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Of Absinthe And Lachrymatory
~A HG*SS story by RedValkyrie~
"You're still a naïve young thing."
"Look at you. What are you now, just on the cusp of thirty?"
"I'm twenty-nine Severus."
"You make it sound as if I am still a child. I'm not a child Severus, no more than you are an old man."
"I never said I was an old man, Miss Granger."
"We've been colleagues for eight years now Severus, can't we just think of each other as equals instead of in the irrelevancy of our ages?"
"Irrelevancy?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, irrelevancy, Severus."
"As you wish, Hermione."
"Good. ...You were baiting me weren't you?"
"Nothing gets past your Gryffindor net for subtlety does it?"
"Like a fine sieve it is."
This earned her a full-fledged grin.
She smiled demurely and rested her fingers against the cool bowl of her wine glass. The low hum of the other patrons shuffled through the air, mixed with the clinking of glasses, the unmistakable scrape of cutlery on a plate, and the melodic tones of softly spoken French, another night at Le Chevalier Noir. She stared into the dark and heady liquid, her eyebrows creasing ever so slightly as she contemplated her companion. She allowed herself a glance at him through the thick soot of her lashes.
"Why do you always drink absinthe?" she asked in murmured tones, eyeing the peridot liquid in the bubbled glass that he held between his slim, pale hands.
He raised an eyebrow and inspected her, she thought, with an air of judgment.
"Please don't tell me you malign the spirit?"
"What? No, I was just…curious."
With a noncommittal shrug, Severus placed the slotted silver spoon on the rim of his glass, resting a single cube of sugar atop it. He picked up the small carafe of iced water to his right, and slowly trickled it above the spoon, into the glass, dissolving the sugar as he did so. The sweetened water dripped into the gem-like liquid, where it swirled and shimmered, transforming it from crystal-green clarity into a milky chartreuse, pale and opaque.
"Must everything become a potion in your hands?"
His widened eyes cast up to meet hers, his hand holding the carafe still hovering over the glass.
"Do you not know its history?"
"I know it has been the source of much controversy. For years it was outlawed in a number of countries and-"
"Yes, yes, common knowledge all that," he said with a disinterested wave of his hand. "What I mean, Miss Granger, Hermione, is do you not know that it is in fact a potion?"
He quietly relished the surprised look on her face.
"Oh. No, I was...unaware."
"Think about it Hermione. What are the ingredients? Wormwood, Anise, Fennel…Dittany."
"Well, yes…I suppose that would be revelatory when one considers the functions of Wormwood and Dittany's, but Severus…I don't understand; it's, it's well known in the muggle world."
"You think the aforementioned push to ban the drink was simply the action of conservative moralists? Hermione, for all of your study, you are rather ignorant."
Her face darkened and she tightened her grip on the bowl of her glass.
"Well, why do you even bother spending time with such a naïve, ignorant, little girl Professor?"
She longed to pluck away the satisfied smirk that pulled at the corner of his mouth.
"I wasn't trying to insult you Hermione. Ignorance in itself is no sin…only the failure to correct the state when given the opportunity."
"Well then, by all means, please continue to assuage my ignorance," she said tersely.
"Of course, my dear Professor Granger. Originally, it was used strictly medicinally. The Wormwood, when combined with the Dittany, dulls the central nervous system's response to pain, causing it to 'sleep' without affecting the mental capacity or physical functionality of the patient."
"Yes, I can see the correlation forming given the Draught of Living Death's use of Wormwood and the healing properties of Dittany."
"Exactly. The Anise and Fennel flavoured the brew, but also, strengthened the Dittany to create the dulling effect. The addition of the sugar and water released the analgesic properties and allowed for the potion to be melded without the aid of fire and a cauldron. It was through various experimentations with distillation that the current variety was created and found to be quite pleasurable for…recreational purposes, which is when it managed to find its way into non-Wizard hands. Oddly enough, this particular combination of ingredients causes a hallucinogenic effect for Muggles with latent magical genes. Thus, the inception of-"
"The Green Fairy!"
"Indeed. Which has, of course, become synonymous with the drink. However, the Dittany has been all but removed from most Wizarding varieties, thus rendering it no more than an effectual, inebriating tonic. This brand though, is one of the few that still employs the blessed infusion," he said as he gestured to the drink.
"Still, Severus, that means that the Magical latency is far more widespread than I would have ever believed, given the prolific claims of visits from the fairy!"
"Quite right Miss Granger. Thus the push to have it banned…which was instigated and propagandised by the Ministry, and spread by those that feared the effects of the drink in the Muggle world. The ministry was afraid some kind of connection to our world might be made by the Muggles en mass. Silly really, to think they would, but still, you know the government. Interestingly enough, the Dittany actually has naught to do with that particular effect, it seems to stem from the juncture of Anise and Wormwood. The Dark Lord himself sought out the usages of such a mechanism. He wished to employ it as determinant for discovering which Muggles might sire magical children."
"Oh…so…so he could…exterminate them."
"Why bother with the distinction? Wasn't total genocide his aim when it came to Muggles?"
"Hardly. Why bother to be king if you've eliminated your peasants? He wished to subjugate and enslave them as a whole while removing the risk of any upstart magical lineages."
"Ah. No more insufferable, little mudbloods like me then."
She noticed a perceptible darkening of his features at her phrase.
"Yes, no more...like you," he said, grinding out the words as if it hurt him to agree.
She noticed that the hand not holding his glass was clasped into a tight fist, the ropey lines of tendons displayed through his pallid skin, held there by the tension of his grip.
"Forgive me Severus, I made that vile brand my own personal sword…and shield. I did not mean to wound you with it."
He sighed, unclenched his fist, and waved his hand in a flippant manner. "It is of no matter, Hermione. Old wounds, that's all."
"It's really quite fascinating," she said quickly, attempting to salvage their conversation. "Why did it fall out of favour in Mediwizardry?"
"Oh, it is still used, but rarely. New potions have been created that work far more effectively or are able to isolate specific neural paths to block localised pain. Few things call for the services of its effects given the totality of them. This particular form of it," he gestured to his glass, "when used recreationally, is still frowned upon by most given that the continual deadening of the body's response to pain can be somewhat dangerous, especially when combined with, as the Muggles say, 'liquid courage'. Besides that, the brew, on it's own, without the addition of alcohol, is somewhat…addictive."
"Why do you drink it then? There are other spirits."
"I grew accustomed to it," he said as he removed the spoon and took his first sip of the liquid.
"Accustomed to it?"
He set down the glass and traced a finger down the elegantly crafted crystal.
"Hermione, being in the service of the Dark Lord was no pleasure. Failures, even those of the smallest sort, were always severely punished, often, successes too…just to remind you of your place. I've experienced the cruelty of a Crucio more times than I care to recall. Suffice to say I lost count when the numbers slipped into triple digits."
She gasped and brought a hand to her mouth. Her eyes were tender and full of concern. It both touched and unnerved him.
She reached out her hand and placed it on his, brushing ever so lightly over his fingers. He could not help but follow her gentle movements. It was small and delicate, her hand, her fingers long and tapered, the skin, smooth and pale, like the velvet covered petal of a crème coloured rose. It made him smile to see that her nails were trimmed sensibly short. She had a thin scar running along the length of her index finger, and he wondered at its origin. He couldn't deny that she had lovely hands, feminine hands, soft and achingly kind...so much a reflection of the woman they belonged to. In a moment of sheer impulse, he twined his fingers through hers, his thumb slowly tracing over the line of the scar he'd observed only moments ago. Vaguely, in some corner of his mind, it registered that this was, for him, an extremely intimate act, a betrayal of his heart's secrets, and a marked deviation from their standard interaction. It came to the forefront of his mind as her hand gingerly slid away from his, her fingers retreating like the break of a wave from the shore.
He slipped his hand away from where it rested on the table and placed it back on his glass, pulling it towards his chest, casting his eyes into the clouded sea of absinthe it contained.
She could see him tighten, his shoulders hunch, the tips of his fingers whiten as they pressed tighter to the bowl of his glass, his brow crease, and a flush rise in his cheeks. His bowed head and shut form emanated rejection…or, more precisely, the deep desire to avoid it.
"Severus," she said, carefully, "I think we should go now."
He gave a stiff nod in agreement, rose from his chair, and automatically made to offer his hand to her.
He quickly withdrew it, and they left the tavern in silence.
The chill of a November wind greeted them as they stepped out into the glow of the lamplight. They walked without words, their feet leading them towards the banks of the Seine, a familiar path to them both. They stilled, reaching the edge of the river, listening to the slow movement of the water, and the pedestrian sounds of the city. For a while, they were quiet, simply drinking in the atmosphere, and avoiding the obvious.
"Severus," do you know why I come on these little excursions with you?"
His hands were shoved into the pockets of his coat, his arms rigid with the determination of keeping them there. He turned his head to look at her and answered,
She looked up at him and the corner of her mouth turned up as she spoke.
"Because once, you asked me to, Severus, and I've taken it as an open invitation ever since. Do you remember how it started?"
He shook his head and shifted his gaze towards his feet, his discomfiture rising, feeling all the more foolish with each passing minute. It was bad enough he'd so brazenly shown such affection, but to have it refused, and then ignored…he longed for the sanctuary of his own hearth, away from Paris, away from the cold, away from her.
"It was my second year as a teacher. You found me crying in my classroom the night after Crookshanks passed. You came in nattering on about requiring my assistance for some Arithmantic tabulations concerning the Sanguine Solution you were developing. You took one look at my blotchy, snotty face and told me that I 'shouldn't still be weeping over that pile of ginger fluff, Miss Granger. Come and have a drink, does wonders for forgetting useless troubles." She chuckled at her own imitation of his hawkish manner. "Honestly, I wanted to kick you in the shins for your insensitivity, but now, truly knowing you, I understand that it was just your way of saying 'I'm sorry about your cat, Hermione.' …I do know you Severus, you know that, right?"
He cut his eyes to hers from behind his hair. She reached up and brushed the coal black strands behind his ear, letting her finger trace along its shell ever so lightly.
"Do you remember that night now?" she asked, smiling at him.
He nodded, still looking into her eyes.
"Do you remember what we did?"
He sighed and quietly spoke, "Yes, I remember now. You spent that entire evening crying into a pint of cider and squealing into sobs every time you found an errant ginger hair upon your clothes. I do recall offering my best, which were admittedly, quite awful, attempts at comfort."
She chuckled, "I still appreciated it. I appreciated you. I appreciated that you cared, even that much about me, swotty little upstart that I was."
A fatherly kindness you considered it, I'm sure, he thought in condescension to himself.
"Do you know when I started caring for you as more than a friend?"
He started slightly at her words, his brow creasing, and his lips parting as if to question, what?
She smiled ruefully.
"Yes, I know; I'm sorry I didn't say something at the tavern, but I was so surprised by your action and I…I wanted to be alone with you when I told you this. I didn't know when I would find the courage, but your boldness spurred me."
She stepped forward and pulling his hand from his pocket, laced her fingers through his and gave a tender squeeze.
As more than a friend…?
"Of course, you recall the conference we attended in Rome, last September? It was then. We were standing by the Trevi Fountain, and you were telling me of the history of the Lachrymatory bottle, and of the use of tears in potions. You told me of how the women of ancient Rome would bottle their tears of mourning at the loss of their lovers, and place them in their graves, a mark of their love and devotion to be carried into the next life. I can't deny, the setting, the story, your telling of it, it was utterly romantic. And then, you made a joke, a half-hearted stab at yourself saying that you would have nothing but empty bottles of Pepper-Up, Skele-Grow, and Wolfsbane thrown into your eventual crypt, that no lover's tears would follow you onwards. You laughed…and it broke my heart."
She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close, burying her head in the scratchy wool of his coat.
"I left you once you know, dying and lonely, and I gave you no tears. You filled the bottle I conjured with enough pain for a lifetime, and I left you with nothing. Oh Severus…"
She was crying now, the salted water of her sobs trailing down her face and disappearing into the blackness of his clothes.
Automatically, he wrapped his arms around her, feeling elated and perplexed, so unsure of everything; it was all so jarring, so utterly, wonderfully jarring.
"Hermione, what are you saying?" he asked, his voice husky.
She sniffed and brought the back of her hand to wipe her eyes, "I'm saying Severus, that all of my tears are for you now."
She looked up at him, the tears still falling from her mournful eyes, the liquid making them shine in the light of the gas lamps, reflecting back at him like so many stars.
"You've been such a constant in my life, and in these past few years, you've become much more than a mentor or a colleague. You've become...my best friend, my confidant, my constant companion, and yet, when you said those words, when you cast yourself into the grave as a lonely and forgotten soul...I realised that there would never be enough bottles to catch the tears I would cry at the void you would leave in my heart. And then, tonight, the way you touched my hand, and the look in your eyes, I thought perhaps, perhaps...you too...might...might feel as I do. Severus, I've come to love you so."
For a moment, he simply looked at her, looked at her as she stood there with quiet tears streaming down her blushed cheeks.
Tears for me...
He brought his hands up to cup her face. Resting his thumbs on the swells of her cheeks, he bent his head and brought his lips below her left eye, kissing away the dew of a newly shed tear, then, moving to the right and doing the same there, tasting the warm tang of the salt on his mouth.
"I love you too, my Hermione…and you've no need for bottles. I will drink away your sadness."
And so, he brought his lips to hers, and did just that.
AN: I've had this kicking around on my computer for a while so I cleaned it up and finished it. I enjoyed writing it, but I feel that perhaps I'm becoming too formulaic. :/ In any case, it would make my day if you'd leave me a review. Thanks for reading!