Disclaimer: All characters, places, etc. belong to JKR, Warner Bros., Scholastic and others. The plot alone is my creation.
A/N: Thanks again to an excellent beta, Aestril, without whom this chapter would be a bloody mess!
An Order Obeyed
Snape lifted his head from his chair by the fire, the book on his lap half-closed. It was rare for anyone to disturb him in the staff room so late, especially his long-time associate and wife of the Headmaster.
'Minerva.' He twisted to look at her, and frowned, sympathy striking at her worn appearance. One of the most formidable witches of the age, a woman not to be crossed by anyone – whether they were an erring first year or the Minister of Magic himself – seemed as pale and thin as Granger, and appeared almost…was she nervous?
He blinked. He had seen many sides of Hogwarts' resident mother lion, but nervousness was not one of them. 'Minerva?' he asked quietly, his voice taking on a gentleness that no student had ever heard. 'Are you all right?'
She started to nod sharply, trying to bring herself back together, and finally pursed her lips and shook her head. 'No,' she replied, and her sigh was shakier than she would have wished. 'Severus. I came – I need to know – what Albus is doing.'
His gut clenched. So. The Headmaster had not seen fit to tell his wife. He made a mental note to strongly advise his employer that he confide in Minerva at once. It was clearly consuming her alive, and they could definitely use her assistance.
'What do you mean?' he asked her, face passive as he gestured for her to sit across from him. She threw him an irritated glance as she sat.
'Don't pretend with me, Severus Snape. I know you know. None of your spy faces. What is he up to? It must be exceptionally dangerous, or else I would know. What are his plans and why-' here she swallowed painfully, '-why won't he say?'
'As to why he won't say, that I cannot tell you,' Snape started with the easier question first, trying to think past his initial, mind-numbing thoughts. Minerva didn't know. Granger wasn't to know. When Dumbledore died, his connection to the Order would be irrevocably lost. He had thought there would be a provision, that Minerva would bear news of his – not innocence, but not murder – to the others.
'As to his plans?'
'You know I am bound by oath not to speak of them.'
'Severus!' she snapped, rising.
'I am not free to make this decision,' he kept his voice purposefully quiet. 'You know better than most the terms of my service to the Headmaster.'
She stalked away furiously, whirling in a swirl of red to glower at him from the other end of the room, her form mostly in shadow. 'He's going to die.' She said it with such certainty that he wondered if the Headmaster had, in fact, told her, and she was testing him, but her dark eyes held that glimmer of hope, begging him to contradict her.
Snape tilted his head to one side. 'There is no reason to believe that.'
'Yes. There is. The ring this summer, you could not cure what it did to him. Mungo's had no luck. A dozen physicians that I had come from all over the world with exotic ingredients from all seven continents could not change it at all. He is going to die. It's killing him, leeching his magic one increment at a time.'
That Snape could not deny. He hadn't known that they had brought in specialists from other nations, but he found it unsurprising that nothing had worked. The Dark Lord enjoyed torturing his victims. Up close and personal was the preferred way, but from a distance through an old curse was also acceptable. And through Dumbledore, the Dark Lord reached not only the Headmaster and Minerva, but all of Hogwarts and the Order.
He could not reply. He could not confirm and would not deny what she was beginning to piece together.
'Damn you, answer me!' she spat at him. He raised one dark eyebrow.
'What do you expect me to say?'
Her shoulders slumped suddenly, curling into her chest, her head bowed. Even her robes seemed to lack the luster of a few moments ago. She looked beaten, and he could hear her defeat in her voice, so unlike the strong woman he had known for almost his entire life.
'Lie to me?'
He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again there was more compassion in the black than Minerva had ever seen. 'I cannot.'
Christmas drew ever closer, and Snape was sure he'd never had to balance quite so many different lies all at once, and from three people with which he shared at least one vital secret apiece. Until two years ago, his life had consisted of grading student papers and impatiently waiting until the absence of said students allowed him to sit comfortably and read the Potions and Defense Journals that he had fallen behind on during the course of a term.
But now Voldemort wanted results, both from Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger, and was displeased that it was taking so long to accomplish either, never mind that Draco was unfit to accomplish his task and Snape had only been sleeping with the girl for six weeks.
Draco himself was impossible, refusing to speak to him of his plans and attempts – what had possessed the boy to try a cursed necklace sent through a student? The day that Filch had come hurtling into his office carrying the dangerous item at the request of Minerva McGonagall was still quite fresh in his memory, as was his desperate rush to the hospital wing to keep the potent curse from completely consuming the body of Katie Bell. And though Snape had sent repeated notes requesting that the boy come to his office, so far they had yielded no results. He ground his teeth. It was harder and harder not to hate the boy as he grew up to look exactly like his father, but Dumbledore claimed, and Snape knew he was correct, that while Draco might be the spitting image of Lucius physically, he didn't have the necessary hardness of heart for killing. So he continued to try to guide Draco differently.
Nevetheless, Dumbledore needed him to keep an eye on Potter in addition to Draco, along with poking Voldemort with subtle questions to get clues regarding the whereabouts and nature of the Horcruxes. As the two boys shot apart like magnets of the same polarity, that would have been a full job in and of itself, without research, classes, the Death Eaters and Hermione Granger.
The girl…it was best not to think too much about her. The burn in his chest when he saw her or remembered her unrestrained smile was a side-effect that he could not explain away as either lust or simply the bond. But there were lines he could not cross. He furrowed his brow. She was slated to go home for the holidays, and if she wasn't pregnant by then he didn't know how they would manage. He could Apparate to see her, he supposed. In the middle of the night. That would be charmingly tasteless, but he doubted the bond would allow a two-week separation.
And to top it all off, Minerva had not given up accosting him at odd hours, hopeful that catching him off balance would clue her in to the Headmaster's plans. But he had done all he could on that front. Dumbledore had blinked in surprise upon learning that his wife had gone to the vitriolic younger wizard about him, but he had refused point-blank to tell her anything. At least now Snape knew why. Dumbledore was right, if Minerva knew, she would do everything within her considerable power to prevent it, and would probably succeed.
He sighed as he scrawled an 'A' across one Ravenclaw's essay and shoved it into the 'graded' pile on his desk. He also had to attend this party being thrown by Slughorn. Apparently all the teachers were going and Dumbledore wanted him to attend. 'Add a little fun to your life, my boy,' the Headmaster had said. Fun would be reading in his study, perhaps with Granger in there as well to talk to-
He halted that line of thought. Talking to her had never been part of the Dark Lord's plan. She was merely the vessel for a witch or wizard that would be greater than both of them. Her smiling, vibrant face darted to the front of his mind and he shoved the persistent image away again. She would be broken for a time when he did what he had to. But better broken for that than for what would follow.
Harry was staring out the window towards the lake, watching the moon ripple on water disturbed by the wind. He felt rather than heard someone behind him, and instinctively, his hand reached to clench on his wand.
'Cursing everything that moves now, Harry?' The dry voice of Ginny Weasley halted his movement and he shrugged.
'Constant vigilance,' he quoted Moody, releasing the wood.
'It's the Gryffindor common room,' she pointed out, drawing level with him at the window and joining his staring out the diamond-cut panes.
'Has Hermione told you anything?' he asked.
'I didn't come to talk about Hermione.' Her voice was sharper than she might have wished, but there had been a time that Harry Potter had wanted to talk to her about other things than Hermione Granger… A long silence garnered no response, so she forayed into a conversation that they had been thoroughly avoiding since the summer. If she was going to be Harry's informant, instead of his girlfriend, it was time to figure that out.
'Going to Slughorn's party?' she asked.
'Yeah,' came the non-committal response.
Harry contained the sigh that blew to his lips, swallowing it instead and trying to think of the proper way to say what he wanted to. But there was no such way, hence his silence for the past months. The thought of causing her pain hurt. But the fear of losing her tightened unbearably in his chest every time he looked at her.
'Ginny…' he hesitated, mouth suddenly dry, but her brown eyes were hard as she glanced at him and he knew she was going to make him out voice to the thoughts that had gradually shoved between them, a wedge struck too many times with a slow, heavy hammer.
'I can't,' he finally managed. 'Ginny, I can't add another person to his list. Especially not you. Not with Ron already on it.'
'He knows who I am. Have you forgotten the diary? That he possessed me when I was eleven years old?'
'Never. But I can also never forget the whiteness of your mother's face when I brought you into Professor McGonagall's office after pulling you out of the chamber, her complete terror when she thought she'd lost you, and her gratitude that she had not. I am petrified, every day, that I will bring that expression of hopeless loss to your mother's face again when Voldemort kills one of her children for the sole purpose of getting to me.
'The only person he has come after severely since before he came back is me. And even with the diary, it was me he wanted. You were the tool then.' He took a deep breath, and the young witch was surprised to see his shoulders shudder. 'Do you have any idea what it would do to me to see you used as that kind of tool now? Or as he used Sirius?'
He finally turned to face her fully, and she was surprised to see tears clarifying the green in his eyes, glossing them to startling brightness. 'Sirius died because Voldemort knew he could use Sirius to get to me. He killed my parents simply because they were in the way. Cedric Diggory was murdered because he stood alongside me in the Triwizard Tournament. All of my family is gone. You, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and Hagrid are all I have left. And he can't have any more of you. I won't let him.'
He reached up to touch her face, and a bitter smile curved his mouth, a younger echo of a smile that she had seen on rare occasions in the dungeon where Snape had taught Potions. 'I have to let you go, Ginny.'
She stepped backwards as his fingers brushed her cheek, eyes blazing. 'You can push me away, Harry Potter. Merlin knows you've kept enough secrets from me – from all of us - this year to last a lifetime. But this is my world and my fight. And if you think I'm going to fade into the background and let you battle it on your own, you don't know me at all.'
'Hermione's going to the party with McLaggen?' Ron ran his fingers through his hair in what Lavender was coming to recognize as his expression of bewildered frustration. 'Why? She can't possibly like a dolt like that?'
Lavender shrugged. 'Ginny and I saw her ask him to the party at breakfast a few days ago. I can hardly believe it myself.' She tilted her head and asked, 'Was Krum smart?'
Ron blew a sigh and lifted his shoulders. 'Dunno. Guess I never tried to figure it out, really, I was too angry that he'd only taken a few months to say what I'd been trying to get the nerve to do for two years. But I think…I think he was pretty smart. Spoke two languages, at least.'
'Funny that she goes for Quidditch players.'
'Yeah. She's never cared too much for the sport, really,' Ron puzzled, frowning suddenly. How many times had he and Harry simply had to roll their eyes at her ignorance regarding their favorite pastime?
'Unless…'Lavender tapped her lower lip with one slender finger. 'Unless she's hiding something, and using McLaggen to cover it up.'
'That sounds much more likely,' Ron admitted. 'Hermione's clever like that.'
'But what?' Lavender asked.
Ron frowned. There was a time, not too long ago, that Hermione had kept no secrets… 'I don't know,' he said again, and felt something like a knife twist painfully between his ribs.
'We should ask Harry to keep a lookout at Slughorn's party,' Lavender suggested. 'She might give herself away.'
Harry stepped into Slughorn's office after Luna, squinting through the vast quantities of smoke that filled the room. He was almost immediately scooped up by Slughorn, who introduced him to a biographer whom he couldn't have cared less about. Slightly more interesting was his vampire friend – whose side were they on? – he made a mental note to ask Dumbledore – and Harry disentangled himself as quickly as he could politely do so. As he turned swiftly, he caught sight of the bushy head that he had been searching for to begin with. Remembering Ron's strange instructions, he called her name.
'Harry! There you are, thank goodness! Hi, Luna!'
'What happened to you?' Harry asked, examining her with one eyebrow arched. Hermione grimaced, thinking that she had paid a high price indeed to throw Ginny off her trail, wishing devoutly that she could snag Snape and have a decent conversation that evening instead of trailing around with Cormac. But a disguise was a disguise.
'Oh, I've just escaped – I mean, I've just left Cormac. Under the mistletoe,' she supplied when Harry cocked his head at her quizzically. He nearly snorted. Well, at least Ron was right about that. It appeared she no more fancied McLaggen than the giant squid. So he was probably right about the other…what was she using him for?
'Why'd you come with him if you don't like him?' Luna asked.
'Erm…I thought maybe I would like him better on further acquaintance?' Hermione made up on the spot. This time, Harry did not contain his snort of disbelief. But she had apparently spied McLaggen coming towards them, and was hastily vanishing again. He was about to go after her, but Luna's misty voice stopped him.
'She's very distracted this year. Something about Professor Snape, I think,' she remarked. Harry almost spat out his butterbeer. He and Ron had not been able to work out more than that in a whole term of prying and questions. How did Luna know? He asked her as much.
'Oh, sometimes they look at each other in the Great Hall,' was all she replied. 'And it's very difficult to tell what she's thinking.'
At that moment they ran into Professor Trelawny, and Luna started speaking to her so that Harry didn't have any time to ask further questions, but his green eyes sought Hermione and found her for an instant. She looked exhausted, even with make-up and her hair up. Her eyes scanned the room constantly, and occasionally would alight places for several moments. Once, it was Snape she was watching, but there were others she focused on as well, Blaise Zabini amongst them. He resolved to ask Luna further questions in a more private arena.
Escaping from McLaggen for the rest of the evening was proving a chore, and one Hermione heartily wished she did not have to perform. But to approach Snape in so public a setting was unthinkable…
'Hermione Granger! Allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine!' Slughorn whisked her to the side of a young-ish man, perhaps eight years her senior, who smiled at her tentatively and stuck out his hand.
'Healer Augustus Pye,' he said, shaking her hand.
'Miss Granger here would make an excellent Healer,' Slughorn told the young man. 'Not quite as dab a hand at brewing potions as young Harry Potter, but nearly as talented!' Hermione ground her teeth. Harry was only better because of that stupid book…although his consistent success, and the fact that Snape clearly knew a spell listed in it, was beginning to intrigue her. Perhaps she should start using the tips it included.
'She's in sixth year, charming young lady, as you can see,' Slughorn was continuing. Healer Pye's expression had changed. He was giving her a very curious look.
'Professor Slughorn has never recommended a wrong candidate,' he told her with a small smile. 'Are you interested in being a Healer, Miss Granger?'
'I…' she stammered. After focusing intensely on Career Advice the previous year, her summer and this past fall had driven her future plans from her mind. The battles were getting steadily worse and after both the Ministry debacle and her near-death in Diagon Alley she had come to the sharp understanding that her life was not guaranteed as an outcome of the war. 'I haven't given it much thought,' she finally managed lamely. 'I mean, with the war, no one really knows what's going to happen…'
'Most people survived it the last time,' he told her in what was clearly meant to be a comforting tone. She could not help the bitter smile that twitched the corner of her mouth. Most people were not the best friends of Harry Potter. And Snape… 'Like I said, he's never wrong,' Pye repeated as Slughorn vanished into the crowd. 'We would happily consider an application from you when you have given your career some consideration – you're a seventh year?'
'Sixth actually,' she replied with some distraction. A sharp flare of concern from Snape's mind had just caught her own and she was trying to listen to him and Pye at the same time.
She felt Snape's worry spike and whirled from facing Pye to see him standing next to Draco Malfoy, who had most certainly not received an invitation.
'I'd like a word with you, Draco,' Snape was saying quietly, gesturing with one hand for the two of them to leave the room.
'Oh, now, Severus, it's Christmas, don't be too hard-' Slughorn started to protest
'I'm his Head of House and I shall decide how hard, or otherwise, to be,' Snape cut him off sharply, glowering down his nose at the blond. What had possessed Draco? The boy was under great pressure, but he had a safety net and he should be thinking his plans through, which he clearly had not. Their lord would not be pleased if Hogwarts closed due to a series of Draco-caused freak accidents. 'Follow me, Draco.' Hermione watched the black and almost-white heads disappear together towards the entrance and debated the merits of following them. Snape silently ordered her to remain at the party. For an instant, she thought she might follow him simply to show him that she was unwilling to take orders given without reason. He didn't begin to share the details of his life with her, but Harry had been on and on about Malfoy being involved with the Death Eaters, and the suspicion echoing from Snape's mind made her think that Harry might have something to that theory after all…
'I'll be back in a bit, Luna – er – bathroom,' she heard Harry say. She took two steps towards him, stopped. He was going after them, and would tell her and Ron tomorrow. She would get what information she could a different way. And she was talking to Pye. She couldn't just vanish. That had all the subtlety of an Unforgivable.
'What was that?' he asked politely.
'Sorry, just…a friend of mine that wasn't invited,' she lied quickly. 'I hope he's not in too much trouble.'
'Professor Snape was the devil to have when I was here, and by all accounts he hasn't changed,' Pye said, grimacing in sympathy. 'The boy will probably have a detention.'
Malfoy? From Snape? Not unless hell froze today, Hermione thought. But she did not voice this and instead painted a smile on her face and asked the Healer, 'So, what is it like to work in Saint Mungo's?'
'Snape was offering to help him?' Ron repeated, staring into the fire and shaking his head slowly. 'I can't believe it. How can Dumbledore trust him? We know he's a Death Eater.'
'You're sure Hermione went to bed?' Harry asked for the seventeenth time.
'She has to have. I was…out for a walk,' he said, and shot Harry a half-defiant glance, daring him to challenge the story. Harry merely stared back him, not caring one way or the other what Ron had been engaged in doing or with whom. 'When I got back she wasn't here. It's almost eleven. She has to be in bed.'
Not for the first time, Harry cursed the founders' spell that allowed Hermione to come bursting into their dormitory at any hour while they could not so much as mount the staircase to hers. He needed her brains for this one. How could they catch them out? Malfoy and Snape?
His chest burned with a need to do something, anything, the halt them. But his hatred for the older wizard was well known, which meant that members of the Order were likely to defend the professor, insisting that it was just Harry's wish to see Snape imprisoned that made him see the worst in him all the time…
But the older wizard's defense of him over the past years did not exonerate him in Harry's view. Peter Pettigrew had, after all, slept in his dormitory for three years without touching him, when it would have been easiest to kill him. Snape was far cleverer than Pettigrew, and Voldemort's return coupled with the month spent in the Riddle house had proven that the fastest solution was not always the one the Dark Lord was seeking, as he was more than willing to trade time for increased power. He was very patient, and there was no reason to believe that Snape would not be the same way, biding him time, waiting for exactly the right moment…
Hands twisted round his wand in his lap. Why did Dumbledore trust him? What was so ironclad about their relationship?
'I'm going to tell your dad about it,' he said finally, rising to pace.
'Don't expect him to believe you,' Ron cautioned.
Harry blew a frustrated sigh. 'I can't just sit here and do nothing!'
'I think you should tell him,' Ron hastily added. 'I'm just saying…Dad trusts Snape. 'Cause Dumbledore does.'
'Dumbledore.' The word spat out bitterer than Harry had expected. His respect for the headmaster was great, and still growing with their private lessons, but the awe with which he had viewed him at age eleven had long since been tempered by the understanding that Dumbledore was only human, and in spite of his vast knowledge, kindness and patience, made mistakes. And on the subject of Hogwarts' youngest professor they had always differed, especially after Sirius had died…
Harry strode towards the staircase. 'I'm telling Hermione tomorrow morning. She'll have some ideas about what to do, some spells…maybe we could slip them both Veritiserum…'
'Don't joke about that,' Ron warned, climbing wearily to his feet. 'The Ministry would flay you alive.'
They climbed the stairs in silence, and Harry sat on his bed for a long time after Ron's gentle snores told him his best friend was asleep. Loneliness wrapped itself around the young hero, a shroud he was growing all-to-familiar with. He had turned Ginny away for the final time, and in spite of her speech about being part of the battle, he had no intention of allowing her to be there, and he knew that Mrs. Weasley would be his ally in his efforts there. After the war, if he survived the war, he would gladly beg her forgiveness on his knees, but until then…his stomach roiled at the remembrance of her sculpture-white face in the Chamber of Secrets…
Hermione had vanished from the party, as usual, leaving him bereft of the well-thought-out advice he had come to rely on over the past five years. He frowned. Even though Ron had told him to watch for it specifically, Harry had forgotten to tell him about Luna's strange observation about Hermione and Snape. Another project for coming back from term – perhaps Hermione had learned something about Snape over the summer that could help them figure out what he and Malfoy were up to…
And Ron was still on the fence about Snape, even though he seemed to be convinced about Malfoy now. The Daily Prophet wasn't the only tarnish on Harry's reputation. The Department of Mysteries fiasco, where Voldemort had tricked him using the dreams that he was supposed to be learning to block, was what had Hermione and Ron and probably the rest of the Order second-guessing him.
He finally lay down as his eyelids grew heavy from watching the stars flicker outside his window and thought with some amount of grim satisfaction that at least until after the holidays, Snape and Malfoy were unlikely to be able to do anything, which would given him a whole two weeks to convince the rest of the Order that something had to be done.
Snape woke early, and rolled over, squinting in an uncomfortable, foreign brightness. As his back arched, his fingers collided with material as foreign as the light and his eyes snapped fully open, all sleepiness vanished, his wand zooming to his hand as he Summoned it wordlessly.
The swiftness with which he had sat up brought his free hand in contact with something else as he stared out windows high on the wall where sunlight streamed through them. His fingers tangled in something soft and wavy…
He looked down, and felt his heart skip.
Still fast asleep, right by his side, was Hermione Granger, one hand tucked under her cheek, her masses of curls spread out behind her head and over her shoulder and one exposed breast. The early morning light was not quite yet touching her face.
Entranced, he reached one long finger out to trace her cheekbone, dragging down to her ear and circling it delicately before skimming over her long eyelashes and drifting over her small nose.
He dimly recalled gathering her into his arms as they fell asleep, the first time they had ever done so. He thought that the Room of Requirement was really quite remarkable – Unplottable, completely impossible to find when in use. It had been quite a nice change to make love in a real bed. He could not possibly allow her access to his rooms and her dormitory was a public place.
He watched her chest rise and fall slowly with her steady breathing, and touched her neck where her soothing heartbeat throbbed under his fingers. He sat for a long while as the sun gradually gained intensity, hardly daring to move lest he wake her, the expression on his features completely unguarded as he gazed at her face. The old magic that suffused his body was sated and calm, lazy spirals of air and fire drifting towards her body to caress her.
For a blinding moment, he felt the weight of his life and his decisions through all that he was denied with the girl next to him. He wished he could take her walking through the rose hedges carefully maintained by Dumbledore, or the staff garden with its numerous useful plants. That they could order breakfast from the house elves and eat it here. That they could spend days in his laboratory working together exploring each other's minds as well as their bodies. That he could smile at her without the knowledge of the pain he was going to cause her. That he could love her without a guilt so consuming that sometimes he could feel it eating its way through him.
But he had made a different choice in the years before she was born, and nothing now could remove the stain. 'Spots that never come off.' A truer word the imposter had never spoken.
Next to him, she began to stir. He picked up his wand from the bedside table where he had laid it down, and halted. He did not want to know. He did not want to see.
But her heart had quickened, and so had her breathing. She was rousing. He had to do it now, or not at all.
A pattern in the air with his wand was accompanied by a silence command over her abdomen. He hoped that like every other day he had cast this spell, nothing would materialize, that it would reveal her womb still without fruit.
But today, it coalesced into a silver blob in midair, rotating slowly over her belly, shining in the morning sunlight - a formless cluster, like the life so newly created within her - and his heart clenched.
As simple and sudden as that. What they had started nine months ago in his storeroom was over.
He had done as his master had ordered.
Tears blinded him as he rose, summoning his clothes and slipping from the room before she finished waking.
Snape had never looked at the forbidding, disused old Riddle house with as much dread as pounded through him now. He could feel his heartbeat beneath his ribs, in his feet, in his thumbs as he stared for a moment at the grim building, nerving himself to do what was necessary for himself and the girl.
The only way. She has to stay alive. Potter will never finish the task without her. If he didn't have the guts to do it now, he would never do it later. One chance to save her, whatever the price…
…he was climbing the hill, snow crunching under his feet as he made the ascent without the permission of his brain, his body once again on automatic where his mind and, this time, his heart might interfere. The knowledge of her sure hatred almost stopped him where he stood, colder than the wind that knifed through his heavy cloak, but as usual, his limbs pressed onward. Even when he doubted himself, he could always act.
In the creaking door, up the darkened stairs, to the end of the hall and the Dark Lord's newly-created receiving chamber. He rapped sharply on the wooden door as he drew level with it, announcing his presence.
'Come, Severus.' His lord's back was to him as he entered, but Snape did not have to ask how he knew it was him. The Dark Lord's hearing was the only Snape knew of that was better than his own.
'My lord,' Snape bowed to the black-robed figure and stepped back a respectful pace as he rose. The lord tilted his head and sniffed, as if seeking a scent on the air.
'You smell of urgency. What has happened?' Voldemort asked quietly. Snape opened his mouth and shut it again as a pale hand indicated that the lord was not finished. 'I hope for your sake that you bring me good news, Severus, instead of telling me that I must be patient. Has young Malfoy come closer to his goal?'
Snape shook his head. 'I am afraid that he is quite resistant to…ah…accepting my advice. Seems determined that I want nothing more than to accomplish the job myself and steal his glory.' I don't need to press him for that, he thought despairingly. He won't be able to do it himself.
'Then, the girl?' Voldemort hinted, his tone making it clear that there had better be some real news on this front.
'Yes, my lord, the girl,' Snape replied carefully. His mind was shuttered and drawn. 'I sent the message as soon as I could. She is pregnant. I tested her this morning.'
'Does she know?' Voldemort asked, amusement flickering to life in his voice.
'No.' It took effort to keep the self-loathing out of his voice. He was certain he had heard her sleepily call his name as the door had closed on his heels. 'I don't think she will for several weeks yet.'
'Fascinating.' An ironic gleam. 'Congratulations, Severus. You're going to be a father.'
Snape winced. He had been trying so hard not to think of what happened at the end of a pregnancy-
'I know, quite disgusting, isn't it, to have your only child by a Mudblood? However… it has its uses. Do not be ashamed to follow my orders, Severus.'
'Of course not, my lord,' Snape inclined his head, grateful that the lord had misinterpreted his flinch. He waited a deliberate amount of time before asking quietly.
'My lord, do you wish me to maintain close contact with the…the Mudblood…or shall I be done with her?'
Voldemort gave him a penetrating glare, his red eyes gleaming. 'You are done with her. Let her stay at the school – the old man will provide her with everything she needs for as long as he lives, and the nurse there is more than competent to see her safely through bearing the child. You need have nothing to do with it until the child is born, when you will bring it to me.'
'Excellent.' The long hand flipped again in an elegant turn. 'Dismissed.'
Finis Act One
pA/N: So, as you will notice, this is the final chapter of Forbidden Fruit. I am well aware that the story is as of yet, unfinished, as there are too many questions left as to the events that have taken place and the reason for them. However, the sequel, which I have named Paradise Lost, is returning to a slightly different format and also jumps several weeks ahead, so I decided on this as a logical stopping place with her just getting pregnant. I called it act one in part because it is better to think of Forbidden Fruit as the first of two acts in a completed tale. Many of you have raised excellent questions that have helped shape my storyline for Paradise Lost, and for that, as well as reading this story, I thank you very much!