Hermione didn't look up from her knees. "Go away, Malfoy."
"Hermione Granger, Perfect Prefect, Head Girl... skipping class? Fifty points from Gryffindor, Mudblood, and fifty more for giving me a heart attack from shock."
More footsteps in the leaves. "What are you out here boo-hooing about, anyway? I thought you'd be in the Hall with your nose stuck in the air."
Hermione looked up with a glare. "You're getting us confused."
"Well, you can see how I'd have trouble," Malfoy smirked, lounging against the tree and arranging his robes artistically. "Twisting the Ministry's law to further your ambition? Pretty damned Slytherin, if you ask me. Wonder where the Hat would have put you if you hadn't been a filthy Mudblood?"
Hermione leapt to her feet, stalking away. Draco dogged her heels.
"You must be far better in the sack than any of us suspected, Mudblood. I guess they do teach something of use in the Muggle schools..."
She glared. "Did Snape send you?"
"I'm not his house-elf, Mudblood... you are." Draco paused, sneering. "Although it would seem you've managed to Bind him, just the same."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"C'mon, Mudblood, tell me how you convinced him. Were you on your knees at the time? I know how hard it is to talk with your mouth full..."
Hermione whirled. "Your mouth is about to be full of my fist."
"Always figured he liked it rough. Is that it? Do you tie him up? Make him call you Mistress Granger? Always figured there had to be a bit of kink underneath that Gryffindor halo."
A cold voice from behind them. "Bugger off, Malfoy."
Malfoy rolled his eyes, turning to face Harry. "Oh, save your breath, Potter. It's not like she's got virtue left to defend."
"The issue is whether you've got body parts to lose," Harry replied evenly.
"I do like watching you play the bold hero, Harry," Malfoy laughed. "Especially since you have so little time left to do it in."
He stepped back from them, blowing Hermione a kiss before sauntering away.
"Ignore him," Harry sighed. "He's just jealous."
"Harry..." Hermione watched Malfoy go, biting her lip. 'What's he got to be jealous of?"
"I'd imagine it's the Potions thing," Harry shrugged. "It's the only class he's ever done well in. I suppose he'd assumed Snape could choose him. Bit daft of him, since Snape had you covering classes even before the whole... you know."
"Harry... what on earth are you talking about?"
Harry looked at her face, a smile quirking. "I take it Snape didn't tell you. He's taken you on as an apprentice, this year. Independent study, to replace your normal Potions course. Apparently it's seldom done, quite the honor."
"Was it funny? And what have you been crying about?"
"Snape..." Hermione shook her head, a fierce glint glowing in her eyes. "It doesn't matter. Another stupid mind game."
Harry patted her shoulder awkwardly. "You, ah... take your mind off it, then? I was thinking of visiting Hagrid."
"That's all right, Harry," Hermione smiled. "You go. I've got... something to do."
"What's this?" Snape demanded as Hermione slammed a glass beaker of effervescent blue fluid on his desk.
"I believe you know quite well what it is. I thought you might like to check my work."
He looked up at her, and for just the briefest flash, she saw it.
He turned his gaze to the parchment before him. "It is no concern of mine if you poison yourself in incompetence, Hermione."
"As you like," Hermione snapped, snatching up the glass and draining it... setting the empty container in the center of Snape's feigned reading.
He moved it aside thoughtlessly, never looking up.
"I suppose I'll see you tonight, then," Hermione spat.
He turned a page with a small yawn. "I suppose you shall."
Her bath had long gone cold, her fingers gnarled; the sandwich she'd brought up to replace dinner had dried out on its plate, only one bite missing.
She'd begun in such a flurry of activity, anxious to ensure that there would not be a square inch of her for Snape to criticize; the enormity of being naked in front of Snape like the sum total of every humiliating nightmare she'd ever had, the sudden horror of seeing herself through his eyes: was her left breast bigger than her right, or was that her imagination? When had she gotten that mosquito bite, and why hadn't she paid more attention when Crookshanks scratched her?
And then it hit her like a ton of bricks.
After tonight, she would be pregnant.
After tonight, she would be a mother. Forever.
It was huge... impossibly huge, incomprehensibly huge. Babies, helpless and alien, unable to tell her what they needed. Toddlers, manic and dangerous, always wanting to stick their fingers in light sockets and eat paint. Children, soaking up their entire future from her choices every single day. Teenagers, angry and resentful, the memory of her every weak moment, every flaw fueling their rage. A million decisions to make every day, each one with a huge and thudding impact.
Decisions she would have to make with Snape.
God, if she'd only chosen Ron! Molly worshipped babies, would have bubbled over with advice, pleaded to be allowed to help.
Did Snape even have a mother? Or a father? God, would they want to be involved? What sort of parents turned out Snape?
She rose from the freezing bath, reaching for her robe.
"I've chickened out," she announced imperiously the moment she appeared in his bedroom.
Snape's sigh of relief was explosive. "Oh, thank God."
She couldn't help it - she started laughing, her hand rising to cover her mouth, collapsing into the chair by the fire. "That was easy."
Snape watched her, the slightest of smiles on his face.
He'd bathed, amazingly enough; his hair gleaming in the firelight from health, not the slickness of oil. Moreover, it was neatly tied in a ribbon at the base of his neck, and he'd swapped the voluminous, batlike robes for shirtsleeves and trousers. Candles that had sat dusty in their candleabras were lit; there was a silver tray on the desk against which he leaned.
"You've gone all out," she observed. "You look... nice."
"You don't," he replied flatly.
It didn't sting as it should; seeing him like this, dressed up for her and obviously nervous, made him seem... younger, somehow, more vulnerable. The thought of him dreading this evening as she had... the mere idea that he could have spent his hours in the same way, preparing for the ultimate vulnerability in front of hostile, judging eyes...
"Well, I came straight from chickening out. I was in the tub at the time. Hence the damp." She tried a smile. "The bath-robe wasn't just for easy access."
"Indeed." He reached behind him for the carafe of dark liquid; Hermione's eyes narrowed.
"What's that, then? I told you I wasn't to be drugged."
He rolled his eyes to heaven. "It's wine."
"I'm too young to drink."
"You're too young for many things that were on the agenda this evening, Mi... Hermione. Since you've rebuffed my every attempt to make this easier on you, I thought the wine would at least be... relaxing. However, since you've changed your mind..."
"No, no, I... well, I have changed my mind, but I... I'd like to try it, if you don't mind. The wine, anyway."
He nodded, pouring two glasses; handing her one, he settled in the other chair.
She sipped, grimacing. "Ugh. It's foul."
"You're welcome," he drawled.
"Sorry." She curled up into the chair, tucking her robe around her. "I suppose it's an acquired taste."
"So. Why have you - as you so eloquently put it - 'chickened out', Hermione?"
She stared into her wine glass. "I just... got to thinking. About babies. Being a mother. Believe it or not, it was scarier than you."
"Truly terrifying, then." He sipped his wine.
"What are your parents like?"
He stared into the fire. "My parents are dead."
"Oh. Well, I'm... sorry."
"What... what were they like? Do you have any other family? It's just... y'know. Genetics. I'm curious."
The corners of his lips curled. "They were free of inheritable diseases."
Hermione rolled her eyes, taking a drink. "Fine. Don't tell me."
"And your family?"
"Free of inheritable diseases."
"Alive, I'd assume? Am I to be hauled home to charm Mummy and Daddy?"
Hermione let out a sudden snort at the thought, coughing on her wine. "That... that might not be the best idea."
"You plan to hide a marriage and children from them? What a close and special relationship you must have."
Hermione blinked. "They're dentists."
"Ah, yes, well. That explains everything."
Hermione peered into her empty wine glass. "May I have some more?"
Snape fetched the bottle, pouring a little for them both. "You might consider slowing down."
She stretched against the chair. "I like the way it makes my head feel."
"Ah, just what I always wanted. An alcoholic teenager to call my own."
"And I'd so hoped that one day, if I was terribly good, the Ministry would ruin my life."
Snape set his glass down, staring at her intently. "Has your life been ruined?"
"Oh come on," Hermione laughed, reaching for the bottle to refill her glass. "I triple-check my assignments because I'm deathly afraid of making a spelling error in front of you... and now you're going to see me naked? Not to mention the whole bloody Binding-babies-bollocks..."
Snape reached over, pulling the bottle and glass from her hand. "You've had quite enough."
"I wish you'd kiss me," Hermione sighed.
Snape froze, then shook his head. "You've had more than enough. And that's the Binding talking."
"Well, if you kissed me," Hermione insisted peevishly, "I could go sleep it off in my own bed, couldn't I?"
"Oh," Snape said awkwardly. "Well. I suppose that's different. If you prefer."
Hermione climbed to her feet, heading for the bed with a slight stagger.
"Changed your mind?" Snape followed her at a small distance, watching her for stumbles.
"No," Hermione said, climbing onto the bed.
He heaved a sigh of impatience. "You just said you wanted to..."
She grabbed him by the edge of his waistcoat, tugging him downwards; surprised, he tumbled atop her, barely managing to catch himself with his hands.
"Okay," Hermione breathed, and kissed him.
She'd forgotten how shockingly good he was at this, the exquisite pressure of lip and soft, slow caress of tongue, warmth flooding through her veins as she opened for him, a sudden surge of lust and bravery wrapping her calves around his, drawing him closer. He moved above her, adjusting to a less awkward position, and the hardened heat of him pressed against her, making her moan into his mouth as she arched up to meet him, rewarded with a ragged groan that tore from his throat. She felt her bathrobe slide apart from the movement, pooling at her sides, but his hand on her bare skin was still a shock, warm against her hip and sliding upwards; he halted just below her breast, ripping his mouth from hers.
"We have to stop," he gasped.
She ran her fingers into his hair, loosening the ribbon that held his ponytail, letting her fingernails play along his scalp; he sucked in air involuntarily. "Hermione, we have to stop. You're drunk and..."
She kissed him again, but he pulled back, rising to his feet; his soft gaze wandered her body, and Hermione hurriedly wrapped the robe back around her.
"That should be sufficient to allow you to sleep alone," he commanded, all business once again. "I expect you in the dungeons at nine a.m. to begin your apprenticeship. Being late would be most unwise."
She had no desire to sleep alone, now; her own cold bed sounded like a kind of purgatory. But she rose with as much dignity as manageable, turning her ring and disappearing in a flash of light...
A second before Snape sat down heavily on the bed, face in his hands.