A/N: to those of you who have reviewed anonymously, without PM capability, or just didn't log in, please accept my whole-hearted thanks for your encouragement! The same goes to everyone I have been able to respond to! Hugs to ALL! Yiggersentia is again, the best beta/muse/friend/thing evar. ;)
It was a strange thing to be awakened with birdsong and dawn's dewy precipitation after so long inside a dozen shades of white. He opened his eyes slowly, wondering if the aurora-and-black lace of leaves and sky above him would disappear with his dreams. Watching the colors shift with the rising sun behind the canopy was heartrendingly mesmerizing and he breathed the clean morning air in deep appreciation of his first morning free, knowing now that this new state was permanent.
Such was his preoccupation with the beauty above him shifting from apricot to rose to gold and greenish-blue, that he barely noticed his hammock-companion until she shifted ever-so-slightly and made herself known, wrapping ever-so-tightly about his left leg.
He closed his eyes, bunched his eyebrows together, then opened them again. Was she truly embracing his foot? Severus lifted his head to get a closer view and realized that no, she was not simply embracing his foot. She was drooling on it while making tiny snoring noises in the back of her throat.
How completely undignified...but then again, he was no longer the model of dignity, was he? Simply the fact that his feet were bare for her to salivate on was enough to prove that. Just to be on the safe side, he decided he should probably pull his foot away but as he tensed his thigh to tug it slowly out from underneath her, she...
He sighed through his nostrils in frustration.
She nuzzled it.
He needed to focus on correcting his problems before allowing any ventures into satisfying baser needs and having her constantly invade his space while he was unconscious—then doing something ridiculously adorable like this—was completely unacceptable.
He stared at her sleeping form in the growing light and the way her lips moved against the skin of his foot. It really wasn't fair to feel her like this, knowing it was actually quite innocent and that she had no intention to seduce him by dribbling on his pedal extremity.
He nearly smiled at that thought.
Yes, that was rather amusing.
As the morning progressed, a bright shaft of gold shot across the garden, through the autumn detritus and over the bricked enclosure to dance across the glazed windows of the house nearby, reflecting a wide, glowing beam over them both.
It was rather enjoyable, waking up this way. Even with the unpleasant drooling, this was a thousand times removed from the hell of his life yesterday morning.
He breathed slowly to keep his calm and enjoy the sight. Might as well savor it while he could. Warm light captured the morning mist of this cold morning, heightening the contrast of light and shadow surrounding the pergola that he could now see protected the hammock from being overtaken by vegetation.
It was a truly breathtaking moment that shifted away along with the sun's passage as it arced higher in the sky, only to be replaced with other moments as the light danced through the foliage and over her.
It was interesting watching the light play through the leaves and over her muted coloring. Another person might describe Hermione as plain. Ha. He would have done so on many occasions, he was sure of it. Plain brown hair, plain brown eyes, plain light skin. But now...the morning light changed that idea for him. At that moment, and he rather thought for a long time to come, he'd think of her as golden.
Where last night's moonbeams had been lost in her hair, the sun picked out bronze tones that would do any metallurgist proud, and her skin, compared to his own sickly blueish-yellow, was a warm ivory that looked to beg for daylight's kiss. He imagined that the brown eyes so prominent in his mind for so long would burn beautifully...
Oh, great. He was waxing maudlin. What was wrong with him? Did he want to torture himself? Yes, she was attractive. Yes, she seemed to be interested, but he could only offer her problems. Problems that needed time, effort, and focus to correct.
Compartmentalize this and save it for later, old man. Gods, you don't even know if she's truly available.
As if on cue, the dutch door from last night creaked open on tired hinges and footsteps shuffled jauntily down the slate steps. Severus turned his head away from where he shouldn't be looking anyway to see who was coming and found himself viewing the apparent Weasley. How was he supposed to address this person?
Were they on amicable terms or otherwise? From his recollections and reactions last night, he rather thought otherwise.
They stared unblinkingly for a few moments before the young man shifted his balance with his hands in his pockets and nodded tersely.
Severus blinked, shifted his chin to the left, then dipped it in a wary nod of affirmation. The redhead's light gaze shifted from Severus to Hermione in perplexity, then...wistfulness? He felt the need to redirect the boy's attention. Why, he wasn't certain, but he didn't like the way he was looking at Hermione. "You are Ronald, I presume?"
Yes, that had worked to gain his attention. Calculating blue eyes snapped back to his dark ones and Severus had an overly loud thought that perhaps he'd underestimated the onus of spending time with this Weasley.
"Yeah. That's me."
He released a slow breath in contained frustration. This Ronald was obviously not a conversationalist, but he at least continued.
"So, you really lost it, eh? Your memories?"
He simply arched an eyebrow in answer. If he knew the answer already, then why ask the question?
The lad snorted and cracked a smile. "Same as always." Why did they say that? How could he possibly be the same? "So's Hermione, I see."
When Ronald tossed his chin at the sleeping form beside him, Severus brought up his other eyebrow almost as high as his other and angled his head questioningly.
"She always ends up in the weirdest places in bed," he chuckled, then caught himself as he realized he'd just implicated their relationship.
Fantastic, he thought sourly. He finally reconciled that there was nothing wrong with being attracted to the witch and along comes the confirmation it would be wrong. She was obviously already involved. Keeping his face as carefully blank as humanly possible, he started maneuvering his body to get out of the hammock and face this person head-on instead of lying down.
Unfortunately, the more he struggled with the blasted swing and Hermione's hold on his leg, the more he became entangled and just when Ronald decided it would be wise to try and help, Severus lost all balance, forcing the hammock completely over and dumping he and Hermione in a dazed pile to the wooden decking with a painful, bone-jarring impact and a squeal he assumed was from her. It most certainly wasn't from himself.
Severus groaned inwardly, realizing the bone-jarring was more on his end of the pain since Hermione had landed across him and was now recognizing she was draped over his hips from behind, face nearly planted in his crotch. Good gods, could this morning's events devolve any worse? They'd started so well.
I probably shouldn't have said that, but I've just knocked enough wood to keep a forest full of wood sprites too distracted to do mischief.(1)
"Here, at least let me help you up."
The Weasley-boy was unsuccessfully trying not to laugh and Severus was unsuccessfully not sending him death glares. He inwardly sighed and schooled his expression. It would do him no good to alienate Hermione's...what? Lover? Intended?
As soon as Hermione was seated back on the hammock, the redhead held a hand back out to Severus but he just couldn't take it. He frowned at the offer and stood on his own, albeit slowly. He was surprised to find himself nearly eye-to-eye with the boy—man. There weren't many wizards that could match his height and the idea that they were somehow matched was unnerving.
He pressed his hands down the front of his clothing, inhaled and straightened his spine to stand taller. After affirming at least some dignity, even knowing it was hopelessly trod beneath their feet into the pergola flooring, he looked down his nose to the two young people before him.
"I assume you've arrived outside for a reason?"
Hermione was quiet, watching him with a thinking expression that said her mind was elsewhere but Ronald shifted to stand closer to her in his black khakis and dark red tee. Seeing the two of them near each other showed their compatibility. Severus grit his teeth but maintained his stance quietly, waiting for an answer.
Ronald did not disappoint. "Yeah. Thought you could use some breakfast." He looked down at Hermione with a smile of some private joke. "Kreacher's working on it this morning, so it's decent."
She clicked her tongue disapprovingly, rolled her eyes, but smiled. "Tonks is improving, she just needs practice."
"Well, I can't handle burnt eggs and sausage. I just can't! Next time she's on breakfast duty, I'm getting Harry to take me to McDowell's again."
"Whatever. They're loads better than her crap."
"You enjoyed her cooking just fine last night, apparently."
"That's different. I was starving and it's hard to mess up salad."
They looked at each other and smiled, then said simultaneously, "But not for her." They shared a laugh, then Hermione slipped out of the hammock as if it were second nature and turned to Severus.
Right, look to me now that you've finished your private and completely rude conversation. I'm just standing here like a Muggle garden gnome, decorating the place with no purpose.
"Severus, what do you say? Do you think you can handle breakfast? Kreacher could probably make you something simple."
Ronald's expression dropped in confusion, but he held quiet, amazingly enough. Severus remembered an incentive from last night and asked quietly, "Will Harry be there?"
He shrugged his shoulders, glanced over at the house and back. "Dunno. He's probably still there, I reckon."
Severus shifted his gaze to Hermione, who smiled quickly. "Good, I can ask him about the pensieve, then." At that little bombshell, she squared her shoulders and marched down the deck, over the leafy ground cover and up the slate steps to the kitchen door.
The men stared after her until she turned back from the door, "Well," She stared from one to the other, "Come on, don't grow roots."
Ronald sighed and smiled briefly, then stuffed his hands in his pockets and followed her.
Severus stood there, pondering Hermione's choice of words.
She was going to ask Harry about that last set of eyes...and that information was in a pensieve. He shuddered in apprehension. Did that mean the memories in the pensieve...no.
It would be a very far chance that the memories would be his own...
Oh, but what would that mean if they were? Would they unlock other memories by simple association? Would they set off a cacophonous chain of mental fireworks to untether his mind?
It was an interesting enough prospect to make him overlook the fact that everyone was inside and he was not. The fact that he was expected to be inside with them.
Taking in a last look around the garden for anchoring, he knew he'd have to get closer to the house to get this information. Surely Hermione hadn't forgotten so soon his fear from last night? He stepped cautiously closer, one foot at a time, pausing to look around him every other step to gauge exactly how close he was. There might have been thirty paces or so between him and the apparent goal but it felt like an ocean.
He'd just have to take it one step at a time.
"Harry?" Softly knocking on the parlor door, Hermione listened for a moment to a slight buzz, pat, buzz, pat that told her Harry was playing with his snitch again. He tended to do that whenever he was put-out or thinking. Wondering which it was, if not both, she pushed the slightly ajar door open and craned her head inside. "Harry, can I talk to you?" She searched the room for the sound and found the flicker of gold across the room flying up from the red velvet and cherrywood loveseat. He must have been laying down since she could only see the upholstered back of the chair and his trainer-covered feet hanging off the end.
His dejected and disembodied voice carried across the room to her. "Talk to me, at me, over me, whatever." Toss-buzz. Catch-pat. "Snivellus settled in?"
She quirked her lips in a frown and shouldered the rest of her frame through the door, closing it behind her. "Don't be that way. I'm sorry for what I said last night." Stepping quietly closer, she could see he was on his back and still tossing the snitch, only in shorter bits. The little clock on the fireplace mantle chimed St. Michael(2) at the hour; she waited til the tune was done to continue. "I knew it was wrong the moment it came out, I was just tired. You know what it's like after retrieving someone. We all get stressed."
He held the snitch for a moment, then with a flick of his wrist, tossed it higher and let it buzz its wings in a zipping pattern over him for a few moments, then darted his hand out to grab it again, closing his fist entirely around it. "Yeah. You've not asked either of us about our little excursion, though, have you?"
Hermione sighed and shifted closer to the ottoman at the foot of the armchair closest to her, taking a careful seat on the edge and folding her legs to the side. It occurred to her that she was still in yesterday's clothes. "No, but can I?" Of course, that also meant that Severus was in old clothes, as well. Should she rummage through their closets for something suitable? Or would he like to go shopping? Somehow she really needed to go to the library today, what would she do with Severus then? Would Remus sit with him?
She noticed partway through her mental diversion that Harry had stopped playing with the snitch and was staring at her with a strange look in his eyes. "It was hell to find them."
She blinked. Their information had been perfect, down to what are to find them and where they ate every night. What would have been the delay?
"We had to floo through thirteen different public houses with the same name in that province. Thirteen! As if that wasn't bad enough, we had ale thrown at us, a fireball, Ron got smacked with a broom and I was nearly drowned with a bucket of fish tossed on the fire—Fish, Hermione! But after all of that..." He lost a bit of the steam he'd grown while ranting, "They were fine." Toss-buzz. Grab-pat. "They were happy as clams and wondering why we'd even bothered to come find them. It was another case of the victim being perfectly settled in and the best we could do was offer restitution, which of course, they refused. Again." He sighed in frustration and she really couldn't blame him. "I'm getting tired of this Hermione. It's like no one wants our help anymore."
Remus had been right. That had been some adventure. And Harry was right, their last few attempts, save Severus, had been rather fruitless, regardless that they'd actually found the war victims. "I know. I'm..." She took a deep breath and considered her words to Severus last night, about what was going to happen now. "I'm wondering, when we finish up here...what we're going to do with ourselves."
Harry held his snitch still and turned his head to look at her. She kept his gaze and they stared at each other for a moment in empathy.
Both spoke at once, "Yeah."
So that was it. It was out. Their current lives were coming to a close and there was nothing they could do to stop it and nothing in line to do once it happened. She fluttered her hands out of her lap and tucked them under her thighs to keep from worrying her hands like she'd seen Molly or Minerva do, then looked around the parlor to everything else, anything else, trying to get her mind back on track to her purpose this morning.
She needn't have bothered, Harry did it for her, "So, um...is that what you wanted to talk about?" He shifted to sit upright, bringing his feet down to the floor and pocketing the snitch in a little drawstring bag in the chest pocket of his light blue tee.
Well, best to smile to keep things amiable. She leaned forward, pulling her hands out from underneath her and bracing her elbows on her knees. "No, not really. I mean, I did want to talk about that, but that's not what I came in here for."
He blinked behind his wild fringe and his black rimmed eyeglasses. "Okay."
She cocked her head a bit to the side and watched Harry's expression carefully. "It's about Severus."
His politely interested expression dropped into a huff as he flumped his posture back to the loveseat. "Thought so."
She saw him reach for his chest pocket and spoke quickly before he could get distracted with the snitch again. "Well, you're the only one that can help me with this part."
There. That stopped him. He leveled a look on her that was part disbelieving, part curious. "Hmph. How's that."
The corner of her mouth curled just a tiny bit in triumph, then she looked up at him through her lashes as if they were sharing a conspiracy. "You've got his memories."
Wait. Wait for it.
Harry's instinctive co-conspirator expression melted into blank shock. Now either he would get excited or angry. She was hoping for 'excited', but betting on 'angry'.
He got a bit red in the cheeks and fisted his hands on his thighs. "I'm not giving them back."
Here we go. Anger. Of course he would be angry after her treatment of him last night. Sometimes she really should think before speaking. Later, Hermione, focus on this, now.
Quickly searching for the right words, she realized his assumption was the mistake. "I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to let him see them." At least, she thought he was assuming he'd have to surrender the memories entirely, and Severus only needed to see them. "In a pensieve."
Harry obviously didn't believe that. "And he'll just...let me keep them, I suppose?"
"Well, they are his memories, Harry. He's already got them."
"But I thought he gave them..."
Hermione cut him off before he thought too hard down that line. "That's not how the spell works. Remember in primary school, how our Muggle teachers would make copies of worksheets for us?"
He nodded, clearly trying to follow her.
She steepled her fingers together to emphasize her point, gesturing towards him every few syllables with the cadence of her speech. "It's more like that. Severus still has the original in his head, only it's sort of...locked away." Her right hand twirled to emphasize. "Viewing the copy will simply unlock it."
Harry stared directly at her, as he did when he was puzzling through something. "So if I were to put a memory into a pensieve, I'd still have that memory in my head."
She dipped her chin in affirmation. "Right. A dimmer view, but yes."
He gestured to her with his left hand. "But you could see it."
"Yes." Another nod.
He stopped and stared at her silently, thinking things through. She waited patiently for him to continue.
He finally spoke, hesitantly, as if in class and surprised he had the answer. "And when I saw all those memories in Dumbledore's office sixth year, I remembered them, so technically, my mind made a sort of copy of those memories, too."
She smiled and spread her hands, "Exactly."
Harry smiled back briefly, "So even if he doesn't remember them, he still gets the memory, and even if he wants them back, I still have it too."
She nodded and leaned forward again, "Right, you just can't take it out and look at it with the same clarity and impressions that the original had."
He nodded in return. "Hmm."
When he just sat there, she prompted him, "So?"
He blinked at her, "Pardon?"
Boys. When do they gain an attention span? "Will you let him?"
"What, all at once?"
Her expression was just as appalled as his was. "Oh, good heavens, no! That'd probably kill him!" She glared at Harry for thinking she'd request something so stupid. "I was thinking one at a time. Starting with Lily."
Oops, that brought him up short. Yes, she really ought to think her words through when she was passionate about something. He narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. "Why her and not Dumbledore first?"
Best to back-pedal with the truth. Or at least some of it. "Honestly, after all he went through last night, I don't think he could handle much more Dumbledore."
She was right. It was enough information to distract him and make him think of something else. "What? Why?"
Focusing on that, she exploited what would interest him without giving away anything too sensitive from Severus. She straightened her spine and braced her hands on the ottoman. "There's a lot there, Harry. I think he's remembering killing him, but there's something else, something I can't place my finger on yet."
"Huh." Harry stared at her for a bit, shifted his jaw left, then right, "Alright. I'll go get the pensieve from the library and we'll do this after you finish breakfast."
She was reaching forward to give him a hug when he just had to bring up the subject of food again. She backed up and sighed in irritation, "Harry-"
He held up a hand, palm facing her. "We've been over this, Hermione, if you're going to live here, you're going to eat right. None of that 'later' crap you fed us last year before you ended up in Saint Mungo's."
She grumbled and sighed, "Fine."
They parted at the door, Harry heading up the stairs and Hermione down the hall back to the kitchen. Honestly, what business was it of theirs how much she ate? It wasn't like she had a real problem, like anorexia or something. There had just been a few...months where she'd been too worried over finding Severus to eat...much...that's all.
Reaching the door to the kitchen, she immediately remembered last night and stepped down the single step, then looked to the spot on the wall where Severus had thrown the coffee mug. She reached for another mug from that same hutch and started pouring some juice from the carafe on the table when she noticed everyone eating except for someone very specific.
Ronald was stuffing his face like the curly-tailed farm animal he was, Remus and Tonks were doting over Teddy as he made a mess of the kitchen floor, but...
Tonks looked over from spooning wet, dribbling cereal into the baby's mouth. "What do you mean?"
Remus sat up from picking up something off the floor from under the high chair, then looked between Hermione and Ronald, "You mean he wasn't with you?"
When she turned her glare on Ronald, he just raised his eyebrows and kept gnoshing on a sausage speared on his fork. She couldn't believe him! "You just left him out there?"
He swallowed, leaving disgusting, greasy drippings on his mouth. What had she ever seen in him? "...Yeah...I guess so."
Oh! She could just strangle him for such carelessness! "Ronald!"
He shrugged and shoveled some eggs onto his fork. "What. He's a grown wizard. It's not like he couldn't find his way inside."
She let out a growl of frustration and swept around the kitchen table to try and look out the window for him. Of course he wouldn't be in sight! That would have made things easy! Did she have to do everything herself around here? She marched to the dutch door and pulled out her wand, but Remus called out to her, "Hermione, perhaps Ron has a point. We should leave him be for the moment and see what happens. No sense crowding him, you know."
She whirled on him, "No, I don't know. You didn't see him last night. You don't-"
A low rumble shifted them all, rocked the house a bit and everyone looked around the room. Hermione had read the news about an earthquake up at the Isle of Arran earlier this year, but here in London?(3) She felt like her knees were filled with jelly and her eyes couldn't focus properly. The quake increased for a moment, trembling the house, rattling the furniture and the kitchen utensils, shaking the flames in the light fixtures...then...it just stopped. She reached for the kitchen table for something to stabilize herself.
"What was that?"
Tonks was busy shushing the baby when Harry came running into the kitchen, slamming the door against the wall. "Is everyone okay? What the hell was that? An earthquake?"
"Nah, mate, they don't feel quite like that. Maybe it was a sonic boom or something." Hermione blinked. Sometimes Ronald actually had something intelligent to say.
Remus corrected them all, "No. Whatever it was, it had a magical signature." At those harrowing words, everyone drew their wands in anticipation as the air grew eerily quiet.
It felt like a pressure building and Teddy didn't like it one bit.
It built over a matter of seconds and with a squeeze-pop feeling like Apparition, broke over them and pushed everyone to the floor with the violence of the seismic wave.
Hermione had an inkling of what might be going on. She had experienced a panic attack with Severus last night and had wondered then what one would be like if he'd been left alone. Hestry might have had him under medication for a legitimate reason, after all, much as it pained her to admit it. She shouted over the cacophony. "Remus, you're sure it's magic?"
He nodded over his shoulder as he crawled back to his wife and child, huddling under the trestle table.
That was the only explanation. Damn Ronald and his careless behavior! She stumble-crawled to the back door and tapped her wand to the latch just as the wave abated. Hermione shakily stood up and turned to glare at her idiot ex-boyfriend. "Get everyone out and to the park!"
Harry yelled out behind her. "Wait! What are you going to do?"
She sighed and yelled at the door. "I'm obviously going to try and stop whatever is panicking him!"
"Not by yourself, you're not!" Remus, Harry and Tonks had the same mind about this, apparently. She rolled her eyes that Ronald hadn't joined the chorus.
"We don't have time for this!" She wrenched open the door and hurtled down the stairs, hearing feet behind her and not caring how many, as long as everyone was safe. She had to get to Severus before he brought down the entire neighborhood and oh, what a load of paperwork that would be from the Ministry...
Pounding down the pathway, she found him curled pitifully in on himself, facing downwards at the base of a majestic sessile oak tree with his forehead on a protruding root. "Severus."
He shivered, twitched, then snapped his head to look up at her with hollow eyes, his hands holding both sides of his head as if he were trying to crush his own skull.
"Oh, Severus, I'm sorry."
She stepped forward slowly, one hand outstretched.
He dropped his shaking right hand from his head and braced it on the root beneath him just as the others came tearing up behind her and skid to a halt.
The pressure began building again.
(1)Ever hear the phrase "knock on wood" after saying something that might tempt the fates to prove you wrong? Yeah, it's those pesky wood sprites just waiting to spread the word. Knocking on the nearest piece of wood startles them into confusion so they forget to do it.
(2)Http: / www . Clocksnmore . Com / midi / stmichael . mp3 (remove spaces) Trust me, much better than the rather over-used Westminster and please, imagine a small chime instead of the larger tube-chime this seems to be recorded with. Remember: Little clock. ;)
(3)This fic takes place roughly in October of 2000, if my calculations are correct. My research suggests that London hadn't experienced an earthquake since 1852 at that point and wouldn't until 2002. According to a common seismic activity map, there's hardly anything going on down in Surrey, where Harry's from, as opposed to Devon, where Ron's supposed to be from (hp lexicon states Ottery St Catchpole is in Devon). In fact, earthquakes seem to occur more commonly on the western side of the isles (which, I think, combined with the Gulf Stream, explains the interesting 'S' shape to the main island and the general broken look to the western side of Scotland) though, there have been some doozies in the southeast and east out in the water. Forgive me, though, I am no geologist or seismologist.
I do not wish to wrongfully influence anyone's imagination (winks at Darquehart), but should you be interested, I've rendered my version of "The Safe Place" and "Severus Snape Shorn" at deviantart. (dena – gray . Deviant art . Com - remember to lose the spaces)
Again, influence at your own risk, but as for music this time around, no soundtrack. I was, however, heavily influenced by these few:
1. Hurt – NIN cover by 2Cellos (Sulic & Hauser)
2. The Hunger (Amnesty International Version) – Shirley Manson & Serj Tankian
3. Amarillo - Gorillaz