Title: A Suzerain Arrangement
Author: Sare Liz
Series: Spinner's End (Third Part)
Warning: Resolved Angst, Adult Issues, one use of the ever lovely F word.
Disclaimer: The obvious characters do not belong to me, they belong to JKR. The name of the Thaumarasga Draught is mine, though the essence of it is, I am sure, not original. The Suzerain Arrangement… Well, it came up in OT class, back when I was in school, though not quite like this. The Suzerain Treaty is a type of agreement that is roughly 4000 years old. This use of it, however, is brand spanking new. I'm sure that the Dr. Fentress-Williams would be at least slightly amused at my utter perversion of academic knowledge in this instance…
She watched as he marveled at the viciousness of his queen knocking the head off of her bishop. She sighed and smiled up at him from across the table.
"I'm afraid I'm not very good at this game. I have a friend who is, and he tromps me every time – so much so that I rather avoid it when he is around. And it looks like your chess set won't allow me to play with them again, anyway." She gestured to the mutinous looking white king.
He'd been looking at her, ever since the black queen settled down, and just now he'd given her a bemused look. "They can do that? Refuse to play?"
"Well, their memory isn't that long – only about a month, I think. But if they remember you and dislike your previous losses, they can walk right off the chessboard. I've seen wizards berate them into playing, but that just doesn't seem right to me, especially when I know I probably won't lead them to any sort of victory."
He smiled and shook his head.
Hermione was just contemplating her next possible move, noting that one of his knights was poised in a most awkward way for her – he certainly hadn't lost his analytic edge when it came to chess – when she heard a knock on the door. She looked up to him as he sat in the comfortable chair across the table from her, all tucked in as he had in the hospital, but this time in a dark blue plaid blanket rather than a white one, and took in his expression. He clearly didn't know who it might have been anymore than she did.
She rose silently from their chess game and went to the door, pulling it open.
"Kingsley!" she cried happily, and hugged the tall black man as he stood just beyond the doorway.
"I wondered if you might be here, Hermione," he said, and there was nothing at all in his tone that belied his knowledge of her long-held secret, even though it would probably be a secret for not much longer. Once it became common knowledge that Severus was alive, and the story got out about his return to the Wizarding World, people would start to ask difficult questions. They would start making timelines. They might start making accusations. Though, that wasn't something Kingsley ever did. Or perhaps, she thought, it was just because it didn't matter to him. Kingsley had always been such a calming influence, partly because of his complete lack of drama about anything, including this.
Stepping back, she said, "You're here to see Severus, I suppose?"
"Indeed. Is he available to receive visitors?"
"I am," said a quiet voice from across the room, and Hermione wondered at the slightly cool tone, so different from how he'd been for the last hour, and really, just moments before.
"Severus!" he happily called out, as he strode across the room and offered his hand. "Kingsley Shacklebolt. We fought together in the war. I'm pleased to see that you made it out alive, after all."
Hermione watched as he shook the other man's hand and offered him a seat, the one she had previously been occupying. Well, she thought, he's clearly got his knickers in a twist over something and now he's given away my chair. I suppose that's my cue to leave.
"I should probably go," she said gently, catching his eye as his gaze softened.
"Stay?" It was just the one word, but it tugged at her heart, even as his open gaze seemed to hold her in its mesmerizing grasp. She nodded, wondering at his sudden shift in mood.
As she approached the only other chair, located at the other end of the table near Kingsley, she'd only noticed that Severus had pulled out his wand when he started to gesture with it, conjuring up a bright yellow and rather comfortable looking chair right next to his own.
When she looked up at him he had on a rather odd mask of innocence and she wondered what it covered.
"You remember the oddest things," she said, wondering what other charms he might remember.
He just smiled slightly, and when she'd made herself comfortable she was pleasantly surprised to find his open palm waiting on the end of her armrest. It was obvious that he meant to hold her hand, a prospect which she found rather exciting and also a tiny bit alarming. Severus had been shy of physical contact since he came back from the London Clinic a few days ago. Stranger still that he should chose to engage in such a display in front of someone else. Unless of course… unless he wanted very specifically to make such a display?
Still, Hermione slipped her fingers across the softness of his hand until her palm rested against his. She swallowed as his thumb gently and slowly stroked her own, even as Kingsley began to speak, explaining the purpose of his visit –partly social, but partly on business as well.
There were so many little details to attend to, Hermione realized, with Severus no longer considered dead. Hermione hadn't thought about all of these details, but apparently Minerva had begun to, and in the past three days since they'd found him she had been doing her own work behind the scenes with the Ministry. For the last year plus, Hermione had been consumed with trying to find Severus, and baring that, with wondering what on earth she was supposed to be doing with her life. Once she'd found him, alive and relatively well, she'd thought that would be the end of it. She'd thought her work – and really, all the work – would be done.
There was much more to it, Hermione was finding out. It was silly of her to think that coming back from the dead would be simple. In addition to the inherent difficulties of resurrection, the red tape might be enough to make you think twice.
He hadn't had a will, or any next of kin. His property, save what was at Hogwarts, had been taken – seized – by the Ministry. His belongings were still in storage, somewhere, which was a minor blessing. The sizable stipend he would have been given along with his Order of Merlin, First Class, which Hermione knew first hand to be 13,152 galleons, had been given to charity in his name. And his house, Spinner's End, had been sold.
Kingsley had come to report this. Thankfully, Hermione thought as her hand momentarily tightened around Severus', he looked like he had good news as well.
Kingsley reported that another stipend plus interest had already been deposited in a Gringotts vault with is name on it, as he pushed over a shiny, brass skeleton key with a little paper tag dangling off of it bearing a short series of numbers. They'd also owled Harry Potter, who had accepted his Order of Merlin on his behalf – at this Hermione swallowed and glanced over to the mantle, where it already stood in a lovely display box – and the Ministry was in the process of retrieving all of his goods, which would be delivered as soon as they were located. And about his house, Kingsley explained, they'd owled the new owners and explained the situation to them.
For the first time in the conversation, Severus halted the caress of her thumb. It made her look over to him. She noticed that he looked a bit paler than before and wondered if today hadn't been a bit much, perhaps. She'd got him back in once piece, but not exactly in excellent condition. She reached over with her other hand and took his completely in hers, which caught his attention. Hermione tried to ask without words if he was alright, but she wasn't sure how successful she was being.
"I won't keep you much longer, Severus. Merlin knows you need rest after what you've been through. But know that the couple who currently reside at Spinner's End will have gone by the end of the month, and the deed will be yours again. They say they've spruced it up a bit – they hope you'll like it."
"As I can't recall what it was like before, I'm sure I shall." His voice was absolutely flat.
Kingsley smiled and rose, announcing that he could show himself out, but that he was glad to be able to clap eyes on his old friend. He nodded to Hermione as he left.
Once the door closed, she turned to him.
"Are you alright, Severus?"
"I have a house." He was looking straight ahead, showing no emotion at all – something uncommon since his return from the hospital.
"Apparently," she said, not knowing what to say.
He turned to her finally, his hand in both of hers tightening momentarily. "You didn't know?"
She shook her head. It dawned on her that there were a great many things about him that she didn't know.
"I wonder what it's like," he mused softly.
Hermione wondered the same thing.
"I remembered I'm an Occlumens!"
She hadn't even gotten her outer robe off when he'd made his pronouncement, hot on he heels of her entrance to his small suite of rooms. He was sitting in his usual chair by the fire, but he was all dressed up as if he'd just been out, or was planning to go shortly.
"That's wonderful," she said sincerely before inquiring about his state of dress.
"I thought we might go for a stroll around the lake."
"All the way around the lake? Aren't you being a bit hopeful?" It was, after all, only day number thirteen from being out of the hospital.
"Mme Pomfrey said I was clear for anything slower than a stalk."
"Well, we can rest frequently, I suppose. And walk slowly."
"Indeed. Shall we go? I can describe to you the joys of Occlumency on the way there. You aren't an Occlumens, are you?" There was something puppy-like about his enthusiasm that was so unfamililar, and yet in the moment so natural as well.
"No, Severus, I am not an Occlumens. But I do know that you are quite a good one. A good Ligilimens, as well."
"Well, I don't know about that," he said as he walked toward her and reached for her discarded robes to hold up for her to slip back into. She wondered at his actions as the heavy weight of his hands stroked down the front of her shoulders, straightening and smoothing. Did he remember that he used to do something just like that for her after a particularly long conversation in his study back before the war was over? Did he remember that sometimes he would press a chaste kiss on her forehead before checking to see if the dungeon corridor was clear and sending her on her way back to the tower? Maybe he didn't remember. Maybe it was just the sort of thing he did, she thought, then discarded the notion, not being able to imagine him doing it at all, much less enacting such an intimate gesture for anyone else.
Her thoughts snapped back to the present moment when he held out his arm to her. Hermione gave him an arch look as she slipped her arm next to his. "You do realize that I may be supporting you on the way back?"
"Well, yes, but until then you will allow me to escort you?" He smiled. It was charming.
She smiled up at him. "Yes. I will."
"So what parts of those Occlumens memories do you wish to share?"
"Well," he said as they struck out down the hall and turned down the stairway. It instantly redirected itself as they were halfway down, but in the particular instance, it made the route to the main door that much shorter in doing so. "I don't recall anything negatively associated with Occlumency yet."
Hermione's stomach dropped. As she understood the story, bad memories and other various negative associations were the entire reason the man practiced Occlumency to begin with. The various and nefarious negative associations, as she saw it, were going to be the next ugly shoe to drop. Still, she said nothing.
"No," he continued on, "I just remember the peace and tranquility of the meditation that is involved in the training and maintenance of Occlumency. The intense, yet gentle focus on just one thing, and allowing everything else to just float away. I tried it this afternoon before you arrived. It's just blissful, it really is."
"Really?" she asked, genuinely surprised. "That's not at all how they're teaching us in Auror training. We're supposed to be developing this mental armor, but so far that's proven pretty difficult for all of us."
"Mental armor," he mused, saying the phrase again, rolling it over on his tongue. "No, no I have no recollection of mental armor in reference to Occlumency, but then we both know my recollection is Swiss cheesed at best."
"So then, what's it like to practice Occlumency from this tranquil state?"
They passed through the front doors, having encountered no one but Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris, the rest of the castle being at dinner in the Great Hall.
"It's like the Black Lake on a tremendously calm day," he said, gesturing off in the direction where the lake lay, off to the left of the slightly curved path they were taking to get there. "You know there are things underneath there – a giant squid and an entire village of merpeople, for instance – but you can't see any of that, you can't gain access to any of it. And yet, it's entirely natural for the lake to be in such a state on a tremendously calm day – so still and quiet you'd swear the surface was glass to glide over. And if someone tries to trouble the water, they can't any more than a ghost could. The surface is always like cool, clear, opaque glass."
She looked over at him, marveling. Even though she'd known he wasn't nearly as shallow and two-dimensional as Harry and Ron had always accused him of being, occasionally his depth took her breath away.
"That's brilliant. Did you come up with that?"
He shrugged, but then got a far away look in his eye. "I think Albus might have taught me."
The past several times she'd been to see him, he'd been rather down in the doldrums – understandable really, when you considered that the life he was remembering was his own. He spoke less and less about what he remembered, and was more and more vague when she politely and gently inquired. "I'm remembering my childhood," he would say, or, "I'm remembering old acquaintances." Gone was the enthusiasm of recalling skills and happy moments.
Hermione idly wondered if he had simply run out of happy moments to remember.
So when she knocked and entered, as was his standing invitation for her to do so, she was not entirely surprised when as he sat reading in his chair, he did not look up to greet her. 'He's returning to the Severus I know,' she thought, and further wondered if the man she'd been spending time with for the past three weeks wasn't perhaps always accessible, if not buried very deeply beneath this more melancholy, morose, and severe man.
With a fleeting inner smile, she recalled that she now had the time to find out if that was the case.
"What are you reading so intently?"
"A book of poetry," he responded, his gaze still on the pages before him.
She walked over to the other chair near the fire and draped her cloak over the back. "Shall I call for tea, then?" It had been their habit, after all, to take quite a substantial tea when she came to visit on the weekdays at this hour.
He only murmured a response that she assumed to be in the affirmative.
"Will you read aloud the poem you're looking at?" she asked after a moment of silence.
Without preamble, he began. "I must go walk the woods so wild, and wander here and there in dread and deadly fear; For where I trusted I am beguiled, and all for one. Thus am I banished from my bliss, by craft and false pretense, faultless without offense; As of return no certain is, and all for fear of one. My bed shall be under the greenwood tree, a tuft of brakes under my head, as one from joy were fled; Thus from my life day by day I flee, and all for one. The running streams shall be my drink, acorns shall be my food; Nothing may do me good but when of thy beauty I do think – and all for love of one."
Hermione sighed, feeling instinctively that however Severus may have identified with what he was reading, it wasn't because of any love she'd felt for him, or visa versa. 'Well,' she thought bracingly, 'I may not have had all the details of the Tragic Life of Severus Snape, but I certainly knew it existed. And now we've got to deal with it before we can continue on.'
It was a bracing thought, and made her feel somewhat better about the silent situation she now found herself in. Unfortunately for Hermione, she really had no idea what actions on her part might be helpful, and which might not be.
All through the eating of the lovely stew and fresh baked bread that the elves had provided, she maintained her silence. It was easier to do than in years previous – she no longer saw silence as the enemy of knowledge, but rather she considered silence more like patience, which she had been told was the harbinger of wisdom.
And so she was silent, and patient.
In due course, once he'd pushed back his empty bowl and sat back clutching his tea cup with both hands, he spoke.
"I saw my house today."
"They painted it lavender. I distinctly remembering it being a sort of dull, flaking grey. But they added a greenhouse, and remodeled the kitchen, among other things. You would like it, I am sure." There was a space of silence as he paused and Hermione still sat gobsmacked. For some reason, she imagined that they would have made that first foray together.
Now that she thought of it there was really no reason for her to have assumed that, but she had, nevertheless. And for reasons she wasn't fully keyed into, that he went without her hurt, somewhat.
"You wouldn't have liked it, before," he added, after the significant pause. He met her eyes and smirked in a way that seemed to express incredible pain. "It used to be that the fashion of the house mirrored the ugly memories it contained, but no longer. It is now the paragon of the neighborhood." He looked away.
Choosing her words carefully, Hermione spoke. "I would have gone with you. I wouldn't have cared if it was a hovel or a manor."
He just silently shook his head.
"Regardless, in five days it shall once more be my residence. I suppose you would like the direction?"
"Yes. Even more, Severus, I would like to visit it with you."
"Saturday morning, then," he said, and she knew he referred to the day Mme Pomfrey had said he would be free to go.
For some reason, Hermione wasn't looking forward to it.
She hadn't known what to do, so she talked to Ron. In their years at Hogwarts her dear friend hadn't been known for his ability to handle himself with grace in relationships, but somewhere between their sixth and seventh years (such as that seventh year was) one or more of his brothers had 'taken him aside.' It was the only explanation she'd been given, but she saw the results for herself.
Ron, it seemed, had started looking at and listening to people – and not just girls he was interested in, but really the entire world outside of himself, and he started analyzing those things he perceived with the same focus he could give to a game of chess. In the past two and a half years, he'd shown a shocking amount of insight for one so previously dim when it came to human behavior.
Insightful or not, she couldn't go to Harry – Ron was her only choice. Harry might have gone postal at the incidental news. Of course, to get the advice she needed, Hermione would have to actually admit that she and Severus were in something like a pre-relationship, and had actually been friends for some time. Harry didn't need to know that just yet. Ron had just paled, swallowed harshly, taken a few deep breaths and gotten a faraway look to his eyes. A few moments of silence later, he said quite simply, "Yea, I guess I can see that."
Hermione almost leaned across the sofa and hugged him right there. She refrained long enough to explain her predicament: Severus wasn't himself.
Or better, Severus was all too much like himself, so much so that Hermione feared for his safety.
It had taken her ten days after his memories came fully back to himself to realize it wasn't her imagination, but when he claimed that he could care less if he lived in a violently lavender colored house with a happy white picket fence, Hermione knew that in fact, her intuition had been right for some time.
She gave Ron all the details she could think of, while protecting the man's privacy as well as she could. If it was a matter of keeping him away from the act of self-harm she so feared, the man could berate her later for her best friend having given her advice on the subject of keeping Severus from killing himself.
"You know," Ron said, "Mum's got a lot of sayings. 'Keep the gnomes out of the garden,' 'never trust something that you can't see where it stores its brain,' 'saving asparagus, vegetables are good for you.'" He paused. "I always wondered what we were supposed to be saving asparagus from, but seeing as it never found its way to our plate, it turns out that that will be one of life's greatest unsolved mysteries."
Hermione laughed at him, but waited for him to get the point.
"But she also always told us in one way or another that we needed to find something to love, something to believe in. She was always telling us in little ways that we've got to believe in something, or life isn't worth living. I always thought she was talking about what job to take – like Dad, or Bill, or Charlie, or really, Fred, too. Not so sure about Percy. You've got to love what you do – you've got to believe in it too, in a way, or you'll go nuts. I'm beginning to wonder if she was talking about more than just our occupations."
From the mouth of babes, Hermione thought.
Ron continued on, musing out loud. "Git though he was, I reckon Snape lived most of his life, probably all of his adult life trying to fight or escape this war – both endeavors any idiot could believe in. Not that I'm saying he's an idiot, of course. But now it's over. His mentor is gone. His tormentor is gone. He's not a spy anymore, which is great in a practical sense, but it did while away the dull hours, you know? From what you say, his job is up in the air. I mean, he's got his health, his home, and a bit in the bank. And maybe a girlfriend – but not quite."
"And quite a few job offers," added Hermione, eager to point that out as well.
"Yes, job offers he hasn't moved on, nor is he like to from the way you put it."
"True," she conceded.
"I guess my point is, what is there left for him to believe in?"
"Lots," Hermione pointed out sadly, surprising herself with her tone.
"Exactly. I know that and you know that, but I'm going to take a wild stab and say Severus Snape doesn't know that.
Hermione nodded. Belief was such a personal thing, such an intimate thing. Why, a person might spend years piggybacking on whatever hopes and dreams their parents had before deciding for themselves what worked and what didn't. Figuring out what fit, and what needed to be rethought.
Ron interrupted her thoughts, though. "So, you've got two choices. You can help him make his will, or you can help him find something to believe in."
Hermione paled. He was right, of course. She put her head in her hands and just let the tears leak out. "Any thoughts on how to do the latter? I'm fresh out of ideas, myself."
There was silence for a few moments before Ron spoke again.
"Everybody loves something, right? Even right gits like Himself. Maybe that's a place to start—"
This time she didn't hold back. Hermione leaned right over and gave Ron a giant, noisy kiss on the cheek.
"You're a genius!" she cried happily, sniffing away tears as she tore off the sofa and into the bathroom.
"I know, I know. It's all part of the Weasley charm, really."
Hermione, of course, was not paying attention to him just at that moment. She was splashing cold water onto her face and grimacing before reapplying a bit of eyeliner and some lip gloss. She fairly ran out of the bathroom after that, snagging her coat and calling over her shoulder, "Don't wait up!"
"Whatever, you love bird."
She found him in the greenhouse. He was sitting on the small bench in the far corner, and if she wasn't mistaken, he was wearing the same clothes he'd had on yesterday.
"Whotcha," she said softly in greeting.
He smiled slightly and briefly and continued contemplating the orchids.
"Have you brewed anything since you got your laboratory back, Severus?" Hermione inquired with as much innocence and passing interest as she could.
He shook his head in response, crossing his arms over his chest, continuing his inspection of the flower.
"I haven't asked much of you Severus – I mean, outside of the classroom, I haven't asked much of you at all in the entire length of our friendship. But I'm going to ask now, so I'd like you to consider well answering in the affirmative before you respond." She had his attention now. There was an eyebrow elegantly arched in her direction, but she stood firm. "I'd like you to brew me something. I don't have a preference for what; it could be hangover remedy for all I care. But you are a Potions Master, one of the few in the world, and I am your friend. And I would like you to brew something especially for me."
"And when would you like this special brew?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," she responded with carefully placed sarcasm. "Shall I wait as you consult your diary? Does Tuesday next work well for your entirely tied up schedule?"
He snorted and quirked the corner of his mouth the slightest bit, which was her hope.
"If you're not too busy, we could go shopping for ingredients right now. I can't imagine that half of your old ones have much potency left. Besides, when was the last time you stepped foot in an Apothecary? Or a bookshop, for that matter? Oh, you poor man. Let's go and remedy these ills immediately."
He got up and sauntered toward her.
"I see what you are trying to do," he said softly, looming over her, no more than a few inches away.
Hermione looked him dead in the eye, sighed, and lied. "Ah, my evil plan: take you shopping. I know I'm transparent, but come on – humor me."
He passed her and went out of the greenhouse and began walking across the garden toward the house.
"Shall we check your stores before we go?" she asked.
"No," he said.
Of course. He probably remembers what's in them, down to the last dram, she thought.
As magic went, it was definitely classified as Dark, but it was, in his estimation, a brilliant move. He never would have thought of it had she not insisted he make her a potion in her admirable but ill-fated attempt at dragging him from the doldrums.
If only his state of mind could be so lightly classified.
This time, of course, he was doing it properly. He'd made a will. He'd figured out how to get around the rather strong promise he'd made Albus all those years ago not to do himself in. Poison was the logical choice, and the cleanest method for her to find and dispose of afterwards – it was the least he could do after all she'd done for him. It was the least he could do, but he'd be doing a great deal more.
It was hard to come by a quick acting poison that he hadn't built up at least a partial immunity to, but that was all subject to his magical ability. If he were to, say, lose that ability… in that case he would be as unprotected as a muggle ingesting such a draught. He would be killed instantly, no muss, no fuss.
The lack of mess was the least Severus could do, knowing just how physically messy death can be. Slightly higher up on the scale of what lay in his power was leaving his worldly possessions to her in his will. Highest on the scale of what he was able and prepared to do was giving her his magic. And that was where the Dark Arts came in so handy.
He mused, as he slit his wrist and let four drops of blood plunk into the small silver cauldron, what effect a willing donation of the blood of the victim without any mind altering spells would have on the end result of the potion, not to mention the fact that the victim was the potionmaker. He doubted it would have any effect at all – it seemed the sort of brew that might only get nastier in such a case, and he'd never read of any precedent in such a case. Perhaps Hermione would see fit to eventually write up the incident and submit it to Ars Alchemia, he thought in wry amusement. Too bad the experiment is so costly to repeat, to mention nothing of legality.
Letting it simmer for ten minutes, he tended to the brass cauldron. The poisonous liquid in this one was simple and elegant. Ironically the main ingredient was Nagini's venom – he thought it a poetic bookend, really. The entire time between the last instance he'd had the venom coursing through his veins and this next one he was looking forward to seemed like an odd and unreal time out of time. It was as if he were a ghost, a wraith returned with just enough power to set his affairs in order, just enough energy and verve to right a few choice and very small wrongs, and now that he'd done that there was almost not enough energy to do what must be done to end it.
But Nagini's venom was the stroke of genius. It may be that they wouldn't even be able to differentiate it from what was already left in his system, for even now there was some, a tiny trace amount. He paused in his musings for a moment, wondering if that lingering amount might be enough to kill him the moment his power was transferred to Hermione. That was rather a lovely thought. But either way, as the wizard he was currently, the poison in the brass cauldron wouldn't be enough to kill him– ill for weeks, yes, death, no. But as a muggle? It should do the trick neatly.
And then, blessed peace.
Tom Riddle had always wanted to live forever, but for the life of him, Severus Snape never could understand why.
"What is it?" she said, smiling shyly up at him. It warmed his heart to see her like this, but he just didn't have it in him to smile back as he so frequently had in the last month or so.
"A gift. I put everything I had into that potion." He caught and chastised himself for the small blunder. He shouldn't say things like that. She might catch on.
"Will it taste nice?"
"I seriously doubt it."
"Can I drink it now?"
"I can't imagine a better time."
He watched as she upended the phial as it was pressed against her lips. No sooner than she had drunk it down did she pull a face. It didn't surprise him that his magic would taste awful. Still, it would be useful for her. More useful than it would be to him in about an hour. And Merlin knows he'd made it enough times for the Dark Lord to have memorized the recipe. It was really quite lovely to make it as a gift for someone so wonderful who wasn't expecting it, rather than a power-hungry megalomaniac who did expect it, or else.
"So what is it supposed to do?"
"Touch me, and you'll see."
She gave him a little look. He hadn't let her see the ingredients, or come down and keep him company as he brewed. He'd never consulted a single book. Severus knew perfectly well it was eating her up, the not knowing, but that would end soon. He held out a hand to her, and felt her warm fingers slip into his palm. He felt a tingling, and a wrenching. He heard her sharp intake of breath, and then her scream. He'd seen this transfer happen at least a dozen times, but it was always quiet, sharp and completely anti-climatic. It was not like this.
His last thought before he lost consciousness and joined Hermione on the kitchen floor was, 'It wasn't supposed to happen like this.'
He woke with a groan, his eyes peeling open with pain. As he shifted slightly, he realized that every cell in every muscle hurt just slightly. Combined into one ache it was quite powerful. It would have been lovely if he'd had a split second of confusion as well, just a single solitary moment of not remembering what he had done, but there was no such reprieve.
Severus crawled over to her, sprawled on the tile, and reached a hand over to her neck to feel for a pulse, sighing deeply when he felt a strong steady thumping beneath his fingertips.
"Hermione," he called, and called again. There was no response, however.
He lay back down on the floor, staring at the ceiling and took the opportunity to take a deep breath and wonder what on earth he'd done. He went over each step in his head, the ingredients, the timing, the blood – and then of course, he knew. In his depressed state he'd glossed over the fact that while the method of gathering blood doesn't matter for many dark uses, it did matter for some, and of course it would matter for this one. He'd rationalized it away at the time. But it really was the only part of the brewing that was changed. It was the only thing that could have gone wrong.
But he knew so much about the Thaumarasga, and he'd never heard anything about the method of collection being a factor. Then again, who would volunteer to have their magic stripped away? Who, that is, other than himself? It was true that he'd never come across a reference to the method of collection mattering in this particular potion, but he knew full well that that sort of information wasn't always readily available.
He closed his eyes and swore softly. What had he done? Oh, God, what had he done?
After one last melancholy thought of how he'd assumed his life could get no worse, Severus dragged himself upright and stretched, eyeing the prone form of the one person who seemed to give a damn in his world. Without another thought he stooped and picked her up. It wasn't a graceful thing, the fireman's carry, but she was unconscious and on the hard tile of the kitchen floor when she could be on a soft mattress where it would be easier to tend to her. Once situated over one of his shoulders, it was only the narrow flight of steps up to the first floor that proved difficult, but he navigated them without incident. Laying her down and arranging her for comfort on one side of his bed he sat next to her and checked her pulse again. Still steady and strong, he left her for a moment to go back down stairs.
Once in the kitchen he put the pot on to boil and set out some tea things to take back upstairs. Her wand lay half under the cooker, having come loose from wherever she normally secured it, up her left sleeve, he remembered, and so he picked it up, meaning to put it on the tray to go upstairs. She would undoubtedly need it, and it was best not to be too far from your wand, he thought, even as he remembered where he had intentionally left his own, next to the cauldron full of poison in the basement laboratory.
But even as he picked up the wand he felt a tingling that unnerved him. It was the same sort of tingling he'd felt the first time his mother had brought him to Olivander's to be fitted for a wand.
Holding onto the light colored wood with the winding vine carved in relief around the grip, he cast a simple lumos aloud, half afraid that nothing would happen, half afraid that something would.
What happened shocked him.
Severus was used to his own magic. He was used to the feeling, like one might be used to the feeling of wearing a favorite shirt, or comfortable boots. He knew what it felt like to be depleted, and had rather expected to be feeling that on a grand scale just about now. What he felt was different. It wasn't the old comfortable boots of his own magic, nor was it the naked feeling of none at all. But it was magic, and it was strong. His simple lumos had come out something like a lumos maxima, or even a lumos solem.
Though it was an understatement to say that he didn't know exactly what was going on, it was very clear to Severus that he was now wielding someone else's magic with someone else's wand, and if the sinking feeling in his gut was to be trusted, he'd somehow massively fucked the situation up. He probably wouldn't be certain until later, but the only answer he saw was Hermione. He had somehow stolen Hermione's magic. Had the potion's effects been utterly reversed, or was there more?
Still stunned by the gravity of his own actions, he recognized the sound of the water boiling and mechanically made tea. As it steeped in the pot, he realized that he'd stowed Hermione's wand up his own left sleeve, as was his wont. Except of course, it wasn't his wand. Somewhat repulsed by his own actions, and snapping out of his momentary daze, he quickly removed her wand from his sleeve, but held onto it. Swiftly he descended the stairs to his laboratory and picked up his own wand, though not with his dominant hand. That was the hand that still held Hermione's wand, with which he Vanished and cleaned the cauldron full of poison. The toxic brew was useless to him now, as he still obviously had some magical power, though exactly whose was yet to be determined. And besides, he had a number of things to do and understand before he was ready for any type of decisive action of that sort.
He paused for a moment and sighed, realizing that he might not get to do away with himself using his preferred method. Still, you couldn't go wrong with a knife to the vitals. He would need to brainstorm different possibilities until he came up with the one he liked most, but he would have plenty of time to do that later, after he'd assured himself that Hermione was quite alright.
As Severus climbed the stairs back to the kitchen he had a momentary pull of instinct and switched the wands in his hands. He tried to cast a lumos with his wand, but nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. His life, he decided in that moment, was perverse.
Coming back to the kitchen, he put both wands on the tray and for a moment was struck by how they looked, lying there together. It wasn't every day that you saw multiple wands that had seen any use at all, just lying together. It was quite remarkable, to see the both of them, and how they contrasted each other. His a dark wood, hers a light one, his so structured with clean solid lines, her so whimsical and natural, but then, both wands had cast unforgivables, both wands had killed people, his many more so than hers, but still.
Still thinking about the juxtaposition of their wands, he brought the tray upstairs, relieved beyond words to find her sitting up on his bed.
"Severus, what on earth was that?"
He set the tray down next to her on the bed. "I'll tell you in just a moment. First I want to make sure you're alright. Please take your wand and cast a spell."
She looked at him, a question in her eyes, but did as he bade. "Wingardium Leviosa," she said, levitating a miniature of his mother off his dresser before she flawlessly put it back down again. She raised her eyebrows as she stowed her wand in her sleeve.
"Now, if you would be so kind as to satisfy my curiosity," he said, handing her his own wand. He watched her mouth drop open.
"Severus, what do you mean by this?"
She gave him a decidedly nervous glance before casting the same charm on a set of robes that were draped over a chair. The robes went flying toward the ceiling and Hermione gasped audibly. She dropped his wand as if it scalded her.
"Is that what it is always like for you to do magic?"
Severus took another deep breath. "No, I daresay. But it seems similar to the effect I had with your wand, when I attempted a simple spell in the kitchen." He paused, and continued on, though quietly. "But unlike you, I had absolutely no effect with my own wand."
"We… I… You…" She stopped and looked away before taking her wand out and putting it between them, next to the place where his dark one landed. Looking back again, she started fresh. "So the potion somehow altered both of our magic abilities such that they are now stronger, and require us to use the other's wand?"
"Apparently, though I somehow doubt that will be the end of the effects," he said, just waiting for the other magical shoe to drop. It was a dark potion, after all, and it seemed already that Hermione had the upper hand in the situation. It was she who could do magic with both wands, though admittedly she could channel a stronger magic with his than with her own.
"What do you mean, 'Apparently'?" she asked, her voice a crescendo of unrest.
"These are not the intended effects of the potion I meant to create, though I think I may know where I went wrong," he said, not intending to go any further in explanation, not even under threat of torture. There were some things she didn't need to know about until after the fact, and his botched attempt at suicide was one of them.
He watched as her eyes narrowed. She shifted on the bed so she could fully face him. "Severus Snape," she began, her voice barely a whisper, "I want you to tell me exactly what you meant to brew and how exactly you think it went wrong, and I want absolutely no prevaricating!"
There was a twinge inside of him, like a switch being flipped, a switch he hadn't known was there, and he found himself very suddenly willing to tell her precisely what had happened. He remembered his vow of only a moment before not to do the same, and he remembered how adamant he'd been, but clearly she needed to know. He understood that now. If she needed to know, who was he to keep it from her?
"It is a draught known as Thaumarasga. I've brewed it seventeen times previously for the Dark Lord. It is an ancient potion used by the Assyrians as punishment for treachery among wizards. It strips a wizard or witch of their magical power and gives it to the wizard who consumes the potion. It cannot be used to give magical powers to a muggle. Though the ingredients are nearly all readily available and the brewing time is short, it is a draught that requires great skill and intent on the side of the brewer. It is a class A restricted substance, and illegal in 49 countries, including the United Kingdom.
"I knew something was wrong when we both had such a strong and painful reaction – I've seen the potion administered many times and pain is, ironically, never an element.
"I believe, though I have never seen it documented, that my willingness in providing my blood for the potion, and possibly the fact that I brewed the potion myself, was instrumental in changing the essence of the Thaumarasga. I do not recognize what potion it may have turned into."
Severus felt strangely better for having told her, even as he watched the emotions flit across her features.
She shifted so she was now sitting on her knees on his bed. She looked livid.
"Do you mean to tell me," she began to ask slowly and quietly, her eyes on fire. "Do you mean to say that when I asked you to brew me a potion, you brewed me the Thaumarasga, with the intent that you should be stripped of your magical abilities and that they be given to me?"
"Please tell me why you decided to do this," she asked, enunciating each word very carefully. If there was a state of anger beyond livid, that was where she was.
"I wished to give you everything I had before committing suicide," he said, and was so wrapped up in the conversation and her emotion that he didn't bother to think of the veritaserum-like quality to the moment, though he would later.
"You are the sole benefactor of my estate, but I wished to give you my magic as well before I died."
Her eyes could not get rounder.
"And just how did you plan to kill yourself?"
"I had a poison prepared that once stripped of my magical ablity, would be a powerful agent to act upon me. I've since gotten rid of it."
"And why have you done that? Have you decided not to kill yourself after all?"
"No, but now is no longer a convenient time, and the poison would not have the desired results, as I still have the use of magic."
"Not a convenient time? Oh dear. How tiresome for you."
Her sarcasm was not lost on him. If the situation had been otherwise, he might have been able to appreciate it more. The situation being what it was, however, he was more concerned with the anger coming off her in waves.
"Severus Snape, you listen, and you listen good. I think it's absolutely horrible of you to give into whatever difficult feelings you're dealing with and try to do away with yourself. I realize that it is your life and I don't get a say, but for what it's worth I absolutely forbid you from killing yourself. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," he said, and suddenly, gently, his despair was not so deep as to merit self-destruction. It was plenty deep and rather dark, but not as much as it had been. He didn't bother to wonder about the sudden change however – who could question something that felt so normal, so natural?
She felt all of her emotion drain out of her – that wasn't normal. Usually when she got worked up she stayed agitated for hours if not days, but as fast as her outrage and fury had built, it ebbed. She sat back on her heels and hung her head down, noticing for the first time the tray of tea things that she'd been practically hanging over, in her rage. She handed Severus her wand without looking at him.
"I think you'd better take this, at least for the time being."
She didn't see, but he took it without comment. She picked up his wand, turning it about in her hands. "I'll keep this for a while, if you don't mind." She gently stowed it in her sleeve, noticing the difference in how it sat, even while it felt comfortable there. She took a good look at the tea tray before picking it up off the bed and putting it on the side table opposite to where he was. She walked on her knees across the mattress until she was at the very edge where he still stood, had been standing all this time. Hermione rested her head against his chest and put her arms around his waist, holding him loosely.
"Severus," she sighed sadly.
She felt his arms go around her shoulders and she took a deep breath, holding it until her lungs burned before letting it go again. She stayed there for a long while, kneeling on the edge of the bed, holding and being held, feeling nothing at all, until unbidden, the tears began to prick in her eyes. She didn't care – she wasn't ashamed. The man she adored had tried to kill himself. If this wasn't a crying moment, then there weren't any at all left in this post-Voldemort world. She took one more jagged breath before starting to weep silently, still and unmoving, except for the tears leaking out of her eyes, faster and faster.
She looked up when he removed his arms from around her shoulders. She watched as he shrugged out of the black set of robes, as he took of his confining suit jacket, and toed out of his black dragon leather boots. She shifted over as he sat on his bed, his back braced against the headboard and when he opened his arms to her, she came to him silently, curling up next to him, sniffling.
He handed her a hankerchief, which she gratefully used before leaning up against his shoulder. They were quiet for a very long time.
"Severus, I think it may be true that you have no idea how much I love you."
It was the first thing that broke the silence of what must have been at least three quarters of an hour, sitting on the bed holding each other.
"You may be right."
She looked up at him, seeing the tracks of his own dried tears down his face.
"Severus, I love you. I should like to spend the rest of my life giving you example after example of just how much I love you, but that seems to me to be a pointless endeavor if you can't appreciate the bare fact of it in the present moment."
She watched as he closed his eyes tightly for a moment before opening them again and meeting her gaze.
"I…" he began, before trailing off. "It is not easy, Hermione, to have lived the bliss of a man with no past, and then to be confronted with the particular past I have created for myself. You know well enough what a bastard I can be without provocation. I think it may be true that you have no idea what a bastard I can be, with provocation."
"Perhaps that is true, Severus, but it comes as no great shock to me, either way. And that man you were with no past? That man is still inside you. You are capable of all that, and more, should you decide to explore it."
"I want to believe you, Hermione," he whispered. "I really do." He left unspoken the fact that he didn't believe her, despite his own desire.
"Give it time, Severus. Give yourself time. Don't write yourself off now, just because it's hard. It won't always be this hard, not if you don't want it to be."
"I don't want it to be," he replied in that same whisper. She watched him, and it seemed he had more to say, so she waited. After some moments, he continued on. "Will you stay with me tonight?" He rushed to add, "I don't mean… I mean, I intend nothing untoward, I just… will you?" he asked, his last words barely audible.
Hermione felt the urge to smile for the first time in the past hour. "No matter what your intentions, I will happily stay with you tonight, Severus."
It took a moment for him to process that, she could see it on his face. She wondered if it would go by entirely unnoticed.
"You… don't mean-"
"Don't I?" she asked, looking up at him from her vantage point at the middle of his chest. She was suddenly quite aware of her left hand on his chest, and her right lying casually on his upper thigh. She hadn't really noticed them there before, when she was crying, when they were both crying.
"I would never wish to take advantage of you like that."
"I'd hardly call it taking advantage, Severus. I'm pretty certain how I feel about you. I'm also pretty certain that somewhere inside you feel something similar. If it weren't for the war, I daresay we'd have been far more intimate than we are now, and much sooner. As it is, I think we're going along at just the right pace."
She watched as he leaned down and her heart seemed to stop as he brushed his lips over hers ever so briefly before pulling back up again and resting his head against the bed frame.
"Whatever did I do to deserve you?" he whispered up into the air.
She smirked. "Well, there was that time when you stepped between me and Professor Lupin when he was having a bad night."
"Seriously, Severus. I really don't think it's a matter of deserving or undeserving. It just is. We've all got our chances at love."
He looked back at her and she saw something in his eyes that she hadn't seen in several weeks. "Then this is one chance I shall not throw away."
She grinned back. "That's the spirit," she said just before he bent down again, this time for a longer, deeper kiss.
They were in the midst of a rather compromising position when the first owl came and dropped a letter onto Severus' naked back before wheeling away again with nary a hoot. It slid off and was soon forgotten.
Hermione and Severus were in the midst of a completely different, and yet no less compromising position some time later when the second owl arrived, winging in through the open bedroom window to deposit a similar letter onto Hermione's calf, a corner of the missive hitting the straining muscle and making her look sharply around and exclaim loudly in surprise before her attention was inextricably drawn back to the matter at hand.
The third and final letter came even later when all common sense would have dictated that compromising positions would have ceased, and yet they had not. It was nearly an hour after the last letter had been delivered that Hermione rolled over onto it, recalling to mind the oddity of mail being delivered at such a time of day. She turned the letter over to reveal the singular insignia of the Ministry of Magic.
"Oh, dear Lord," she groaned. "What on earth can they want?"
"Who?" rumbled her beloved.
Hermione grabbed for Severus' wand as it lay on the bedside. "Accio recent Ministry letters." The other two flew into her hands.
Severus groaned. "I'm sure I don't want to know what they say."
"Which do you suppose was sent first?" she asked him, gazing at the identical letters.
Severus reached for Hermione's wand, which he'd stowed underneath his pillow. He cast a silent spell and then pointed out the order in which they'd come.
Wands stowed, he watched as she opened the letter, and she could feel him reading it over her shoulder, even as she examined the letter herself.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Snape,
Congratulations on your recent marriage.
I regret to inform you that the Suzerain Agreement that took place at 5:43 P.M. GMT which was consummated and summarily altered to become a Suzerain Arrangement at 7:23 P.M. GMT that has taken place on this date at Spinner's End, Slough, without prior licensure from either the Ministry of Magic Department of Records, nor the muggle counterpart is in direct violation of the applicable sections of the Wizarding Customes and Laws of the United Kingdom which outlaws secret marriages and unequal bonds of power (see sections 204.b.34, 713.w.2, and 67.g.243). In addition, use, if not manufacture of the Suzerain Draught, a class A restricted substance, is in direct violation of the International Wizarding Accord Against the Use of Dark Arts.
Please stand by as Aurors have been dispatched to seize your wands and remand you into custody, where your marriage will be immediately witnessed and documented, your wands will be broken, your powers bound, and where you will await trial.
Thank you and have a pleasant evening,
Misuse of Magic Office
Hermione looked at Severus, dumbfounded. He quickly opened the second letter and held it out for both of them.
Dear Mrs. Hermione Snape,
It is with great pleasure I report to you that the Aurors have been recalled from seizing your wand and remanding you into custody. Due to the mitigating circumstances of your recent wartime heroism your breach of the International Wizarding Accord Against the Dark Arts as well as your violation of sections 204.b.34, 713.w.2, and 67.g.243 of the Wizarding Customes and Laws of the United Kingdom have been summarily dismissed. No punitive action will be taken against you.
Please report to the Head Mugwump of the Wizengamot at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning to have the manipulative aspects of your Suzerain Arrangement bound.
Please report to the Records Office at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning with Mr. Severus Snape to have your marriage witnessed and duly noted.
Thank you, and have a pleasant evening,
Misuse of Magic Office
Hermione looked over at Severus. "Bloody hell," she breathed out, taking up the third letter and tearing it open.
Dear Mr. Severus Snape,
It is with great pleasure I report to you that the Aurors have been recalled from seizing your wand and remanding you into custody. Due to the mitigating circumstances of your recent wartime heroism your breach of the International Wizarding Accord Against the Dark Arts as well as your violation of sections 204.b.34, 713.w.2, and 67.g.243 of the Wizarding Customes and Laws of the United Kingdom have been summarily dismissed. No punitive action will be taken against you.
Please report to the Records Office at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning with Mrs. Hermione Snape to have your marriage witnessed and duly noted.
Thank you, and have a pleasant evening,
Misuse of Magic Office
Hermione looked up at Severus. "Do you know what they're talking about?"
"No," he said. As she took in his bewildered and astounded face, she believed him utterly.
* End. *
Author's End Note:
I made up the Thaumarasga and you can tell, because I mixed my languages. I'm sure properly in canon that would never be done. Thauma is from the Greek for magic. Rasgar is a verb in Spanish for tearing or rending.
A smidgen about a Suzerain Treaty (which I did not make up). Feel free to check it out on Miriam-Webster or wikipedia, which will give you the gist and the history from about the 17th century, though Suzerain Treaties occurred much farther back in history. It's based in the ancient Hittite Suzeraine-Vassal treaties. Simplified, in a Suzerain Treaty, the more powerful sovereign ruler enters into an agreement to protect the interests of a less powerful sovereign ruler and may make certain other promises. The less powerful sovereign ruler agrees to do some action or pay some tribute to the more powerful sovereign ruler. Both remain sovereign over their own interests, and the ruler with less power can dissolve the treaty at any time. (In theory, the one with more power promises to do good things first, and the one with less power responds with gratitude. It's kind of the opposite of extortion.)
My magical version works in a slightly different manner, in that it incorporates the very potential for abuse of power that the non-magic treaty seeks to avoid, by giving the accepting party more power over the giving party, thus creating a suzerain-vassal imbalance. The non-magic version starts with a disparity of power and journeys toward a more equal power balance. The magical version starts with a more equal power balance and travels toward greater disparity.
There was more written of this series, but it died with the latest harddrive crash, so what do you say we end it here? Excellent. :)