A/N: Thank you all very much for your lovely reviews of Chapter 16. I do try to turn out quality stuff – glad to know my efforts are appreciated.
Onward with the next chapter, in which we begin to get to know one very Notty boy. (I'm punny, aren't I? Okay, stopping now.) He'll feature quite prominently in the next few chapters. If you couldn't tell, things are taking an upswing to the lighter side – at least for the time being. Theo does that to me. Be forewarned: this chapter contains gratuitous alcohol use.
Song Suggestions: "You Haven't Had Enough", Marianas Trench, Ever After (2011); "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want", Slow Moving Millie, Renditions (2011).
**NEW FIC ALERT** Coming soon – the post-Hogwarts adventures of one Luna Lovegood…add me to an Author Alert be notified as soon as Chapter 1 goes up!
Chapter 17 – Unspoken
"Where is she?" Snape was pacing back and forth in front of Theodore Nott's kitchen window, watching the empty street and muttering murderously to himself under his breath. "Where the bloody hell is she?"
Theo sat at the table with a glass of Firewhiskey, swirling the contents of the tumbler idly while he watched his ex-Potions Master wear a rut in the linoleum. It had been an interesting few days, to be sure. First Snape's owl had arrived, letting Theo know Hermione was coming to stay. Then Snape himself had shown up unannounced – in the middle of the night, no less – and demanded to see her. His reaction upon finding her inexplicably absent, Theo mused, was very interesting, indeed.
As Snape paced, a silver otter streaked gracefully into the kitchen and announced in Hermione's voice, "Theo, change of plans – I won't arrive until after breakfast," before dissolving into nothing.
Snape promptly went so far out of his mind, he reached orbit. He spluttered and scowled, casting about as though he were searching for an object to throw – or someone to punch. Failing that, he gripped the kitchen counter so hard his knuckles turned white, glaring out the window and vibrating with restrained energy. "By all the gods and Merlin and Salazar Slytherin, I am going to murder that infuriating, arrogant, stupid…" he trailed off and banged his fists once on the counter, growling in frustration. The copper pots and pans lining the walls rattled.
Theo had never seen Snape so angry. "Calm down, man," he said laconically, watching the older man with an amused expression. "I fear for my kitchen."
Snape whirled to face him. "Shut up, Nott," he snapped, his black eyes blazing.
Theo threw his hands skyward in exasperation and rolled his eyes. "Don't hex me, I'm not even the messenger," he riposted. "Hermione can take care of herself, I'm sure she's fine."
"You don't know how wrong you are," Snape returned acidly.
I think maybe you're the one who is wrong, Theo thought, burying his nose in his glass. He didn't know her well by any stretch, but the Hermione he remembered from school was self-assured and capable, even in the face of ridicule and uncertainty. He was sure some of it was the usual Gryffindor bravado – everybody had a soft, white underbelly, after all – but he also knew for a fact she'd been in mortal danger countless times and made it through relatively unscathed. "Throwing a fit isn't going to make her arrive before tomorrow morning," he eventually remarked. "She'll get here when she gets here. And she will get here, Snape," he added gently. "I've no doubt of it."
Snape opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. His eyes went wide and he clutched at his chest, his expression indescribable. Theo jumped up. "Are you all right?" he asked worriedly, mentally running through the emergency treatment protocol for heart attack victims. Suddenly, much to Theo's surprise, Snape seemed to calm himself down. The elder man's features reassembled themselves into their usual forbidding mask, and he came to sit next to Theo at the table.
"I'm fine," he muttered, slumping slightly. He sounded utterly defeated. "I know where she is. She's safe."
Theo sank back into his seat, completely unnerved. He wasn't sure how an apparent myocardial infarction translated into Hermione being okay, but he was glad of the revelation. "I told you so. Listen, you're welcome to spend the night if you want to wait for her."
"Thank you, no." Snape rose to leave. "I've got to get back to Wormtail," he explained with a sneer. "I'll see you tomorrow night at seven." With that, he was gone in a swirl of black robes.
Theo sat alone with his Firewhiskey for some time before he went back to bed, ruminating and drinking. He was especially good at reading body language; part of his skill came from the natural Slytherin tendency to be a student of human interaction, but the rest – well, that was practical experience, self-taught for reasons that he kept private from nearly everyone. Snape's body language that evening had been particularly telling. It revealed that he couldn't acknowledge how strong Hermione was – it cost him something far too dear to admit that she was fine on her own.
Theo rose from the table and drained the dregs from his glass, pausing to deposit it into the sink before retiring to his room for the night. As he crawled under the covers in his bed, he remembered the look on Snape's face. I should have recognized it, he thought. I know what loneliness looks like.
Hermione woke up to the sound of music coming from the sitting room. Smiling, she rose from the sheets and went, still naked, to find its source.
Draco was sitting in a wing chair in front of the fireplace, playing his guitar in the nude. He shook his sleep-tousled hair out of his eyes and grinned at his lover. "Good morning."
"What an arousing reveille," she commented, waggling her eyebrows at him suggestively. He laughed and continued picking his tune, nodding his head at the steaming cauldron hanging above the table. His fringe fell back in his eyes again, giving him a rakish yet soulful appearance. Oh, so this is why they say not to fall in love with musicians, Hermione thought. Hot damn.
"Working music," he suggested. She smiled in agreement, stepping over to the low table and taking a seat on the settle in front of it. She moved confidently in front of him despite being nude. It was a sign, Draco thought, that they were becoming quite intimate in the truest sense - not just sexually, but personally. Perhaps peeing with the door open isn't so far off, he mused.
"Oh – I need my bag. I'll be right back." She turned and walked to the bedroom, pausing when Draco called out to her.
"Hate to see you go, Granger, but I love to watch you leave."
She quirked an eyebrow at him over her shoulder - he was leering at her over his guitar. A devilish grin crept across her features. Gryffindor temerity kicking in to the full, she smacked her ass lightly for his benefit and sauntered into the bedroom, not looking back to see the incredulous stare that followed her.
When she returned to the room with her leather bag in hand, he had changed the tune he was strumming to something soft and sultry. It sounded familiar to Hermione – she found herself humming along lightly as she readied her materials. Draco glanced up at her in surprise. "You lied to me," he said softly, pausing in his playing.
Hermione's hand froze halfway to her bag. "Excuse me?"
"You said you were rubbish at music. Clearly, you can at least carry a tune."
"I sing in the shower sometimes," she admitted grudgingly, continuing with her work. "That's it, though." She dropped the whole moonstone into the potion, which turned a light peach colour and fizzed, looking sugary and innocuous. "So far, so good," Hermione breathed with relief. She stirred it eight times clockwise, then eight times counterclockwise before setting the rod aside. Next came the bundle of fluxweed – she crumbled the herb in her fingers, dropping it in an even layer over the surface of the potion, which took on an acid green colour and gave off an odor rather like bitter almonds. She picked up the glass rod again and resumed her symmetrical stirring pattern. "Now it needs to simmer for a few hours," she said, laying the stirring rod aside. "After that, I'm going to put it into stasis and take it to Theo's with me."
Draco hammered his guitar's strings lightly with his fingertips, causing harmonics to ghost tunefully from the instrument. "I'm going to miss you," he complained.
"You'll see me tomorrow night," Hermione consoled. He put the guitar aside and came to wrap his arms around her. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled deeply, savoring her complex scent – vanilla (and at the moment, bitter almonds) and that ineffable feminine musk that was just her. She hummed with pleasure as the full force of his longing hit her through their empathic bond.
"Love you," he grunted, squeezing her gently. They were both still naked, and he couldn't stop himself from getting hard. The feel of her smooth skin on his was just too arousing. Her hand drifted down to stroke his growing erection. Draco growled and thrust approvingly into her palm. "Did you say you had a few hours?" he whispered in her ear.
"Yes," she purred.
Severus did not spend Thursday morning in bed, in spite of a headache and a pressing drive for solitude. He didn't like the quiet, because all he could hear was her angel's voice in his head. The dark didn't help either, because his closed eyelids were a screen for the projections of his mind: ivory skin in the firelight; his hands, buried in curling, silken hair; her sweet, elfin face, with fury and ecstasy juxtaposed. He thought of the pewter medallion sitting on his bedside table with a pang – clearly, she had gone back to Draco and taken the medallion off. It had remained cold as ice since its temperature dropped suddenly the previous evening, so he had not put it back on.
He lay in the dark and considered whether to go back to Theo's to wait for her. Theo was taking Thursday and Friday off work to spend time with his houseguest, so they wouldn't have any privacy for their discussion; however, it was sure to be a disaster, and at least Theo would be around to pick up the pieces afterward.
"I have something for you." Draco dropped a kiss on Hermione's naked, sweaty shoulder. They were curled up in bed, savoring the last few moments of post-coital bliss before she had to leave. He reached into the drawer in his bedside table and pulled out two small leather-backed diaries – one forest green, one burgundy.
"Guess which one is yours," he said ironically.
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "I've been told these are terrible gifts."
"Open it." He held out the burgundy book to her, scrabbling in the messy drawer for a self-inking quill with his other hand.
A quick flip through showed her it was labeled with calendar dates only, not days of the week, so it could be used for any year. "I always keep a diary and a quill in the nightstand, in case songwriting ideas pop into my head in the middle of the night," Draco explained. He found a quill and used it to scribble a short sentence on the first blank page in his notebook, not letting her see what he had written. A moment later, the words Draco loves Hermione appeared in green ink on the page before her. "Now we can talk to each other anytime."
Hermione looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Doesn't it remind you a little of Tom Riddle's diary?"
"It's just the Protean Charm, Hermione, not a Horcrux. No dark magic, I promise." He smirked. "I'm using my powers for good now, remember?"
She snorted derisively, but her expression softened. "I suppose so. It really is genius."
"I thought so." He grinned and ducked the playful swat she aimed at the back of his head. "I just…I was going crazy not having you to talk to. Sometimes, I talked to you even though you weren't there," he admitted sheepishly. Their eyes met.
"Why, Draco. You're an incurable romantic," Hermione said. "I suppose that means you won't mind that I stole one of your shirts for sleeping in," she added slyly.
"Without even so much as a by-your-leave," he sighed. "Typical Gryffindor."
It was approximately eight o'clock in the morning when Theo was roused by incessant pounding on his front door. Jamming his wand into the pocket of his robe, he shuffled into the front hall and yanked the door open.
"Is she here yet?" Snape demanded, stepping inside without waiting to be invited.
"Merlin's beard, Snape," Theo groaned. "Couldn't let an exhausted Healer's apprentice enjoy a rare lie-in, could we now? And no, she's not here yet." He stifled a yawn. "Tea?"
"What in Slytherin's name could be keeping her?" Snape demanded of the air. He sat stiffly at the kitchen table.
Theo rolled his eyes and waved his wand at the cupboard, charming the tea to fix itself. He grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl on the counter and peeled it methodically. Leaning against the counter, he popped a piece of the soft fruit into his mouth, regarding the snarling man sitting at his kitchen table with a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes. "So, are you going to tell me what's going on, or am I going to have to get Hermione drunk?" he asked around his mouthful.
"Swallow your food before you speak, you cretin. What are you on about?"
Theo raised his eyebrows and swallowed. "You're acting awfully strange, even for a greasy old wanker like you. That's what I'm on about."
"I don't know what you mean," Snape sneered.
Theo chuckled darkly. "If you say so." He waited, but Snape didn't take the bait. "Fine. What do you say, Firewhiskey? Or should I pull out the Muggle poison for her? Jägermeister, perhaps?"
Snape scowled blackly at him and said nothing.
A few hours later, Theo and Snape sat embroiled in a particularly brutal game of Wizard's Chess, passing the time until Hermione arrived. Rooks and pawns lay in smoking heaps on the kitchen table, and Theo was hunched over the board with his dark curls peeping out between his fingers, thinking hard about his next move. Her tentative knock on the door startled him.
"Hello, Theo," she said shyly when he opened the door. "Thanks for letting me invade your privacy."
"Not at all," he replied with a grin. "Glad you made it in one piece."
Hermione smiled uncertainly at him as he led her to the kitchen. He seemed nice enough, but she didn't really know what to expect from Theodore Nott. She couldn't recall hearing him speak more than a sentence or two at Hogwarts. Of course, he'd been rather drunk at her birthday. She didn't have a long time to ponder it, though – much to her dismay, Snape was waiting expectantly for her, standing with his arms crossed in front of the kitchen sink with a face like gathering thunderheads. That, Theo reflected, was the face he remembered from the Potions lab.
"What are you doing here?" Hermione demanded acidly.
Theo decided that now would be an excellent time to get the hell out of there – although, given his Slytherin nature, he was definitely going to listen in on this encounter. "I'll just leave you two alone, shall I?" he murmured. Snape and Hermione were too busy glaring at each other to notice him slipping away to the living room. He waited just around the corner, pressing himself against the wall and straining his ears.
"You took it off again." It wasn't a question.
Took what off? Theo wondered.
"You can stop stalking me, Severus," Hermione growled, purposely keeping her voice down. She crossed her arms protectively over her chest, unconsciously mirroring her adversary's posture. "It's not going to make me change my mind."
"You flatter yourself," he hissed. "This is about making sure you are safe. You are critical to the success of our mission."
"I don't need your protection," she sniffed haughtily.
"Oh, no?" Snape glowered menacingly at his former student, his voice dripping sarcasm. "Care to remind me how many times I've saved your arse in the past thirty days or so? I'm afraid I've lost count."
She barked a derisive laugh. "You had your own reasons, I think we both know." He advanced on her, but she stood her ground, glaring defiantly up at him from under her tumbled curls. "I don't intend to make that mistake ever again. Let's just brew this potion so we can have done with this entire business, and Draco and I can get on with our lives!"
"Until you tell him the truth." Snape glanced toward the living room, as if sensing Theo's presence, and cast Muffliato over the doorway.
Damn it, Theo thought. He cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself, adding a Notice-Me-Not Charm for good measure. Slowly and carefully, he tiptoed into the kitchen again.
"…knows," Hermione was saying. She hung her jade cauldron from a hook she conjured over the kitchen counter. "I told him everything."
Snape actually looked surprised at this. "Took you back, did he?"
Took her back? Theo wondered. What the hell? Last I heard it should be the other way 'round…
She lifted her chin. "Draco loves me."
"And you love him." The words were cold, mocking. "Yes, I believe you showed me how much you love him just the other night…"
WHAT? Theo exclaimed inside his head. Hermione closed the distance between them and slapped Snape resoundingly across the face.
"Finite Incantatem!" Theo cried, popping into their view suddenly. He wedged himself between them, putting himself nose-to-nose with a glowering Snape. "That's enough! I don't know what's going on here, but Snape, I think you had better go. Hermione will be perfectly safe for the next two days." Snape opened his mouth to protest, but Theo fixed him with a steady blue glare until he closed it again. He shoved past without speaking and stormed from the house, slamming the front door behind him.
"So." Theo turned to the thoroughly rattled witch behind him, and said very calmly, "Tea or Firewhiskey?"
"Beg pardon?" Hermione looked baffled.
"You're going to explain this to me now," he said pleasantly. "Would you like tea, or would you like to get drunk?"
"S'not fair, Theo," Hermione slurred. "S'only, like, evelen…evlen…eleven in the morning. An' you – yer bigger than me." She rested her curly head on the table for a moment. "Ohhhh….my…gods."
"You're a cheap drunk," he said easily, downing his fourth shot of Firewhiskey as though it were mere water. They were sitting at the kitchen table, reminiscing about their Hogwarts professors to break the ice. Hermione found the cadaverous, curly-haired man to be quite funny and very welcoming – a socially-minded Slytherin along the lines of Narcissa Malfoy. He also had a fondness for drink and a talent for convincing her match him, shot for shot, although he took it relatively easy on her. Making her sick wasn't his goal. "You've only had three shots."
"In fifteen minutes," she complained.
"More like an hour. Are you ready to tell me what's going on yet?"
"I'm a Healer's apprentice. Anything you tell me is confidential. Healer-patient privilege and what have you."
"Ya drink an awful lot for a Healer," she said, hiccupping.
"Yes," Theo replied neutrally. "I imagine I'll grow out of it eventually."
"Awright, fine." She sat up and glared at him, defiant though bleary-eyed. "I slept wi' Snape a few days ago."
Theo tried not to let his incredulity show on his face. He nodded. "Go on," he encouraged, calling up everything he remembered from his psych ward rotation at St. Mungo's and slipping into therapist mode.
"It jus' – it jus' happened," she said, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I was so angry wi' Draco, and he's been telling me how much he wants me, and – " She hiccupped again. "I dunno."
"He's been telling you how much he wants you?" Theo repeated. That's bloody inappropriate, if you ask me. "How do you feel about that?"
Hermione thought about it for a moment. "Confused," she admitted warily. She explained about their encounter in the lab in the dungeons, the medallion of St. Jude, the revelation about her marriage ceremony, and how Snape had used manipulated her. Theo had to listen very carefully to understand her drink-thickened words.
"Are you sure Severus manipulated you into something you didn't really want to do? Is it possible that in your vulnerable state, you did something you've wanted to do, but would never normally consider?"
"No," she said firmly. "Yes. I dunno. Maybe." Hiccup. "Wait, what wuzza question?"
"Is there any part of you that wanted Snape?" Theo rephrased. "Be honest."
"He manip'lated me," she slurred pathetically.
"Perhaps." Theo's blue eyes were sharp as he surveyed her. "But you didn't answer the question."
"Uh-huh." Theo poured another shot and pushed it toward her. "That's what I thought."
Hermione threw her head back and poured the drink down her throat, slamming the shot glass on the table afterward with an explosive gasp for breath. "Eurgh. That's vile."
"I'm still waiting."
"Yes, okay? I wanted him. I did."
"Do you still?"
"No, absolutely not." She traced one finger in a small puddle of spilled Firewhiskey. "It was…he…" She broke off, blushing. "It was good, but it doesn't touch what Draco and I have."
"And Draco knows what happened."
She nodded. "I told him. We had it out."
"How are things now?"
"Better," she said, much to Theo's relief. He rather liked Draco and Hermione together – he thought they were well-matched. "He loves me. He forgives me."
"Do you forgive him for what he did to you?"
"Oh, yes." Hermione brought her whiskey-soaked finger to her mouth, making a face at the harsh taste. "Severus thinks he should've lain down 'is life, but I'd rather be tortured at Draco's hands than killed by Bellatrix – or live withou' 'im."
Gods, he thought, chuckling inwardly. I think I really overdid it - she sounds like Hagrid. "You've been through a lot, and you haven't even had time to properly mourn the friends you've lost."
"There'll be time fer that when I've busted m'other friends out of Azkaban," Hermione mumbled drunkenly.
"Hermione, look at me." Theo's voice was gentle, but firm. "It isn't wise to put off grieving. I know it seems like a waste of time you don't have right now, but if you don't deal with all of this, it is going to paralyze you at some random moment – and there's never a good time for that." He leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees and staring into her soul with those uncanny blue eyes.
"It's already starting," she mumbled, dropping her gaze to the table again.
"What was that?" he said, perhaps a little too sharply.
"I'm supposed to be this brave girl that can think her way out of anything," she said, her voice quavering. "It's like I'm expected to save the world all by myself! I'm not ever allowed to be scared, or fuck up, or even relax once in a while." She looked at his face again, her brown eyes swimming with tears. "All I do is run, 'n' fight, 'n' watch people die, and I'm just so…tired." A sob rattled her tiny frame. "Everybody wants a piece of me, 'n' I'm just so tired, Theo!" She buried her face in her hands, tears leaking out between her fingers, and wailed. "I'm tired, 'n' sad, and I donwanna do this anymore!"
Theo frowned sympathetically. After a few seconds, he picked up the sobbing, very drunk witch and transferred her to the couch in the living room. He sat next to her, gathering her into his arms, and let her cry it out with her face buried in his favourite jumper. He rocked her back and forth a little, muttering the only thing he liked to hear when he cried – "I know, honey. I know."
Hermione cried and cried. She felt as though she cried for hours. He conjured tissues for her, one after the other, and just rocked her back and forth, waiting for the floodgates to close. Eventually, her sobs became sniffles, and her sniffles became shaky breaths. Theo pulled back and looked searchingly into her face. "I'm so drunk," she said unsteadily, making him laugh.
"Do you want to sleep a bit? I can show you your room. It's just at the end of the hall." She nodded gratefully, so he got up from the couch and beckoned for her to follow. He showed her to a room painted in a pale blue-green, reminiscent of a robin's egg. The soft-looking bedcovers on the double bed were ivory, and the furniture was of a whitewashed pine construction that made Hermione think of driftwood. It was incredibly inviting and peaceful – and the last thing she expected to find in the home of a Pureblood wizard. This looked like something out of a Muggle decorating magazine.
Theo smiled at her. "Get some sleep, Hermione. You need it. I'll be reading in the living room if you need me."
"Thank you," she said in a small voice. She laughed shakily. "Erm…I got bogies on your jumper."
"It's seen worse," he said, glancing down with a smile. "When you wake up, I'll tell you the story about the time Draco puked on me."