Title: Trail of the Black Star

Author: Mundungus42

Email: mundungus42@yahoo.com

Rating: A relatively tame PG-13

Category: Adventure, Humour, Romance

Disclaimer: All the battlements are empty, and the Mun is laying low. Plotline bunnies in the graveyard, got no time to make 'em grow. Now I bid the Star farewell, I won't claim that it belongs to me. It's only lines that I'm quoting. It's only JK I am referencing. It's only you I'm amusing. Guess I'm doin' fine.

Disclaimer for Disclaimer: I don't own Beck. Yet.

Author's Note: Ok, enough melancholy from me. I've been working on this story for nearly 10 months, and I'm a little sad but mostly excited to post the last of it. Huge thanks to my Beta and Gamma readers, Jeff, and Christine, as well as to all the wonderful people who reviewed!

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Home of Vidalia Rose, Artist's District, Cusco

28 June, 3:30 pm

"I cannot thank you enough, señor, señorita," said the CHUMP who had been sent to take Vidalia and Puquio away. He was not one of the four who had visited the research camp that morning, but he appeared to be cut from the same cloth, having already pocketed several of Vidalia's particularly fine stone miniatures. "This Mrs. Rose was in possession of only a small amount of coca, but she will tell us her supplier. And we will return this Muggle to the rangers once we have finished with him."

Severus, finding it difficult to keep a straight face, nodded. Hermione smiled earnestly at the man. "I am glad to help in any way I can, as your agency has been kind enough to let me study here."

This seemed to please the CHUMP, and he gave the signal for the rest of his squad to disapparate. Vidalia's living room was certainly less decorated than it had been earlier in the day.

When they had gone, Hermione turned to him with a serious look on her face. "You don't need my help getting back to the Consulate, do you?"

"I am more than capable of accomplishing the task. There is no need to mollycoddle."

"Good. I hate to cut this short, but I need to get back to the camp right away."

"Dinner in the oven?"

She grinned. "Tracking charm on Vidalia's tea tin. With a bit of luck, Tino'll have his guitar back by daybreak!"

Rather than ask this time, she ducked in and kissed him- short, gleeful, and sweet. This time, he couldn't bring himself to frown when she drew back.

"I'll be seeing you, Professor."

"Miss Granger."

She disapparated with a pop.



Severus Snape's Potions Lab, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

23 October, 9:45 pm

Severus Snape sat by the fire, sipping tea. The journal on the desk in front of him lay forgotten. He had finished grading for the evening, and fifteen minutes still remained before student curfew. The cool autumn evenings bred introspection. In previous years, the changing of the seasons stirred the ghosts of his past, mistakes, misjudgements, and regrets that refused to die. He did his best to fill these days and nights with frenetic activity to distract him, but the ghosts always waited in the dark moments, usually in the moments before sleep. This year, however, he was content to sit and let the pleasures of the past few months chase away the unhappy memories like llama-eared patronuses.

His most recent- and final- foray into the romance genre, "The Devil's Snare," had been a hodgepodge of his experiences in Peru, thoroughly mixed. It was the most painful thing he'd ever written. The first stumbling block he encountered was that it impossible to turn his experiences with Hermione into a romance novel. She just wasn't cut out for the part. When he replaced Hermione with Brittany, the book began to go more smoothly. The secret orchid cache he changed into a hidden temple filled with gold, and the CHUMPs became corrupt government officials. The plot was drastically simplified, but he knew that romance novels were not purchased for their plot content. The love scenes felt more superficial than usual, and very unpleasant to write. By the time he finished, he knew it was time to pass the Johnson Palmer torch to someone else.

Meg adored the new book. She didn't even want to change the title. She had been rather taken aback by his sudden desire to quit writing, but was easily persuaded that she was more than capable of filling his shoes. They had shaken on it in the Aero Club, and when she sent him the legal paperwork surrendering his pen name to her, he signed them without a second thought. She had managed to wrangle a very impressive cheque for the last book- enough for Severus to announce his plans to retire at the end of the school year.

And then what? For the first time in his life, he would be beholden to no- one. It was a slightly scary prospect, but he'd waited nearly fifty years to live his life on his own terms, and now was his chance to do it. Albus had been delighted for him, and generously offered to use his Department of Mysteries research grant to fund Severus's own private research once Hogwarts's facilities were no longer available to him. He had declined, citing a need to see more of the world and some time away from potions.

Albus twinkled most insinuatingly, and managed to dodge the cup of tea Severus launched in his direction. Even at a hundred and sixty-five and with two death certificates bearing his name, the man still moved like a cat.

There was, of course, Granger, whose no-nonsense voice had harangued him from a dusty corner of his conscience every time he tried to write a love scene. He hadn't heard from her directly since leaving Peru, though he received a package containing several pairs of his trousers and an article from a Muggle science journal written by professor of molecular biology at the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos. The article detailed his lab's work on analysing compounds of native species and their structural similarity to human endorphines. One of the plants listed was a recently discovered orchid, christened Masdevallia grangerii. The package contained no note.

Severus blew on his tea, still not to proper drinking temperature, and returned from his daydream. There would be plenty of time to think about Granger in the future. He had a year of service at Hogwarts to finish.

It was curfew- his favourite time of day. He started toward the secret passage that exited near the Gryffindor common room, when the door he was about to pull open exploded from its hinges and threw him to the ground. He leaped to his feet and pulled out his wand. When the dust cleared, he found himself face to face with a furious Hermione Granger.

"Miss Granger," he began, "to what do I owe the pleasure-"

"How dare you!" Her wand was clutched in a white-knuckled fist.

"I beg your pardon?"

"How dare you!" she repeated, throwing a small, paperback book on the floor in front of him.

It was a copy of "The Devil's Snare." Oh dear.

Hermione was still struggling for words. "You - you wrote me into this piece of trash. You- you are the worst kind of- you- you- PAPERBACK NOVELIST!"

Her shriek echoed through the corridor and Severus winced.

"Miss Granger, calm yourself. If you would just come in and have a cup of tea-"

"I WILL NOT CALM MYSELF OR HAVE A CUP OF TEA!"

He was starting to get angry. "If you are quite finished making a spectacle of yourself!" he hissed.

"I'd say you did a far better job of making a spectacle of me than I ever could," she retorted. "I have never in my life been so utterly, utterly humiliated! My research, my work turned into the plot of a third-rate piece of pulp! And me! Am I really so hideous that you had to replace me with that airhead Angelino and her bouncing bosoms? Do you think she's ever going to let me live this down? And you! Who the hell is the charming Thayne Meadows supposed to be? Severus Snape- the man who couldn't put together a compliment if a year's supply of ashwinder eggs depended on it? How could you DO something so- so-"

"Superficial?"

"PATHETIC! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH REAL WOMEN SO YOU DO THIS! IT'S PATHETIC!"

A ringing silence followed this, filled only with the sound of Granger's heavy breathing. Severus hadn't the least idea what to say. She narrowed her eyes.

"Well?"

"Well what, Miss Granger. What do you want me to say? Go down on my knees and beg for forgiveness? Defend myself?"

"You could argue with me. Protest that you wrote it. Say it's all a horrible mistake."

"You know it's not, Hermione."

He wanted to turn away, but the open, tearful look made his heart swell.

"Then why? Why did you do this?"

He sighed heavily and gestured for her to enter his chambers. This time she did.

He took the chair by the fire opposite to the one she had taken.

"Miss Granger, given your less-than-sterling opinion of me and my romantic experience, I doubt very much that you will believe a word of this, but I will try anyway. I am not proud of the stories I've written, but you should know that every one, with the exception of the most recent, has been the minimally adorned truth. Difficult as it may be for you to believe, my life has been filled with these women. The past twenty years have been a great desert, devoid of any meaningful romantic relations. Can you blame me for my cynicism? For losing hope?"

Her eyebrows appeared to be in danger of merging with her hairline. "You've written more than one novel?"

He laughed humourlessly. "You missed out on such works as The Thieving Magpie and Scarlet Brigands? Didn't you know that you are addressing an author who has appeared on the New York Times paperback bestseller list three times in the number ten slot? The selfsame author who made the latest edition of Bartlett's with the inimitable quote 'He hoped that her company would help alleviate the ennui that had overtaken him like Communism through Eastern Europe?'"

She stared at him in unflattering disbelief. "You're having me on."

"When last I checked, Johnson Palmer novels outsold even Peignoir Sapphire books three to one. And think about it, Hermione. Do you think I can afford to take even the occasional trip abroad, much less an early retirement on a professor's salary?"

She shook her head, but did not look convinced in the least.

"Really, Miss Granger, do you need me to recite the 'May I convey how ardently I admire and love you' scene from The Devil's Snare before you are convinced?"

The mention of the book brought back her glare. "That will hardly be necessary."

There was only one option left. He steeled himself. "As much as it pains me, would more concrete evidence convince you?"

She nodded slowly.

He led her into the back of his storeroom, where there was a narrow door. He released a number of powerful locking spells with a few deft waves of his wand and inserted a heavily charmed iron key into the lock. When the first lock released with a magically an amplified click, he pressed his thumb into a second lock, which had been keyed to his essence. When the second lock released, the door swung silently open.

Behind the door was a cupboard barely large enough to fit an ironing board. Inside was a tall but extremely narrow bookshelf containing the complete works of Johnson Palmer: manuscripts, uncorrected galley proofs, first editions from Meg, and his various 'literary' award statuettes - accepted in absentia, naturally. Hermione looked them over, brushing her fingers tentatively over the spines of the books with an unreadable look on her face.

"You wrote all of these."

"I already told you I did, didn't I?"

"And they're all true except for the one that Brittany gave me, the one with us in it."

"As close to the truth as I could get without risking libel," he replied with grim humour. "Each one came from one of my short trips, either for reconnaissance during wartime or for rare potions materials. I figured none of the witches I met would ever read a Muggle romance novel. But now that Brittany has recognized you and herself, I can hardly continue, can I?"

She met his eyes. "What was so different about this book?"

Was the girl being deliberately obtuse? "I think you already know that, Hermione."

She turned away to survey the bookshelf again, when her thoughtful look quickly gave way to astonishment. She'd spotted it. On the highest shelf, encased in a climate-controlled, one-way glass dome was the single stem of black star orchids that he had stashed in his satchel before Vidalia and Tino had arrived. It shone softly in the darkness behind the glass.

"Oh, Professor," she breathed, "you may yet escape with all your limbs intact."

"If you think you're going to take my only specimen of the Masdevalli genus, you've got another think coming!"

"Really, Severus. In case you'd forgotten, Black Stars are native to Peru. What I mean is that if you've missed the poetic, and if I may say so, romantic, implications of this little cupboard's contents, you're unfit to hold the title Romance Novelist."

His knees were shaking for no good reason, but he still felt the need to snap. "Where else would I put a plant that reacts adversely to light?"

She took a step towards him, twirling her wand in her fingers. "With such good one-way charms on the glass, you could keep it in a window for a summer and it would still be fine."

"And what exactly is this supposed to prove?"

"What I've suspected all along." She gestured at the cupboard with a grin. "You are a closet romantic."

He took a half-step toward her, all that the tiny space allowed, and glared down at her. "And you are an impossibly tactless, aggravating, overly- imaginative brat."

Her chin lifted defiantly, but before she could respond, Severus took matters into his own hands and thoroughly stopped her mouth.

When he pulled his mouth from hers after what seemed like hours, they were both flushed and gasping for breath. In the course of things, they had managed to knock most of the books to the floor. Even the orchid was perched precariously on the edge of the shelf.

"Wow," Hermione commented, trying unsuccessfully to smooth her hair. "Does this mean the hero has given up his adventuring days for the tedium of, dare I say, dating?"

Severus idly fingered the bruised spot on his neck where her sharp little teeth had nibbled him to the very edge of his control. "I would wager that his adventuring days are just beginning."

THE END

for now... __________________________________________________________________

End Notes:

Thank you to my beauteous beta reader, Jeff and my grand gamma reader Christine, who both kept me from making too much of an ass of myself.

This story has been strongly influenced by Midnight Blue, Pigwidgeon37, and Anna, whose various Snapes are brilliant, passionate, and above all, not "romantic" in the least.

(Semi)Direct quotes:

"Honestly, I don't know why I bother sometimes." "I don't know why you bother, ever." The Young Ones, episode "Bambi."

"A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." "[in]vulnerable to the heartbreak and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."
-Hamlet (but y'all knew that already)

"Is he your, um-? Ex-um." Tony Kushner, Angels in America Part 1: The Millennium Approaches

""I was not unaware of its potential lack of insignificance" Stephen Fry, The Liar

Guppies at feeding time... Blackadder Goes Fourth, episode "Corporal Punishment."

The Thieving Magpie is an opera by Rossini

"stopped her mouth" Bastardized "Much Ado About Nothing." My excuse is that Shakespeare bastardized it from the Italians first.

Quechua Words

P'ajpaku- Quechua for wizard with a connotation of satanic magic

Q'ararenqa- Peruvian augury- a black bird with a white tail whose song is considered unlucky.

Quipu- In spite of never having developed written language, the Incans recorded their entire history on knotted strings. The colour, sequence, number and type of knot indicate the type of record each string was. As you can imagine, there were many different systems, which renders the surviving quipu largely untranslatable. For more information see

Willaq Uma- High priest

Uchu- Peruvian chilli pepper, very hot

Soqos - a cane, like bamboo

Before anyone asks, I am bound to secrecy on both the Secret Fudge and CHUMP recipes.

Information on Peru and the Inca:

Huge thanks to anyone who made it to the end!