Disclaimer: All characters, places, etc. belong to JKR, Warner Bros., Scholastic and others. The plot alone is my creation.
A/N: Thanks again to my beta, Aestril, who has kindly consented to edit my errors for a while longer! This story is now totally AU, as I will not be following the plotline of Deathly Hallows. I also want to take this moment to add that "Paradise Lost" is a sequel that directly follows on the heels of the first fic, and not a companion. The first half of the story is "Forbidden Fruit", and I strongly suggest reading it, as the story that follows is unlikely to make much sense without at least a vague knowledge of what happens in the previous piece. Be that as it may, one can probably pick up the necessary bits from reading this if you are absolutely opposed to reading "Forbidden Fruit". Enjoy!
The lantern swung high over a craggy face as a wand materialized directly in front of Harry's nose. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ron, too, paralyzed by pointed wood a few inches from his heart.
'Oh, honestly!' snapped an impatient voice behind him. Another head full of red tresses shoved forward, their prize held in front of her like a truce flag. 'Enough! Ma-Moody, Kingsley, it's us.'
'Passwords and safety questions,' Mad-Eye replied firmly, wand refusing to waver from its place off Harry's face. 'You know the rules, Miss Weasley. If you are indeed Miss Weasley.'
'The password is Aunt Muriel's Swordfish,' Harry muttered.
'Question: How did you save Sirius Black in your third year?'
Harry blinked. The question always changed, and some of them were getting personal – and incriminating. Of course, Moody knew all the answers already.
'Erm…Time Turner. Me and…' he paused, wincing slightly. It still hurt to think of her, bushy-haired with the big front teeth she had shrunk during their fourth year, and the way they had been before last year - joined at the hip and harder to sever than an Unbreakable Vow. Before Sirius had died. Before Dumbledore. Before Snape…he swallowed and finished his answer as Moody's blue eye widened threateningly. 'Me and Hermione used it to save Buckbeak and Sirius.'
'Good lad. Now him.' Kingsley asked Ron a question, and then Moody took Ginny, her foot tapping as she carried the huge wooden crate that held an object it had taken them a year to find.
'Are we finished?' she asked.
'Yes. Is that it?'
'Of course. And it's bloody heavy.'
Hermione leaned her forehead against the glass, misting the window in front of her dark eyes as her breath coalesced in a ragged circle and started to retreat, only to become denser as another breath expelled from her lungs, staring blankly at the lake glinting under the moon. She heard the dormitory door open and shut softly, and the pattern of footfalls behind her that told her it was Lavender, and not Parvati, standing there.
'Hermione?' The other girl's voice sounded timid and awkward at her back, and Hermione did not trouble herself to restrain her sigh, sending an entire window pane up in what looked like frost. After months of failure in penetrating her mood and secrets, Ron and Harry had set Lavender and Ginny after her. Between them, she'd had no peace since Christmas, as they were no subtler than screech owls, though the subject had changed. Prior to break, they had wanted to know who she was seeing. Now, as she refused to eat in the Great Hall, and her eyes were permanently red from tears she never even felt falling, their concern took a more immediate form, and she couldn't leave her bed without offers of food or comfort or a listening ear.
She swallowed, wincing at the rawness of her throat, the result of too many quashed tears and screaming nightmares, emotions tamped down to keep her numb. 'A person couldn't feel all that at once. They'd explode.' She had snapped at Ron when he'd said it, only to discover him correct. If she plumbed the depths of her misery, the howling of her pain and fury would rival a werewolf's. There was no sympathetic ear. No matter what Ginny or Lavender thought, empathy would vanish into horror if she told them the half of it.
She caught herself desperately wishing that she had not seen him again after break, that he had gone to Voldemort and simply never returned. That she could grieve him peacefully, completely, and go forward with her life, the fantasies of what might have been intact and unscarred. She cursed her own stupidity for not knowing, for not realizing, that no word from him over the two-week holiday had meant nothing would ever be forthcoming from him again.
She had torn down to his dungeon office as soon as she had deemed it safe enough to go, impatience to see him singing in her veins, eager to give him the gift she had found for him over Christmas. His mind had been closed as ever over the break, and her fingertips almost burned with the knowledge that they would soon touch the sculpture-sharp angles of his cheekbones, the thin mouth that spoke so harshly and kissed her with abandon.
I should have known. When I walked into his office, I should have seen… but she had not, willfully blind to all except the vision of their reunion in her daydreams, and she seemed powerless to stop the scene that once again, for the thousandth time in the four weeks since it had happened, unfolded on the inside of her eyelids.
She hurtled through his door, wards peeling back before her elemental magic, the door swinging in her wake. She turned to shut it carefully – privacy was essential – and then immediately crossed to the man swathed in black seated at the desk. She had not seen him for two weeks, and though her elements seemed content, she had missed him dreadfully, even the ability simply to look at him, to watch him teach…
He did not look up at her, and as she came around the desk, reaching for one long hand, he removed it and looked up at her, shaking his long hair away from his face. He was gaunter than she remembered, cheekbones seeming to slash his face rather than give it shape, and his skin was slightly greyer.
'To what do I owe this…dubious pleasure, Miss Granger?'
Hermione stopped as surely as if he had punched her, hand arrested halfway to his, mind going completely blank. He hadn't called her 'Miss' in a private setting for months, and it was a cold and complete reminder that she was his student – and that her thoughts couldn't possibly be more inappropriate for a schoolgirl. Suddenly, she drew her hand back swiftly, and clasped it behind her back, awkwardness fighting with the cold confidence that he always exuded. Her lessons from observing him and occasional glimpses of his mind won, and she took a step backwards, her voice cool when she answered.
'I merely thought that it would be…polite…to come see you, Professor. And to ask if your break went well.'
'As I don't see why it is any concern of a Gryffindor's what I did, I can't find a reason for you to be here,' he replied, scratching a long scrawl of vitriolic comment across an essay, his last batch to grade before classes started the next day.
'Snape?' She could not keep the question, or the fear, out of her voice. But she couldn't out-Slytherin him at his own game, and somehow his mental shielding seemed to have grown stronger over the break, for she felt not even a flicker of emotion, nothing to indicate what he was truly thinking or feeling.
'I am your professor, Miss Granger,' he said, and his eyes lifted for the first time. Impersonal, flat, dark orbs stared at her as if she no more than a slightly irritating specimen he might be putting into a cauldron, or pickling in one of the jars behind his desk. Hermione felt her world shifting under her feet, crumbling beneath her faster than she could hold as his dulled voice re-shaped the terms of their relationship yet again. 'You will address me as such, or call me sir.'
'What happened?' she asked, throwing caution and sense to the wind. Even his elements hadn't so much as spit in her direction, so tame for the wildness they had displayed before Christmas. What had he learned?
'Nothing has "happened" as you put it. Or,' he finally set aside his pen, and his gaze truly focused on her as he turned in his chair, 'were you expecting some kind of welcome, perhaps, Miss Granger?'
Their link provided him with the answer he needed, as she could not control the flash of feeling, and he shrugged, slowly, deliberately, aloofly. 'I have found a way to control the magic. If you thought I enjoyed sharing my bed with a Mudblood, you were sorely mistaken. We need not concern ourselves with false niceties any longer.'
Hermione couldn't breathe. He had to be joking…she had to be having a nightmare… she had not just heard that word, that despicable, filthy word, fall so casually from his mouth…and…niceties? She had felt him, she knew she was more than just another face in his classroom…
He had gone back to his papers. He worked for a few minutes in silence, then, 'What are you waiting for, Miss Granger? You must have a life to return to, and I need to continue working.'
'I…' her voice didn't work. The coldness exuding from him now was identical to the careless demeanor with which he had treated her for five years until the accident in the storeroom. He meant exactly what he said. In two weeks, he had found a way to harness the magic…and if all of their interaction had been solely because of the bond…
She wanted to scream, cry, rage until her throat bled with emotion. But a curious numbness had settled, a fragile feeling. If she moved, it would be real. If she stayed where she was, perhaps he could take it back, make it unsaid-
'You are wasting my time.' He had risen from his chair, black eyes touched with impatience. 'Leave. Now.'
She was not going to wake from this nightmare. And as he made to move toward her, something within her broke, and came clawing out.
She slapped him, unleashing the same fury that had rendered Draco Malfoy speechless three years prior. The sting of her hand connecting with his face was so satisfying that without planning, she struck his other cheek with her left hand.
There were no words to express herself, but she turned on her heel and marched out of the dungeon office, wards blistering to nothing in the face of her storm, feeding her rage, encouraging flamma to fan the fire. Anger was so much better than sorrow…and despair.
But as she entered her dormitory, her one private space, iciness invaded her abdomen, and spread slowly throughout her body. Somewhere, perhaps in the center of her heart, something had died. And though she barely recognized it, Hermione knew it would never return.
He had given her no second glances in class, and she kept her eyes averted whenever she saw him. His mind remained impregnable, the walls that defended it formidable and sheer. For the first two weeks, she had taken savage pleasure in knowing that he shared her hurt, knowing that he could hear every single thought she had about him. But as no evidence of guilt, caring…or even annoyance at her assault emerged, she reigned in her emotions, conceding to herself for the final time that she simply didn't matter enough to care, that she didn't warrant the consideration of being hated as Harry did, but simply of being invisible, like every other Gryffindor that was neither a Potter or a Longbottom.
'Erm…Hermione?' Lavender Brown's voice intruded on the scene again as Hermione saw once more that utterly lackluster shrug, the single gesture in the entire conversation that had convinced her of his sincerity – his total lack of interest. She would give much not to have seen it, not to remember it…
'I have food,' the other girl offered. Hermione caught a whiff of fresh-baked bread, grilled chicken and boiled potatoes. She almost gagged.
'Thanks, but I'm not hungry,' Hermione told her. In spite of the puffiness of her eyes, she knew her voice was rock-steady, and felt a flash of ridiculous pride in the tricks she had learned from her bond mate.
'You need to eat. You'll starve if you don't.' Lavender's voice was more severe, and Hermione felt a stir of appreciation tinge the aggravation she felt for the woman that Lavender had become over the summer, the silly girl vanished and replaced by this caring, motherly roommate. Even if she was almost as nosy as Molly Weasley at her worst.
Unfortunately, Hermione had no need or desire for a mother now. Her own mother would not be able to comprehend the depths and complexities of her emotions regarding her Defense professor, and neither Molly Weasley nor Minerva McGonagall, her surrogate parents, would begin to understand or condone the aberrant behavior that had landed her in this hideous position. Hermione contained a snort. She, herself, wouldn't be sympathetic. A schoolgirl falls in love with a man twice her age and expects to be able to hold his attention? Especially that man and his attention? And the weight settled further into her stomach, bringing a fresh onslaught of tears that she tried to strangle with Lavender at her back. The best in our year, she remembered Harry's words as Slughorn had recited them the first day of Potions that fall.
Brilliant. If only he knew what I mess I make of love…
'Hermione?' Lavender sounded tired of being ignored.
'I don't want it.' She allowed an edge to creep into her voice.
'That's really too bad. Harry, Ron, Ginny and even Neville, are worried sick about you.'
'They don't need to be. It's just nerves.'
'They might have believed that coming back to term, but no one does now,' Lavender snapped. 'The least you can do is let your friends help you.' There was a silence, and Lavender heaved a sigh. 'Hermione…what are your friends for, if not to talk to? To express worry to? How many battles have you fought with them? Why are you taking this one on by yourself?'
Hermione finally turned to look at the girl she had shared a room with for five and a half years and never really known. Lavender stared. Tears rimmed her eyes in red, making the rest of her face stark white in comparison. In the dim light, Hermione looked ill, exhausted and ready to collapse.
But it was the eyes that struck the other Gryffindor. She did not know Hermione Granger well, only that teachers loved her (with the definite exception of Sybill Trelawney), she, Harry and Ron fought like family – with each other and for each other – and that she had always been unflappable except when faced with exams. Her eyes had always been expressive - delighted, smug, knowing, fearful, furious.
Now those eyes were flat behind her water-heavy lids, deadened and shuttered. Through all she had seen and done, Hermione had retained some of the vestiges of a child, and now-
She looks like Harry, Lavender realized, surprise catching painfully somewhere below her ribs. And she did. Utterly worn down, completely without hope, her brown eyes reflecting in the same dulled way as his jade – alive, but only just. And holding on to or for what neither could say.
'There are some problems that can only be faced on your own,' Hermione replied, and if her eyes were lifeless, her voice became more so. 'Harry and Ron – and even Ginny and you - cannot pull me through this, you wouldn't even know where to begin.'
Neville slid into a seat next to Ginny at breakfast. 'Any change?' he asked. He did not have to add a name. Like the month between Harry's capture and the battle at the Riddle House during fall term, the upper-year Gryffindors had closed rank around Hermione Granger, though their fierce defense from other students and even professors' gentle inquiries seemed to go unnoticed by the witch this time.
Ginny sighed in exasperation and smiled at the loyal boy. Not wanting to smother her, knowing that Harry, Ron, Lavender and Ginny so often tailed her they seemed like solid shadows, Neville had been inquiring gently after Hermione every day since term had started and she had begun to rapidly decline. Rumor escalated about the young woman, previously acknowledged as Hogwarts' resident, loud, Know-It-All, who had been strained during the autumn term and was now mute. Neville had a large hand in deftly refuting the stories filled with rampant speculation that laced various conversations, pointing out again and again that Hermione's parents were Muggles, and that the increasing news of Muggle killings was bound to hurt her more than many.
'None,' Ginny answered. She was so far past worrying for the older girl that she had already made up her mind. 'I'm going to talk to Professor McGonagall about it. Today.'
Neville nodded slowly, then twisted his mouth to the side. 'I'm not sure Hermione would appreciate that,' he muttered. 'You know how much we don't like, you know, the teachers to get involved.' Ginny knew he was thinking of their rescue attempt with Harry in the Riddle House, and the disaster in the Department of Mysteries. But she shook her head.
'This goes beyond any of us. We can't plan for this, or think of a clever solution. She won't eat, and she also won't talk. Professor McGonagall should know. It's not like her...and…' Ginny glanced around and opened her mouth, but Neville had beaten her to the conclusion.
'Harry and Ron need her – which means the rest of us need her – because she's the researcher and the planner, in short, the power behind Harry's throne. So if the professors can help, we need her back as soon as possible.'
'Right. We very likely can't win without her, given that Harry has needed her in every encounter since they were eleven years old.'
Neville rocked back in his seat, thinking, and Ginny's mouth quirked in a mirthless half-smile as she expounded on her point. 'The Philosopher's Stone? Never would have made it past the potions without her. The Basilisk? Wouldn't have known what he was facing. Sirius Black? Couldn't have saved him without her Time Turner. The Triwizard? Would've failed the first task without her. The D.A. was her idea. Department of Mysteries? If he'd listened to her, Sirius might still be alive. And it was she who planned the rescue and created the Portkeys to the Riddle House last fall. Do you think he can win this war without her standing at his back?'
Neville's dark eyes were wide as he recalled the stories – a few which he had been present for, most that were becoming legend – of Harry Potter's triumphs. What Ginny said was true – Harry might carry the Chosen title and the Prophet headlines, but he would have been no more than a collection of broken bones and poisoned veins at eleven without Hermione Granger's ability to think the trio out of every situation. The tally was impressive, but Ginny lifted her head sadly as the girl in question strode past, her eyes fixed firmly on the floor, and sat between Harry and Ron, nibbling on a piece of toast and giving monosyllabic answers to their friendly questions.
There were curses that sapped power, and hexes that made the one affected permanently depressed. While Ginny prayed her friend had been hit with one of these, a solid knot in her gut told her a different story. No magical malady this – it was one of the heart. But Hermione had kept herself so closed off that the younger witch couldn't begin to guess who might be the cause. That nonsense about McLaggen had been exactly that – nonsense – and Ginny couldn't imagine anyone, from the entire student body, that would cause Hermione the symptoms of broken-heartedness that she was manifesting.
And whatever or whoever the problem, it had to be solved. For the sickly-thin, pale girl with limp hair and a jaw line too sharp from weight loss seated between two baffled boys was not the Hermione that would make it possible for Harry to defeat Voldemort.
'I'll get that, Hermione,' Harry reached for her schoolbag, which was still filled with close to forty pounds in books. Never a big girl, Hermione had always carried up to one third of her weight on her back. But as she grew ever-thinner, Harry was beginning to worry that it was too great a burden, her spine bent under the pressure of the pages.
'I'm fine, Harry,' she objected, fingers extending towards the strap.
'Not a problem,' he told her quickly, adding the load to his own texts as he slung it over one shoulder. His back twinged with the unwelcome addition, but other than a fleeting grimace, he did not acknowledge it.
Ron watched them covertly under the cover of adding liberal amounts of jam to his toast. The only good thing about Hermione's suddenly fragile condition was that Harry, brooding alternately between the prophecy, Snape and Malfoy, appeared to have given that up entirely, and had become a devoted, gentle friend. All his obsessing at the Burrow over Christmas had vanished in the first twenty-four hours of their return, in the face of Hermione pale, grieving features. He had even allowed Ginny to offer him some comfort, and Ron had seen their black and red heads bent together in the common room, or vanishing out the portrait hole. His sister had told him a little of their conversation before the holidays, and Ginny had steadfastly avoided him all Christmas. Ron had been wary of Harry's renewed attention to his sister, but withheld judgment. If Hermione's weakness meant that Harry was once again willing to accept help, it meant that her private pain, whatever it was, had at least borne some healthy, if stunted, fruit.
'Ron, hurry or we'll be late,' Lavender chivvied from his other side. Ron suppressed a sad smile. Apparently, no one believed that he and Harry could get anywhere without Hermione – for now that she had become mute on the subject of their classes and coursework, Lavender had swiftly picked up the slack of nagging them.
Hermione met Harry's eyes, and the quiet, pooled pain in his green matched the lackluster quality of her chocolate, and she acquiesced silently, allowing him to carry her bag and guide her out of the Great Hall towards Transfiguration. Ron and Lavender walked less than three feet behind them, and Neville and Ginny trailed a short distance behind the red-head's brother. Halfway across the hall, Luna Lovegood joined them from the Ravenclaw table, and her dirty blond hair bent to Ginny, whose long locks shook as she answered a question in the negative.
None of them were aware of the eyes, two pairs of blue and one black, that tracked them from the Head table and out the doors, watching the sealed, smooth dynamic of their seven determined students, none of the owners pleased with what they observed.
Harry glanced sidelong at Hermione as she stood in class, waving her wand in a perfunctory manner at the iris that was supposed to become an iridescent-winged butterfly. The small, folded petals gleamed with a sheen not natural to their purple coloring, but the plant remained resolutely a flower, with little indication that it was going to turn into an insect.
Professor McGonagall, watching the class both from near her desk and other vantage points, noticed the difficulty her best student was having, and frowned. Hermione's work had been suffering badly this term, and after five and a half years of flawless performance, she knew far better than to assume that Hermione was no longer paying as much mind to her schoolwork.
No…the older woman's mouth thinned as she watched Hermione's wand flit through the air again and again, and the iris only grudgingly showed any improvement in the direction of flight. McGonagall would wager that Hermione's abrupt departure from academics, eating and sleeping, judging by the dark smudges that continued to deepen under her large eyes, had much to do with the irascible Defense professor for whom McGonagall felt a deep affection sometimes akin to that of a mother. Not that Snape knew that. She knew the consequences of those close to members Voldemort's inner circle, and had no wish to visit upon herself the fate of being used against him. For the sake of the war effort, that situation could only mean the end of her life.
But given the state of her precocious young student, a low-level fury had begun to boil. Clearly, he had done something to distress her deeply, as her ability to do magic was so badly affected-
Fed up with her continuing failure, Hermione set her wand down on her desk and reached out to touch the green stalk with one hand, summoning terra from within automatically, not knowing where the instinct came from. It came at her call, not the torrent that she had struggled with all autumn, but a fine trickle, the right amount to alter the living daughter of earth lying on her desk. In the space it took to breathe, wandlessly and wordlessly, a butterfly rose from Hermione's desk and flapped its delicate, translucent wings toward the professor.
A stab of triumph was married to a brief flare of curiosity – how had her magic enabled her to do that? – before fading back into the smothering indifference that cloaked her when she wasn't choking her tears.
Exhaustion slammed through her like a tidal wave, and she seized her desk, desperately seeking support, even as she heard Harry's voice as if through a long tunnel.
'Hermione?! Ron, help!'
McGonagall looked at the tiny, perfectly transfigured creature that had landed on her finger, lifting her head at the distress in Harry's voice, she saw Hermione Granger stagger, clutch violently at her desk, and fold gently, tumbling towards the floor in a silent, smooth sweep.
'Overworking herself, I shouldn't wonder,' Madam Pomfrey clucked disapprovingly as Harry and Ron bent over their friend's pale face, their own features warped with concern. Lavender had made to follow them out the door, when McGonagall's crisp voice had reminded her that some people had to stay in the class, and that Messrs Potter and Weasley had made many trips with Miss Granger to the hospital wing without Miss Brown's assistance. What Harry and Ron did know was that had she not been teaching, Minerva McGonagall herself would have been sprinting to the ward by way of her husband's office, but her fear for the young woman would have to wait. Tearing out of her classroom in a panic was hardly the discretion the situation called for.
'Off with you, both of you,' Madam Pomfrey shooed as she ground several colorful ingredients into a powder and added milk. 'She certainly needs nourishing and sleep, but other than that, she'll be all right.'
'Can we come up later to see her?' Ron asked quickly as the nurse continued waving them towards the exit.
'Yes, yes, but not too many of you and you'll have to be quiet. This girl needs to rest.' The nurse kept talking even as the boys retreated down the ward, now to herself. 'I don't know the last time I saw someone who so firmly refused to take care of themselves…' she stopped, and was grateful to hear the quiet click of the closing latch that told her the boys had gone. She did, in fact, know one man who was worse even than Hermione Granger at taking care of himself. Another memory covered her thoughts of the other, acerbic patient, a memory of watching this woman's hands glow with a white-blue light when confronted with a dying Severus Snape, and the tremendous power she had displayed while healing him.
Setting aside mortar and pestle, the soupy paste now the right consistency, the mediwitch ran her wand down the girl's resting body once more. A cursory examination had told her that the boys were correct – she had no broken bones or damaged internal organs. But this diagnosis would tell her the nutritional needs of the too-white young witch. Other than iron, which was part of the pea-green liquid now sitting at her bedside, Hermione need beta carrotine, zinc, sodium-
-too much sodium. A whisper of foreboding surged through her and Poppy Pomfrey waved her waved over Hermione's midsection almost without thinking, and sat down heavily on her stool, hardly daring believe the evidence of her eyes, as a molten silver circle formed six inches from the linen covering the girl's belly, turning gently.
Madam Pomfrey had seen and done many strange things over the course of her lifetime, and working at a school for magical youth was a guarantee that one would witness and hear things that perhaps life would have been better without knowing. Every other year or so, a sixth or seventh year would come to her with this problem, and she dispensed medicine of all kinds, advice and a completely confidential ear to the young women who poured out their hopes, dreams, fears and furies in her office. She had delivered healthy, aborted and stillborn children in these beds.
And while she had seen this young woman for many maladies – almost all sustained in the war effort in one way or another since she had been thirteen years old - she had never expected to have Hermione Granger in one of them doing the delivering.
The gnawing in her abdomen had told her the two times she witnessed the extraordinary healing process that had pulled Severus Snape back from the edge of the veil that this student's connection with the saturnine spy for the Order of the Phoenix was no ordinary relationship of student and teacher. But many years of keeping her eyes open and her thought firmly tucked away had stilled her questions before they could reach her tongue, and in the flurry of many other ailments to cure, she had nearly forgotten the strange power that flowed between them. And she never would have guessed it to be the result of a binding, as this premature pregnancy would suggest…
Fighting an instinctive anger at Hogwarts' youngest professor, she strode to her office at the end of the ward. A pinch of Floo powder spun the Headmaster's Office into view, his long silver beard sweeping over his desk. She cleared her throat and said in a quiet, almost strangled voice, 'Albus? I think you ought to come to the hospital wing. Right now.'
The blue eyes lifted from his papers, locked on hers, and he nodded, quill hitting the desk as his long legs carried him through his oak door.
Bustling back to her student's side, she stirred her mixture once, then sat the young woman up and murmured, 'Ennervate.'
Hermione stirred, opening her eyes slowly, wincing them shut again at the bright white light of the ward, and then snapping them wide, staring around at her surroundings. 'You collapsed in class, dear. Minerva thought that you should be getting some rest instead of straining yourself.' Pomfrey brought the bowl to Hermione's mouth. 'I suggest you drink this. You are suffering, in part, from lack of nutrition.' Hermione pursed her lips at the unappetizing mixture. 'This is not a request, Miss Granger,' the nurse said, and impatience crept into her voice. It was the tone she always used on Snape when he doubted her ministrations. 'I am not one of your well-meaning friends trying to force-feed you. I am a Mungo's-trained witch, and you will drink this.'
Hermione blinked at her, earth-brown eyes growing larger yet, and took the bowl meekly in weak, but steady, hands, and started to drink.
'That's it, dear,' crooned the nurse, stroking Hermione's mussed hair as she drained the bowl. 'There are other things you're missing, and then a further regimen you will need for the child to be healthy-'
Hermione was barely aware of the bowl as it dropped to the edge of her pristine linen, teetered a moment, and smashed on the tile.
Snape straightened to rigidity in the chair behind his desk as the renewed onslaught from his bond-mate's mind seared through more than a dozen levels from the hospital wing to his office. Dimly, he was grateful that she had found out now, when he was sitting alone, than when he was in the classroom and would have to stifle his reaction to her fury and distress.
He had precious little time to contemplate the impact of her knowing and how she had found out – he thought he might have as much as another two weeks – when he heard his name being grated behind him.
A coil tightened in Snape's stomach, roiling, and it took considerable control not to fist his hands. Water and air, subdued since Hermione had quickened, flowed to his defense, running up his spine and along his arms to the tips of his fingers, leaving his body tingling in their wake.
'Headmaster,' Snape greeted the head in the fire as he turned round, his outer layer of calm belying his inner turmoil. And the knots in his gut grew heavier as he gazed at the older wizard's face.
For the second time in his life, the first being the night he confessed to his Death Eater activities and begged for death, Dumbledore's eyes held no compassion while looking at him. Not a mote of a twinkle. The sky-colored eyes stared at him, cold, hard, and with all the righteous fury of the greatest wizard of the age. And touching them now, as had never touched them before, was a disappointment so vast Snape felt he would drown in it.
This was the Dumbledore that was hated and feared by the Dark Lord and his followers. As he sat there, unable to look away from the man who had saved him and shackled him, Snape remembered why.
When Dumbledore spoke, his voice was neither warm nor cool, but flat, as if Snape had already struck him with his killing blow. 'Would you care to tell me, Severus, why our future Head Girl is lying in the hospital wing?'
A/N: My computer is unfortunately broken, so I have no idea when anoher update will be coming. But chapter 2 is posted on ashwinder. under the same name, if you want to look! Thank you for reading!