A/N: With epfics complete, we are pleased to announce the return of tag!fic. - Anastasia and Ariadne
"Draco!" Severus hissed, shoving Draco down onto the bed.
"No, let him up," Hermione said calmly. "I want to hear what the great Draco Malfoy has to say."
Both Draco and Severus froze, the only sound being Draco's shallow breathing and stifled moans. He lay on his side, shifting from side to side in a rocking motion, his hand clutching his side. Baring what was left of his teeth, Draco resembled a wounded animal that was a hair from biting anything within range.
"Nothing?" Hermione taunted, pushing the hellebore into Severus' hands as she passed. "Is 'Mudblood' all that you have?"
Draco's eyes tracked to Severus for help and found none.
Hermione approached the bed, ignoring how Draco's blood had created a pool around the edge of the mattress. On closer inspection, Hermione could see that he was visibly shaking, whether from anger or shock wasn't clear. Blood had made its way into one of his eyes, forcing him to look at her with cold malice from the other.
"Understand this, Malfoy," Hermione said, "Somehow, we are on the same side. If you think for one minute that I am going to tolerate your arrogant, pure-blood rubbish, you are sadly mistaken. I would nurse you back to perfect health just for the pleasure of hexing you into very small bits. Are we clear?"
"What is this, Snape?" Draco rasped, looking over to where Severus was preparing the hellebore and back to Hermione.
Severus didn't have a chance to answer.
Hermione turned to find Severus' grandmother standing in the doorway, gesturing toward her with her cane and nodding.
They watched her stare at the floor, where a trail of blood led to where Draco lay, press her lips in a thin line and step over the threshold.
"Grandmother, this is-"
"I know a Malfoy when I see one, Severus."
Severus and Hermione exchanged a glance as the old woman approached the bed. Draco, who had abandoned hope of holding himself up, stared up at her through one rapidly swelling eye. In the silence, the sound of the air being dragged into his throat took on a disturbingly abnormal rhythm.
"Who did this?" she asked as she held out a hand for the hellebore.
Draco remained still, his eyes closed, concentrating on the simple act of drawing breath. "My father."
The old witch simply nodded.
Draco looked to Severus, saying, "When he discovered that I informed you of the attack at Spinner's End... and my failure... "
The old witch applied a balm to Draco's side, causing him to hiss in pain. With her free hand, she pressed a small flask to his lips, forcing him to drink the bitter potion. Within a minute, his breathing had slowed and his body relaxed.
"They - they killed Slughorn when he refused to brew the potion," Draco said, his voice slurring as the potion took effect. "Wormtail has Ollivander in the cave... "
Severus suddenly grabbed hold of Draco's arm, shaking him, "Where? What cave?"
"Leave him be; you know he's no good to you now," the old witch ordered, taking hold of Severus' sleeve. "I've brought most of the ingredients. Take them and begin in the lab. I'll look after this one."
To Hermione's surprise, Severus scowled, but let Draco go and swept from the room.
They passed through the main room and past the still-bubbling cauldron. Severus strode before her, barely slowing to shove open an ancient door. Once inside, he lit the torches and stopped.
To Hermione, it felt like the first time that Severus had truly stopped since she first found him at Spinner's End. He stood, staring around the lab and at the impeccably organized cabinets and tables. A neat line of cauldrons of various metals lined the hearth of a monstrous fireplace occupying most of one wall. The fire sent watery shadows twisting over each other up to the ceiling. A heavy warmth hung in the air, a complete contrast to the cold dampness of the dungeons.
Their interrupted conversation fell between them, an obstacle that wouldn't give way. Words held between them, a living moment cut short by chaos.
"I meant what I said before," Hermione said taking a step toward him. "I do trust you."
"Trust in some cases is foolish," Severus said, his expression darkening as his eyes swept the line of cauldrons. "We must finish the potion first and free Ollivander. The Dark Lord will capture and Imperio the first Potion master he can get his hands on to try to arm the Inferi."
"This will be near impossible, and, most likely, lethal," he said, placing a cauldron on the worktable.
"Most worthwhile things are," she stated, waiting.
Severus paused, his eyes searching hers.
Hermione closed the distance between them, their shadows climbing higher up the walls, weaving with the wavering light.
"I know the dangers," she said, touching his hand. The same hesitation was there as before, a decision balanced on a sharp point, poised, tipping to fall. "I choose to fight for this."
"Say the word, and I shall ensure your safe return."
She stood her ground and held his gaze. "Never."
Severus held her eyes briefly, then his eyes seemed to shutter and he nodded sharply. "Very well."
He turned and, with a few precise wand movements, Summoning an array of flasks, boxes, and glass jars floating to the long wooden worktable. Gesturing imperiously toward one end of the table, he scanned the page rapidly and began to work.
Hermione joined him, and, for the next hour they worked in silence, the temperature of the room dropping paradoxically as they prepared the potion's base.
Hermione's hands grew colder as the flames leapt higher under the cauldron.
"Powdered bloodstone," Severus muttered in an undertone as sharp any he had used in the Potions classroom, gesturing toward a small, wooden box toward the back of the table.
Clenching her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering, Hermione flicked her wand at the box.
"Don't touch it," he ordered, stepping back from the cauldron. "Even a breath will contaminate -"
"I know," she countered testily, raising her wand slightly to tip the amount required into the cauldron.
As soon as the bloodstone touched the surface of the potion, the room began to warm.
Severus straightened his shoulders and, after a clinical glance at the potion, his posture relaxed. Summoning a tall stool, he sat and turned his gaze to her. "It needs to simmer before we add the first charge."
Hermione nodded and leaned against the table, her fingers tracing the woodwork, following the joins in different directions to reach the same point. She paused for a moment, then shook her head, drawing a deep breath.
"Out with it," Severus said, the light from the flames laying a sheer layer of amber over his face as he leaned forward.
Hermione tilted her head, thinking for a moment before saying, "That night. You would have, if I asked?"
The light changed in his eyes and he looked at her, the color rising with the temperature of the room.
"No," he said softly.
She glanced down at the table, at her fingertip hesitant on the join.
"No," he said again, and she heard the creaking of leather as he stood, the scraping of the stool on the flagstone floor.
"Oh." She swallowed. "I-"
She saw his hand come to rest next to hers on the tabletop.
"No, it's just that I thought that you - well, it was a-"
"Hermione," he said, more firmly. "Be quiet."
Her eyes flashed to his, and she saw, for the first time since answering his summons to Spinner's End, a faint, fleeting echo of the amusement his eyes had held that night, months ago. Amusement, and something darker.
She felt a low flutter. "But-"
"I said, 'Be quiet.'"
She glared at him, and a dry, broken chuckle escaped his throat.
Running his fingertip across the back of her hand, his hand closing over hers. "That night, no. And much has changed since."
"I never doubted you," she said from between teeth that were clenched from something other than the cold. She sounded angry, even to herself.
"So you said," he said, arching his eyebrows speculatively, his hand moving up slowly, firmly up her arm, dragging her sleeve against her skin.
"If you don't believe-"
A fingertip resting on her lips, her eyes flashing even more dangerously in response.
"I believe you, Hermione." He was unable to keep the amusement out of his voice.
She started to speak. "Then-"
But her tongue brushed his finger and he inhaled sharply, closing his eyes, his hand smoothing her jaw. "Hermione," he breathed. "Be careful."
"No," she said, stepping closer to him, reaching up to run her hand under his hair, his head heavy in her hand as she tilted her face to his.
"Be quiet, Severus," she murmured against his lips.
He groaned, dropping his hands to pull her roughly against him.
Her memories of the night in the Great Hall, the impossible tenderness of their single, forbidden kiss fled before the onslaught of his passion, so long denied, restrained.
"Hermione -" his breath hot on her cheek, his skin rough on her face as his hands pressed up her back, splaying beneath her shoulder-blades as he pulled her up towards him. "Hermione, I'm-" His breath came in a shuddering gasp as he struggled for some measure of control. All he could think was Skin...
Closing her hand in his hair, she drew her head back. "You're what?" she breathed, her mind astray. "What?" she repeated.
"Dangerous." His hands closed on her arms, and he lifted her to the table in a single, fluid motion.
She gasped, her hand clenching tighter in his hair.
A warm trail of breath, his thumb pressing firm, harder against her cheek, responding, her neck arching away from the pressure, his voice a low growl in her ear. "It was forbidden, Hermione."
She nodded, her eyes falling closed as he repeated, "Forbidden. This-" his lips warm, soft on her ear – "this-" his hand swept her breast – she drew a sharp breath – "this-" his teeth closing, dragging, sharp. "But now-"
A sudden chill as he drew back. Her eyes flew open, a question.
A dark silhouette against the pale flames, the rising mist of the waiting potion. "It's not forbidden now, Hermione." He waited, his thumb drawing a slow, guarded circle on her leg, each circle drawing infinitely higher, inexorably closer, insistently, inevitably…
Eyes wide, then fluttering closed, she shuddered.
Unbearably slowly, bracing his arm behind her, the rough table catching at her jeans as he pulled her toward him, he leaned over her. "No, not forbidden," he said, his mouth working a slow descent on her throat. His teeth raked her collarbone, and she gave a small cry.
Her voice was his undoing, and his mouth seared the skin at her collar as he pressed her backward to the table.
Her thoughts wild, she wove her fingers into his hair, falling farther backward into his hand, a burning anchor in a world tilting further askew.
Skin… His thoughts driven, driven forward, rushing - images in his mind, fleeting, wild, whirling, memories… Eyes…
Hands to buttons, buttons to skin, a slip of white – smooth, slick…
Skin… Fabric sliding, his skin rough, calloused, a nail, rough… another memory… Eyes, old…
Nails into skin soft, pliable… Another cry… her voice… her fingers working, into his collar, hot wool, air, cooling, eyes, warm, fingers flames on his back, seeking…
Skin… The table groaned, his hip sharp, fingers tight, tighter on her arm, pressing, desperate… and then another… Eyes, old, tired…
His back exposed, her nails, sharp, raking…
His eyes changed, a deeper darkness, a moan reverberating, growing, force, insistent, aching…
Skin… Fingers deep, deeper, her hips an anchor, fingers bruising, drawing her, drawing breath deeper, breathing, changing, and another... Eyes, old, tired…
Her voice, softer, deeper, growing, her breath catching, straining, his name, a plea…
"No," he breathed, feeling himself spinning, needing, condensing…
Eyes, pleading, fading…
Severus' shout pierced the shadows, reverberating off of stones, echoes after echoes after…
"Severus…" her voice low, breathless, her hand curling under his hair, her breath cooling the sheen on his shoulder… "Severus…"
Braced on his forearms, he dropped his head into the curve of her neck, his breathing ragged, his hair…
… soft… so soft…
Her fingertips a gentle sliding to his temple, brushing his hair back, her kiss a gentle pressure at the corner of his eye, his eyelashes damp, her thumb gentle, soft at his eyebrow.
The fading eyes a fleeting, dissolving image against the darkness in his mind.
"Severus," she said again, her eyes warm.
His breath a brittle catch in his throat, his hand to her hair, tender, shaking with passion spent and endless, endless regret.
Her thumb on his lips. "I know," she said, closing her eyes and drawing his head to her chest. "I know."