Disclaimer: I'm not, and never would claim to be J.K. Rowling. She is the queen, and I am but a pawn – now let's play some chess, shall we?
Rating is for language, violence, and my penchant for possible naughtiness. If it does head down that path, I will change the rating accordingly.
Reviews: Love them so, so much. Make my day.
A/N: I am getting better at the time between chapters, though I'd like to be even more expedient. Here's a wish to life being chaos free! :) Oh, and if you catch the HP Lexicon reference in this chapter, you get to join the HP Nerd Club with me.
He lost track of how long he had been standing in the shadows of the hallway watching her sleep. Her small form was curled in a rather unpleasant looking fashion against the edge of the worn sofa, a position that surely would have given his back fits upon waking. A stack of books sat on the low table in front of her, another stack by her feet. A worn, dusty tome was opened across the arm rest; she was currently using it as a pillow.
His fingers coiled around the glass vial of Dreamless Sleep potion in his front jeans pocket. He had meant to give this to her earlier, except, as always it seemed, the plan for the dark lord kept him busy in his lab and he had lost track of the time. Though it seemed that sleep, what he had pretty much ordered her to do when they last spoke, had been the last thing on her mind.
Of course, it shouldn't surprise him that she had ignored his suggestion and gone ahead and researched further. She always thought she knew what was best, even ahead of her professors at times. Insufferable know-it-all.
He had momentarily debated strolling into the living room and scaring her awake; if there wasn't the possibility of her performing some catastrophic wandless magic in retaliation, he very well would have. As it was, he had either the option to leave her be, or to rouse her gently.
Severus thought briefly on the last choice. If he was completely honest with himself, he knew this was the one he favored. To kneel down in front of her, stroke the pale softness of her cheek, whisper endearments to her…
His treacherous mind tried further to convince him. Though there was a conservation charm on the fire crackling in the large fireplace to keep it lit until sunrise, the sleeveless dress she wore was not enough to keep her warm through the night. If the Muggle weather predictor in nearby Banchory was more accurate in his prophecies than Trelawney, there would be a foot of snow on the ground by morning.
And what about her dreams? What if the battle of Hogsmeade once again seeped into those dreams and turned them into nightmares? This was the reason for the vial in his pocket, after all.
His black eyes narrowed slightly, intent now on the rise and fall of her arched torso draped across the open book. Her breathing was quite steady, almost slow. His dark gaze shifted back to her closed eyes and he stared for several moments at the rapid, yet almost indecipherable movement to her eyelids. She was dreaming, but for now it was something completely mundane, if not pleasant. She would be fine, at least for a couple of more hours. The memory of Miss Brown's death was probably secondary now to her new found power with wandless magic and a desire to learn everything she could about it.
His jaw locked. He needed to leave her alone. She was causing him to lose focus at a time the most infinitesimal slip would lead to a highly excruciating death, not to mention failure on behalf of the Order. On behalf of Dumbledore.
Pausing for only a fraction of a moment, he pulled a clean, green linen handkerchief from his left front jeans pocket, shaking it once to unfold it. Tugging his wand free from where it was tucked under his belt at his hip, he pointed it at the green fabric, silently Transfiguring the small square cloth into a generously sized, soft green quilt. Using his wand, he floated the comforter across the living room, draping it across her curled and sleeping form using magic.
Without further thought, he Apparated from the shadowy hallway directly into his bedroom on the second floor. Checking first to verify the door was still securely locked, he walked over to the rusted, wrought iron bed while tugging free his black silk shirt from where it had been tucked into his jeans. He cast a silent Incendio with his wand, fire leaping to life in the small ancient fireplace in the corner of the room.
The fire provided the only light in the room, casting eerie, flickering shadows at the same time it warmed him. Severus flicked open the two buttons at his collar and then sat on the edge of the bed, watching the fire.
Uneasiness pulled at him, wrenching in his belly like a couple of nifflers at play. Though he was accustomed to this feeling, living over half of his life as spy, the emotion was sometimes too much of a burden to carry. He needed a drink, yet intoxication would bring carelessness. He could use a numbing potion, but this would cause him to lose his objectivity. He could run away from it all, turn his back on the Order, but then the dark lord would win. And destroy anything and everything ever filled with an ounce of happiness or light.
Though he had his doubts he would make it out of this war alive, he knew the alternative, the death of all that which was good and pure, was a world he could not fathom. Though he would serve as the right hand wizard to the dark lord in his conquered world, Severus knew it would be filled with gloominess and pain as the mad wizard continued his quest for ultimate power. There would be no place for the young, brilliant woman lying on the sofa downstairs, or the creative, if not damaged blond boy sleeping in the room next to his.
The future of our people depends on the children, Severus. No pure-blood is born hating Muggles and Muggle-borns. Hatred is taught to them, bred into their minds well before the time they pass the gates of Hogwarts as first years. Hatred is what brought Riddle into power, hatred is what killed Harry's parents, and hatred is what will bring our children to destroy each other. Knowledge and love can change this. If we cultivate it, it will grow in the children. They will know a future without war, without hate.
Albus' words would forever haunt him, echoing through him in the old man's fatherly, cheerful voice. Severus protected Draco because it was possible he would have a chance of a life free of this centuries old hate, this prejudice that was taught by witches and wizards thirsty to prove themselves superior to others of equal if not superior magical power. It was a new, beautiful humanity in which Severus could hardly imagine, but one that he had dreamed and yearned for so long ago. Even if he could not know it first hand, he would ensure that Draco would.
And of course, Miss Granger. He would make sure she would live through this, go on with life. Perhaps she would marry, have children, no question excelling at whatever career path she chose for herself.
He sighed, the sound low and world weary. Severus leaned back into the stiff mattress, his jean clad legs still hanging off of the edge of the bed, the soles of his tall leather boots flush against the worn wooden floor planks. Wand still curled tightly in his fist, pressed against his thigh, he stared up at the ceiling, trying to make sense of it all. Sleep caught him unaware.
The light seemed to burn through his eyelids, the colors similar to that of the fire. He awoke with a start, nearly bolting from the bed. The exhaustion of the past several days had finally caught up with him. Slumber had overtaken him without his clearly expressed intent. It was a disturbing thought, indeed.
He sat up on the bed, rolling his shoulders slightly to ease the ache as he did a cursory visual check of the room. Unsurprisingly, his wand was still resting at his side, his fingers curled loosely around the base.
The fireplace held little more than charred embers now, the sunlight streaming in behind the moth eaten green lace curtains now brightening the room beyond the light provided by the dying fire. Severus could hear the distant sound of water; from the direction of the noise, it sounded as if Draco was showering in water closet located down the hall.
Severus sat silently on the edge of the bed, focusing beyond the sound of running water. The sound of birds chirping or cawing at each other was absent; obviously the Scottish winter had now arrived full force and those few birds remaining at the end of this October had now left or hid until the chilly season's end.
There was an abject stillness to the air beyond the absence of the birds. Though the structure of the farmhouse was solidly built, impressively so for a Muggle building, Severus could generally hear any activity going on throughout the majority of the house. Even though he reinforced the building threefold with magical protection, he did not change this aspect. He considered it beneficial if at any time this safe house was compromised that he would be able to hear it from his bedroom.
There were no sounds from the kitchen, no noise of plates or silverware clattering. There was no additional sound of running water from a shower, toilet or sink. No sound or feel of magic, wandless or otherwise.
So where was the girl?
Severus stood up from the bed, stalking over to the door. He paused for only a moment with one hand curled around the dirty, antique crystal doorknob, his other clutching his wand. He did not want to give into paranoia, but then, it had saved his life many a time.
He strode silently down the dim hallway, the tattered carpeting muffling the sound of his boots. He stopped at the top of the stairs, listening again.
He could hear a scratching sound, followed by the crinkle of parchment, perhaps the turning of a page in one of his books. A soft sigh as the scratching stopped abruptly. This was followed by a whisper, the words indecipherable from his position. The sound of the quill scratching furiously against parchment started up again.
Severus descended the stairs slowly, taking in the scene with efficient thoroughness as he entered the living room.
The yellowed lace curtains on both windows had been looped together, knotted in a fashion as so no ties were needed to hold them back and so the thick, grime covered glass was visible. Frost spider-webbed across the panes, and snow gathered at the base of each window. Despite the layer of dirt, copious amounts of sunlight streamed through, giving the room an overall ethereal glow despite its battered couches and haphazard stacks of leather-bound books.
The girl sat on the couch directly in front of the dying fire in the large fireplace, her legs folded under her and an oversized book draped across her lap. To her side sat another book, a pile of parchment, ink pot and quill resting on the closed flat cover.
On the same couch was the green quilt, folded neatly and resting on the opposite corner from her. From her appearance, he surmised that she had not moved much since he had seen her last.
She was still wearing the sleeveless, plain cotton floor length dress from yesterday. Her hair had finally pulled itself completely free of the confines of the braid and was now a curly halo around her pale face. The sunlight caressed her where she sat on the couch, and he caught glimpses of red and gold in her usually plain brown mess of hair. Her bare arms seemed to glow in the light and he wondered absently if the sunlight brought her any warmth in the chilly room.
Her gaze jerked up, her fingers tightening around the quill, paused in mid sentence. She had been completely absorbed in the book draped across her lap, its contents describing healing magic and some spells without utilization of a wand. The author was Dilys Derwent, a Healer with St. Mungo's for several decades and then Headmistress of Hogwarts up until 1768. The leather bindery was damaged, and some of the pages had been ripped out, but otherwise it was an engaging read.
Hermione stared at her former professor, her lips parted in surprise. She had been so thoroughly engrossed in her research she had not heard his entrance into the room. She wondered how long he had been standing there at the base of the stairs, watching her scribbling furiously and talking to herself.
She blinked, his appearance striking her. He was still wearing the black jeans, black silk button down shirt, and tall black boots from yesterday, but since she had last seen him, his usual taciturn façade had unraveled. The black silk was wrinkled, the shirt un-tucked from his jeans and the top buttons undone, revealing the pale flesh of his throat and the hollow of his collarbone. His long black hair was free of bindings, brushing across his shoulders, several strands of it falling rakishly across one eye. He held his wand low at his right side, his free hand resting against the doorframe as he looked down at her with a sneer.
Shocked at the seemingly gentle inquiry from Snape of all people, she fumbled with the book, closing it and setting it on top of the stack on the low table in front of her.
"I…yes, I suppose. No dreams this time."
"Hmm. What time did you make it up to bed, Miss Granger?"
She moistened her lower lip with her tongue, a nervous gesture. "I had adequate sleep."
He snorted, pushing off the doorframe and walking into the room. He passed by the sofa, walking over to the nearest window while tucking his wand into his jeans at his back. He slid his palm against the frigid glass, the warmth of his hand melting the frost and momentarily clearing his view. Outside a blanket of snow covered everything as far as he could see.
She stared at his back, wondering with apprehension where this conversation was going.
"Did I not say that sleep was more important than anything? To keep your strength?" Snape questioned, his black gaze still surveying the wintry landscape.
"My strength is not a concern, sir."
He turned abruptly, facing her again. "Is that so?" He paused, walking into the middle of the room, passing behind her at the back of the weathered blue sofa. "So you're ready for your first lesson in wandless magic then, child?"
Excitement trembled through her, outweighing any sort of trepidation. She set the closed book, parchment pile, inkwell and quill on the table in front of her next to the tall stack of books, and then stood, turning to face Snape.
"Yes, of course. Thank you."
"Don't thank me," he shot back at her, his voice low. "Did I tell you to stand, Miss Granger?"
She stared at him for a moment, and then sat back down on the couch, the position forcing her to crane her neck to watch him from where he was standing behind the sofa.
"Don't do anything I don't ask of you, do not talk unless you are responding to a question with a direct, honest answer or this lesson is over. Understood?"
She nodded in response and he made a sound low in his throat.
"Answer me out loud, Miss Granger."
"Yes, yes, I understand."
"Good." He walked around the sofa, side stepping the low table with its tall stack of books, her writing materials and the unfinished chess game. Her gaze tracked his movements and she unconsciously shifted further into the lumpy cushion at her back when he came to a stop in front of her.
"Explain to me, Miss Granger, what is magic?"
The question caught her off guard momentarily. She hadn't been asked such a basic, forward question since her first year at Hogwarts.
"Magic is what sets humans in the Wizarding world apart from their Muggle counterparts. Magic is…"
"No! Do not quote to me from some textbook! I do not want to hear Stephen Vander Ark's views on magic, nor do I want the competitive thesis from Linsenmayer and Worley to cross your tongue. I am asking you, Miss Granger. Do not use the words of others to answer this question. What is magic?"
Her mouth opened a fraction, then shut again as she stared up at him, her brown eyes wide. What is magic? It was a simple question, but to answer it without referring to written word, instead to look inside herself for the meaning of such a broad, complicated…
"Magic?" she whispered, suddenly feeling exposed and unsure. He sneered at her.
"Yes, magic. Surely you've heard of it?"
She blinked, and then frowned, his venomous taunting unleashing her Gryffindor pride. Her mouth twisted in what she hoped was a mirror of his vile expression.
"Ah, yes, magic. Something you're capable of, Malfoy is capable of, and even me, a hapless little Muggle-born Gryffindor," Hermione answered sharply, her hands curling into fists, nails digging into her palms.
He snorted. "That's a failing response, Miss Granger. I would expect more from your supposedly brilliant mind."
Her face burned red with the insinuation she was anything less than outstanding in academics.
"Magic is a noun and a verb. Regardless of blood status, magic is fundamental to the day to day thoughts and tasks of witches and wizards."
"Can you live without it?"
She stared up at him, Snape still hovering over her from where he stood at the edge of the couch. Live without magic? "I lived the first eleven years of my existence unaware that magic existed, sir."
"That was not a direct, honest answer," he shot back, his eyes narrowing. She moistened her lips with a quick dart of her tongue, her expression faltering and causing her to look down at her loosened fists.
"I….no, oh, I honestly don't know." Hermione glanced back up at him, anxious at being so forthright with her former professor. She thought she saw his face softening, but it was so instantaneous she could have been mistaken.
"It's a part of me," she whispered, looking back down at her hands. "I can't imagine not going another day of my life without a spell, without mixing a potion or creating a charm. It's like something living in me that I can't deny. I won't deny."
She lifted her right hand, her fingers uncurling so she could view her palm. "My hand, there is this emptiness, an itchiness. It knows the loss of my wand. Even that in itself has to be magic, right?"
She looked up from her hand to Snape again. Now his expression was unreadable, his black gaze sharp on her.
"Where do you feel magic, Miss Granger?"
He sighed, the sound a mix of exhaustion and irritation. "When you are about to cast a spell, where do you feel the energy? Be specific."
She blinked again, this whole line of questioning catching her off guard. These were not book questions, not puzzles to be solved or areas in which she could impress others with her expansive knowledge. He was inquiring beyond that.
Her right hand rose without thought to her throat, her cold fingertips touching the pale skin at her neck. She was looking at him again, but her gaze was unseeing as she gave over to a combination of instinct and internal discovery.
Her fingers brushed past her collarbone, drifting from bare flesh to the white, soft fabric across her sternum. She pressed her palm to her chest in the valley between her breasts, closing her eyes on a shudder.
"It starts here. For the most part anymore, I don't really think on it, as the spells are on the spot, both from experience and defensive need." She shivered slightly, her fingers curling into the cloth. "But this is where it starts, this is where it burns."
"Do you remember what I told you about wandless magic after your first nosebleed whilst in the kitchen?" he asked her, his voice low.
She opened her eyes again, somewhat dazed from her thoughts and his sudden change of discussion. He was still staring at her with that damned unreadable expression.
"That we all can use wandless magic on some level, but that the wand is necessary to focus it, make it more powerful. That without it, we would not have much more magic then that of a Squib."
"Go on," he prodded her in his silky voice.
"The wand is a magical barrier as well. It retains some of the residual magic of each spell cast by the witch or wizard."
"Correct," he said, his tone reminding her of when he was her most hated professor of Potions. "A simple Accio or locking spell done without a wand will leave a trace of magic in the caster, but not enough to be harmful or even noticeable. More complicated spells, if the witch or wizard can even perform them without the wand, will cause more significant side effects."
The bleeding from her nose and mouth, though he left it unsaid.
"Very few witches or wizards have this ability, but it seems the fates have a twisted sense of humor and unlocked this power in you of all people, Miss Granger."
She frowned at him and he sneered in response, turning away from her to pace in front of the large fireplace.
"You couldn't contain your mouth in my classroom, what makes you think can control this?" he continued on. "If reason drove you more than your own emotions, you would have been sorted into Ravenclaw. As it was, you have the colors of pride and ego, a true Gryffindor through and through."
"Then let me prove it!" Hermione nearly jumped up from the couch then, her hands now curled back into fists. "I know I can do this!"
He stopped his pacing, turning back to look at her. Several moments went by in silence as he scrutinized her, his pale lips pulled thin.
Severus twisted back towards the fireplace, picking up one of the many candles lined up across the stone fireplace mantel. He strode back over to her, setting the stubby beige candle down on the tall stack of books on the table in front of her.
She eyed him warily, and then stood, glancing from his tall, black clad form to the half melted candle.
"I want you to light this candle."
She stared at him in disbelief, a short bark of a laugh escaping her mouth. "Seriously?"
"You think I'm a humorist now, Miss Granger?" he asked her darkly. He walked around the table, coming to stand beside her. She forced herself to hold her ground, still facing ahead.
"Of course not. Nothing would be further from the truth," she responded back gruffly.
"This is your first lesson. Take it or leave it."
She turned slightly, looking up at him. He was standing much too close, clearly invading her personal space. It made her uneasy; the fact that he was quite aware of its impact on her only added anger into her mix of emotions.
"So tell me what to do."
"It will be like casting any other spell. The only difference is how you control it. You don't have a wand, so there will be nothing to absorb the residual magic. You will need to be conscious of this and let the spell end thoroughly. Push all of the magic out."
Her brow furrowed. "How do I do this?"
"Concentrate on it. Feel the magic. You said you can feel it, did you not?"
She moved to turn away from him, but his fingers curled around her bare upper arm, the action stopping her.
Hermione stared up at him, swaying slightly. His black gaze was so intense it was almost unnerving.
"Yes," she whispered, damning the wavering tone of her voice. "It will burn in my chest, then work through my arm to release out of my wand. Or my hand." Her fingers flexed unconsciously on the thought, eager for magic.
His grip eased on her arm, his fingertips smoothing down her exposed skin, pausing in the hollow of her elbow before moving down to her hand. His fingers slid into her moist palm, moving to entwine with hers as his thumb pressed into the flesh between her thumb and index finger. The seemingly innocent caress was oddly arousing and she felt gooseflesh rise up on her bare arms.
Their gazes were locked, his face tilted close to hers. Her breathing was suddenly quite unsteady, but for the moment she didn't care if he was aware of it. The unexpected desire to have him lean into her just another inch and press his mouth against hers had just superceded everything else.
He swallowed, his eyes shifting from hers to her mouth and back again.
"Control," he spoke, his voice husky. "You must have control now, pet. Now light the candle."
He released her hand, and she faltered for only an instant, the sudden enchantment of the situation lost. She blinked, wondering for a moment what had just happened.
She turned her focus back on the squat candle, her fingers flexing again. Concentrate. Focus. Control…
"Incendio," she spoke aloud, this time her voice firm. Nothing.
"Incendio." Still nothing. She felt it, her body trying, the magic swirling….
"Incendio." Sparks, but no fire.
"Are you even trying, Miss Granger?" he asked her in a low drawl.
"Incendio!" she yelled this time, her fingers straightened stiffly over the candle. The blackened wick seared, a flame all but bursting upwards, nearly singeing her hand before she could pull back.
"Let it finish, push it all out!" he ordered her, watching with a mixture of amazement and satisfaction.
She had been so focused, so determined that the exclamation sent shocks of terror like ice crystals down her spine. Hermione turned blindly, her hands outstretched instinctively.
Severus watched in horror as Draco was lifted off his feet and thrown backwards into the staircase behind him. He reacted instantly, hurrying over to the sprawled form of the blond boy while pulling his wand free from where it had been tucked into his jeans.
Draco was slumped against the stairs near the base of the staircase. When Severus reached him, he knelt down on the step closest to his head.
Draco stared up at him, his gray-blue eyes wide with shock. Consciousness was a good sign.
"What the hell was that?" Draco questioned on a strangled whisper. "Did I see what I thought I saw?"
"Are you hurt?" Severus demanded, ignoring his questions. "Can you move?"
Draco stretched out both of his legs and did the same with his arms, verifying everything was still attached. He shifted to sit up, and then groaned, touching the back of his head.
"Is he okay?" the girl questioned from behind him. For the moment, he disregarded her.
"Stay still," Severus said, this time his voice calmer, almost soothing. He raised his wand, drawing it in a steady circle around the boy's head as he whispered the diagnostic spell. A faint blue light streamed out of his wand then, and Severus sighed, leaning against the wall behind him.
"You're not concussed, but you have one hell of a headache coming on. I'll get you a potion for it."
"I…I'm sorry about that, Malfoy."
Both men shifted their attention back into the living room and to the bushy haired woman standing innocently in front of the couch, looking far too harmless for what she had just done.
"Merlin's balls, Granger, what in the bloody hell was that? How did you…how in the hell did you do that? Wandless?" Malfoy was staring at her like she had grown a third head, the incredulousness in his voice bordering on hysteria. "And the fire…how…?"
The fire. Severus turned thoughtful. By all rights, she should have burst the boy into flames. She had been finishing a fire spell, had been startled by all rights. Yet she somehow made the switch and hit the boy with some sort of stunning hex instead. It was a surprisingly focused shift and he was curious on how she had accomplished it.
She opened her mouth to speak when there were suddenly three sharp knocks at the door, the sound magically echoing throughout the house. The entire front door turned yellow, the color shimmering as if mixed with flakes of gold.
Severus' black gaze shifted from the enchanted door back to the young woman. She was stiff, her hands curled into fists, her eyes wide with fear of the unknown as she stared at glowing door.
"We have a visitor, it seems," Severus spoke calmly.
Hermione glanced back at Snape where he sat next to Malfoy on the stairs. Malfoy was still rubbing the base of his skull absently; otherwise, the platinum blonde appeared undisturbed by the thought of what was on the other side of the doorway. Snape looked moderately relaxed as well, his wand still out but held loosely in a downwards fashion in his hand.
"Well, let's not keep him waiting, shall we?" Snape shifted to stand, walking at a leisurely pace across the living room. He paused midway, their eyes locking again.
"And Miss Granger? Please try not pitching anyone else across the room. It's not exactly hospitable behavior," he warned lightly, a smirk tugging at his lips.
Her heart beating rapidly against her ribcage, she watched as Snape touched the tip of his wand against the doorknob, whispering an incantation she could not hear. Her only consolation at that moment was she knew she was not as powerless as she had thought she'd be without her wand. Whatever, whoever was on the side of that door would not cause her harm without a fight.
Hermione held onto that thought as the door opened and their guest entered the house.