldn’t. And then, one day at Grimmauld Place, Professor Snape arrived and saw Sirius…” Hermione’s voice trailed off, too tired and embarrassed to continue.

Harry watched her worriedly. “And Snape really, well, sort of saved you?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s Professor Snape, Harry and yes! Think, Harry! He’s always tried to protect us. I know you don’t like him, and I sort of understand it all, but think about all the times when we were in trouble! Professor Snape was there, trying to make sure we were guarded!”

Seeing Harry’s face still clouded with doubt, Hermione huffed. “Professor Snape isn’t the enemy, Harry! He may not be the nicest man on earth, but he isn’t the enemy. Sirius is playing you for a fool.”

She gave Harry an impulsive little hug. “You know in your heart I’m right, Harry. If Professor Snape is guilty of anything, it’s goading Sirius into making up this lie. Sirius hates Professor Snape, but you don’t have to. We need him. We need to trust him.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m never going to trust him, Hermione. You just want to see the good in everyone too much.” Reluctantly, he added, “I’m going to see Sirius during Easter holidays. I’ll talk to him then.”

Harry walked away, leaving Hermione to her thoughts. “It didn’t do any good.”

Hermione whirled around, and saw her professor leaning against the wall, almost insolently. “Your little speech, no matter how persuasive, won’t help. Potter and I will go on despising each other.”

Hermione nodded. “I wish it could be different.” She shrugged. “If the Headmaster had shown any support to you, it might have been. I don’t understand him, either.”

Severus frowned. “He’s angry at me for daring to hope.” His voice softened. “He’s convinced you are a bad influence on me.”

Hermione felt her heart flutter at his softly enunciated words. How was it possible for a voice to breathe so many insinuations into so few words? She looked up at Severus with a little knowing smile. “I’ll try to be on my best behaviour, sir.”

He nodded sagely. “See that you do, Miss Granger.” He unfolded his arms and pushed himself from the wall. “I’ll walk you back to your Common Room.”

As they walked, they spoke briefly of the conversation with Dumbledore. Hermione’s eyes widened as he told her of his ultimatum to the Headmaster. “But, Professor – “

He stopped and turned to her. For a moment, he seemed to wage a brief battle with himself. “I’m your professor in the classroom, and in the company of others.” He glanced around briefly, and took her hand. “I am Severus to you.” He said the words with a faint scowl, as if not entirely pleased by it.

“This, whatever it is, between us…” His finely shaped brows knitted together. He glanced up at her through his curtain of dark hair. “I am a possessive man, Hermione. If you pledge yourself to me, I take it seriously.”

She looked up at him, her scowl matching his. “You should. I made it in all seriousness.”

“I consider that you belong to me now.” Again, a faint anger in his voice, as if he expected a challenge.

Hermione smiled. “You’re missing the point, Severus.”

“And that is?”

Hermione hesitated a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I’ve considered that I belonged to you the moment I found you on the floor in Grimmauld Place. I knew then you were worth protecting. You were worth fighting for. And since no one else was there to do it, I could fill that space without having to worry about competing with anyone else for the position.” She gave him a wry smile. “Then I could boss you around to my heart’s content.”

If she hoped he would smile, or react in any other way opposite to his dour nature, she would have been disappointed. Instead, he nodded. Then, he did something that surprised her, after all.

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, then pressed it against his cheek. His skin was cool, like fine marble, and he closed his eyes for a moment, as if savouring the feel of her flesh against his own.

“Tomorrow, we begin Occlumency lessons. Seven o’clock, my study.”

“Of course,” Hermione replied, her voice quavering a little. His large hand enveloped hers, and she gave his cheek a little stroking caress with her fingertips.

His reply was to turn his face and press his lips against her palm. He opened his eyes, and glanced sideways at her face. His warm mouth parted, and he touched the tip of his tongue to her palm, causing a jolt of electricity to race down into her loins, and her breathing quickened. When he saw the dark heat in her expression, the obvious arousal in her eyes, he smirked, and tilted his head, almost flirtatiously.

“So, not entirely the ‘boss’ of this relationship, hmm?” he purred, his voice rumbling against her hand. When she swallowed with an audible clicking noise, he chuckled darkly, and lowered her hand to her side. He smirked inwardly to see her tremble, knowing he was the cause.

Hermione looked down at her palm. She could see the faintest trace of moisture in the centre, from his warm, mischievous tongue. It triggered a memory. “Tonight, in the Headmaster’s study – “

“I know. I felt it, too.”

Hermione looked at her palm again. While there was no visible mark to commemorate the Blood Oath they’d taken, she’d felt a sting of sensation there. “Was it because we both felt the other was being threatened?”

He pondered. “Perhaps. Blood oaths are magical, and when they are made in earnest, can often warn the oath bearer of peril.”

Hermione considered. “I could see where that could be advantageous.”

He shook his head. She really could be such an infant sometimes. “Why do you think I made it in the first place, child?”

Before she could answer, he looked down at her, and his eyes flickered briefly over her lush, parted mouth, and he shook his head. “That does it. Off to bed with you, then. There’s a good lass,” he said, nodding toward the hall leading to Gryffindor Tower. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

She watched him walk away, hoping he would turn around, but, rather perversely, told herself he wouldn’t, and, of course, he didn’t. It just wouldn’t have been a very ‘Professor Snape’ thing to do.

She paused. Severus. He was Professor Snape in the school, in public, to the world. He was Severus in her heart.

In the weeks following their long talk, she and Severus had drawn closer, and each day she spent with him taught her more about him to admire, to love and care for. He was still Severus Snape, however; companionship had not changed his tendency to pout, or lose patience, or grumble about the tiniest of things, or to exhibit fits of temper.

Hermione learned to deal with him, and she found that, when all was said and done, dealing with Severus Snape was not all that different from dealing with every boy she’d ever met. He could be ridiculously stubborn and bloody minded, and completely inflexible.

At times it was so tempting to hex the bollocks off the man who was presently berating her for cutting her daisy roots in three-eights inch pieces instead of seven-sixteenths inches. Especially when the same wizard had kissed her into insensibility for almost two solid hours the night before.

It was sometimes all Hermione could do not to walk up behind him after class and magically bind him to his chair and force him to make love to her. She rather thought she would, if she stood a chance of success. When it came to iron control, Severus Snape was a solid rock. And she would know, having felt it against her hip as he kissed her into a swooning state of desire on a nightly basis.

The Sunday they began Occlumency lessons went absurdly better than Hermione had hoped. In reality, she had approached it with pants-wetting dread. Harry had told them all horror stories of Professor Snape’s ruthless rape of his mind over and over, while taunting him to concentrate and control his emotions.

Hermione thought Severus might be going rather easy on her, because the first thing he did was to give her a Mind-Clarifying Potion, which helped her to concentrate better. “I’m only going to do this the first time, but it should give you an idea of how to accomplish the skill on your own.”

As he walked away from her, he spoke, “I’ve used Legilimency on you before, and you recognised it, but the Dark Lord is very skilled. He can slip into your mind unawares. We’ll be practicing both types of… penetration.”

In spite of herself, Hermione blushed. He turned and stood for a few moments, allowing the potion to work, biting back laughter at her flushed face. Allowing his voice to drop in timbre, he asked quietly, “How do you feel?

Telling herself that he was deliberately distracting her, Hermione concentrated hard. Finally, she said, “Like everything makes perfect sense in my head.” She smiled. “It’s as if everything is compartmentalized, and I can put every thought in its proper place.”

He nodded, pleased. “Good. Now, I’m going to Legilimize you. Try very hard to block me away. I don’t expect you to succeed the first, or even the second time.” His mouth twitched. “However, by the third time, you should understand what is happening enough to block me.”

He had been right, of course. She picked herself off the floor after the first attempt, with a bleeding nose and shaking from head to toe. He had been determined, but not too rough with her, and even as she dragged herself to her feet and he siphoned the blood from her face, she was thinking about how she might be able to block him.

The second time was no better or worse, but when he withdrew, she thought she might be having either an aneurism, or an epiphany. “Do it again! I want to try something!”

Severus regarded her for a moment, then shook his head. “I think twice is quite enough for one night, Hermione.”

“Please? I think I have it – really! If I don’t, I promise I’ll stop.”

He sighed. “Very well. Legilimens!

He strode into her mind, and she pictured him walking down a hall, with an infinite number of doors. Each time he tried to enter a door, she shut it firmly in his face. She could feel his surprise, and he turned immediately to the next door, but she managed to shut it as well. He sped up, and she could feel him pushing harder, moving from door to door with increasing speed. It became more difficult to concentrate on each door. Sometimes he would pretend to rush to one, only to dash through another.

For almost ten minutes, she was able to keep him out, but he finally managed to sneak through a door she’d left unprotected, and once he was there, her defenses weakened, and all the doors quietly unlocked themselves.

She wobbled, feeling all her strength draining from her body, even as her professor caught her in his arms. When her head cleared, she was astonished to find herself sitting in his lap, her head tucked against his shoulder, his arm around her waist. He was casually reading a book, and when she stirred, he put the book aside and faced her, frowning.

“Finally! I thought I was going to have to Rennervate you.” He sounded irritated, but Hermione could hear the fear underneath. He had been afraid for her. She sat up, and a brief wave of dizziness passed over her quickly.

“Did I do it?” When he lowered his eyes and tilted his head, she grew excited. “I did, didn’t I?”

He smirked. “You did, indeed.” He grew serious. “But your method isn’t very efficient, and as you discovered, can easily falter. You exhausted yourself trying to keep your ‘doors’ closed, but I could increase my pace in reaching each new one. But I will concede, it was an impressive start. Now, up you get.” He patted her thigh. “My left leg is numb.”

They discussed various ways to improve her performance, and Hermione left with the thrill of not only being able to prevent Severus from Legilimizing her, but the lovely feeling of nestling in the crook of his arm, sitting on his lap.

The second time she was able to block his invasion completely, she experienced a very different reaction from him. Flushed with success, she impulsively threw her arms around Severus’ neck and gave him a massive hug. Almost the moment she did, she regretted it. She could feel his entire body stiffen; she could almost hear disapproval in his very breathing.

His hands, which had been locked by his sides, rose slowly, uncertainly, and lightly pressed against her waist. For a moment, she thought he would push her away, but she held on. She looked up into his unreadable dark eyes. There was a faint line between his silky brows, and Hermione steeled herself for rejection.

Gently, she said, “Severus, it’s called a hug. People who fancy each other do it. It’s a sign of affection.” She drew back so she could see his face, but he was stubbornly avoiding eye contact. With an apologetic smile, she added, “It’s usually reciprocated by the one fancied.”

He looked at her strangely, and drew very still. Then his large hand pressed against the back of her head, and he plunged into her mouth in a devastating, demanding kiss. The world stopped turning, and Hermione felt the saddle between her thighs swell and pulse with each heartbeat. Her knees buckled; had he not been holding her in a sudden iron grip, she would have fallen.

His lips were warm and soft and hungry, and fit against hers perfectly, and when his tongue begged entrance and she opened herself to him, he gasped and swooped down on her with a startlingly deep, loud moan, like a man enjoying the most delectable dessert, and to Hermione, that was exactly what he was as well.

Hermione had been kissed before, but never like this. No one had ever made her body ache and shiver and burn like this. She was trembling as he teased her mouth with his tongue, and as she responded with a soft sweep of her own tongue against his, she realised he was trembling, too. Her hands were sliding though his silky hair, and when he cupped her bottom in his hands and pressed her against him, she whimpered into his mouth, and she felt his erection pulse against her pelvis.

They were clutching each other, mouths open, tongues battling, each drinking the moans from the other, twisting, trying to plumb every depth of each other. It was as if her entire being, heart and mind and body and soul were in her mouth, being licked and nipped and pleasured by Severus Snape.

Her nipples were rock hard; she was sure he could feel them through her robes, and he smelled divine, like new mown grass, and parchment and soap. He tasted like wine, and she understood now why books called desire a hunger. She bit at his lower lip, and he growled and thrust his hips against hers, his arms sliding over her body like ropes to bind her heart, and Hermione never wanted him to stop.

Slowly, he gradually eased the intensity of his kiss, until their lips parted with a soft, sucking pout, and Hermione almost cried out at the loss of his warm mouth, his soft fragrant breath. He was as breathless and flushed as she, and Severus closed his eyes and drew her against him. She could hear his strong, steady heart pounding in harmony with hers. His velvety voice slid over her like the most sensuous of garments. “I think that is enough reciprocation, lass. I’m a man before I’m a wizard, and you, witch, are a lennan si, if one ever existed.”

Hermione was running, running down the hall, fear giving her feet the same wings as when she had spotted Severus and thought he was a Death Eater come to attack the school. She knew this outcome would be different, and she knew he was going to be furious – if she survived.

Her heart was almost bursting, and she could still hear the wizard behind her, gaining ground. She almost sobbed, feeling terror and stupidity washing over her, tainting her sweat with a bitter, caustic edge, and she knew he would sense it, and use it against her.

She was so close to escaping, but, as before, her fear was making her panic, and she wasn’t thinking straight…

Title and quote is from the song Telling Me Lies from the amazing Trio Album. Words by Dolly Parton

Nine: Take Me For Longing

Don’t choose me because I am faithful. Don’t choose me because I am kind. If your heart settles on me, I’m for the taking. Take me for longing or leave me behind.

I would be, for you, a fire in a rainbow; I would be, for you, an opening door. Time and hard lessons are one kind of wisdom. Try to forget them or love me no more.

I’m not asking your heart to believe me, I’m not asking for promise or pledge; whenever the answer is ‘yes’, that’s the question; I am the fool dancing over the edge.

The winter gradually gave way to the beginnings of a rather grudging Scottish spring, and Severus and Hermione spent their precious, stolen hours practicing Occlumency and cautiously learning each other. With each passing day, Severus found himself admiring Hermione’s developing maturity as a scholar. She had gradually emerged from the book-spouting little know-it-all, into an intelligent, clever young woman of depth and humour, capable of making impressive leaps of deductive reasoning, all the while making him want to laugh. He didn’t, very much; he wanted to, very much.

She was diligent, and he admired that; she fretted about her O.W.L.s, but Severus knew the examinations well enough by now to know she would sail through them, even this early in the year. Her own hard-won self-confidence gave him the beginnings of understanding how to accept himself, not as a flawed, hopeless individual beyond redemption, but as a man with flaws, trying to do the right things. He had second-guessed his every move his whole life; Hermione was teaching him to trust himself.

Severus had little enough time to ponder this odd little relationship, but when he did, it comforted him as few things had done his entire life. Now that Dumbledore had backed off, and given them some breathing room, Severus could afford to enjoy his little Gryffindor lioness. He realised he liked her, though he felt he should be above such childish, mundane thoughts; he was a grown wizard, not a third-year passing love notes in class. (Do you like me? Check Yes or No) He had intercepted so many of those in his teaching career, he probably could have written one, had he chosen, to Hermione. Sometimes, after a few glasses of wine, he found himself sorely tempted to put quill to parchment.

It was the first time in his adulthood that Severus could actually remember not feeling like he was simply marking time until the Dark Lord decided he was too expendable to leave alive. That had been surprisingly hard to accept. It was all so easy to give in to the ease of fatalism, he admitted. Living was tougher. It was the startling, terrifying, hopeful realisation that he wanted to live past the war, to see what a future might hold. He’d botched up so many aspects of his life, but he rather thought with Hermione around, that might not happen so much. She wasn’t the type to sit around and let those she cared about bollocks things up.

Severus had never known what it felt like to be truly part of a couple, albeit a clandestine one. His time with Lily was, as he now realised, much more about giving than taking. He was forced to admit that Lily had never really given herself totally to him, not like a true lover should. He found his self-directed loathing and anger losing ground over the reluctant, fearful desire to start over. Seeing all of his dark confessions behind him, Hermione had never, nor would ever have turned her back on him as Lily had. He was sometimes awed, sometimes dismayed, at Hermione’s capacity for forgiveness, caring and acceptance.

Lily had been an ideal; the ultimate perfect woman, forever denied him. She blazed a trail through Hogwarts, all flash and vivaciousness, and he was the drab chimney sweep skulking behind her, always bringing up the rear. When he tried to picture the two of them together now, at his present age, he simply couldn’t do it, yet he had measured every woman since her death against such an impossible yardstick.

When he had tried to do the same with Hermione, she cut the yardstick down to size so quickly it had left him dazed. One thing was certain – Hermione was never going to compete with a ghost, and told him so. She had, at first, shocked him into silent resentment, then proceeded to make him create a new yardstick.

He knew Lily would always be part of him, but he was beginning to understand that maybe he didn’t have to self-flagellate daily to prove to himself and the world that he had made a mistake, and felt remorse for it. For all of Lily’s vanity and pride; in spite of her ultimate rejection of him, Severus believed that she would truly be happy for him to find some love amongst the living. The fact that he’d found it with a student shocked and worried and frightened him, but not enough to end it. He was no longer capable of walking away, even for Lily’s son.

His little witch was every bit as voracious as him in the pursuit and discussion of knowledge; he enjoyed the cut and thrust of conversing with someone who gave him a run for his money. Even as young as she was, Hermione could hold her own, and his challenges, opinions and intellectual arguments only served to increase her understanding and confidence. It was the only thing about his life that he could remotely call pleasant, and he clung to it with an ever increasing dependence that concerned him more with every passing day.

He had come to understand a lot more about the Muggle-born witch who had taken him into her heart so completely; just as he had told her his life story in that mind-bending afternoon, she had chosen to return the favour over the days and weeks to follow. He had listened, stunned, at the revelations of her part in all of the exploits of the so-called ‘Golden Trio’, with a growing respect and horror for her cleverness and outright audacity. He kept most of his emotions concealed. He was, after all, still Severus Snape. He had not become a bloody Gryffindor overnight.

“So Minerva’s Time-Turner trick was how you managed to get so many classes completed?” He frowned. “The implications of that are potentially devastating. I cannot believe she was so careless as to give a third-year student such responsibility for something with the potential for such dire consequences.” In reality, he was jealous. How many times had he yearned to be able to turn back time? He knew it was an empty fantasy. That was not how Time-Turners worked. If he had the chance to change what happened, would he have done something different? Was destiny subject to change?

Hermione was nodding. “Looking back, even this short amount of time, I can’t believe I did it, either.” She gave him a little sheepish sideways glance. “I have to confess, I wasn’t exactly honest with her. I abused it shamelessly.”

Severus looked down his large nose at his witch, narrowing his eyes. “Indeed, Miss Granger. And what form, pray tell, did this abuse take?” He was truly intrigued how Hermione Granger, heretofore thought of as goody-goody extraordinaire, felt she had abused the use of her third-year secret.

Hermione had the grace to blush. “Well, I didn’t use it to cheat, if that’s what you’re implying!”

He sniffed. “Merlin forbid, Miss Granger. I would never imply something so sordid. It would be very – ” He smirked. “Un-Gryffindor of you.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione dunked one of Severus’ favourite chocolate biscuits into her tea, and chased the dripping cookie to her mouth. Chewing, she said, “It’s just that, sometimes, if I really enjoyed a particular class, or wanted to remember something, I’d go back three or four times and repeat it.”

Severus frowned. “How can that be? There would be three or four of you in class at once.”

Hermione blushed. Whoops. She grinned sheepishly. “Well, I borrowed an invisibility cloak and just sort of… snuck in.”

Severus was gobsmacked. “But who – ” He huffed. “Of course. Potter.”

“I didn’t tell you that!”

Severus mentally rolled his eyes. “Really, Hermione. Students think we professors are so blind. We do know things.” He smirked. “Go on.”

She sighed wistfully, as if remembering something pleasant. “I went back and slept for days at a time! And if there was a particularly good meal, I’d eat a bit, leave, then go back and eat more of it, because I knew I’d enjoy it over again, and then I’d have to return to exercise so I wouldn’t gain too much weight…”

She gave him an apologetic smile. “Don’t worry – I didn’t change time or cause a paradox! You’d be surprised, though, how basically little would change during the repeats. But it just sort of added up after awhile.”

Unable to stop himself, Severus blurted, “Did you ever repeat any time… in this class?” The moment the words left his mouth, he chastised himself for sounding like the love-sick fool he was. He would be sending the Dark Lord roses at this rate.

Hermione smirked. “Why, Professor Snape! Are you hinting to see if I used my Time-Turner in order to spend more time with you?”

Feeling a bit of an arse, Severus gave her a stony stare. Unfazed, Hermione leaned over and kissed the tip of his sizable nose. “All the time, sir. Especially when you gave the lecture on Healing Potions. I snuck in using Harry’s cloak.”

“Why Healing Potions? Do you have plans to become a Healer?”

Hermione pondered the question while munching on another stolen biscuit. “I have considered it. But that’s not why I repeated the lectures.” When he steadfastly refused to ask why, she caved in. “You know you have the most beautiful voice when you lecture about something you care about.” He could feel her smile slip under the waistband of his trousers and give him a little teasing caress. “Your voice has always given me a little shiver.”

Slightly mollified, he accepted the compliment, appalled that he could feel his face growing warm, along with his crotch. After writhing a bit through this blush, Severus looked at her suddenly. “Just how much time did you add to your life with this Time-Turner experiment?”

She frowned in thought, reaching for the chocolate biscuits again, only to have her hand slapped by her professor.

“Oy, you!” She squeaked, rubbing her offended hand.

He grumbled, “Stop eating my biscuits.”

“I brought them!” Hermione was laughing in spite of herself. He really was adorable when he was being truculent.

He looked at her imperiously. “As a present to me. Bring your own, tomorrow. Answer the question, Hermione.”

She picked up her teacup, and beamed at him as he rolled his eyes and placed the chocolate biscuit on her plate. “Thank you, Professor.” She narrowed her eyes in thought. “Well, by my calculations, I gained about a year and a bit.”

At his stunned expression, she laughed. “I became obsessed with it. Professor McGonagall warned me about it – the urge to go back, to return to certain moments. It gets addictive.

“I spent a lot of time in the Room of Requirement with a Pensieve, reliving a lot of moments. I probably spent as much time skulking around under the invisibility cloak. It was such a feeling of, I don’t know.” She frowned. “It was a real feeling of power, to be able to turn back time. There were several moments I returned to, just to relive over and over again.”

She nodded. “How many times do we get the chance to repeat a moment, to make it better? I had to know. Sometimes I could improve things. Sometimes, I didn’t.” She looked at him, and they both knew what she was thinking about – the night she and Harry saved Sirius Black from the Dementors.

“Severus,” she began shyly. She gave him a little, bashful smile, and he watched her carefully. “I wanted to tell you this because – well, because I – you see…” She suddenly blushed.

Puzzled, he replied, rather sternly, “Out with it, Hermione! Our time together is quite limited enough without you resorting to stuttering.” He quirked an eyebrow, and added dryly, “Unless you still have your Time-Turner and plan on repeating it.”

“Oh, you could at least make it easy for me,” she grumbled, colouring even more. “I’m trying to tell you that I turn eighteen soon, that’s all.” She watched him carefully. When he didn’t reply, she pressed on. “I started school at nearly twelve anyway, and by my calculations, technically, I’ll turn eighteen in a couple of months.”

Severus, his expression unchanging, was suddenly aware of her stammering, her insinuations. She would be of age. She was telling him, in a rather uncharacteristically clumsy fashion, that she wanted them to be lovers. He watched her carefully.

He wanted her. It would be ludicrous to say or think otherwise. The evenings they spent together were wonderful, and excruciating in equal measures. To have her lying in his arms, breathless with his kisses, to feel the satiny, cool skin of her neck beneath his lips, to venture a warm palm over a pert breast, even through her clothing, was blissful, and a nightly exercise that bordered on mutual masochism. Each night, they would part, both hurrying to their respective bedrooms to seek some relief by their own hand. It was at times like this that Severus knew for a fact that self-denial and discipline were fucking overrated.

And yet, there was the sweetness of her innocence that brought a measure of calm to his heart, that made him feel outside of himself and the scope of his experience. To be wanted so, to hear her cry out beneath his moving hands (‘I don’t care, Severus! Please don’t stop!’), and to be strong enough to wait, to savour, to shiver in that much anticipation, knowing that one day, they would no longer feel the need to wait, was heady to him.

He would be her first. The first to touch her intimately; the first to taste her, the first to penetrate her, the first to thrust into her silken body. There were nights, lying in his bed, he would think these thoughts, and feel like a god. Her first. It was a privilege he would only experience with her once. No one else would have that honour, that gift. When the first of the firsts had been sampled, there would be no returning, even with Minerva’s Time-Turner. The body would know, and remember.

Severus wanted to relish each first as it came to him. On those long, sleepless nights, he found himself planning each detail. He would start with her lovely breasts, then cover every inch of her nubile body with his mouth, his lips, his tongue, until he reached the core, the centre of her, of birth, of life. He would be creator, Adam and the serpent, to her Eve; giving her first knowledge of a man, how to please him, as well. Yes, it was heady stuff that made his increasingly harsh life bearable.

And yet, he wanted her to be completely sure. “Hermione, this is possibly the worst timing any lovers have shared since Romeo and Juliet.”

“I know, but – “

“Hear me out, please.” He held up his hand. He looked at the young witch. She looked so confident and sure, and he thought he should harden his heart. He still thought the best, most noble act would be to tell her to stop thinking of him in a romantic fashion, that he wasn’t destined for happiness or love. He waited, until he could do that, could say that.

He sighed. He couldn’t. Fuck nobility, he thought. I want this too much. He slumped slightly. “Be sure, Hermione. I can only be so strong for so many causes. I want you, and I will not be able to stop myself. And once I’ve bedded you, witch, you’ll belong to me, and I to you. I’m not afraid of physically hurting you, but I’m afraid you’ll be caught in the crossfire of this madness that we live in.”

Her reply was to walk around until she was standing behind his chair. Gentle, soft hands slid into his hair and began to massage his scalp, the same way she had the night in Grimmauld Place. He gradually relaxed, the feeling of being petted like a large cat too seductive to resist. After a few moments, he made a deep purring sound of contentment, and Hermione smiled.

As she moved her fingers through his silky, slightly oily hair, she said, “Oh, Severus, I know. I do know. Right now, I’m so frightened all the time. I’m terrified for you, every time you’re summoned to… to him. I’m frightened for Harry, but most of all, I’m frightened that when the worst happens, and it will, that I won’t be brave enough to do the right thing.”

She walked around and sat in his lap, laying her head against his shoulder; a wonderful, welcomed weight against him, and without thinking, his arms were around her, pulling her close, sharing her warmth. “The only thing I’m not afraid of is how I feel about you. I just believe – ” Her voice changed, thickened, and Severus looked at her. To his surprise, there were tears in her eyes.

“I just believe that love is the only thing that is going to save us, like Lily saved Harry.” She buried her head against his shoulder.

He grew very still. Delicately clearing his throat, he said, “Lass, are you telling me you love me?” He shook his head. “I’m not worth it, Hermione. I want to be, but I can’t make myself believe I’m worthy of love.”

Hermione sat up, her breathing harsh from her crying. “Severus Snape, you will NEVER say that again. I will not accept that. Of all the wizards I have ever met, you are more worthy of love than the lot! And don’t bring up your past, don’t bring up things that happened before I was born – “

He groaned, feeling his heart splitting open. “Another reason not to continue this infatuation with me, Hermione! I’m so much older – “

“Stop it! Stop trying to bring up excuses that even YOU don’t want to hear!” she said, her amber-coloured eyes snapping fire. She poked him in the chest. “Don’t forget, I know you. I know you’re trying to push me away because you think that’s what you are supposed to do! It’s not going to work with me.”

She put her arms around his neck and shifted her position, until she was straddling him. He moaned. “Hermione, please!”

She took his head in her hands. “Tell me to leave, Severus Snape, because you don’t want this. Tell me you love someone else and could never love me. Look me in the eye, let me look into your mind and see these things, and I’ll never pester you again.”

Severus realised he was breathing hard, as if he’d been running. To his horror, he felt near tears, as well. He grew angry with himself for being so damnably weak. But he still held onto her. He still had an erection. “You unman me, witch,” he whispered, not daring to look into her eyes. His hands, unbidden, slid up her thighs, to rest at her waist.

“No, Severus. I’m giving you the chance to be a man.” He looked up then, and Hermione suddenly blushed again. “I’m giving you the chance to make me a woman. To say you are unworthy of love is to tell me I’m not worthy to know the difference.”

For a moment, neither spoke. She bit her bottom lip, then slowly stood. His lap felt horribly light, relieved of its welcomed burden. She knelt beside his chair. “We’re linked now. Sometimes, I feel we were linked at the beginning of time, and we were destined for this moment.” She looked up at him with complete conviction. “I will never forsake you, Severus. No matter what happens, we will survive this, and we’ll fight until we win. But you have to fight with me. You have to love me in return.”

Severus looked down at the little witch, the confidence of youth bright and shining in her clean, lovely eyes, and for a moment, he wanted to run. Just take her hand and run away from Hogwarts, from England, from Europe, even. The thought was so sweet and perfect, for a moment he almost stood and asked her to leave with him. The real world pressed down on him, and he knew she would no more allow him to abandon his duty than demand him to run away with her.

Instead, he stroked her hair, and she laid her head against his knee. Severus saw the two of them together, man and woman, wizard and witch, Slytherin and Gryffindor, jaded and innocent. He saw their similarities, their single-minded concentration, their cleverness, their fear, their power. He slid his fingers through her hair, and felt an irrational sense of ownership, of responsibility.

She was his; she belonged to him. “Hermione,” he said, his voice rich, full of power, of beauty. She looked up at him expectantly.

“Come here.”

She dutifully crawled back into his arms, and he held her. There was nothing awkward, or uncomfortable, about holding her. With Lily, it had been all elbows and angles; bumping noses and self-conscious blushes. Age had covered a multitude of sins, but the simple fact was that he fit against Hermione. No matter how he held her, no matter how she nestled against him, the pieces fit, both mentally and physically.

He sighed, casting his fate to the gods. “I am yours, witch. You’ll eventually realise you’ve inherited a shoddy bale of goods, but I’m yours.” He held her in a painful embrace, but she didn’t protest. “I will be your love.” He sighed, as he planted a kiss on her outrageous hair. “A time will come when possibly that will be all I have left to give.”

Her reply was to take his hand in hers, and press her lips to his palm. He gasped, as her pink tongue darted out and delicately licked the centre, causing his hand to twitch.

She looked at him fondly. “I can’t wait.”

Outwardly, no one could tell any difference in Professor Snape or Hermione. He was still angry, biased, unfair, belligerent and prejudiced. He was snarky, bullying, partial and unreasonable.

Inwardly, he was deeply afraid, more afraid than he’d been since the Dark Lord returned. He was in love, and it was taking every ounce of his rock hard self-control not to show it. No one knew that the Potions master was happy. That wouldn’t do at all. He was still, to every faculty member and student but one, the Bat of the Dungeons, the petty arse and greasy git. He drilled Hermione constantly on Occlumency, as much to strengthen his own skills as to develop hers.

Hermione was a little quieter, a little more cautious than before, and a bit removed from Harry and Ron. Harry still struggled with his own anger and self-doubts, and Ron, caught in between the two of them, had decided to form other attachments, namely with one of Hermione’s roommates, Lavender Brown. Hermione barely noticed. She was too busy preparing for her O.W.L. exams, and hid behind this excuse.

School itself had taken on the quality of a nightmare; the Ministry had finally attempted to depose Dumbledore, causing him to leave the school in rather typically flashy Dumbledore fashion. Severus confided to Hermione not to be unduly worried; the Headmaster was in constant contact with the Order, and the new Headmistress Umbridge had her hands full just trying to keep control. Between the Weasley twins and the mutinous staff, the Headmistress was growing increasingly unstable.

Determined that she would be able to find out Dumbledore’s whereabouts through the student body, Umbridge was driving everyone, staff and students included, mad with her ‘Inquisition’ Squad; it was only because of Professor Snape’s respectful relationship with Mr. Filch, that Hermione was able to meet with him for her extra ‘lessons’.

Harry still acted uncomfortable about Sirius, and the thin veneer of respect he gave Severus grew more brittle every day. It disturbed Severus not a jot, but it bothered Hermione that, even after the Easter holidays, Harry was still suspicious of Severus.

Hermione decided to spend the Easter holidays with her parents, much to her professor’s displeasure. Severus was loath to admit it, but he missed the little swot. She was good company, when she didn’t prattle inanely about subjects which held no interest for him. She could be very considerate, like making sure his tea was accompanied by the particular type of honey he fancied. She loved dark, dark chocolate, and would share generously her Honeydukes’ purchases with him, and she never complained that he ate all the chocolate biscuits with his tea, leaving her the Rich Tea biscuits, which, in Severus’ opinion, were shit for dipping in his brew.

She helped with grading the first-years’ essays, and she did other little things, like mending the holes in his old scarf, so that he would be warmer outside on those cold nights on patrol. And when their lessons were over, they kissed like, well, like fifth-years. Severus had promised himself he would not touch her until she was eighteen, and he did not. He was content to feel her snuggle against him, to hear her soft little sighs of delight, to taste her sweet little heart-shaped mouth as it suckled against his. It was true that he had never wanked so much in his life, but he could live with that. It no longer seemed like such a pointless exercise.

When Hermione told him she wanted to spend some time with her parents, he gave no indication of his jealousy-rooted resentment. After all, it would mean she had an excuse not to attend the Order meeting, and thus would not be exposed to the mutt, Black. Severus had not told Hermione of the Dark Lord’s command to take her with him to the next Order meeting, and Severus knew he’d have to come up with a plausible reason why he had defied the Dark Lord’s wishes. He knew he would be punished, but his Hermione would be safe.

It was not as if she would not be returning after the break, and they had already planned to spend several weeks together during the summer. But he knew that while she was gone, he would be alone again, and while he had long become accustomed to eating, sleeping and living alone over the long, lonely years, it had been very easy to learn how to share his time with her. Her leaving him during the Easter break made him too aware of the loneliness that was once an all-encompassing part of his life. It reminded him too much of the man he’d been, the man he would still be, if not for her intervention.

In truth, as much as Hermione would have loved to spend more private time with Severus, she desperately wanted to speak with her mother. As confident as she was about their relationship, she was worried about disappointing Severus with her lack of experience. When she told him of her misgivings, he rolled his eyes. “And how many lovers do I look like I’ve enjoyed, Hermione? I’m not exactly a Malfoy, my girl.”

Still, Hermione got the feeling he knew exactly what he was doing. His kisses were too perfect, too accomplished. This was no green boy; Severus was a man. Hermione did not permit herself to think of him during the day, during school; the distraction was incredible. Looking into his ebony eyes, feeling his large, warm hands enclosing her, his mouth knowing and insistent, Hermione could feel her body aching in unrelieved desire. Thinking about him, craving him in the middle of History of Magic class, had caused her to miss entire lectures on the Goblin Wars.

She longed for something she’d never experienced, and she could not fathom anyone else as a lover, especially her first lover. She wanted her first time to be the stuff she’d always read about, all trumpets and fireworks; but more than that, she wanted it to be the same for him. She wouldn’t be his first, but she wanted it to be so good it would feel like his first.

She and her mother had always shared thoughts about anything under the sun, and predictably, Jean Granger approached her daughter’s decision to take a lover with typical aplomb. She offered to share her Joy of Sex book, and Hermione didn’t have the heart to tell her mum she’d already read it from cover to cover. Several times.

While her mother had not asked her outright who the lucky man was, and Hermione did not dare tell her, she did hint that he was older, with experience, and that they had very strong feelings for each other. Jean appraised her daughter carefully. “Do you love him, Hermione?”

Hermione thought carefully. “There is a lot about him to love. He’s not classically handsome, Mum, but he is to me. He doesn’t think he’s worthy, but he is.”

“Well, you’ll no doubt set him straight, knowing you, dear,” her mother laughed. She grew serious. “I know you well enough. If you think he’s a worthy man, then he is. Just be careful, Hermione. Love and sex aren’t the same thing.”

“Oh, Mother, I know that!” Hermione said, rather indignantly. “It’s a little complicated right now, but I believe in him. He’s a good man.” She looked at her mother carefully. “I can’t think of another person on earth better suited for me.”

She spent the rest of the day perusing her mother’s shockingly large collection of books on the subject of sex and sexual techniques. “Why do you think your father always looks so pleased with himself?” her mother had quipped, when Hermione beheld the vast array of literature dedicated to the sexual experience. Blushing and laughing, Hermione took the proffered lunch from her mother’s hands, and resumed her perusal of the Kama Sutra.

When the Order met during the Easter holidays, Severus arrived deliberately late, and sat in the back. He noticed that Black, too, was seated back from the group on the opposite side of the room, glaring at him. The meeting was dull and pointless; everyone was congratulating Potter on discovering his ability to sense the Dark Lord’s thoughts and thus find a way to thwart him in discovering the prophecy. The less Severus heard of the damned thing, the better. The Dark Lord was starting to obsess about it, and his desire to find it had caused him to send Nagini to the Department of Mysteries to locate it. Potter, once again the boy-hero, had saved the day by envisioning Nagini’s attack on Arthur Weasley.

Severus had nothing against Arthur Weasley; in fact, he liked the man rather well. It was just the fawning, sycophantic worship of Potter that raked his nerves. The boy was treated like the saviour of the world, but all Severus could see was the boy’s arrogant resemblance to his bell-end of a father. Black was being exceedingly obsequious, and his fawning praise of Potter’s potential greatness made Severus want to puke.

As the meeting petered out to little more than socialising, Severus stood to make his leave, and found his way blocked by the Mongrel. “And how is Miss Granger, Snivellus?” Black sneered at him, and Severus realised the man was swaying slightly.

Severus drew himself back, wrinkling his large nose at the stink of booze on the man. He purred, “Very lovely, Black. Very appreciative of my attentions.” He risked a grim smile, and said so low that Black had to lean in to hear, “My thanks for all but pushing her into my arms. After that little stunt in the Shrieking Shack, she practically ravished me in my study.” The look of hatred on Black’s face was almost worth the aggro he would get when he told Hermione of this conversation. He gave Black a smile of pure lechery. “Detention fantasies, you see. She loves ‘em, and who am I to argue?”

Black pushed at him, “You really are a pig, Snape! Do you honestly expect me to believe Hermione willingly fucks you every night under Dumbledore’s nose?”

“I don’t have to force her, Black.” Severus purred. “I don’t need to back her in a corner to get her to do what I want.”

Sirius stepped up to Severus, looking less drunk by the second. “Don’t let’s talk about cornering people to get them to do what you want, Snape. You’re very good at it. I still haven’t forgotten what you did – “

“Gentlemen, please – ” Severus whirled to face Remus Lupin, who was watching both men with a troubled expression on his face. “I’m really growing tired of watching the two of your posturing like this. And, your voices are starting to carry.”

Severus snarled, “As if this truly concerns you, Lupin!” He turned to Black. “That little stunt with Potter only served to drive a wedge between Hermione and him, not me. While you’re sitting around here getting pissed and stirring up shit, Hermione and I are working on how to keep Potter safe, not alienating his friends from him.” His eyes swept over the two wizards with open contempt. “You make me sick, both of you.” He turned to go, as Black called out to him.

“We’re not the ones pretending to fuck her for bragging rights amongst the Death Eaters, Snivellus.” Without dignifying Black’s words with a reply, Severus stormed out the door.

The inevitable summoning took place shortly after the Order meeting. Since Severus had promised Hermione she would not be required to attend, he struggled to convince the Dark Lord that Hermione had not attended because of her family’s insistence that she go abroad with them for the holiday. Citing that it would have been almost impossible to circumvent her family’s wishes, Severus endured the usual catcalling of Going Muggle, being pussy-whipped. Severus ignored them, focusing all of his attention on the Dark Lord, who studied him thoughtfully.

Voldemort was testy, still unhappy with the information Severus was bringing him, especially regarding Dumbledore and his whereabouts. He was angry that Nagini had been thwarted, although Severus was careful not to tell him that Potter had seen it in a vision. The only redeeming information he could impart was convincing the Dark Lord that his dalliance with Hermione was reaping results.

He had only to show his Master the fierce argument between Potter and Hermione, to illustrate Potter’s supposed-growing instability, his isolation from Dumbledore, from those who did not wish to believe the Dark Lord had actually returned. Severus thought he might leave the meeting relatively unscathed, until the Dark Lord turned to him.

“Severus? No word of thanks for my… little gift to your pet? Am I to take this as a sign that it was unwanted and unwelcomed?”

Severus’ heart sank. He bowed and gave his Lord a knowing, sensual smile. “My Lord, I haven’t been so hard in years! I all but impaled the saucy little puss, and still she almost did me in.” He dialed in a sensuous, languid tone to his voice. “Oh, to have the stamina of youth.” There were several murmurs of approval, but Voldemort merely watched him.

“I would very much like to see that, my friend.” His eyes glowed unnaturally, with a frisson of depraved, vicarious lust.

Severus bowed. “It would be my pleasure, my Lord,” and filled Voldemort’s very vision with his large, liquid eyes. He brought to bear Hermione’s first kiss, and her breathless, moaning response, hiding well the revulsion he felt for being forced to share this most intimate of moments with this monster.

He recalled his encounter with the whore who resembled Hermione, hastily changed her voice, altered his surroundings, and soon his Master was sloe-eyed, watching his Potions master fucking his Mudblood concubine against the wall, like the dirty little receptacle she was. And through it all, as the Dark Lord pawed and slithered through his thoughts, Severus blessed the fact that he’d taken the precaution to hone his Occlumency skills, as well as Hermione’s.

With an almost sucking pull, Voldemort left his mind, relishing the exhibitionistic image of the lovers. “So, your little pet enjoyed her Dark Caress as well?”

Severus widened his black, luminous eyes, knowing full well the effect they had on his reptilian Master. “She was transported, My Lord. It is something she eagerly hopes to experience again.”

“Perhaps when the holidays are over, she can come and thank me in person.”

“It would be an honour for us both, My Lord,” he said, bowing, praying to himself, Merlin, please don’t make me bring her here! Please let this farce be over!

The Dark Lord watched Severus carefully for his reaction, but all he saw was Severus’ joy at the idea. “Hmm. Perhaps her family is too much of a distraction. I would hate to know your wellbeing is being neglected for a pair of Mudbloods.”

He grew quietly intense, and Severus felt his testicles shrivel in dread. “I like my gifts to be enjoyed, Severus. And I like being told they are enjoyed without having to ask. Perhaps this little gift will remind you in future, to show gratitude to your Master. Crucio!

In her childhood home in Surrey, Hermione’s palm burned for several minutes, and as she sat, the pain intensified to a throbbing, aching blaze, until it felt as if she were holding her hand in a fire. She felt sick with worry, knowing she was too far away to help Severus. She had known he would be summoned, and she knew exactly what this pain meant.

Without knowing if it would work or not, Hermione conjured the memory of her professor’s kiss, and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!

Hagrid found Severus an hour later at the Apparation point. He was on his hands and knees, vomiting, gasping in pain, but not nearly so much as on the night he’d made it only as far as Grimmauld Place. Hagrid helped the injured wizard to the Infirmary, telling Severus that, “A lovely great otter Patronus come an’ tol’ me ta be on the lookout fer ya, Perfesser. I don’ know who sent it, ba they were determined that someone come an’ find ya.”

Severus, sick to his stomach and too weak to walk unassisted, recalled the night Hermione had run from him, raising her wand to conjure the cheeky little otter Patronus. And, she’d even been able to send it forth as a messenger. In spite of his pain, he felt his heart swell. Good, good, girl.

When she returned to school at the end of their two week holiday, Hermione entered her Potions classroom with her classmates, and prepared her potion according to her professor’s instructions. When he asked a question, and no one but she and Draco Malfoy raised their hands to answer it, he chose Malfoy, who gave an incorrect answer. When Hermione raised her hand again, her professor rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, Miss Granger? Does our resident know-it-all showoff think she might have the correct answer?”

“Wormwood and Asafetida, sir, not Wormwood and Asphodel.”

Severus gave her a look of barely concealed condescension. He crossed his arms imperiously, and drawled in a bored voice, “The emphasis is on the fourth syllable, Miss Granger. ‘As – a – fa – TEE – da’.” In his rumbling, decadent purr, he added with a smirk, “Not so know-it-all now, are we?” The Slytherins laughed, and Hermione reacted as she always did, by lowering her head to her parchment and writing out her corrections. Severus continued his lecture, giving no indication whether she had given him the correct answer or not.

When class was dismissed, and everyone left, Hermione asked her professor for clarification on the potion in tomorrow’s assignment, and he had sighed, and rather irritably agreed to discuss it. Once the final student had left, Hermione locked the door, warded it, and came to stand by her professor. She looked up at him, and before she could react, he flung his arms around her, his knees sagging, until she was falling to the floor with him. He trembled, and clung to her, and she to him, telling him it was alright, she was there now, and that, whatever it was, she would make things better.

Severus held on to the girl, cursing himself for his weakness and folly, chastising himself for being the coward he was, and begging her not to forsake him. In truth, he was so happy to see her walk into the classroom, he almost wept, blessing the gods for the one person on earth happy to see him.

Looking down at his little witch, Severus devoured her mouth with his, moaning at the sheer delight of taking her soft mouth, snaking his tongue past her teeth. He ached for her, and whispered every ounce of his desire into her mouth. He watched her eyes sliding closed in pleasure he’d given her, and the pain of his punishment, the horrors of his life, all seemed to fade. He pulled her against him until she was almost lying on top of him, and his mouth trailed hot kisses down her tender throat. She whimpered with desire, and it was like music to him, to know his mouth could give her what his body would not yet allow.

“Hermione, lass,” he said, helplessly, his eyes closed. “Run to your Common Room. Leave me now, while I’ve got some self-control left.” She laughed, a soft, sweet sound that made his erection painful in his trousers. “You’re a horrid child! Go now, or I’ll not be fit for anything later.”

She rewarded him with a kiss on his large, aquiline nose. “Yes, you will. I’ve missed my share of you as well, Severus Snape.” She was slightly breathless, and her mouth was wet. “You’re not the only one who’s been missing your mate.”

A/N: Chapter title and opening words from AKUS: Take Me For Longing

Ten: Into The Belly Of The Beast

He threw me in the needle bed, cross my dress he lay, then he pinned my hands above my head and I commenced to pray.
I cried, My God, I am your child, send your angels down; then feeling with my fingertips, the bottle neck I found.
I drew that glass across his neck, as fine as any blade, and I felt his blood pour fast and hot around me where I laid.

As time passed, and Hermione became adept at Occlumency, Severus allowed her to practice Legilimency, and together they honed her skills to a razor sharp edge. Hermione was delighted to learn that, after Severus’ tough-as-nails approach to Occlumency, Legilimency was child’s play to her, and to Severus’ relief, she was surprisingly subtle.

The day she Legilimized into his mind during class, without his initial realisation, thrilled her, and disturbed him. It forced him to admit that she was incredibly adept, and to have a serious heart-to-heart about the propriety of looking into his thoughts in the middle of lecturing on Pepper-Up Potion. It also proved to him that he needed to double his guard against that sort of unexpected attack.

Hermione soon learned why accomplished Legilimens were often feared. She found it so easy to slip into someone’s mind; at most, it was an invasion, and at the least, very bad manners. Hermione never repeated her classroom stunt again, but she could understand the temptation. All it took to break her of Legilimizing into Severus’ mind was finding him there, arms crossed, glowering at her, hissing, “Hermione, there are a rather large amount of house points in peril right now, if you don’t remove yourself from my mind this instant!”

He was initially angry with her, but she had helped him to discover a serious breach in his protective armour; the most innocuous of moments could result in an invasion he was neither prepared, nor equipped for. He drilled her even more mercilessly afterward, this time in Legilimizing him.

As they worked with both disciplines, they soon realised the incredible implications of their combined skills: With practice and discipline, she and Severus soon learned to communicate non-verbally, for short amounts of time and distance. Sometimes, from one end of the castle to the other.

When Harry collapsed during his O.W.L. exam, Hermione hurriedly finished hers, and raced to be with him, fearing the worst. His link with Voldemort had grown stronger all year, ever since the night Harry dreamt Arthur Weasley was attacked in the Department of Mysteries; the dream was later found not only to be a true vision, but crucial in saving the older wizard’s life.

Rushing to Harry’s side, Hermione was shocked at his pale, unnaturally pinched features. He whispered urgently, “It’s Sirius! He’s there! In the Department of Mysteries!”

Confused, Hermione asked, “Harry, why would Sirius be there? He knows he can’t safely leave Grimmauld Place.”

Harry turned to her, his eyes snapping with green fire. “He’s there because your precious Professor Snape has goaded him into leaving Grimmauld! Snape, always taunting him for not being able to help – he’s there to help me, and they’re torturing him!”

Ron was as baffled as Hermione. “Who is, mate? C’mon, Harry, you’re not making sense!” He looked to Hermione, who shook her head. “Start from the beginning – “

“Alright, but we have to hurry!” Flustered, Harry marshalled his thoughts. Rather sheepishly, he began. “I sort of fell asleep in the exam, and I saw Sirius in the Department of Mysteries.” He turned to Ron. “It was just like when I saw your dad! Sirius was being tortured by Voldemort, and he kept asking him where it was!” He looked at Hermione, his eyes imploring and fearful. “We’ve got to get to him! Hermione, he’s my family!”

“Let Professor McGonagall alert the Order – “

He looked from Ron back to Hermione. “Professor McGonagall can’t help – she’s been hurt! She’s been transferred to St. Mungo’s.” He gave an exasperated huff. “What was the whole point of the D.A., if we can’t use what we’ve learned to help each other?”

Hermione felt her friend’s frustration and anxiety, but she also thought it was just too convenient. Sirius would never leave Grimmauld Place, even if he was angry at Severus’ taunts. “What if it’s a trick, Harry? What if Voldemort has come to realise he can manipulate your thoughts, and he’s using your feelings about Sirius to make you do something reckless?” Harry looked at her as if she was mad.

At the High Table during lunch, Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, and scowled, as he felt Hermione’s anxiety ramping up to a critical pitch. This was not merely exam nerves. From within his Occluded mind, he called to her.

What is happening, Hermione?

For a moment, he could sense her struggling to reply, as if she were too distracted, or too far away. The sensation was patchy, like static from a Muggle radio station out of range. Harry had a vision that Sirius was in the – Her thoughts faded, and once again he was reminded of sound giving way to white noise.

He left the Great Hall, his robes billowing as he passed several intimidated students, scowling at them in his usual manner. In his mind, he frantically tried to reconnect to Hermione. Usually, it was almost effortless; the two of them had grown adept at it, and every night, Hermione’s agile mind reached out to his, and bade him goodnight, just so the last voice he heard before sleeping would be hers.

It was something he shamefully relied on, and it irritated him that he could not connect to her mind now, when it was needed most. He just had to push a little harder. He knew from experience that, if she was distracted or occupied, it was almost impossible to make contact.Hermione! Answer me at once!

Watching Harry as he paced, Hermione suddenly winced at the imperious command all but reverberating in her mind.

Finally, after what seemed a small eternity, Severus sensed her within. Harry’s had another vision, like the last one… We’re going to… The voice he had come to rely on for comfort, for information, faded, and Severus, no matter how hard he tried, could not connect with her.

Severus strode down the hall at his usual pace, his long legs eating up the distance. The idiot Umbridge had requested his presence, which meant she wanted to dope up another student into telling her everything the poor wretch knew, which was always nothing. The fool was going through Veritaserum as if it was Gillywater, and he felt a smug satisfaction in being able to tell her she had used up his entire supply. Moronic woman! No style, whatsoever.

Hermione watched Severus, as he lounged in the doorway, surveying the sight before him. They were in Umbridge’s office, surrounded by her Inquisition Squad and the members of the D.A. who had come to help and been caught at the same time.

Severus looked at the scene in front of him, and would have laughed, had the potential consequences of what he was witnessing not been so dangerous. At Hermione’s insistence, she, Ron and Harry, tried, unsuccessfully, to ascertain if Sirius was indeed missing from Grimmauld Place. Foolishly, as it happened, for Umbridge had caught them in her office, and was now trying to convince Severus to make her more Veritaserum, to force Harry into telling her the location of Dumbledore.

Severus stood in Umbridge’s office, surrounded by her minions and the members of the D.A., looking bored and completely disinterested, even as the new Headmistress put him on probation for not having Veritaserum on hand. Hermione felt his dark voice Legilimizing into her mind.

What is happening, lass?

Hermione pretended to study her nails. We tried to contact Sirius at Grimmauld, and Umbridge caught us trying to use her Floo. She thinks we were trying to contact Dumbledore. She’s making a lot of threats, but I can’t believe she would act on them!

Watching Severus’ bored expression, as Umbridge berated him for his lack of cooperation, Hermione hoped her face was half as impassive. She’d never seen someone look so completely apathetic, in light of the current situation.

As Harry shouted to Severus about ‘Padfoot being at the place where it’s hidden’, Severus looked at Harry with deadpanned disdain. I will go on to Grimmauld as soon as I am able, to find out if his vision is accurate. If you can create a diversion, try to get away from her goon squad. Stay somewhere safe. Give me a moment to think this through.

But what if Sirius needs –

I’ll alert the Order! If Sirius is indeed in trouble, someone needs to be at Headquarters to let them know. And I don’t want students to be part of some foolhardy rescue mission for that mongrel, especially you! They are still monitoring the Floo. Just – be careful!

What kind of diversion, Severus?

For the first time since he’d entered the room, Severus looked at Hermione. She returned his impassive gaze, and she could have sworn he cocked an eyebrow at her.

Use that clever little head of yours, the voice all but drawled in her mind. But for Merlin’s sake, don’t do anything stupid!

As Hermione watched the centaurs carry Dolores Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest, she rather thought her diversion with Grawp and ‘Dumbledore’s weapon’ might be something she and her professor would share a laugh over one day. If he didn’t kill her for being so reckless, that is. She had the feeling that Severus might well classify the entire incident as ‘doing something stupid’. Fortunately, it also worked.

As Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna and Neville prepared to leave for the Ministry, Hermione begged them to reconsider. “Harry, can’t you see that Voldemort might have set this up as a trap?” Hermione pleaded, for perhaps the twentieth time, as Thestrals, lured by the smell of blood, wandered into the clearing. “Let’s at least stay hidden until we know more!” She frantically tried to think of a way to persuade him. “Harry, Professor Snape understood your warning – I just know he did. He can get to the Ministry, to Grimmauld Place, to Dumbledore, even.”

Harry looked at her in disgust. “Hermione, are you mental? Snape hates Sirius! I wouldn’t put it past him to be the one who sent him to the Ministry!”

“It’s Professor Snape and don’t be daft! He is trying to help you!” she shouted, frustrated, terrified that Harry was walking blithely into a trap. “And what if Sirius is actually there? Do you think a handful of students can fight Voldemort?”

Harry shook his head. “You don’t understand! Sirius is all I’ve got. He’s the only family I have!” He looked at her pleadingly. “I have to try to save him. I have to.”

Hermione looked at Ron, who shrugged helplessly. In that moment, she knew she was on her own. Ron would not help. The others would gladly follow Harry.

Softening, she tried again, “Would you at least start at Grimmauld Place, and find out if Sirius is really there?”

Harry, too upset and afraid to heed her advice, mounted one of the Thestrals. “You can go to Grimmauld if you want, Hermione,” he said, looking down at her accusingly. “But Sirius is my godfather, and I love him. And I’m going to save him, with or without your help!”

Hermione knew her pleas were falling on deaf ears, and the others would follow Harry. Frustrated, she said, “Well, I’m not staying here on my own! Fine! I’m going to Grimmauld Place, and if Sirius is there, we’ll join you at the Ministry. Just, please be careful – and don’t do anything stupid!” she screamed, as Harry and the others took off, straddling nothing but thin air. It was the strangest sight Hermione had ever witnessed. As she watched them disappear into the darkening sky, Hermione realised she was in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, no idea how to get out, surrounded by invisible Thestrals, and Merlin knew what else.

“Shit,” she said, aloud, and closed her eyes, mentally reaching for Severus, but wherever he was, she was unable to contact him. Instead, her hands found the bony flanks of a waiting Thestral. Even though she could not see it, the beast waited patiently at her side, as if there for the sole purpose of allowing her to cadge a lift.

“Well, Hermione, you wanted to grow up. Here’s another fear to face,” she muttered aloud, and half pulled, half dragged herself up onto the Thestral’s back. Before she could think, it was in the air, taking Hermione with it. She willed herself not to scream, biting back her sick fear and nerves.

The Thestral seemed to know where she needed to go, and they speeded through the rapidly waning light of the cold night air. Even as she flew toward Grimmauld Place, Hermione, dreaded meeting Severus there. He would not exactly jump for joy that she had defied him and not returned to the castle. After all, she had to tell someone that Harry and the others were on their way to the Ministry, didn’t she? She hoped she could convince him of her reasons; if only she was completely sure of them herself. All she was really sure of was that, for the first time in her life, Hermione was hoping to see Sirius Black at Grimmauld Place…

Severus decided to take a broom. It would help him to avoid the Apparation detectors the Ministry had established in a vain attempt to locate Dumbledore. It was also less taxing on his magic than flying under his own steam. He thought of taking Hermione flying. Hermione is terrified of using a broom. I wonder if she would find it easier to learn to fly on her own?

By the time he was able to leave the castle, Severus was seething with frustration. He had managed to become embroiled in every petty problem bubbling in the castle. He only just managed to send a message to Dumbledore, to warn him of a possible altercation, and Dumbledore had ordered him to Grimmauld, as Severus had known he would.

Floo and Apparition were still monitored, and Severus cursed the Ministry for their stupidity. Because Minerva was in hospital, and his Slytherins made up Umbridge’s Inquisition Squad, he had to be seen supporting them. Umbridge had gone with Hermione and Harry, but had still not returned, which left him in temporary de facto charge of the school. Still, he had finally managed to extricate himself from the fracas, and headed toward the edge of the forest. He was almost certain he would find Hermione and the others there.

He had tried to contact Sirius without success, but Black often ignored him whenever possible, so Severus wasn’t unduly worried. He felt confident that when he arrived at Grimmauld Place, the mutt would be there waiting, bored and restless as ever, and together they would wait until the rest of the Order had a chance to determine if there was anything actually happening at the Ministry. He was sure this was a false alarm – he would have been notified of any Death Eater activity, surely.

In the back of his mind, he still worried. Lucius Malfoy had been eager for some time to prove himself indispensable to the Dark Lord, and he had hinted at jealousy of Severus’ position with their Master. Lucius would have made sure Severus knew nothing about any raid he planned, in order to curry greater favour with the Dark Lord. There would only be one reason they would converge on the Ministry, and Severus had just negated that (he hoped!) by keeping Potter from going off half-cocked.

As he scanned the forest, hoping to find Hermione, Potter, and the others, his unease deepened. They were nowhere to be found; they were not in the castle, nor in Hagrid’s hut, nor anywhere in Hogsmeade, that he could ascertain. A terrible dread began to rise in his chest.

The prophecy. He was mortally afraid the Dark Lord might have used Sirius to lure Potter to retrieve the thrice-damned prophecy; the one that Severus had overheard, and reported, when still young and smarting from Lily’s rejection. It was the lynchpin to the door of his own personal prison; the wellspring from which seeped the recriminatory poison he had ingested every day since its foretelling.

Dumbledore had designed a hair shirt from it, then sewn in onto Severus’ willing, guilt-ridden flesh, to remind him why he was allowed to live free from the threat of Azkaban. Severus hated that prophecy, almost as much as he hated himself for hearing it, hated Potter for living it. If he had never overheard the prophecy, if he had not been chased away from the door of Sybill Trelawney’s room, thus missing it in its entirety, if he had not rushed to the Dark Lord to curry this ultimate favour, if, if, if… His life had become one long string of ifs.

Another ‘if’ slipped unbidden into his thoughts. What if Black had somehow been lured to the Ministry? What if Black was sending the Order to their deaths by his foolish restlessness and ennui? He pushed the broom harder. Merlin, please, he thought, the biting air narrowing his eyes down to slits in the dark, don’t let this godsdamned prophecy continue its destruction of more innocent lives. Not this chance. Not the students. Not her; not us.

Hermione entered Grimmauld Place quietly, hoping not to startle Mrs. Black’s portrait into screeching its anti-Muggle epithets. Every time she awoke the portrait into screaming, prejudice-fueled fury, Hermione would vow that the next time she arrived, she’d bring turpentine to spray on the old hag.

She almost called out for Severus, but the deathly quiet intimidated her into silence. She listened for any sounds in the house, but she could hear nothing, not even a clock ticking. She was almost sure she had somehow beaten Severus to the house, and the fact that it seemed empty filled Hermione with dread. She fervently wished Severus would hurry and arrive, so they could go and help Harry. She had no choice but to stay now; leaving without Severus was not an option, and she didn’t dare send her Patronus to warn Harry, in case she compromise Severus’ cover.

She swallowed. What a fool she’d been! She should have sent her Patronus to Severus before embarking on this entire idiotic fool’s errand. He would be furious with her! After a moment’s thought, she decided to risk sending it – she could at least tell Severus that Grimmauld appeared empty. Then, she would send it to Harry, to tell him to be on the lookout for Sirius.

As she reached the top of the stairs, Hermione thought she heard a noise, but couldn’t place it. It was an old house; it creaked and shuddered and groaned like an old man, and Hermione accepted it as such.

Her heart started to pound; if no one was here, then was Harry’s vision of Sirius true -

“Well, well.”

Hermione yelped in surprise, and turned around to see Sirius, watching her from the doorway of his bedroom. He smiled lazily. “What on earth are you doing here, all alone, little Hermione? Come to kiss and make up, for getting me into trouble with Snivellus?”

Hermione felt her heart leap into her throat. She could smell liquor from where she stood. “Sirius, listen, Harry – “

“Oh, it’s alright, Hermione,” he slurred, giving her what he must have thought was a seductive smile. He lurched toward her. “If you’ve come to ask forgiveness, I accept.” His eyes raked her in drunken appraisal. “I’m a very charitable wizard. I’m sure, after Snivellus, you’re ready for a real man.”

He gestured inside the door, an invitation. “I’m only happy to oblige. Come in, and I’ll show you. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a virgin, or did Snivellus make good on his promise to pop your little cherry?” He said the last words with lewd, lascivious, sing-song emphasis, and it made Hermione’s skin crawl, in spite of the urgency of the situation.

She was backing up toward the landing, shaking her head. “Sirius, you have to listen to me. We have – “

“NO! You’ll listen to me, you little high-tit bitch!” His sudden, blazing lust was palpable, and Hermione jumped, and began to shake. “I usually don’t take Snivellus’ leftover whores, but in this case I’ll make an exception. If I’m going to die of fucking boredom in this godsforsaken house, at least I’m going to die of fucking!”

Sirius advanced on Hermione, and she backed up against the top stair. “Sirius, this is an emergency! Professor Sn – “

“Fuck’s sake, be quiet, you little slut!” Suddenly, Hermione was unable to make any sounds. He had cast a Silencing Charm on her, and no matter how loud she shouted, no sound issued from her throat. It was as if he’d switched her volume off completely. She looked at the dark-haired wizard, and in her mind, she knew if she stood here, he would hurt her. She was frozen to the spot, and Black sneered and took a menacing step toward her.

And then Hermione was running, running down the stairs, down the hall, fear giving her feet the same wings as when she had spotted Severus, and thought he was a Death Eater, come to attack the school. She knew this outcome would be different, and she knew Severus was going to be furious – if she survived.

Her heart was almost bursting with fear, and she could still hear the wizard behind her, gaining ground. She almost sobbed, feeling terror and stupidity washing over her, tainting her sweat with a bitter, caustic edge, and she knew he would sense it, and use it against her.

She was almost at the front door, so close to escaping, but, as before, her fear was making her panic, and she wasn’t thinking straight…

Severus had given up his frantic search through the perimeters of the Forbidden Forest for Hermione and the others and reluctantly started toward London. As he flew through the dark, he suddenly felt a pain in his arm, and for a sickening moment, thought he was being summoned. In the biting, confusing cold, he cast a warming charm, and it was only then that he realised it was his palm that was stinging.

Sirius caught up with her at the door of the library, and grabbed her hair, yanking her neck back ruthlessly. He throttled her around the neck in a punishing grip, which made breathing difficult. “I normally like hearing my lovers calling my name, but just in case you might stupidly mistake me for your dear professor, I think we’ll keep you quiet for awhile. Calling me ‘Severus’ would put me off my stroke, as it were.”

Hermione could smell his breath, rank and sour with whisky, and she began to struggle in earnest. She fought, hard, but he was strong and too inflamed with lust and alcohol. As he dragged her into the Library, he laughed. “What a little wildcat you are! I’ll bet you give Snivellus a right old run for his money! Well, you don’t have to whore for me, my dear – I promise it’ll be so good you’ll end up wanting to payme!”

She tried biting his hand, and he smacked her with a glancing blow across the head, which caused stars to explode behind her eyelids. Her stomach lurched sickeningly.

A strong hand grabbed hers, and she screamed silently as he deliberately snapped her index finger. “That’ll calm you down,” he growled. He gave her another hard cuff on her temple, and she fell to the floor in stunned agony.

Flying through the night, Severus calculated he was close to London, when he felt a sudden sickness in his gut that almost made him vomit. He broke out in a cold, slimy sweat that caused him to shiver in the chilled night air. Shaking his head to clear his vision, he felt the stinging sensation in his palm intensify to a slicing, knife-stabbing pain across his hand, and he almost fell off his broom.

Severus? Severus, please! Hurt… rape… please don’t hurt me! Severus… hurt…hurt…

Severus tried to clear his mind, but the pain in his hand burned almost as hideously as his Dark Mark, and he knew Hermione was in grave danger. The flashes of her mind’s eye were brief, like the images of a fevered nightmare. She was trying so hard to reach him, and Severus scanned the ground, looking for a place to land. Ministry tracers be damned. He would Apparate to her. She was at Grimmauld Place, alone with him.

Hermione lay face down on the dusty carpet, as Sirius grasped the hem of her robe and tore it, from the hem almost to the nape of her neck, throwing each half on either side of her prone body. He bound Hermione’s arms behind her with magical ropes, and he used them to lift her onto the sofa. She greyed out as her arms were pulled unnaturally away from shoulders, causing her broken finger to scream, and Sirius laughed at her discomfort.

Tears of humiliation streamed from her eyes when Sirius barked, “Plain cotton knickers? I thought Snivellus would have you wearing something a bit tarted up.” He leaned down over her, and she could hear him fumbling with his own clothing. His breath reeked in her nostrils, as he slurred, “Snape likes his women on the whorish side, doesn’t he? I guess it’s because that’s the best he could do, until you came along! Well, I’ll see to it that you start wearing something more appropriate. Because, my dear, once I’ve fucked you, you won’t want to give old Snivellus the time of day. His precious Lily was just the same.”

With a vicious rip, Hermione’s knickers were torn from her body, leaving her completely exposed. A hard hand slapped each globe of her backside hard enough to increase her struggles.

“That’s more like it, Hermione! Where’s that fire you demonstrated a few moments ago? I want to see a little lioness, not a cold fish!” She bucked furiously, trying to throw him off and haul herself onto her feet, but he was too heavy. He pressed down on her neck, forcing her face into the carpet, until she could barely breathe.

“Since you’re in this position, I think a little doggy-style is more than appropriate, don’t you, my dear?” he growled. Sirius’ weight shifted, and Hermione felt the hot, slavering breath of an animal against her back, the hot saliva as it dripped over her, and the burning, slashing pain of claws, ripping the skin on her back into streamer-like strips… Oh gods, he was going to take her in his Animagus form…

Hermione saw black dots swimming in front of her eyes, as lack of oxygen caused her body to shut down. She could feel Sirius forcing her thighs apart, growling, snarling, snapping at her flesh, but she was too weak to fight anymore. She just wanted to pass out and be done with this…

Expelliarmus!” Hermione heard a furious shout and a surprised yiking sound, and the crushing weight was off her back and she could raise her head and breathe.

Finite Incantatem!

She took a deep breath and released an hysterical scream of pain. Powerful arms gripped her and pulled her from the floor. “Please, Sirius, DON’T!” she wailed, then realised it was Severus, his eyes snapping with fire, fury warring with his fear for her.

“Severus! Oh, thank the gods!” she sobbed, and tried to throw her pain-deadened arms around him, but they were lifeless and limp. To her unbounded relief, he pulled her as close to his body as he dared without rubbing against the scratches on her back. “I tried to stop him – “

“I’m sorry, lass. I’m so, so sorry,” he cried, over and over, covering her face with kisses, rocking her in his arms. Anger and alarm fought for supremacy. “What the bloody hell are you doing here? I told you to stay somewhere safe until I came for you!” he roared, hating himself for shouting at the terrified girl. She cowered beneath his ravaging anger. He looked around. “Where are the others?”

Hermione was gasping, in pain and fear. “They wouldn’t listen to me! They’re already at the Ministry! I tried to tell Sirius, but he was drunk, and he wouldn’t listen –”

“Damn him!” Severus ground out, too distressed to think rationally. He wrapped her in his arms, throwing his cloak around the both of them. “Damn Dumbledore for keeping the mutt around! If it wasn’t for Saint Potter – ” He looked at her swollen face, the bruising on the side of her head, the index finger crooked at the unnatural angle. Severus chanted a hasty series of spells to heal the long scratches, the bruising on her head. With a sharp cry, Hermione allowed him to reset her finger, cursing Sirius for his cruelty. His heart cramped with love for her, and fury against Black. He looked at her searchingly. “Did he – has he molested you, Hermione?”

Numbing exhaustion crept into Hermione’s limbs, leaving her drained and shaking. “No, no. He morphed into a dog, and he was going to – ” Fear choked her words, as Severus’ face turned ashen, and he stared at her, quite stunned at his own anger.

He made a harsh sound in the back of his throat. He hissed, “I’ll kill him!” His onyx eyes were clouded with rage; he was consumed with the idea of wrapping his hands around Black’s throat and squeezing, squeezing, until he shut his taunting mouth for good.

He would make it up close and personal; no Avada for Sirius Black – that was too good for him. No, he would kill him the old fashioned way; his father’s way. The way a half-breed, Manc mill trash boy would do a privileged, pureblood cunt like Sirius Black…

In the tense silence during her wizard’s homicidal fantasies, Hermione’s head cleared, and she remembered their mission, and shook Severus. “Harry! Oh, Severus! Harry and the others. They’re at the Department of Mysteries! The Dark Lord must have tricked him. They might be walking into an ambush!” She clutched at his robe with her uninjured hand.

Her hoarse, entreating voice snapped Severus from his dangerous musing, and he looked down at the tender, bruised face of the witch he’d vowed to protect, and he pushed away the temptation to act out his retaliation to Black. His first obligation was to take care of Hermione.

He quieted, and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.”Shh, my girl, rest easy.” Severus soothed, stroking the wild tangles of hair from her face. He forced his mind to calm, so that he could calm her. “Shh. That’s my girl,” he crooned, in his beautiful, softly velvet baritone.

As he Legilimized into her mind, he soothed her, running a calming hand down the corridors of her recent memories, smoothing the rough edges, softening the pain. Hermione gradually calmed beneath his stroking, sensitive fingers, her trembling gradually subsiding. “A cadre of the Order is supposed to be there now. They won’t be alone.”

There was a low moan from the corner, where Severus’ spell unceremoniously threw Sirius. Morphed back into his human form, Black woke with a start, and found himself on the business end of Severus’ wand. Hermione still clung to Severus, his left arm around her protectively, his cloak covering her nakedness.

“I’ve never forgiven myself for not killing you two years ago when I had the chance. Give me one reason not to kill you now, Black!” He growled, holding Hermione in a crushing grip. “If you’ve hurt her seriously, I’ll be happy to put you down like the mangy cur you are! I told you to stay away from her, but you had to play to type yet again!”

Sirius sneered, shaking his head to clear it. “Oh, yes, the great Snivellus Snape, come to save the day! How pathetic you are, lusting after this little piece of trim! She was practically throwing herself at me!”

“Is that why you tied her up and broke her hand, you disgusting prick?”

Hermione’s jaw set firmly, and her eyes narrowed in anger. Sirius watched, as Hermione looked intently at Severus, who nodded, and quickly retrieved her wand. She joined him in holding Sirius at bay. “I ought to hex your slimy little bollocks off, but I think I’ll let Harry do it for me! He might be fighting for his life in the Department of Mysteries right now, because of you!”

Sirius sobered quickly. “Harry? What do you mean, fighting for his life? What’s going on?”

Hermione all but screamed, “I was trying to tell you, you fuckwit, but you were too drunk to listen!”

Black looked at Severus in alarm. “I demand to know what’s going on!”

“You’re in no position to demand anything, Black!” Severus spat, his fear-roughened voice dripping with contempt. “Your precious godson was tricked by the Dark Lord, and he and his friends are at the Department of Mysteries.” He sneered at the concern on Black’s face. “And if something happens to them, you can thank the Dark Lord yourself, for tricking Potter into believing you were too bored and stupid not to stay away!”

He turned to Hermione. “Do you think you can come with me?” He gestured toward the other wizard. “I’m not about to leave you here with this…” His lip curled in distain. “Mongrel.”

Sirius was shaking his head. “I’m going to the Ministry. If something is truly happening, I have to be there to help Harry.” He looked at the couple. “We can – discuss this later, if you like, but I think our priority should be to Harry, don’t you?”

Severus growled, “You should have thought of that before you tried to rape his best friend, Black!”

“Please, both of you!” Hermione said, hoarsely, holding onto Severus’ coat, her eyes searching his, pleading. “Please, let’s just go! Just to make sure!”

Severus repaired her torn clothing, his eyes narrow and furious. He turned and looked at Sirius. Black met his gaze, then Apparated away. This isn’t finished, Black. If you’ve ruined her for me, I’ll happily send you to hell tonight, he promised himself, as he placed his arms around Hermione, to prepare her for Side-Along Apparation. Severus indulged himself, and kissed her fervently, and promised the gods all manner of things as long as he could keep her safe.

The three of them Apparated into hell.

It was as if the Ministry was a battlefield of demons; a circus constructed of every nightmare and warped trip any junkie had ever experienced, and they’d just stepped into the middle of it. Hexes were flying all around them, and they began to defend themselves, almost without thought, the moment they Apparated.

Severus cursed himself for not being more prepared; he could easily be determined as the enemy by both sides. At least, in his Death Eater robes, he’d have less chance being hexed by other, more experienced, dirty fighters.

He saw Bellatrix Lestrange, the Dark Lord’s most trusted and violent follower, in the middle of the fray. She was completely barking, but her hexing prowess was devastating. She’d already taken down several of the young people with Blasting Hexes, and Severus pulled Hermione into one of the alcoves, out of the line of fire.

“Stay here, Hermione! Don’t move until I come for you!” he hissed. He looked around frantically, trying to gauge the best way he could defend the students without getting killed. The Department of Mysteries was a hellish, surreal landscape. He briefly saw Lucius Malfoy fighting with Potter, trying to force the boy to give him the prophecy crystal. Severus thought grimly, Now I know why I wasn’t informed. Lucius wanted all the glory for himself.

Severus transfigured his robes to resemble his Death Eater robes, and began to block the hexes of his fellow Death Eaters, in the guise of trying to hit Ginevra Weasley and Luna Lovegood, both of whom were holding their own. Neville Longbottom was down, and trying valiantly to defend himself. Severus blocked a curse meant for Longbottom, making it look like one of his own, gone wild.

Everything seemed to happen at once for Severus. He saw Potter running away toward his godfather. He threw a minor hex into the room. It went high, wild and handsome, just as he heard Bellatrix’s mad laughter, and Sirius Black’s answering taunt. He saw a flash of something out of the corner of his eye, and Black cried out, and staggered backward toward the arch in the middle of the room. From Severus’ sidelong viewpoint, it was as if Black fell back through the plane of a stone wall and disappeared in a flutter of ragged black material.

Potter cried out for his godfather, and the Death Eaters pressed their attack. Severus saw Longbottom and Weasley throwing curses toward their enemies, enabling Potter to escape. There were shouts and threats slicing through the chaotic air. Severus threw several more hexes and lurched into the shadows just as a dark, purple slashing hex arced through the room, like diabolical electricity searing the air. Another, lighter spell pulsed in the air in answer to the first. Severus heard an almost inhuman scream of panic, and whirled around to find the source. The battle was moving into the next room, and through the haze of smoke and hex work, he heard a low, whimpering moan of the seriously injured.

He found the Weasley girl kneeling on the ground, huddled over someone, and as he approached, he transfigured his robes. He couldn’t risk the trigger-happy girl mistakenly hacking his bits off. He’d seen her Blasting Hex and knew she was more than capable.

He flew to her side, and she looked up at him, her large eyes almost crazed with fear. “Professor! One of the Death Eaters tried to throw a hex at you, and she blocked him – she stepped right in front of you, and refused to move- you’ve got to do something – “

He looked down at the prone figure of Hermione, her robe slashed open. He’d never seen so much blood pumping out of a living person. She was shuddering, going into shock. He could see the wound; it started at her sternum and reached almost to her pubic bone. It was gaping and bleeding profusely.

She looked up at him, pleadingly, her lips turning blue. He wrenched her up into his arms and Hermione’s answering moan of pain raised the hair on the back of his neck. He pressed the sides of her torso together to close the wound. “Miss Weasley, we’re going to have to help Miss Granger.”

“What do you need, sir?” she asked, her teeth chattering. The poor girl was terrified. He looked down at Hermione’s chest. He attempted his most reliable Healing Charm, but he could tell no discernable difference. She continued to bleed profusely. Nothing he could think of was slowing down the blood loss. The Weasley girl gasped as she tried to rise, and it was only then that Severus saw her swollen ankle.

He muttered another hasty Healing Charm for Ginevra, with a little more success. “You can get that reset later. For now, I need you to help me. You’re going to have to apply pressure to the wound. I’m unable to stem the bleeding!” He transfigured Hermione’s robe into a thick towel. “Fold it several times and press it firmly to the wound. Hurry!”

As Miss Weasley complied, pressing hard on Hermione’s breastbone, Severus looked around frantically. “I need you to help me find a working Floo! We’ve got minutes to get her to a Healer!” He Disillusioned the three of them, and they ran.

Together, he and the frightened Weasley girl raced to the main Hall of the Ministry, where the Dark Lord and Potter were fighting with Dumbledore. Severus gave them only the barest of glances.

He felt the Weasley girl’s arm tugging at his. “This one is active!” she shouted, and she and Severus ran to the Floo point.

He could feel Hermione struggle feebly. She was frantically trying to speak to him. “Don’t talk, lass. Just stay awake. Stay awake for me, please!” Severus was already stepping to the Floo point. He could not travel directly to his final destination. He would take her to the one mediwitch he trusted above all others: Poppy Pomfrey. “St. Mungo’s!”

From the Wizarding hospital, Severus and Miss Weasley transferred to the Hogwarts’ infirmary, and he carried Hermione into the large ward. The towel on Hermione’s chest now showed two bloody handprints where Ginevra Weasley had pressed down on the fabric to staunch the blood. It didn’t seem possible that one small girl could lose that much blood and live.

As Severus shouted for Madam Pomfrey, Hermione drifted into consciousness. “Severus?” she whispered, her voice barely a whisper.

Severus looked down at her, and it was only then that Hermione felt afraid. He was covered in blood; it was on his black robes, it flecked the snowy white collar and cuffs of his shirt, it was spattered on his face and in his hair. “Are you hurt?” she said, confused.

“No, Miss Granger!” He turned into the room. “Poppy! Merlin’s sake, hurry, woman!”

“What is it, Severus? Are you – Circe’s nightgown!” she cried, her face contorting in horror, seeing the bloody figure in the arms of the wizard. “What happened?”

She listened carefully as Severus explained the curse, all the while running diagnostic spells, chanting healing spells, and Summoning potions from her stores.

Dimly, Hermione heard Madam Pomfrey say, “We’ve got to get her stabilized, Severus. Her vital signs are growing erratic.” Hermione closed her eyes. She was so tired. It had been such a long day…

“Hermione! Try to stay awake!” She could hear Ginny, her voice shrill and frightened. Couldn’t they just leave her alone?

“It’s the blood loss that has me concerned,” Pomfrey was saying. She turned to Severus. “Three vials of Blood Replenishment Potion.”

As Severus uncorked the stopper, he glanced at the vial. It was marked in his own spidery handwriting, along with the date it was created. He had made the potion. As he gently parted Hermione’s lips to pour its contents into her mouth, he froze. I made this potion.

Without hesitation, he tipped it into his own mouth, grimacing as the potion mixed with his own saliva.

Poppy looked at him, then nodded curtly. “Good idea, boy. That might give us the advantage we need.” Severus nodded, his mouth full of the dark, foul-tasting solution.

When Severus could taste the change of the potency, he looked down at Hermione, and leaned over her, took her face in his hands, and with his eyes locked with hers, covered her mouth with his. Hermione, shocked that Severus would kiss her in front of Ginny and Madam Pomfrey, felt him force the potion from his mouth into hers.

Swallow this, lass. I made this potion, and my essence, my saliva, will help your body to absorb it faster. Hermione’s eyes widened, and for a second, their tongues mingled. That’s a good girl. Swallow it down…

“Swallow, Miss Granger,” Madam Pomfrey urged, and Hermione obeyed, half-choking in surprise.

“What is he doing?” Miss Weasley whispered, looking on in stunned disbelief, as her Potions professor proceeded to repeat the action twice more with the Blood Replenishing Potions. The second and third time, Hermione swallowed without coughing, and gradually she rallied.

Four more potions; Professor Snape poured each one into his mouth, waited several grimacing seconds, then forced the potions from his mouth into Hermione’s. Each time, the professor took longer to transfer the potion, until the last time looked no more or less than a deep, open-mouthed kiss. His long fingers gripped and stroked Hermione’s face tenderly. Ginny Weasley watched them; the two of them looked as if they’d kissed before.

“Salvires Venenum, Miss Weasley,” Madam Pomfrey replied briskly, cauterizing the wound with the tip of her wand, all the while applying Essence of Dittany. “You’ll study it in – is it sixth-year Potions, Professor Snape?”

Trying not to swallow the backwash of the potions, Severus nodded at Poppy, in answer to her question. He sat up straight, feeling the residue of the potions swirling in his mouth. For a moment, he was mildly nauseous, and he plucked a towel from the bedside and spat into it twice, scrubbing his tongue on the cloth.

Grimacing at the residual taste of potion after potion layered on his tongue, Professor Snape stared down at Hermione, watching her closely for any change in her condition. He spat again into the towel, then tossed it aside.

As Madam Pomfrey concentrated on sealing the large wound, Severus explained, “Sixth-year Potions class, Miss Weasley. The magical signature of a Potion can be enhanced with the addition of the Potioneer’s own bodily fluids – blood, tears, sweat, semen and saliva. Any of those fluids mixed with a standard potion will augment its potency exponentially. It will either increase the strength of the potion, or, in this case, its rate of absorption.”

Never taking his eyes off Hermione, Severus continued, “The Potioneer imbues the potion with his own magical signature, therefore he or she can perform this only with potions they have themselves created, and only at the point of ingestion. Blood is the strongest component, being the most difficult to obtain.

“Mixing the potion with the Potioneer’s saliva is called Savires Venenum. It’s the weakest of the bodily fluids, being the easiest to obtain, and it will enable the body to absorb the potion more quickly. “

He watched Hermione carefully. “For Miss Granger’s sake, at least, I hope so.” He realised he was lecturing on fucking Potions while his reason for living was fighting for her life. He uttered a short, barking laugh at his own madness, and the two women, young and old, gave him a look of quiet, comradely understanding.

Madam Pomfrey muttered Cleansing Charms and other Healing spells on Hermione, as the three of them huddled around the little witch. Severus could feel the band of anxiety around his heart loosen, as Hermione’s colour returned a little, and her breathing and heartbeat stabilised to an acceptable level.

Poppy asked Severus and Ginevra Weasley to allow Hermione some privacy, while she removed the injured girl’s blood-soaked clothing, and made her more comfortable. She took a few minutes to heal the Weasley girl’s ankle as well.

As they walked to the other end of the ward, Severus turned to Molly Weasley’s youngest, and thought how she would be proud of her daughter today. Now that the crisis and conflict were over, however, the young girl looked as if she were about to cry.

In his calmest voice, Severus demanded, “Who did this? Who hexed Miss Granger?”

The red-haired girl frowned. “It was Dolohov. I remember his picture from the Prophet. He was aiming at you, sir, and Hermione just put herself between the two of you and refused to move. I don’t know why, but I really couldn’t believe he was going to curse her until he started shouting at her!”

Severus looked at the girl. She was so young. Quietly, he said, “He is a Death Eater, Miss Weasley. He will kill without compunction. You were most fortunate you were not cursed, as well.”

“He didn’t have time. I hit him with a Blasting Hex. I knocked him out cold.” She smiled grimly. “I wish I was there so I could do it again – “

Forcing his voice to sound stern, Severus intoned, “Miss Weasley, I shall be sending a strongly worded owl to your parents this evening, citing your recklessness and foolhardy behaviour tonight.”

Miss Weasley stared at him in shock, her eyes narrowing in anger. “But – but I helped you! My friends were in danger – “

“The danger was Potter’s own doing!” he hissed, trying to intimidate the girl, while at the same time keeping his voice quiet, as not to disturb Hermione. “Miss Granger told me she implored you all to stay on the grounds, but you ignored her excellent advice! Not only did you leave school grounds without permission, but Potter endangered your life and the lives of your friends!”

He pointed toward the door. “Return to your House immediately. The only thing preventing me from deducting every point from your House is the fact that your efforts in assisting me with Miss Granger may well have saved her life! If she does survive, it will be no thanks to the foolish actions of you and your friends tonight!”

He turned and walked away, knowing the Weasley girl was staring daggers at him, and he didn’t blame her. She had fought at the Ministry with skill and bravery, and without her, he wasn’t sure Hermione would still be alive. He only hoped he would survive long enough to tell her these things, and to one day thank her for helping to save the life of the woman he loved. He almost stopped in his tracks. Loved. Hermione. He loved her. She blocked a curse, knowing it was meant for me. Oh, gods, She was going to sacrifice her life for me.

As he walked back to the ward, Severus was struck by the terrible realisation that he had almost lost Hermione, not once, but twice. The arrogance of his actions was like a smack in the face. Thinking he would be at Grimmauld, she had gone to the dog’s own kennel, without once thinking that she would arrive first, or more likely, that Sirius would actually be there.

Severus had taken his time before leaving Hogwarts, hoping Potter was right again, and that Black actually was at the Ministry, being tortured by the Dark Lord. Merlin knew, Black deserved it.

Instead, the pureblood bastard had tried, almost successfully, to rape Hermione. Bastard! He was no better than Mulciber or Macnair, raping Severus for sport. He thought back to watching Black fall toward the archway Severus had seen from the side. Black had disappeared like some sort of sleight of hand magician’s trick. What did it mean? Had Black been sent somewhere else, or sometime else? It was, after all, the Department of Mysteries, which meant it could mean, well, anything.

Severus asked himself if he would be happy if Black were now dead. Of course. Potter would blame him, no doubt. Lately, if a sparrow fell to a hawk’s talons, Potter blamed Severus for it. He chastised himself for his petty thoughts. He walked back to Hermione’s bedside. Poppy had removed Hermione’s blood-soaked, mended school robes and dressed her in a simple, blue nightshirt. She looked frighteningly pale and tiny in the bed.

Poppy came and stood beside him. Quietly, she said, “Her parents will have to be informed, but I think she’ll be alright.” She turned to him. “You did well, Severus, bringing her here so quickly. It was quite serious. She will have a tough recovery ahead of her. It was a nasty curse; it’s going to leave a large and disfiguring scar.”

“At least she’s alive.” Severus watched Hermione’s chest rise and fall, counting each breath. Each one felt like his own.

“Yes, but a horrid scar like that is going to be difficult to adjust to, especially for a young witch. It will be hard on her self-esteem. Wizards, especially, can be unkind.”

Severus scoffed. “Those wizards are imbeciles. She won’t have to worry about it.” To himself, he added, “She will never be made to feel unattractive because of it.”

“No, I don’t suppose she will.” Severus turned and looked at the mediwitch, who favoured him with a reassuring smile. “You’re a mess, Severus. You need to go and get cleaned up.”

He nodded, unable to remove his gaze from the still form in the bed. Poppy shook her head, marveling at the dour Potions master.

A chair was conjured for him, and Poppy brought him a mug of tea. “Funny, that. Most of the time it’s you in this position, with the rest of us fussing over your bedside.”

“I never asked you to fuss over me, Poppy,” he said, quietly. To his surprise, she put a warm hand on his shoulder.

Almost fondly, she replied, “No, you never did, did you, Severus? But we did anyway. You don’t stop caring for someone just because they don’t want you to, young man.” Poppy nodded at the figure in the bed. “She never has, at any rate. That’s not how love works.”

Severus sat down beside his witch. After a few moments, Poppy left him, closing the curtain around them, hiding them away from the world, where no one could see them. Severus took Hermione’s hand in his, and kissed it, and pressed it against his heart, trying to will his strength into her. In the turmoil of his emotions swam the conflicting thoughts: was Black dead? Why did Dolohov try to curse him?

A/N: Opening lines are from Caleb Myer – lyrics by Gillian Welch

 To Continue to Part Two






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