Touch the Air Softly

by Jessa L'Rynn

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. J.K. Rowling created them and writes them with a genius that has never been equaled. Warner Bros. owns the right to do dumb things with them and doubtlessly will once Jo's finished with them, unless she kills them all. I try to fight the urge to put words into other people's visions. But every once in awhile, something yummy like this comes along and I find myself committing what I have been told is both crime and honor. With all due respect to Jo Rowling and her marvelous world, here is my attempt to "steal from the best".

Chapter 21: Ever is Now

When Harry arrived at the hospital wing, he found Dumbledore waiting for him with a grim and worried expression. His twinkling blue eyes weren't, and he seemed listless and very, very old. Harry sighed as he dropped the very heavy pile of tomes he was lugging into the chair beside the Headmaster and popped up on the bed next to Hermione.

"How is she?" he asked.

"She'll be awake soon, and we'll know. Right now, she thinks she is in love with Severus. I want you students to come up here and sit with Hermione - I'll clear it with your professors. I'm going to take Severus to his rooms myself. You must keep her here and you must keep her focused. Until I we can work out how to undo LeStrange's curse, we'll have to keep her from him."

"Not that I want her with him," said Harry, "but why keep them apart? Why not keep them where we can watch them?"

"Harry, I've known all of you for most of your lives, even Miss Granger, who I've watched turn from a gangly, frightened young girl into a woman of courage and dignity. I know her moods and her joys and I know her sorrows very well. Yet her display of affection the other night was so genuine as to seem fully real to me. I can only say that, in her current state, Miss Granger believes it utterly."

"Do you think he might hurt her?" Harry demanded.

"No, Harry, I think it will hurt him." The old man sighed. "Severus has not always been a good man and only rarely has he ever been kind. But he has always been lonely and he has always deserved better, as have you, as have so many others you and I have known. But in those few moments that he believed, he was sure that something better was being offered, along with endless possibility. To find out that it is only a conniving spell has cut him to the bone. I don't know if he'll recover, but I must do everything to help him try."

"I understand." He frowned. "Sir, who will you have do the research on the spells?"

Dumbledore smiled at him warmly. "After seven years, I've learned to watch you children most carefully. I have learned much from your methods. As a group, the six of you are uniquely suited to find the answers."

Harry smiled. "That will keep Hermione occupied very well, Professor."

"I will send for the others. Harry, there is one thing I must ask you."

"I'll let you know immediately if I catch the whiff of half-dead Dark Lord."

Dumbledore chuckled. "He's going to get the suspicion that you're not taking him seriously."

Harry smiled a bitter half-smile. "It'll do him good," he said.

When Hermione woke up, she heard Ginny speaking. "It says that Vivienne sent her hand-maid, Nimue, to entice Merlin. To ensure that the enticement succeeded, she cursed her hand-maiden, and the curse drew Merlin to her."

"Well, that's true," Ron said. "Merlin is reputed to have chased Nimue like Harry's dad chased his mum."

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, except my dad caught my mum."

"As I was saying," Ginny said loudly, "Merlin might very well have caught Nimue, but no one will ever know."


"Vivienne used his desire for Nimue to seal him in the ice caves."

"Desire," Luna murmured dreamily.

"That is an odd word, isn't it?" asked Neville. "Shouldn't it have been love?"

"You've got that book," Ron replied. "Look it up."

"OK, OK," Neville said. There was a lot of flipping of pages. Hermione wanted to open her eyes and help them find what they were looking for, but she was too upset and too unhappy. Every sense she had told her that Severus was no where near her, and that made her hurt all over, in her heart, in her head, in her stomach. Maybe she didn't want to wake up after all.

"It says that love is indomitable and cannot be created or destroyed."

"Like matter," Harry said. The resounding silence following that was probably the sound of four young wizards gaping at the Boy-Who-Lived. He chuffed. "What, do you guys think you just summon stuff up out of nothing? It comes from somewhere, I'm sure."

"Cliodna's kettle, now he's catching Hermione's brains," said Ginny. "Harry, I swear we didn't mean to let her corrupt you."

Then all of them collapsed laughing, and she knew that because she distinctly felt Ginny and Luna collide with her shoulders, and Harry and Ron bouncing next to her legs. "Oi, watch the cat," said Neville.

"Argh," said Ron, and the sound of a hiss and Ron swearing quietly punctuated the exclamation. She felt the pleasant weight of Crookshanks on her leg and smiled a little to herself.

There was a sudden amount of whispering. "I understand," said Ron, "that Merlin actually invented House Elves."

'You can't invent living being, Ron,' she thought.

"Yes," announced Harry, "the House Elf never would have existed without wizards and so there is no reason for a House Elf to be free."

Hermione snickered, at least inside her head. They were laying it on thick.

"My goodness, Harry," said Ginny, meticulously precise, "that is a brilliant observation. You should write it up and send it to the Daily Prophet. That insightful news source has been well known to accept such thought-provoking assessments before."

This made her want to grind her teeth.

"I would love to, Ginny, but I have to join that marvelous Cornelius Fudge for tea tomorrow."

"Ah," said Neville. "I shall be joining you, of course, as your understudy."

Now, she wanted to start laughing again.

"Perhaps we should let Professor Lockhart know Hermione is ill. He'll want to send a get well card." This was Luna at her dreamy, mythical best.

'Don't you dare,' thought Hermione.

"Her eyes are as brown as a flat Diet Coke," Harry caroled, in a surprisingly pleasant baritone.

"Her hair is a bushy sensation!" sang Ginny.

"She's really quite mad," added Ron.

"In a good way, not bad," chirped Neville and Luna together.

"The brains of this operation!" they all finished the horrible song in completely melodramatic five part harmony.

She couldn't help it. She started laughing, choked a bit, sat up, and laughed some more. Her eyes watered, and she realized she couldn't stop.

Snape woke with some difficulty to the groggy sense that he was not where he had been when he'd gone to sleep. It was a talent he had picked up quite young. Being on the opposite side from Sirius Black and James Potter had taught him to be very aware of minute changes in his environment. Today, he determined quickly that he was not alone and also not in danger. There was the co-mingled smell of lemon and Minerva McGonagall's perfume on the air that told him more than he really wanted to know. He heard a soft snore and found that rather strange and so resigned himself to being shocked by something.

Opening his eyes, he found the Headmaster and his deputy sleeping in chintz armchairs at the foot of his bed. Specifically, they were sleeping leaning on each other.

"What in Merlin's name is the time?" he demanded.

Dumbledore started and looked at the twelve handed watch on his wrist. "It's 3:30. Go back to sleep."

"I have to meet with him," Snape said.

"Not anymore," said Dumbledore. "We're going to lift the spell and you are going to recover in whatever way you deem necessary and I deem acceptable, and we are going to move on."

"What about needing a spy?" he demanded, angrily.

"No, Severus."

"Why not?" Snape shouted, his voice sounding shrill and squeakish even in his own ears.

"I won't risk your life."

"I'll tell him you sent her away somewhere. He won't doubt it, I can lie to his face, Dumbledore."

"I know you can, Severus, but it is too dangerous. Besides, I don't want him knowing how particularly effective this application of that curse was."

"Oh," he said, and immediately began to feel useless to go along with all the other numbing, debilitating, and cruel emotions.

"Minerva will stay with you, Severus," said Dumbledore. "I need to go check on some other things."

"How are you feeling?" asked Minerva kindly as Dumbledore left the room.

Snape rolled his eyes. "Like taking poison," he said, and went to cabinet he kept locked across the room. "Care to join me?"

"What sort of poison did you have in mind?" she asked warily.

He smiled sadistically and held up a bottle of finest Ogden's Old.

"There's got to be something we're missing," said Ginny. "This only explains the effect on Hermione. It doesn't say anything about Snape."

"I can't understand how any spell that's supposed to effect me made him think he loves me," said Hermione. "I was so stupid. He's going to hate me forever. I should have just kept it to myself."

"Kept what to yourself, Miss Granger?" said Dumbledore as he came in. "You cannot be blamed for what this sort of magic made you believe."

"You don't understand, sir," she said and turned back to thumbing through the books. "How is Severus? Can I see him?"

Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. She nodded and turned her eyes back to the book but looked, in Dumbledore's opinion, decidedly canny.

Ginny and Harry were making copious notes while Ron read passages quietly to Luna and she jotted down what they discovered.

"What have you found?" the Headmaster asked, finally, after watching them for several minutes.

"We've found the name and origin of the curse, sir," reported Ron, and explained about Nimue and Merlin.

"And the nature of it?"

Ginny sighed. "From all records we can find, it induces desire. The documents all state that it is impossible to cause love to exist. It can be nurtured into form, but not created out of whole cloth."

"But that doesn't explain my situation with Severus, Professor," Hermione said. "I love him."

Dumbledore gently took her hand. "As you grow older, Miss Granger, you'll discover that there are many types of love. I'm sorry to say that desiring someone is not the most stable sort."

"What sort is, then?" she demanded, crossly, snatching her hand away. "The sort where I'm convinced that he needs me, the sort where I wake up and the only thing I really want to hear is the sound of his voice? The sort where I go to my classes the ways I do purely so I can get a chance to look at him?" Bitter tears were rolling down her face. "There's two differences in my case and other instances of this curse, sir. One of them we can't figure out, and that's why Severus is effected, too. The other one is that I love him - I can barely remember when I did not love him, at least in the way that little girls love."

Dumbledore gaped at her, then turned and looked at the others of her group, who were wearing expression of such myriad and mixed emotions that they looked almost comical. There was pride in them, for Hermione and her moments of taking a stand. There was revulsion - none of them thought much of Severus, after all. There was saddness to see her suffer so, support to defend her as she did, and anger there. He wondered how much of that was directed at him

Ron spoke up first. "It's true, sir. Hermione always spoke up for him - really fast, and all determined like she gets when she's not thinking logically. Forgive me, Hermione, but really. I remember she would snap at us so badly when we said things about him."

Hermione nodded. "I only half understood at the time," she said.

"When did this start?" Dumbledore asked, breathlessly.

Ginny sighed. "Probably the first night back to school in their fourth year - the night we met the guy who wasn't Moody. Hermione and I sat up talking all night, mostly about the end of second year - their third year. We were talking about how brave Ron and Harry were and then we got to talking about the adults, and the next thing you know, she was all silly about him."

"You were the one, then," said Dumbledore. "Your birthday was mid-September?"

"Yes. I turned 18."

"There is a crystal in my office that I've charmed to give me certain information when one of the students develops an inappropriate affection for one of the teachers. It went off for Severus that year, and stayed on every time he entered my office until he entered on your birthday.Did your situation change?"

"That was when I acknowledged the situation to myself. I told you I love him. The spell makes me a little silly when I'm tired, apparently, because I would never have said anything if I hadn't been up half the night learning to make a new portkey."

"Did it work?"

"I couldn't test it. It felt right. It's just like a code activated one, but it only works when the user wants it to."

"Brilliant, Miss Granger," said Dumbledore. "You'll have to show me later."

"Yes, sir," she said with a smile.

Dumbledore patted her hand and looked at them all fondly. "What do you think is the other difference?"

Luna smiled in that soft, ethereal way of hers and said, "He's in love with her, too."

Hermione sighed. "No, he's not, Luna. It's the spell - it back-lashed, somehow, so that both of us became caught. I was already in love, so it only made me more outrageous. Him, it gave the seed of the spell, and he believed my suggestion of the reason. Severus is emotionally crippled, and knows of love only as a theory, as something other people have. So he had nothing else to go on to explain the amorous feelings. He had to go on my interpretation." She put her face in her hands and started shaking.

"The seed of the spell," said Harry. "There was a Death Eater meeting in September, too." Nobody bothered to ask him how he knew. "That must have been when she cast the spell."

"I started having dreams," said Hermione in a ghostly, soft voice. "He irritated me so badly in Hogsmeade, and was having fun reading my anger. I just pictured..." she blushed crimson... "I just picked something different for him to read."

"Snape's a legilimens," Ron said.

"Professor Snape," said Harry, Dumbledore, and Hermione all at once.

"Fine. Professor Snape is a legilimens - the other guy's just an angry snob in the dungeons."

Ginny giggled. "Technically, he's an occlumens, Ron."

"No, they go hand in hand," said Dumbledore, then stopped. "He confessed to having used legilimency on you at some point, Miss Granger."

"Yeah," said Ron enthusiastically, "but what if it was while the spell was forming? It was taking over Hermione's mind and he was in there, so it climbed in to his, too."

"So the spell's working faster because it's working on both of us?" asked Hermione. "This says clearly six months, after all."

"Right," said Ron. "Because you were already in love with him, the other stuff just... erm... ugh... well..."

"Enhanced it," Luna said.

"Yuck," said Ginny. Hermione blushed a vivid crimson. "It explains the incident with the romance novel bed, though."

"Still doesn't explain about Professor Snape," said Neville. "If the spell only made him attracted to you... I mean to say..." He frowned, drew a deep breath, then began again, very fast. "Whybesonicetoyouwhenhecanjustseduceyou?"

Harry opened his mouth to say something, but stopped and gasped and slapped his hand to his forehead, swearing quietly under his breath.

Dobby the house-elf appeared at that exact moment. "Professor Dumbledore, sir, Professor Dumbledore, sir! Professor McGonagall is sending me to tell you that Professor Snape is escaping her, sir. Professor McGonagall is saying she is never guarding anyone else for you again, sir!" He handed Dumbledore a little black leather book and the piece of parchment attached to it, and then apparated away with a soft, delicate pop. Ginny and Ron wrestled Harry onto to the next bed, where he curled up and moaned in pain.

"Dear Albus," the note read, in Severus's jagged, spiky handwriting. "I hope you will forgive me, someday, but I have to do this. Lucius repaid a debt to tell me that the Dark Lord will kill her if he thinks he can still learn something from her, so I have to go to him. I think I may survive although that, too, will be far from my own desires. I will tell him you lifted the spell with ease.

"I realize she feels nothing for me, a distinct lack of sentiment for which she can scarcely be blamed. The dreams of a lifetime of happiness with her have changed my whole world, though, and I can scarcely imagine life without her. No harm will ever come to her while I still draw breath.

"Please give her this book - I bought it for her in Stratford-on-Avon. Even if I never see her again, I will always love her in my dreams."

She accepted the thin volume of poetry with limp and shaking hands, opening it to the first page and reading his note with evident confusion. "The dreams," breathed Hermione, tears rolling down her cheeks. "My God. They were real..."

Bellatrix brought him, with his hands tied in conjured ropes, to kneel at the feet of the Dark Lord. "I told you he was a treacherous fool, my Lord," she said.

"I'm not a traitor. Dumbledore took her away. I had to come tell you, my Lord. He lifted the spell with incredible ease. It meant nothing to him."

"Ah," purred Voldemort, "I use his own against him, and still he defeats me." He made a quick hand signal.

"Crucio," snapped Bellatrix, and the pain tore through Snape from his toes to the top of his head. He locked his jaw, and locked his throat and refused to cry out - she wanted it too much.

The senseless beating started then. He tried to protect his head, but Bellatrix looked at his neck and noticed the chain.

"No, he's lost his Order portkey," moaned Harry.

"Crucio," said Voldemort in a soft, sibilant whisper right next to his ear. The pain wracked his body. All he could think of was how much he wanted to see Hermione.

Then it was over. Voldemort himself lifted Snape to his feet and smiled "I'm sorry your mudblood escaped you, my Severus. It's plain to see that this spell isn't worth the wait. We'll have her killed for you at the first opportunity."

"No," he croaked, then caught himself. "Let me." He was weak, and the world was going black at the edges. The taste of iron in his mouth was all he needed to know to be sure that he was bleeding.

Bellatrix narrowed her eyes at him. "The spell is useless, my Lord," she agreed, "but for a different reason." Her hand lashed out and she slapped him, hard, across the face. "You're in love with her," she shrieked. "You fell in love with a filthy, wretched Gryffindor, a mudblood muggle-lover half your age." She spat on him. "Snape, I know sick, and you are one sick bastard."

"Thanks," he said, and was slapped again. "She's lying, my Lord."

"He knows," said Harry.

Voldemort came closer, and took his face in his hands, guiding Snape's eyes up to meet his closely. "Severus, you're brilliant," he said softly, "you are excellent at what you do." Getting punched by a sixty-five year old serpent man who preferred to use magic and to let others to do his violence for him was quite a repellent privilege.

"Did you think I could not tell this, my Severus? You can hide everything else from me, but I can see this. I know my enemies' fault, and I know it well. That foolish, pitiful emotion is a glaring beacon to me, I can smell its foul, reekingtaint anywhere. A grain no bigger than a mustard seed, in a heart so black as yours, Severus, would easily be enough without you dragging the fairy fluff of this endless, pathetic fantasy in here."

"Its Bella's damnable spell," he shouted, lying to save his own worthless life, if only briefly enough to be sure they would refuse to use the spell again. "It made me think ridiculous, impossible, revolting things. Please, my Lord, I only want to serve you."

"You only want to raise bushy-haired filthy half-blood babies with your tramp of a student," snapped Bella, and her back handedslap was enough to knock his off his feet. She turned her wand on him, them, using the cruciatus until he thought his ears would bleed just at the sound of her voice. "You could have loved me instead, Sev," she whispered.

"Never," he said. "If I have to love someone, I want to love a brave girl with a pure heart."

"That's just it," Bella screamed. "You didn't have to love anyone. The god-damned spell isn't supposed to create love, and it isn't supposed to effect you at all. You shouldn't be in love with her - you can't be in love with her."

"Oh Hermione," whispered Harry. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry, Hermione. He's going to..."

"But I am," he said, and felt almost healed as the knowledge of that truth poured over him. It wasn't magic they felt, either one of them. They were in love - really, truly in love and, if he had survived this day, they could have had all their lives to learn and share with each other what that kind of love really meant.

He looked down and the ring on his finger, and thought of her face when she gave it to him, then closed his eyes tightly. He wanted her face to be the very last thing he saw. He wished with all his heart that he could be with her, just one last time.

"Just say my name, and you'll be with me." Her voice was soft and beautiful, drowning out the hideous noises and the pain of being dragged uncomfortably across the ground. If he wasn't horribly mistaken, the Dark Lord had decided to use an old muggle torture on him and burn him at the stake. Flame freezing charms didn't work when they took your wand and left you half-conscious. Yes, definitely. There were flames licking at his cloak, now, and the realization that this was the sensation cruciatus had been designed to mimick. The real thing was much worse.

"Just say my name..."

He smiled beautifically, and held on tight to the image of her face, reaching out in his mind to touch the air thatshe was."Hermione," he whispered, the most beautiful sound he knew. "Hermione, Hermione."

Suddenly, he was flying.

And it's here we must leave them, good readers. I'll let you decide where he arrives.

I wrote this story as a challenge, and it has been, but I've learned a lot from it, and I'm quite pleased with the outcome, and I hopeyou liked it, too. This is not my ship - I'm too arrogant to stick to a ship I actually believe in when looking for something hard to do. But it does make a lovely story when you're looking for the bitter sweet.

The poem involved here is called "A Pavane for the Nursery", whichis also commonly known as "Touch the Air Softly" and is the priceless work of William Jay Smith. It is also available set to music.

Thank you all for the great reviews. Don't forget to review this chapter, too and yell and shriek at me for leaving it that way. I'll see you all tonight at the Potter parties.