Chapter 1: Making contact
Severus Snape took the stairs to the Headmaster's office at his usual brisk pace, despite the fact that he wasn't looking forward to this interview at all. In all his years as a spy, in all his time serving the Headmaster, he hadn't banked on the task that had been placed on his shoulders.
If only Narcissa could have kept her concerns to herself.
When Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy had shown up at his door at Spinner's End the previous day, he had been a bit surprised, but more curious than anything. It hadn't taken long to guess the cause of Narcissa's concern—it had been on his mind as well.
Draco Malfoy might have been a right nasty bugger, but he was a child, one who had been given less cause to fight for the Dark Lord than most could boast on. His choices, as the son of Lucius, had been few, and now he was given the onerous task of killing Dumbledore. A task Severus knew the younger Malfoy would never complete.
Narcissa hadn't figured this was enough, however. She had to drag Severus into it as well. And his Unbreakable Vow . . . Well, it gave him cause for concern. That was certain. He hadn't slept the previous night. The door to the Headmaster's office swung open before Severus could lift his hand to knock, and Albus Dumbledore looked up from his paper work to search the younger man's face.
"Come in, Severus."
Severus Snape advanced into the room, shutting the door behind him, then warded it to ensure privacy despite the fact that the castle was nearly empty. "Headmaster, I have some news." He walked to the window, glanced out on the empty school grounds, then turned to face the elderly wizard before him. Dumbledore was said to be the only wizard the Dark Lord feared, and though the old man had become weaker with the destruction of one of the Dark Lord's Horcrux's, he was still a man to be reckoned with.
When several seconds passed without Severus speaking a word, the Headmaster gestured for him to sit, but Severus merely shook his head and gripped his hands on the stone windowsill at his back. Likewise when Albus nudged a plate of lemon drops forward, Severus ignored it. "What is it you have to tell me?"
Energy bounded around him as he tried to sort his disordered thoughts. How could he admit to his foolish vow? Draco would have to follow through, have to, because Severus knew he couldn't. Unfortunately, he was certain the youngest Malfoy would find his courage wanting when the time arose. Draco lacked the true viciousness of his father. He would die in this fight on one side or the other and more likely by the hand of the Dark Lord than any other. The Death Eater's insane leader didn't suffer fools gladly.
The words didn't want to come. Severus had no idea how he would answer the man who had given him a chance, given him the choice to live a different life. "I've a visit from Narcissa Malfoy." He braced himself to tell the story. He outlined the visit of the two women, the request that had been made of him, and his inability to do more than accept the Unbreakable Vow. If Draco failed, as Severus fully expected him to do, Severus had promised to kill the Headmaster in his place.
By the time he finished the story, he found himself sitting in the chair across from the Headmaster. His legs felt weak as he contemplated what lay ahead. "I didn't know what else to do. They left me no avenue. To refuse the vow was tantamount to declaring my true allegiance, in Bellatrix's eyes anyway, and she would have done everything in her power to undermine my authority in the inner circle."
Albus's thin face was serious, his lips pursed below his long, crooked nose. Silence seemed to stretch before them for eons, though it was likely only a couple of minutes. Then Albus nodded. "It seems you must fulfill your vow. You have no choice."
"But, Headmaster, we both know Draco will fail and I will have to kill you for him. He is only a boy, far weaker than his father." Severus couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You have no choice. It is kill me or die yourself. I am an old man, and I am not the one who has to face off Voldemort in the end. Harry is. He'll need your help, but to do that, you must live. You are our eyes and ears in Riddle's inner circle. We need you. You must not be sacrificed. So it will be me." There was a long pause as Severus internalized those words, hating that such a tragedy should fall to his own hands. He couldn't stand the thought.
"I am dying anyway, Severus." Dumbledore lifted his withered hand to show the damage done by one of Voldemort's Horcuxes when they had released a bit of the mad man's soul a few weeks earlier. The withering had been held at bay with the aid of potions, but without them the injury would soon take over his body. As things stood, the damage was still spreading, however slowly.
Severus erupted from his seat, gesticulating wildly. "You don't know what you're saying, Headmaster. If I were to . . . complete Draco's assignment, I would become nothing more than the hunted. What good would I do for the Order if they didn't follow me, if they didn't believe me? How will I be of service if I am forced to hide away like Black did? I can't live that way."
"If it comes down to killing me or breaking your vow, you must do it. That's an order. We will find a way for you to keep assisting the Order before then."
Silence reverberated around the room while Severus tried to take it all in. A glance at Dumbledore showed him looking weary, as though all hundred and fifty two years of his age had beset him at once. This man was the only one Severus trusted, the only human to have shown him more than the most fleeting concern. And though that concern was far from perfect, it was still the best Severus had known. The man must not die by his hand. Severus would do everything in his power to ensure Draco fulfilled his task. There was no other choice. Both of his Unbreakable Vows, the one to Narcissa and the one he had made to Dumbledore all those years before, now mandated that he must follow through with killing the Headmaster if Draco failed.
Despair filled Severus's soul, what little he still claimed as his own. It would not be the first time he killed, and with the act, Severus worried it would be far from his last. He wondered how much of his soul would be left when this was all over. Looking down, he saw blood seeping from his fingertips where he had gripped the rock of the window ledge too tightly. He could smell the coppery scent, almost taste it. Still, he felt nothing.
There was no choice.
Finally, the Headmaster spoke again. "Now, if I'm going to live less than a year, we have many plans to make. Sit so we can begin."
Months had passed and Christmas was long gone. Severus had been doing his best to get Draco to tell him what his plans were, but faced a wall of opposition. There was no telling what the boy had in mind, as he refused to budge an inch to accept help. The platinum blond prat was too sure Severus wanted the glory. If only the child could see how much Severus wished he dared defy the Headmaster and kill himself instead.
Not that he had a death wish. There was little enough in this life to make it worth living, but that didn't mean Severus Snape wouldn't do his best to cling to the pathetic life he had been given. He had little property, a disturbing heritage, and no one who he felt was truly his friend. Though he called many Death Eaters by the name 'friend,' not even the Headmaster put Severus's own welfare above anyone else's. It was a hard thing to accept at times. He was little more than a pawn in the lives of two powerful men. And Severus had no one to blame for that position but himself.
Ron Weasley had been poisoned the previous day, poisoned by mead that had been intended for Dumbledore. Both he and the Headmaster knew it was Draco who was behind the incident, but there was no way to prove it. And since Draco refused to admit to his head of house that he was responsible, or whatever else he had planned, Severus couldn't stop the idiot from continuing to injure innocent students in his weak bid to kill the Headmaster. Not that he could call Ronald Weasley innocent, exactly. Severus's lip curled in a scowl at the thought. Weasley was the best friend of Harry Potter, the Chosen One. Who knew what the two of them and their know-it-all friend got up to. If they got up to even half the trouble Potter's father's crowd had gotten into, innocent didn't seem to apply at all.
At the same time, though they were a foolish group, imbecilic in some of the risks they took, they were far from the depraved idiots he encountered by the Dark Lord's side.
Severus sat at his desk in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom covering a student's scroll in red ink. Didn't the dunderheads ever listen? He was doing his best to prepare the students for the fight against the Dark Lord. There was little more he could do in his current position, and he knew he would be lucky to have the remainder of the school year to do the job. Whatever he could cram into the students' heads would be his only opportunity. With his luck Draco would fail and he would have to fulfill his contract, ensuring a new teacher the following year. That was, if the loss of the Headmaster didn't put the school out of business. He gripped his hands into fists and took a slow breath. Everything seemed to bring him back to this thought.
He glanced at the clock and realized it was nearly dinner time. He considered staying in his office to work. With everything going on, he had gotten behind on correcting papers and didn't want to take the time away from his work. However, Severus knew after eating in his office twice that day already, he was expected at the meal, so he stood and put away the papers.
He had a book he needed to pick up from the library while he was up anyway. His research never seemed to end, if only to keep him ahead of a certain know-it-all student. She was the only student who even remotely kept up with the classes he set. If she didn't have such unfortunate friends, if she weren't always thrusting her eager hand into the air and flailing it around. If only she had been a Slytherin.
Dinner was loud and distracting as usual. Snape sneered as he saw the Weasley twins heading out of the castle as he entered the great hall. They must have been around to visit their brother in the hospital wing, though that wasn't the part of the castle they were walking from. Even after leaving the school, it seemed the twins couldn't help but knick food from the kitchens.
Severus knew the twins were now members of the Order, a big mess of trouble, if you asked him, but Dumbledore seemed to think they had their uses. If it hadn't been for the havoc they caused in his classroom over the years they had been his students, he might have appreciated their inventive spirit himself. Or at least have ed it a trifle less. However, he had been grateful when they hadn't slid by with decent owls in potions. How they could have failed was beyond him though. Based on what he had heard and seen of their potions experiments, and the things they had developed, they should have done much better.
He passed that thought over and focused on the other Weasleys at the Gryffindor tables as the Headmaster sat down a few seats beyond him. The bloody boy who lived sat talking furtively with the know-it-all and the youngest Weasley, Ginny. Severus was aware of the things Dumbledore was trying to accomplish with Potter. Severus doubted the boy could accomplish the goals by himself if things transpired as they were expected to. Certainly destroying the lot of Horcruxes when Dumbledore had been so damaged by the one encounter . . . And the Headmaster still needed strengthening potions made for him so he could continue from day to day. At the rate the Headmaster was losing strength, Draco would be able to toss his wand at the old man to kill him come spring. It caused Severus more worry than he would admit to.
While Severus worked his way through a plate of mashed potatoes and roast venison, he considered again how long the Headmaster would last without the potions the younger man made for him each week. Not that Dumbledore wasn't capable of brewing them himself, if he only had time for it. With a sigh, Severus finished his food, then reached for the plate of chocolate chunk biscuits before him. Always a Hogwarts favorite, he mused as he took a bite.
The biscuits were even better than usual, he decided when the first crunchy, gooey, chocolaty mouthful hit his taste buds. He would definitely have a second.
"How many Shield Hats have they sold now?" Hermione asked Ginny as they sat at the dinner table. She had finished her meal but after a moment's consideration, decided she needed one more chocolate chunk biscuit if she was going to finish her research that evening in the library. The house-elves always cooked amazing meals, but these biscuits were unbelievable, even by Hogwarts standards.
"Thousands now, Fred said they were getting orders from around the globe." Harry shook his head in amazement. "And you wouldn't believe some of the things they have worked up. Dementor Detractors are selling like Rosmerta's butterbeers on Hogsmeade weekends."
"New, improved love potioned chocolates," Ginny added. "They only work with your true love, the one you are meant to be with. Their power lasts a full week, and if you come into contact with your true love during that week, you'll know right away. Unfortunately, they have to have one of the chocolates too if they are to know as well. And it has to be touch. The potion they found in some text only works with skin-to-skin contact. Unlike the other ones Ron got dosed with."
Seamus Finnigan sat nearby listening in. His grin widened at the words skin-to-skin. Hermione gave him a withering glare. If he had been Ron, and if she were more given to physical expressions of disgust, she would have hit him upside the head for sure. "That sounds dangerous. But if you have to touch their hand or arm or something, it would probably cut down on people finding their true love. After all, who's going to walk around touching everyone they see? Besides, who wants to walk around like a blithering idiot when they find their true love?"
"It's not supposed to be like a normal love potion," Harry said, reaching for another cookie. "Not so overpowering, and the effect is permanent. Once you find the true love, you won't want anyone else as long as you live."
"I guess it would help you eliminate the creeps though. If you want to know if he's the one, just eat some chocolate and you'll soon have your answer." Ginny popped the last bit of biscuit into her mouth. "George said they figured people can use a bit of love about now. If you ask me, Fred was hoping to find some with their employee Verity, but it didn't work out." She snorted, then finished off her glass of milk.
"Not that I usually agree with their sales practices, but it still sounds dangerous to me." Hermione stood with Ginny, finished with her own meal and anxious to get back to her research for her DADA paper. "I'll be in the library, if either of you care to work on your assignments." She glanced at the boys and noticed they were already back on the subject of Quiddich. She shrugged and made her way to the library.
Severus growled under his breath as he searched the shelves for the book he needed. Where was it? Madam Pince was usually so good about making sure everything was placed where it belonged. How could a book just go missing? She said it wasn't checked out right now.
He pushed his lank black hair back from his face and continued to scan the titles. Maybe he would have to see if the information was available in another book. He heard the buzz of student voices coming from the table on the other side of the shelf he was perusing and caught bits of the conversation. Second-years, it sounded like, struggling with transfiguration homework. He smirked and stopped at a title that looked promising, then pulled it from the shelf.
Usually he came to the library later when most of the students had adjourned to their common rooms, less noise, less hassle. Less likelihood of running into the Gryffindor trio or Longbottom while he was going about his business. Other teachers had trouble with students stopping them in the evenings to ask questions about the homework. Severus wasn't troubled with this affliction since his general nastiness discouraged all but the most fool hardy from approaching him. There were compensations for the role he played, he supposed.
He frowned as he looked at the table of contents in the book, then flipped through to the relevant section. A few minutes' perusal told him it didn't contain what he needed. Blast. He stuck the book back in the gap in the wall of books and continued looking.
A bushy-haired student walked around the corner of the shelves and stopped inches from running into him. Hermione Granger, the fussy little brat, nearly fell backward trying not to touch him. Out of reflex, Severus reached out and grabbed her upper arm by the sleeve and stopped her fall. "What do you mean by this? Can't you watch where you are going?"
"S— sorry, sir. I didn't see, I mean, I didn't know." She paused to take a calming breath. "I apologize, sir. I should have been watching what I was doing."
"Indeed. What are you doing here anyway? Shouldn't you already have your nose deeply buried in a book by now, or maybe you're doing research to brew another illicit potion?" He sneered at the way her face lost some of its color, then turned his back on her. "Move along. I have work to do."
"But, sir, I just needed to return this book to the shelf." She lifted it and indicated the shelf he was looking at.
Severus glanced at the book's title, then realized it was the tome for which he had been searching. "You're the one who has been taking off with my reading material." He stretched out his arm to snatch it from her and bumped into her hand as she stretched out to offer it to him. His hand grazed over hers, and he grasped the book above her hand. Then froze as feelings rushed into him. Warmth, love, compassion, need, they all hit him with the force of a hurricane, setting him off balance. He fumbled the book and dropped it, thoroughly overwhelmed. It had been years since he felt anything that even remotely approximated this rush of longing. A glance at her showed she was feeling something similar, or at least she appeared as shocked as he was.
With few exceptions, Severus Snape had never been one much inclined toward affection. Hate came easily to him, distain, irritation, dislike, mistrust, certainly, but not affection. It took a long moment before he could be sure what he was feeling as he looked into her wide cinnamon eyes.
"Sir?" She searched his face, and he realized that though he had never considered her a great beauty, he now saw how pleasing her eyes were. The slight upturn of her nose was lovely, and she had such soft, kissable lips. He couldn't help wondering what they would taste like.
When that thought crossed his mind, he pulled back, recoiling from her as if it would stop the madness in his head. "What's going on here? What have you been playing with?" He saw the book shake in her hand and watched all the color drain from her face until she looked almost gray.
Despite her pallor, which he thought irrelevantly, probably matched his own, he had a strong urge to reach out and pull her close, to kiss her and never let go. He stepped back in surprise and horror. He knew the effects of a love potion when he saw one, or rather, felt one. There was no other explanation for the rapidly rising feelings in his chest. The fact that it hadn't taken effect until they touched, well, he could find out how to reverse that if he could keep his head on straight that long. "Go to your common room, Miss Granger, and don't come out again tonight. Go!"
Though she had been stepping nearer to him, at his yelled command, she took a step backward. He saw the desire to step closer again warring with her usual innate sense to obey a teacher's command. A shocked disgust also warred with her features. It was all over her face as she swayed closer to him again. He screwed up his face to its most hateful, willing himself to push her away before he pulled her closer and did something unpardonable. "Go now." Her eyes widened ,and with a trembling chin, she whirled around and scurried away.
Severus took a minute to collect himself before he picked up the book that had been in her hands and noted the title again, but his head was more on the girl who had just hurried off than it was on his research. His hands shook, and he felt drained now she had put some distance between them. Not relieved, however, as the compulsion to find her was only growing stronger by the moment. The professor called on all his resolve and stalked over to Madam Pince's desk. He growled under his breath as he checked out the tome. If he was surlier than ever, no one seemed to notice. Since surliness appeared to be his only defense against his inner turmoil, he embraced it.
Chapter 2: Messengers
Hermione hurried to her room in Gryffindor Tower, rushing past people with little more than a greeting. It was all she could do to keep the tears out of her eyes as she rushed up the stairs and threw herself onto her bed. Lavender—the wench—was, no doubt, in the hospital wing snogging Ron while Parvati worked on divination homework. She was, for the moment, alone and thankful for it.
What had just happened? How could she feel so suddenly THAT for her dreaded professor? It wasn't that she hadn't always respected Professor Snape. Even when he was at his worst, she respected him. She respected him both because he was a professor and because she knew he was under tremendous pressure to keep the Order informed of Voldemort's plans without compromising himself with the Dark Lord.
He put his life on the line every time he showed up at Voldemort's side, and she appreciated what he was going through, even if she had no real understanding of it. Also, this year he had taught his students more to help them against dark wizards than any other Defense teacher had. Not that it would take much to outdo other professors. Lupin had been pretty good, and the fake Mad-Eye Moody had taught them a few interesting things, but the other three had been complete rubbish.
But respect doesn't turn to this kind of emotion, not like that. It was completely ridiculous to think the sudden rush of longing, the desperate attraction, had popped from respect. . . Wait. She remembered the conversation they had over dinner about Fred and George's newest treat, the true love chocolate. And hadn't they said they planned to visit Dobby in the kitchen on their way back to work that afternoon?
Just what had they done to the biscuits? The thrill of knowing she had found her love, her soul mate—if she was right—was squashed by the huge scowl her true love had worn when the contact was made. His demand that she leave him at once both thrilled and terrified her. Did it mean he was as strongly affected by the potion as she? She tried to deny the way she felt, but the draw to Professor Snape was too powerful to ignore or pretend it didn't exist. Despite how hatefully he had behaved toward her.
They had just sentenced her to a life of loving the worst-tempered person any of them knew.
She was going to kill them.
After sending a whale of a Howler to the twins, without divulging who her soul mate was, Hermione forced herself to return to her rooms instead of going down to the dungeons where she knew Snape still resided. He had said she mustn't leave her room that night, but she hadn't followed orders to the letter. At least she managed not to run into him while she was out. There was little hope any homework she pulled out tonight would go well. Her mind was far too focused on the man several levels below her to see straight.
If only he had been someone nice like Seamus. Not that she had any particular interest in Seamus, but at least he was nice. To tell the truth, she had seen herself with Ron, if the prat ever quit being . . . well, himself, long enough for things to happen. Now that would never happen. She couldn't quite bring herself to be unhappy about it. The grinding disgust and jealousy she once felt about him and Lavender seemed far from important now.
Of course, she still expected to find Lavender's high-pitched giggle and calls of 'Won-Won' irritating. Anyone with ears and a modicum of taste could find that obnoxious. Even 'Won-Won' seemed to find it tiring.
Hermione looked down at the piece of parchment on which she was supposed to be writing a history of the Goblin rebellion of 1745. Doodled on the surface instead were the words 'Hermione Snape' written dozens of times in different styles and sizes. Disgusted with herself, she ripped the paper in half and tossed it in the nearby fire.
She was still shaking her head at the chocolate chunks in the biscuits being infused with love potion. What were they thinking? Why would anyone in their right minds want to find out they were the true love of the surly Professor Snape? Not that he seemed half so bad, now she thought about it. After all, he was tall, imposing, his voice had a rather sexy quality to it she had never considered before. His hands—oh, his hands had such long, dexterous fingers. He obviously had some strength under that robe, or he wouldn't be able to keep up with the things she heard about Voldemort's meetings. And some of those cauldrons were really heavy, but he seemed to handle them with little trouble.
And though his nose was hooked, his skin pale and his hair long and a bit greasy, she was sure those qualities were highly underrated by the majority of the student body. The fact was, she was more disgusted at herself for not being disgusted than anything else.
Hermione flung herself back down on the four-poster bed and let her mind wander for a few minutes before forcing herself to pull out her school books again. Whether she accomplished much that evening or not, she ought to at least try to get something done. Come morning the twins should have returned her note with instructions on how to solve her dilemma. Maybe it wasn't them after all. Or maybe it was a different product. Maybe it would wear off on its own in a day or so. After all, 'Won-Won' was in the hospital indirectly because of a love potion that wasn't so long lasting. Maybe she was mistaken about this particular potion.
She could only hope.
The question was whether her hope was for the potion to wear off or not.
Severus was striding back and forth across his living area, trying to work out a solution to his problem. He had already made up a standard antidote to love potion and taken it. There had been no improvement. He didn't understand. I'm a dirty old man lusting over a student half my age. Albus will have a fi, and be well within his rights. It had to be lust, what else could it be?
Not that the compulsion he felt for her was all physical. A great deal of it was physical—a very great deal, but he also wanted to be near Hermione—Miss Granger—to talk, to discuss Potions, dark magic, Transfiguration, Charms, having a family, and how many babies she wanted. He pushed that thought from his head and tried to focus on the problem before him. He had never even considered the idea of babies before. Being surrounded by children all day tended to remind him why he didn't want a family. Suddenly the thought of half a dozen babies, of seeing Hermione's—Miss Granger's—belly swell with his child, held an appeal he had never anticipated.
He shook his head, trying to rid his brain of the tempting image. It was the spell or potion, or whatever happened to them in the library. What could it have been?
Most love potions worked only one direction. The person dosed with the potion was the only one affected, but he had seen it in her eyes, the returned ardor he was feeling. Somehow they had both been hit with a spell or dosed with the potion, however it was they had ingested the stuff, and it had turned them toward each other. She would certainly never have looked at him like that without some kind of coercion.
The trouble was, he hadn't heard of a spell that worked so completely, not that one of the idiots he taught might know. He hadn't eaten anything that the rest of the school hadn't imbibed as well. Which meant it could have been in the students' food. All of the students' food. The whole school could be having a wild orgy at the moment, and no amount of antidote, should he have cauldrons enough to make it, would work.
He supposed he better make a whopping dose of birth-control potion, but by the time he had it made, half the school would be beyond help anyway. He only hoped Poppy kept enough on hand to prevent too many children this night.
Another thought occurred to him then. This potion seemed to work off touch. That was the only reason he could have imprinted on Hermione—Miss Granger. He had seen many other females between dinner and pulling the book from the shelf. That, at least, cut down the number of potions that could have done the job. Still, he would have to do some more work to pinpoint exactly what had caused the reaction to Hermione—Miss Granger's—soft, supple lips. Could it have been something he ate in his office earlier in the day? No, that was all prepared by his own hand. A mist in the air? The diaphanous wafting of her perfume as he stood near her? He shook the memory of her scent from his mind, focusing back on probabilities.
His well-developed sense of smell would have alerted him to anything in the air. The only thing he could figure was dinner.
Perhaps most students wouldn't get that close to someone of the opposite gender and be spared. Everyone under fifth year, at least, he hoped. He imagined Hermione—Miss Granger—oh, sod it, Hermione, and half the other girls secluded in their rooms. It could happen. Then he imagined her with someone else. Maybe the potion only temporarily imprinted on someone. Maybe the reason he was still thinking of her was because he had touched no one else. What if some other male now had his hands on her?
The thought made the pulse pound in his head, and he could see a red haze forming in his eyes. No fumbling youth would lay a finger on her. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. He couldn't allow that; she belonged to him now. She was his. The fact that the thought was irrational, and he knew he might not feel the same way in another day, didn't change the way he felt now.
He stood at the threshold of his door, trying to curtail the desire to rush up to her rooms and be certain she wasn't touching anyone else, knowing it would be nothing but trouble. He heard the crack of a house-elf and turned to see the small tea-towel draped body dropping off more bath towels in the cupboard under the sink. Then the answer came to him.
"House-elf," he called, a little louder than necessary.
"Yes, sir," the elf said, bowing until her nose nearly touched the floor. "What is sir needing?"
"Go to Gryffindor tower and be sure that Miss Granger is in the sixth-year girls' room. If not, I need to know if she is alone or with a boy. Do not let her know I have sent you to check on her, then return and report." It was entirely insufficient, but the best he could do if he didn't want to get canned over the little chit. He had to think clearly over the situation. If only he didn't remember the soft scent of her perfume wafting over to him in the library, the way her full lips shone softly from the clear lip gloss she had been wearing, beckoning him. He shook his head, trying to regain control.
"Yes, sir. Tilly is doing it, sir. Right away, sir." She bowed again, then disappeared with a crack.
Snape strode across the room again, then back several times before another crack was heard, announcing the return of the house-elf. "Sir, Tilly is telling you Miss Hermione is in her room studying, sir. Alone, sir. Is sir needing anything else?"
Relief galloped through his system and he shook his head. "No, Tilly. Thank you. That will be all." The house-elf Disapparated and Snape turned back to his desk. He didn't know that he would be able to focus on his corrections, which was just his luck when he was already behind. If the pull on Hermione was half as strong as on himself, he doubted she was getting much studying done.
He hissed as his scar burned, and he reached into his closet for his cloak and mask. Of course, tonight when he was nowhere near his best. Tonight would be the night he would be called. He walked down the hall to the back exit of the castle, focusing on putting the effects of the potion away in a neat compartment. The last thing he needed was for the Dark Lord to know about this.
When he Apparated at the Dark Lord's side, he dropped to his knee and fought to focus on the things that would keep him alive.
Hermione arrived at breakfast the next morning frazzled, with stacks of homework she had barely touched, little sleep to her credit, and frustration weeping from every pore.
A glance at the High Table showed Professor Snape had made an appearance. At least he looked a little worse for the wear, and Hermione wondered if he had as bad a time of it last night as she had. He was so strong, not exactly handsome, but so striking and powerful. She didn't realize she was staring until he looked up at her, his obsidian eyes meeting her brown ones. In them she saw a hunger equal to hers. She tried to be disgusted by her feelings, by his, but she couldn't. His interest in her only seemed to increase her need to speak with him, and she feared she wouldn't make it through the day without at least brushing her hand across his again. The compulsion was overwhelming. Yet she didn't have Defense Against the Dark Arts class that day, and she didn't know how she would manage a chance to speak with him.
An owl flew down and perched at the side of her plate, dropping an envelope on her eggs and bacon before taking off to join the other owls in the owlery. Aha! A letter from Fred and George. At least it better be from them, or she was going to kill them with her bare hands. She'd skive off classes and take a ride on the Knight Bus if she must, but she was going to get some answers from them. Soon.
When she got the letter open it was, in fact, from Fred.
Yes, it would be our special chocolates you ate. They were cut into the biscuits last night. You didn't say who your soul mate is, but congratulations on finding him!
At this point Hermione was ready to send another Howler. What were those two thinking, messing with people's lives like this?
Um, I'm pretty sure she sent the Howler because she wasn't happy, Fred. Right you are, George. Sorry you don't seem too thrilled with your love connection, Hermione. I take it then that it is some serious git—like our little brother—and not a charming chap like Neville. Sorry to tell you, but there is no known cure for the Amoriata, nothing to dampen the effect except working things out with your one true love. Having a good snog wouldn't hurt.
She was going to flay them both alive. Have a good snog with Snape! They had to be kidding. She glanced back at the Head Table and saw Snape looking at her again. Not that she wouldn't like to have a good snog with him. Her face burned with heat, and she returned her gaze to the page in her hands.
In short, your have little choice but to live with it—so take the time to enjoy it instead. Unless Snape is willing to find a cure for you. If worst came to worst, it wouldn't kill you to marry ickle Ronnikins.
But I was hoping she would find me as her one true love.
Sod off, George. Nothing much to tell. Guess you'll have to chat up the soul mate and come to an understanding. Love is grand—or so Bill and Fleur say—hope you enjoy it.
Fred (and George) Weasley.
With a low growl, Hermione folded the letter to stash in her bag, though she would rather have burned it. What would be the best method, and which of the twins would she kill first? She hadn't decided when Professor Snape swooped down and grabbed the letter from her hand, rubbing his fingers across the back of her hand in the process. She felt chills from the brief contact, and it seemed to feed the longing, both satisfying it and making it grow. How was that possible?
"Writing love letters, are we? Let's see who your correspondent is?" He flipped the pages open despite indignant protests of those around them and began to read. His face grew more and more taut and angry as the letter progressed until he looked over the top of it to glare at the younger Weasleys.
"It's not their fault, sir," Hermione said quickly, not wanting to get her friends in trouble. She lost what appetite she had before and stood now, pulling her rucksack onto her shoulder. She fought every instinct to lean into the thin form of her professor. To soak in his presence and smell the musky scent of his clothes.
Professor Snape turned his malevolent eyes on her, folding the letter and tucking it away in his breast pocket. "You will meet me in my office after dinner tonight to discuss this . . . missive."
"Yes, sir." Hermione turned and hurried from the Great Hall before she gave into her desires to pull him out with her and follow George's suggestion to snog her professor.
This would be impossible.