A/N: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all! Looking forward to your thoughts...

Bound to Him

Chapter 93

Severus drew his wand as the door to the Apparition chamber burst open, and a breathless Moody staggered out. "The hell are they?!"

"What?" Minerva stood.

"He brought… her here," Moody wheezed.

Severus snatched the Marauder's Map from the desk and quickly caught sight of 'Remus Lupin' and 'Nymphadora Tonks' moving toward the castle. "Entrance Hall!"

He sprinted for the Floo, then raced from the staffroom down the corridor. He reached the Entrance Hall just as Remus stumbled, falling to his knee with his deathly pale wife in his arms.

"Get away!" Remus growled, shoving Snape away.

"I need to –"


Severus again tried to peel his hands away from Tonks, who was gasping for air. "She needs –"

"Don't touch her!" Remus possessively clutched her to his chest.

"Fucks sake," Severus snapped, narrowly avoiding a blow to his nether bits. "I'll just leave her to die in your arms, then? How tragically romantic!"

"Remus!" Minerva shouted before she and Moody helped wrestle him away. "Let him tend her! Poppy's on her way."

Snape quickly tugged Tonks out from under her husband and rolled her over.

"It was Bellatrix," Moody offered. "I didn't see what brought her down."

"Fuck," Severus grunted before Tonks suddenly snatched his shirt and yanked him close.

"Yell…twis…", she wheezed.



He narrowed his eyes. "Yellow twist?"

Tonks nodded as her hand fell back to her body.

"She twisted, or her wand?"

"Wa –" Her body racked with choking coughs.

Severus tipped her on her side, but nothing came up. "Nonverbal?"

After Tonks nodded jerkily, he ran through everything he knew of Bella's repertoire. There were yellow spells, twisting casts, choking curses, but he could not remember one that fit all three. He cast several diagnostic and healing spells as he continued to think. "How the fuck is she drowning?"

"Airway!" Poppy hustled to their side.

"Not working!" Severus hissed.

The mediwitch cursed under her breath when her own charm did not help. Tonks clutched at her throat and squirmed as each of their attempts failed to help her breathe. Moody shouted out a few suggestions, which Snape performed to no avail. As Poppy continued with a battery of healing charms, Severus glanced up at Remus, who was still trying to fight off his holders. His gaze drifted past Poppy, down the hall to where Hermione clutched the wall and watched in horror.

You promised her Tonks. Severus looked down at the dying witch, whose eyes bulged as they met his. You can't go back on every fucking promise.

"Finite incantatem!" he cast in desperation.

"You don't think I tried that!" Remus snarled. "You've just undone everything Poppy's done!"

Poppy sighed. "Not everything. Some of it's –"

"Older," Severus whispered, placing his hands on the stone floor. An image flashed in his mind of a yellowed page torn in the corner.


The wizard closed his eyes, tuning out Lupin's shouts by focusing on the hum of the castle's magic. He ran through a library of memories, shoving aside books and manuscripts, trying to find that page. He knew it was in a creaky tome, wedged between grotesque medieval curses. It had been a gift from the Dark Lord; he had been eager to consume it, to further his magical knowledge, until some of the descriptions sent him retching over the toilet. Finally, he hit upon the book and fanned through the musty pages until it stared back at him.

Severus raised his head. "Stop."

Poppy barely glanced at him. "What?"

"Stop now!" He raised his wand as she paused hers. "I'm going to strip it all, so save your energy for later."

"You're going to –"

"WHAT?!" Lupin snarled, ripping his arm from an equally confused Minerva. He would have broken loose had his thrashing not caused Moody to topple onto him.

With a silent prayer to any deity listening, Severus stood and pointed his wand at Tonks's midsection. "Rexerte magicae."

Mimicking the complicated wand motions as best he could recall from the diagrams, he sensed each enchantment unraveling, layer by layer. The healing spells were light and almost begrudgingly peeled away from the witch before disappearing in a puff of pastel smoke. When the next layer was heavy and kicked back at his arm, he knew he had Bella's curse.

Sweat dripped into his eyes as Snape fought the dark magic. He had to hold his wand with both hands and adjust his stance to continue the necessary wand motions. Inch by inch, he dragged the dark fog out of her until it suddenly snapped, blanketing them all in a shower of embers.

As Severus was thrown into the wall, Tonks heaved upward and vomited a large amount of blood before sagging back unconscious.

Poppy gaped before resuming her care. "This I can work with. Blood Replenisher, Granger!"

Startling at her name, Hermione ran forward, trying to avoid the blood as she knelt by Tonks. She coaxed a bottle's worth of the potion down Tonks's throat while Poppy finished reapplying her charms. "Another?"

"After we get her to the infirmary," the mediwitch glanced up at Severus. "You alright?"

Having had the wind knocked out of him, the wizard nodded.

"Do not move until you can breathe properly," she instructed before looking to the others. "I need her moved to the infirmary. Quickly."

Severus slumped against the wall, numbly staring at the blood spreading along the seams of the stone floor. At a throat clearing, he looked up to find Moody offering his hand. He eyed it skeptically until the ex-Auror snorted.

"If you hadn't had that hunch, she'd be dead."

Swallowing his pride and years of distrust, Severus accepted the man's assistance. On his feet, he steadied himself with a hand on the wall. "If that spell had been verbal, she'd still be dead."

"I suppose we should be grateful for that bitch's arrogance," Moody huffed as they ambled – slower than either cared to admit – toward the staffroom fireplace. "And for yours."

Snape glanced at him.

"Where did you pull that spell out of?"

He hesitated before answering, "A book I read once when I was 19."

"Circe." Moody faced him at the fireplace. "Use any other spells from that book?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "No. And that was my only attempt at that one."

"Merlin's sake. Not just arrogance – reckless dumb luck."


As soon as he could, Severus retreated to the infirmary's laboratory. Poppy had gone through several potions that needed replacing, and he needed space to himself to think. Or rather not to think. Ingredient prep helped him clear his mind as well as any Occlumency technique.

Except once the prep was done and the brews were bubbling away, there was nothing left to distract him.

After washing his hands longer than necessary, Severus leaned back against the counter. It irked him that he could not recognize that bloody spell. He had spent nearly twenty years documenting and researching their curses and hexes, trying to identify or develop counterspells. How many others have I missed?

His last-ditch effort to rip the curse from Tonks would not work in any other setting. It had taken every ounce of his focus and drained most of his energy. Trying that on the battlefield would have killed both him and Tonks. And Hermione.

Severus released a deep sigh and closed his eyes. What if it had been Hermione dying on the floor in front of him? Would he have even been able to save her? Would he have been overcome with emotion like Remus, or frozen like Hermione had?

As if manifested by his turmoil, Hermione appeared in the doorway. She was so pale and quiet, he almost thought her an apparition until she gasped a sob and threw herself into his chest.

Fuck. Severus felt all the air escape him again, and he grabbed onto her as he felt the room wobble. It wasn't enough.

Hermione mumbled into his chest.

He took a shallow breath. "What?"

Her eyes were full of tears when they met his. "Thank you."


She squeezed him and rested her head on his shoulder. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Severus blinked. "She's alive?"

Hermione nodded her head. "Still critical…but alive."

"Jeezus," he relaxed against the counter and returned her embrace. His focus remained locked on the lab door in case Mad Eye were to hobble down the hallway.

"Madam Pomfrey thinks she'll recover, but it'll take time. It's not guaranteed, I know… but she has a chance because of you." The witch leaned back and gently touched his jaw, pulling his attention away from the door. Her hand moved to the back of his head to guide it closer to hers. Just as their lips met, one of the potions belched loudly.

Snape's head shot up, and he stepped around her to check the cauldron. "Damn it!"

"Is it –"

"Fucked." He extinguished the flames, then braced himself against the bench and shook his head. "It won't explode, but it's utterly useless."

Hermione tucked her arms against herself. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Severus sighed. "I wasn't paying proper attention."

"I could help if –"

"No. Poppy will have need of you. I can manage alone."

"Are you sure?"

He nodded and rubbed his neck. "Moody's hovering."

"Right," Hermione glanced out the door before moving to his side. She touched his back as he cleaned out the cauldron. "Are you staying here tonight?"

Severus glanced at the clock. "I'll be brewing til dawn."

"Then you'll sleep?"

He sighed. "If I can find it."

Hermione smiled sadly, then leaned in to kiss his cheek.


Seeing Remus and Tonks were still cuddled together, Hermione hung back in the hallway. After a full day unconscious, the injured witch had woken half an hour after Hermione took Dreamless Sleep, having been unable to fall asleep on her own despite sheer exhaustion.

"Hermione, stop hovering and get in here," Tonks rasped.

The girl sheepishly stepped into the room. "I don't want to disturb you."

"We're both decent," she smirked tiredly. "No hanky-panky."

Hermione blushed. "I didn't think that."

Tonks gave a lopsided grin. Seeing the look in the girl's eyes, however, she patted Remus's cheek. "Hunter-gatherer, go find me a steak."

He sighed, "Poppy said –"

"Maybe she'll change her mind."

"She's not going to."

"Use your puppy dog eyes on her. My girly needs a moment."

Sighing, her husband kissed her forehead before slipping out of bed. Dismissing Hermione's apology, he gently squeezed her shoulder before leaving the room. At Tonks's invitation, the girl gingerly climbed into bed.

"I'm so glad you're alive."

"Me, too," Tonks smiled. "Can't get rid of me that easily."

Hermione tried to laugh, but tears came out instead.

"Oh, sweet… it's alright." The Auror grimaced as she adjusted herself, then pulled the girl's head against her shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I didn't m-ean to… cry on y-you."

"It's alright, love," Tonks stroked her hair. "Remus did, too, and I'm still here. Didn't melt."

A few minutes later, the wizard leaned against the doorjamb. "As expected, Poppy says it's a no on the solid food front."

His wife huffed. "Did you try offering her sexual favors?"

Hermione snottily snorted against her chest, while Remus could not fight his grin.

"Well, go eat yours where I can't see it, then." After he promised to return, Tonks rubbed Hermione's shoulder. "I think I owe your stupid wizard a life debt."

The girl nestled deeper into her, remembering Snape wrestling with the curse. "He's not stupid."

Tonks closed her eyes. "So, he professed his undying love for you while I was out?"


"See? Stupid."


"So, what is Kingsley's type?"

"Matthias from Accounting," Tonks mumbled.

Hermione looked at her, wide-eyed. "Really?"

"Mmm," she groaned, adjusting herself. "Though that stays between us."

"Of course." Noticing the pain etched on the witch's face, Hermione checked the time before slipping out of bed to fetch another pain reliever.

"Thanks." After taking the potion, Tonks settled back against her pillows. "Why the interest in Kings?"

"He found me in the library the other day," Hermione reclaimed her seat. "Apparently, I've been mooning over Severus in meetings."

"I wouldn't go that far, though Kings is remarkably perceptive."

"Well, he hasn't perceived any interest from Severus in me, so that's a relief." Hermione looked away and crossed her arms. "Of course, he's still a man, so eventually he's bound to notice my assets."

Tonks snorted and wiped her face. "I take it Kings gave you the 'I'm not your father, but…' speech?"

"He gave it to you, too?"

"Oh, yeah. A year ago, maybe? Long before my wolfie came to his senses… which I also have your stupid wizard to thank for."

Hermione smirked. "Fiendfyre isn't the only thing that burns, you know."

"That's the line he used on you? Ha!" Tonks deepened her voice. "Social stigma can bite harder and spread faster than lycanthropy."

The girl giggled. "I see the talk didn't work very well."

"Told him I was gonna make him a bridesmaid. He thinks he got off lucky with the whole elopement thing, but there's still time!" At the sound of footsteps, she raised her head. "Oh, speaking of bridesmaids!"

Moody snorted as he hobbled in the room. "Have you no female friends to beleaguer?"

"'Course, I do! Hermione's gonna look just as lovely in lavender as you and Kings will."

The grizzled ex-Auror dropped into the bedside chair. "I see you're feeling better."

"My maid of honor here brews the good stuff."

Hermione shook her head. "Poppy wanted fresh. Professor Snape spent most of yesterday brewing."

"Oh, fuck. Now I'm gonna have to make him a bridesmaid."

As Remus entered, Moody looked at him. "Are you having any attendants in this farcical venture, or does she get them all?"

The wizard moved beside his wife. "She can have whatever she wants."

"Aww," Tonks smirked up at him. When Snape trailed Poppy in with a basket of potions, a devious glint appeared in her eye. "Alright, fine. You can have Snape."

Severus glared suspiciously over Poppy's shoulder.

"That way my maid of honor has a groomsman to snog."

Glass clattered as the Potions Master set the basket down harder than intended. Remus winced, while Hermione stared at her in shock. "What?"

"Nymphadora," Moody growled, folding his arms.

"What? The man just saved my life. The least I could do is help find him a witch, and I can only look so far right now. So, unless Poppy's lookin' for a boytoy…"

As the mediwitch cackled, Severus strode toward the door. "For fuck's sake."

"I said snog!" Tonks exclaimed hoarsely, before patting Hermione's arm and gesturing at his backside. "See that bum? Not bad…"

As the girl hid her flaming face with her hands, Remus groaned. Tonks caught her husband's hand and kissed it. "Yours is nice, too, but it's off the market."

Having just appeared, Minerva placed a hand on Snape's chest to avoid colliding with him. "And where are you going?"


"Back," she pointed, smirking as he turned around with a huff.

"Oh, there's another option!" Tonks giggled.

Moody tapped the bed with his walking stick. "Nymphadora, enough."

She eyed him with interest. "Something you care to share, Mad?"

Minerva raised an eyebrow. "Dare I ask what mayhem you're causing?"

"Me? Merely trying to chip away at the massive debt I owe Mr. Savior-us Snape over there."

Severus folded his arms and rolled his eyes. "I'm beginning to regret that."

"As if I wouldn't haunt that fit bum of yours," she grinned.

Minerva blinked back tears as she touched Tonks's foot through the blanket. "Though I'll ask you to cease sexually harassing my spy, I'm very happy you're well enough to do so."

Tonks smiled tightly, then glanced about the room. "Is this an official meeting, then? I'd have put on pants if I'd known…"

"We'll call it unofficial for now," Minerva sighed. "The Ministry and Gringotts are madhouses, so it may be a few days before we can all meet. Unfortunately, we can't exactly wait that long."

The Auror grimaced and squeezed Remus's hand as she tried to sit up straighter. "Alright. Well, firstly I know I'm only still breathing because everyone in this room had a hand in saving me, and… well, I really fucking appreciate it. I don't know how you got there that fast, but –"

"Snape had a hunch and sent us your way before you called for aid," Moody gruffed.

Everyone in the room stared at the ex-Auror, surprised by his crediting the spy. After a moment, Tonks swung her questioning gaze to Severus, who explained again why he had suspected an Azkaban raid.

"I wish I'd listened to my gut half as well," Tonks sighed. "I knew something was off but couldn't put my finger on it. Savage thought so, too, and stuck around. Oh gods, is he…?"

"St. Mungo's," Moody answered. "He seemed an afterthought in the attack and escaped with most of his limbs intact."


"Luckily they got his non-wand arm."

Tonks sighed in relief before recounting the Azkaban riot and assault. Noticing how tightly she held Remus's hand, Hermione slipped off the bed and gestured to him. Remus smiled at her before moving around the bed to reclaim his spot beside his wife.

Hermione glanced at Severus as she moved to Poppy's other side, but he kept his eyes on Moody.

After finishing her tale, Tonks shook her head. "I've no idea what the hell she hit me with. I didn't think my shield was that weakened, but it slipped right through."

Severus cleared his throat. "I couldn't think of one that fit your description, either. However, when the Dark Lord invited Draco and I to dine last evening, Bellatrix was celebrating your demise –"


Moody flashed his protégé a smirk.

" – and bragged at having added a new spell to her repertoire."

"Hell of a first shot."

"Until a year ago, she would have been unable to use it. With the death of Sirius Black, however, that line of the family ended, which means –"

"Oh, shit, she's the matriarch." Tonks wiped her face, then looked to her husband. "That bitch tried to kill me with my own blood."

Grimacing, Remus held her tighter.

"So, if I come back from the dead, that ought to be incredibly embarrassing for her, no?"

Moody snorted. "You've always liked poking the dragon, haven't you?"

"What Remus and I do in private is none of your business," she teased.

"Dora," Remus quietly murmured.

Tonks huffed and shook her head. "You're all agreed, then, that I should play dead."

Minerva frowned. "We haven't made any decision; we're here to discuss the options with you."

"All in favor of my miraculous comeback," Tonks lifted her hand. When no one else did, she raised an eyebrow in challenge. "Seems pretty decided."

"I think it's the best option, Dora," Remus sighed. "It gives you time to heal and regain strength."

"And fully dedicate your time to fighting Vol – Riddle," Moody stammered after Minerva's pointed cough. "No more bullshit red tape and ignoramus superiors."

Tonks glanced at Snape, who noted Lupin's and Moody's pointed stares before clearing his throat. "If Auntie Bella learns her blood curse failed, it may embarrass her… for a moment. But she will leave no stone unturned to finish the job. In the meantime, she may be desperate to prove her newfound power through other avenues."

The young Auror tugged at her hair and closed her eyes. "Draco?"

Severus shook his head, "The Malfoy bloodline should insulate him from lethal effect."

"So, just Narcissa, then. And my mum."

He nodded in disgust. "The threat was plainly made when she gifted Narcissa the pieces of your broken wand."

"I liked that wand," Tonks whispered, staring at her hand in Remus's.

"You won't be in any shape to protect yourself or others for some time yet," Poppy stated quietly.

Taking a deep breath, Tonks turned into her husband. "I hate giving her the satisfaction."

"I know," Remus murmured.

Alastor shifted uncomfortably at the tears in her eyes. "Perhaps we might give her a moment to think?"

At McGonagall's nod, everyone filed out, leaving the couple in privacy.


Hermione breathed deeply before knocking on the front door. She knew wards prevented anyone from noticing her but still felt like everyone in the neighborhood was watching.

"Hermione!" Ron opened the door. "Come in."

Stepping inside, she quickly hugged him. "How are you doing?"

"Better than Remus," he sighed. "Any word on Tonks?"

Hermione shook her head.

"Damn. I really hope she's alive."

"Me too." Hoping to discourage further need to lie to him, she glanced about the Dursleys' home. She noted the Quidditch posters on the walls and the absolute mess everywhere else. "Didn't you just move in here?"

The boy scratched his head. "Erm, yeah, on Monday."

"Which was yesterday."

He winced. "Right. Erm, Harry's kind of been on a redecorating kick."

A sudden crash prompted Hermione to draw her wand and Ron to giggle. He led her to the kitchen where Harry stood on the counter, rummaging through a cupboard.

"What on Earth are you doing?" she gasped.

Harry turned around holding a gaudy cake plate. "Clearing out the rubbish."

The girl flinched as the cake plate cracked in several pieces against the floor. "It seems you're the one making the rubbish."

"Cathartic, innit?" Ron shrugged.

"What he said," Harry turned back to the cupboard.

Hermione sighed and stowed her wand. "Well, I'll be in the sitting room then when you're ready."

"We'll just be a moment!"


"Oi, Tonks!" Fred called. "Lookin' good for being dead."

The witch grimaced a smile as Remus helped her into an armchair. "Not dead. Missing, presumed dead."

"You're certain you're up to this?" Minerva asked.

Tonks nodded. "Everyone else busted their arse to be here; the least I can do is sit in a chair and listen."

The Headmistress glanced at Poppy, who shrugged. "I'm choosing my battles with this one."

Minerva snorted. "Sounds familiar."

Severus crossed his arms when the two women looked at him.

"Decent company, then," Tonks clutched her side, waving off Remus when he looked ready to fuss. With a sigh, he summoned the other armchair closer and sat beside his wife.

"I appreciate you all making the time to be here," Minerva smiled. "Hermione left this morning to visit Potter, so I may have to catch her up later. I want to hear your reports on the Ministry and Gringotts, but Severus, I think you should speak first."

"Obviously, the Azkaban uprising was meant to divert attention away from the situation in Diagon Alley." Seeing several nods, Severus leaned back against the window. "Well, if the Dark Lord was livid following the Solstice raid, he's now apoplectic given the utter failure his diversion has proven to be."

A few Council members exchanged smirks. Since Tonks was on record as the first to report the Weasleys' alleged concerns about Ollivander and was clearly the target of the Azkaban attack, the Daily Prophet had quickly linked the two events.

"Of course, his lack of foresight could not be his own fault –"

"Oh, please tell me he blamed Bellatrix," Tonks begged.

Snape smirked. "All three Lestranges spent an intimate evening with the floorboards."

Pleased, the witch settled back in her chair. "Wonderful. Proceed."

"In his fit of pique, the Dark Lord revealed he does not know Ollivander's whereabouts and is desperate to find him. He suspects Ollivander – with Dumbledore's assistance – ransacked his own shop and hid away somewhere. The Dark Lord has been quietly trying to find him for months, but the media coverage has heightened his desperation. He departed this morning with firm instructions not to bother him and not to fuck up any further in his absence."

With a glance to the frowning portrait, Kingsley cleared his throat. "We know Dumbledore was not involved, but if Riddle believes he was, then…"

Minerva's face was tight as she confirmed his suspicion. "Severus also spent time getting to know the floorboards last night."

Severus rolled his eyes to the ceiling to avoid meeting their gazes. He was only grateful Hermione was off kissing Potter's arse.

"Damn it," Tonks hissed, "I can't just enjoy Bellatrix's misery for five minutes?"

Remus squeezed her hand and kissed it, while Moody crossed his arms. "How is that your fault?"

Snape eyed the man in suspicion before shrugging. "Should've dispatched of him sooner?"

As the ex-Auror snorted, Kingsley and Minerva looked at him in surprise, while Severus straightened in discomfort.

After conversation delved into developments at the Ministry, Hermione stumbled out of the Apparition chamber. Minerva – and a few others – stood at her arrival. "Hermione, are you alright?"

The girl nodded, resting her hand on the bookshelf. "Sorry, just… Apparated too quickly… I think."

"Splinched?" Poppy stepped forward, receiving a head shake in reply. "Just knocked the wind out of you, hmm?"

Embarrassed, Hermione gulped in air. "I know what one is."

"One what?"


The rest of the Council suddenly stood.

"I don't know where," Hermione answered their jumbled questions, "but it's a necklace – a locket. Gold, green stones, supposedly Salazar Slytherin's. Dumbledore found it's hiding place and nearly died retrieving it, but someone else found it first and replaced it with a fake!"

Frowning, Albus sat forward in his frame.

As the girl continued answering questions, Severus extracted the Pensieve from its cabinet and set it on the desk before gesturing to her. "It will be better if we see it for ourselves."

Hermione approached the desk as he briskly explained the premise of memory extraction. She frowned before realizing it was for the benefit of their audience, most of whom were oblivious to the nature of her private lessons. Playing along, she asked, "It doesn't hurt, does it?"

His lips quirked. "No."

The girl expelled a breath as his wand rested at her temple. She studied his face a moment before closing her eyes and focusing on the locket and the corresponding conversation with Harry and Ron.

Severus stepped back after depositing her memory in the Pensieve. "You ought to verify it's correct and complete."

"And make sure no naughty thoughts slipped through," Tonks teased hoarsely. "Although…"

"Dora," Remus hissed.

"Oh ho," Fred perked up. "Naughty thoughts about whom?"

Growling, Severus stalked back to his window, while Hermione hurriedly sought to hide her flaming face in the Pensieve.

The twins followed Tonks's devious gaze to the scowling wizard, stared at each other, then gaped at Tonks. "About Snape?!"

Severus glared at the ceiling, while Moody turned to glare at his protégé. "Enough, Nymphadora."

"What?" she shrugged before gesturing past him. "Blame Kings! He started it!"

Kingsley turned his head. "I… what?"

"Care to do anything about this?" Severus asked Minerva, who waved him off with a smirk.

"No one thought about it until you gave her the same warning you gave me about Remus," Tonks patted her frowning husband's cheek, "and you gave Annalise about Dawlish, and Elsa about... well, that one was a necessary warning, but the rest… I swear you're trying to manifest these relationships into being."

Kingsley opened and closed his mouth, uncertain how to defend himself without offending either Remus or Snape. He was saved by Hermione surfacing from the Pensieve.

"It's all there," Hermione wiped her face. Accepting a handkerchief from Minerva, she moved aside and avoided eye contact with everyone. Awkward silence descended as Minerva moved to view the memory. Eventually, Hermione risked a glance to the window, where Severus rigidly stared at the bookshelf with his arms folded. She then looked to Tonks, who winked, before meeting the twins' mischievous grins.

George and Fred slid apart from each other on the sofa and patted the empty space between them. When Moody replaced Minerva at the Pensieve, Hermione begrudgingly accepted their silent invitation.

Fred leaned in. "Have you been holding out on us, Miss Granger?"

"No," she hissed.

"Come to think of it, though, we should've seen it."

"What?" she looked at him.

George leaned in from her other side. "Krum? Should've known then you went for tall, dark, and dubious."

"Oh gods," Hermione rolled her eyes and glared at Tonks, who was now focused on Moody's grim expression.

"Poor Ronnikins," Fred sighed. "He'll be gutted."

"He's more than happy with Lavender."

Nodding, George sighed, "Poor Mum. She'll be gutted."

"If the two of you don't drop it –"

"You won't sit with us?" Fred asked.

George tipped his head toward Snape. "There's some space by the window."

As Kingsley stepped past them toward the Pensieve, Hermione lowered her voice even further. "One more word on the subject, and I'll engorgio your –"

Mouths slamming shut, the twins crossed their legs and snapped their eyes to the Head desk.

"Well handled, Hermione," Bill patted her shoulder with a smirk. "I think even Snape would be impressed."

The twins snorted and further covered their laps with their hands.

With a huff, Hestia leaned in to whisper to the girl. "Ignore the jealous children. You're not alone in your appreciation, and there's no need to feel ashamed."

Though Hermione knew the comment was well-meant, a rock settled in her gut.

Remus helped Tonks from her seat. As they approached the desk, she squeezed his arm to stop, then gestured to Snape to view it ahead of them. At his dubious expression, she cracked a half-hearted smirk. "I won't let anyone pinch your bum."

Snarling under his breath, Severus moved to the Pensieve. A moment later, he emerged wide-eyed and pale. "Fuck."

Minerva ceased discussion with Kingsley and Moody. "Severus?"

"What do you know?" Moody stepped closer.


Mouth parting, Lupin gently tugged his wife to the Pensieve.

"The handwriting seemed familiar enough to have been a former student," Minerva mused. "Regulus Black could fit. His middle name?"

"Arcturus," Severus ran his hand over his hair. "It's his handwriting."

There was a lull until Remus and Tonks emerged, then moved out of the way for the next pair to view.

"Awfully bold of him taunting Riddle like that," Tonks perched on the armrest beside George.

"As fucking foolish and arrogant as his brother," Snape sneered.

Lupin frowned and crossed his arms. "I thought Riddle had him killed for cowardice?"

"Cowardice," Severus scoffed. "Regulus was Marked all of five minutes after he turned seventeen. At Hogwarts, it was simply a symbol of status and family pride. After graduating and realizing just what it meant to be in service to the Dark Lord, however, he hated it. All of it. The Dark Lord, his family, himself. He wanted to bring it all down."

"And you know this…"

"Because he confessed it to me when he suspected I was of a similar mindset," he snapped, "and I tried to keep the idiot alive. When he disappeared, the Dark Lord knew from the Mark that he was dead and was livid. He thought you lot had killed him."

Lupin's eyebrow rose. "Why would he think that?"

Severus shrugged dramatically. "Perhaps because Potter and Black promised to do just that a fortnight prior."

"I'm sure –"

"Did you know about this?" Moody pointed to the Pensieve, cutting off Remus's retort.

Severus looked to the bowl and shook his head. "Reg never mentioned it to me. I don't think he knew about it long; he wasn't that good of an actor. He was… despondent after the disastrous meeting with his brother. When he died, I thought it possible the Dark Lord discovered his duplicity and blamed his own murder of a Sacred heir on the Order. However, I thought it more likely Reg foolishly tried again with his brother, who followed through with his promise, or… he took his own life."

"Perhaps Riddle did kill him, then, after discovering he stole the horcrux," Kingsley commented.

"Except the false one was still left behind," Tonks argued.

Bill shrugged. "Could've left it behind as a decoy and hidden the horcrux elsewhere."

Aberforth glanced at his brother' portrait before clearing his throat. "The decoy would make sense, but not with the note. Riddle wouldn't want evidence left behind that he had been outmaneuvered – even temporarily."

When Snape nodded in agreement, Minerva sat back in her chair. "So, then where is the real locket? Did Regulus Black make it out of that cave alive, or do we have to figure out how to dredge an Inferi-infested swamp?"


Rubbing her eyes, Hermione re-read the same page for the fifth time. Despite needing to understand why Voldemort was after Ollivander, she could not keep her mind focused on wandlore. Instead, it wandered back to Severus. Watching him save Tonks had been terrifying at the time, but as it played over and over in her head, she marveled at his control under immense pressure. Given the magical power and physical strength he had displayed battling Bellatrix's curse, it was undoubtedly the most arousing image in her head.

I can't keep thinking about this! Pushing the book away, Hermione covered her face and leaned back in the chair. With Moody's odd attention and the teasing about her schoolgirl crush, Severus had pulled away from her. She could not fault him for it given the situation, but it was hard not to take it personally. The last thing she wanted to do was rouse their binding curse into forcing the issue, so she tried to bury the image deeper in her head.

Sighing, Hermione picked up the book and re-read the page for the sixth time. She flipped the page with more force than necessary after finally completing it. While she read about wand loyalties, Dumbledore's voice floated in.

"…I only have to look to his Patronus, for it is his love for her which predicates its form…"

The witch huffed, picturing the pitying expression of Dumbledore's portrait after Snape cast his doe Patronus. Though she tried to bury that thought as well, her eyes drifted to a nearby stack. After a moment's debate, she snatched a familiar book from the shelf. She took another deep breath before cracking open the book on animal totems.

Finding the section on deer totems, she could hardly read it as certain phrases practically leaped off the page.

…a symbol of gentleness and love… incredible grace… natural beauty… compassionate and kind… innocence and purity…

As someone approached, Hermione slammed the book shut and hurriedly blinked away her tears. Clearing her throat, she looked up as Minerva pulled out the chair beside her.

"Are you alright, Hermione?"

The girl shrugged. "I'm just trying to learn more about wandlore, so we can –"

"Hermione." Minerva leaned forward. "Tell me what's upsetting you."

"I have all of this information," Hermione shook her notebook, "but I can't figure out what's missing! Why does he need Ollivander if he has access to all these books? And the battles? Why –"

"It's alright," Minerva squeezed her arm. "You've done an incredible amount of work on this, Hermione – more than expected, even. You don't need to fit yourself into Riddle's head and find the answer. We can present what you have to the Council this week and ponder it together. Now, look at me."

Pinching her lips together, Hermione met her eyes.

The elder witch offered a smile. "Forget about your research. I want to know what you're feeling."

Warring with herself, Hermione finally offered, "I don't understand why Tonks had to bring it up in front of everyone. I told her in confidence as my friend about Kingsley's warning; I didn't expect her say anything! Now everyone's watching us, and it's embarrassing!"

Minerva sighed and adjusted her seat. "I know it hasn't been the most tactful approach, but Tonks has very little else to do but strategize. She doesn't want to feel useless, and I know she has your best interests in mind."

"Yes, but –"

"Think about it. Eventually, the Council will discover the two of you are involved – whether by your own admission or by accident. If it comes as a shock, they will not react well and that could jeopardize Council stability. But… if they've been conditioned over time to think about it – even if first in jest – they will not be as taken aback by it."

Hermione expelled a deep sigh. "I understand that; I do. I just… couldn't she have said that's what she's doing?"

"She could have," Minerva nodded. "And you might want to discuss it with her, but I think she wanted to elicit genuine surprise and embarrassment from the two of you. Plus, by placing Kingsley between a rock and a hard place, I myself am half convinced he thinks you and Severus would suit."

The girl crossed her arms and stared at the table. "He's barely spoken to me since Tonks woke up."

"Severus?" The Headmistress grimaced. "He just isn't used to the attention. It isn't a slight against you, Hermione, and it doesn't change the way he feels about you."

Hermione snorted softly and rubbed her face.

"It doesn't."

"I know."

"He'll come around."

Hoping not to discuss the matter further, Hermione cast a Tempus.

"It is getting late," Minerva conceded. "It's been an eventful day, and you should get some rest."

Nodding, Hermione stood to gather her materials.

"Actually, if you don't mind, I'd like to take a peek through what you've found. I'm happy to tidy up for you."

"Oh… no, I don't mind. Please."

After wishing the girl goodnight, Minerva flipped through a few pages of her meticulous notes. Once certain she was alone in the library, she snagged the book on animal totems and cast a charm to find where it had last been opened. Noting the drawing of a doe on the page, she exhaled deeply, "I thought as much."


Headache blooming behind her eyes, Minerva nursed a firewhiskey as she studied Hermione's notes. "Any time you want to pipe up, Albus… I'm listening."

Hearing nothing but the snapping of the fire, she peered over her shoulder to see the portrait feigning sleep. Irritated, she resumed her task until the Floo flared green.

"Oh," Minerva sat forward. "I didn't realize you were still here."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "I was in the infirmary."

"Not because you had need of it again, I hope."

He shook his head. "Adjusting Nymphadora's dosages. Clearly, she needs it."

Minerva smirked. "She's acting in your benefit, and you know it."

The wizard rolled his eyes.

"Did you wish Hermione goodnight?" At his pinched expression, she shook her head. "Her room's in the infirmary… where you were."

"I'm sure that would've escaped Mad-Eye's notice," he sneered.

"Too bad you don't have a way of communicating with her that would go unnoticed…"

Severus crossed his arms. "She doesn't like me to use the bond unless absolutely necessary."

"I don't think she'd mind."

He glanced up at the clock. "I'm sure she's asleep already."

"Oh, for godsake," Minerva stood. "So, what if she is? Wake her up for five minutes and show you care. You do care, don't you?"

"Of course, but –"

"You've largely ignored her this week."

"I have not."

Minerva folded her arms. "You have and that sheepish look in your eye tells me you know damn well you have."

Severus shook his head. "Is it not enough that Mad-Eye is up my arse this week –"

"He isn't up your arse, Severus," she pressed between her eyes. "He's finally giving you some of the respect you deserve. You saved someone he loved in spectacular and dramatic fashion; Tonks is as good as family to him."

"It may still be a ruse."

Minerva snorted in disbelief. "Regardless, this doesn't take away from your ill treatment of Hermione this week."

"I didn't –"

"Severus, that girl loves you, and she needs to know –"

"No," he said firmly.

"She does. I don't understand why you can't see that."

"Gratitude and obligation –"

"Thestral shit!" she snapped. "Months ago, that would've been true, but not now. Hermione loves you."

Severus frowned at the carpet. "Then that's her mistake."

"For heaven's sake, Severus, it's not a mistake!" The witch followed him as he moved toward the Apparition chamber. "I know you love her in return –"


"—so why can you not admit it?"

"Leave it be, Minerva!"

"I have left it alone long enough, thank you, and you have yet to sort it on your own. It is obvious the extent to which you care for her. You've gone far past obligation or reparation with her. I do not understand why you won't –"

Severus whirled to face her, stopping her cold. "Because I've given her a death sentence!"

After a moment, she shook her head. "That isn't true."

"The hell it isn't," he huffed. "I know it, and she knows it. Deep down, you know it."

Minerva gently touched his face. "Severus…"

Severus wrenched his head back and stomped to the fireplace. He leaned against the mantel a moment to collect himself before looking at her again. "You're not my mother, Minerva; you're my commander. You need to keep me in line and on target. You're supposed to ensure the Order's well-being; you are not supposed to encourage weakness in its members."

Her stomach twisted. "Severus, love isn't a weakness."

"It's a weapon." The sharpness of his voice gave her pause, and he stepped slowly closer. "If I love her, they will use that against me. What would I do to prevent them hurting her? What would I tell them? Would I give them Potter? How many Order members would I sacrifice to spare her? Would I murder them myself to keep her?"

Minerva swallowed at his dark expression.

"Those are the questions you should be asking! I do not love Hermione Granger, and I will not because I cannot!" His voice broke before he added, "And you cannot let me because it could bring down the entire Order."

"I don't think…" The witch trailed off as the fire in his expression extinguished.

"I am doing everything I can to keep my contribution to the Order greater than my contribution to the Dark Lord," he heaved in a shaky breath. "But when I become too great a liability, you must be able to do what's necessary to protect the Order."

Minerva watched him again move toward the Apparition chamber. "Then what makes me any different from Dumbledore?"

"Because you care about people; they aren't just pieces to you." After opening the door, he glanced up at her. "And you actually believed in me."

As the door shut behind him, Minerva numbly sagged onto the arm of the couch. She felt hollow, and her eyes stung.

"Severus speaks wisely," Dumbledore's portrait cleared its throat.

"Oh, now you have something to say," she sputtered.

"You head the Order, Minerva; you cannot be sentimental. The boy already had a mother; he does not require another."

The witch tightened her hands into fists. "The hell he did."


She quickly stood to face the portrait. "A mother puts her child's welfare above all else. Name one person who did that for him!"

Albus frowned. "I'm certain he had someone who –"

"Do not insult my intelligence by lying to me. You were damned certain he didn't and manipulated that to your own gain; didn't you?"

"I don't –"

"Just when did you start shaping him into the tool you needed? When he was still a boy? A student allegedly under your protection? How much did you interfere? You've raised him to die for you just like you did Potter, haven't you?!"

The portrait sadly shook its head. "There is no need for hysterics, Minerva. I've done nothing of –"

"You turned him into that!" she pointed at the Apparition chamber. "You took his capacity for love and twisted it. Love is a weakness because you exploited it; love is a weapon because you made it one!"

Albus sighed deeply. "You know I view love as a strength, a powerful protective force."

"Oh, you've preached a lot of things," Minerva bitterly picked up her tumbler, then set it down and grabbed the firewhiskey bottle.

"You've had enough of that," Albus chided. "You need a clear head on the morrow."

Maintaining her glare at him, she popped the stopper and took a hefty swig. Clutching the bottle, she reclaimed Hermione's notebook and stormed up to the personal quarters. The slam of the door rattled several frames on the wall.

"Oh, I like her," Phineas Black gestured with his painted goblet. "If I weren't dead…"

"You'd be 150," Dilys Derwent rolled her eyes.

"My wand would still be at the ready for a spot of dueling."

"You realize she's only a halfblood," Everard Burke commented.

"Halfblood and half spite!"

"Enough!" Dumbledore snapped.

"Strike a nerve, did I?" Phineas cooed. "Wand not so ready, Albus?"

"Oh, for the gods' sake," Dilys grumbled over her own goblet. "I hope she banishes you both to a broom cupboard."


As Minerva refilled her coffee cup, Moody gruffly greeted her as he claimed the nearest seat. He plopped a hearty scoop of eggs on his plate, then glanced at hers. "Watching your figure?"

Her gaze sharpened to a point. "I can certainly help you shed some excess weight. Another peg leg might pair nicely with the first."

The wizard chuckled as he chewed. "Wouldn't want to offend the elves…"

"I'm sure they'll be fine." At his continued attention, she settled back into her chair. "I'm too full of anxiety, rage, and firewhiskey at the moment."

"A feast of champions," Alastor smirked, then leaned down and extracted his flask. "On the subject…"

Minerva snorted as he doctored his coffee but waved off his offer.

Her gaze swept over the few Council members present for breakfast. They all were taking great risks in fighting Voldemort, and it was sobering to think one of them might not make it back from their assigned task. But the idea that she could intentionally end one of their lives for the "Greater Good" was downright sickening.

Despite having spent most of the night thinking – and drinking – it over, Minerva still did not know what to do. She wanted to track Severus down to screech at him or hug him or something, but that would hardly sway the stubborn git. It felt wrong to interfere further in his personal life and felt disloyal to violate his privacy, but how would Hermione be affected if it continued in the same vein? The girl had enough burden on her shoulders without having to blindly navigate his warped sense of duty.

His commander, not his mother. The head witch savored a sip as she watched Hermione pick at her food. Fine. If he wants me to put the Order's well-being first, I'll do just that.

Clearing her throat, Minerva set down her cup and stood to leave. "Hermione, might I borrow a moment of your time?"


Severus and Draco looked up from their porridge as the cabin door slammed open, and Hermione strode forcefully toward them. Severus slid his chair back but before he could stand, the witch pushed his shoulders down and straddled his lap.

"Fucking Circe!" Draco launched out of his chair; his spoon clattered to the table.

"Out, Malfoy!" she shouted without looking his way.

As the blond scurried out the side door, Severus leaned back. "Granger, what are –"

"Don't you dare Granger me, Snape!" Hermione swatted his chest. "You are going to sit there, keep your mouth shut, and listen to me. Understand?"

Severus opened his mouth to speak, then closed it and nodded instead.

"Good, because I am really sick and tired of you not hearing me." She heaved a breath and gripped his shirt. "Now, what in god's name makes you think I want to live under the Dark Lord's rule?"

He frowned. "I don't think –"

"No talking!" she pointed her finger in his face.

"You asked…" he sighed and rolled his eyes.

"I don't need you to answer that because it's ridiculous! Do you really not comprehend what's in store for me if he wins? Do you really think I want to spend the rest of my life as nothing more than your mudblood whore?"

His eyes narrowed. "You're not –"

Hermione grabbed his mouth. "Just listen, damn it. You heard the things he said to me… that wondrous picture he painted of my future! I'm not your main course, Severus; I'm your slutty little pudding! But not to worry because if I'm a good little girl and do everything you and he tell me to do, maybe he'll let you breed me one day! And I'm sure he'll want to watch, to really feel a part of it, you know, since you're just an extension of him."

Disgusted with the sentiment, she shoved off him and began to pace. "That isn't a life I want any part of! I'd rather die five times over than face that existence. And frankly, Severus, if you think I'd willingly stay alive for any of that, you're delusional! I'm not going to sit there and serve the pair of you and raise your bastard children just for him to claim and molest!"

Seeing him flinch, she folded her arms and leaned closer. "Oh, you didn't hear that part? I might have the privilege of birthing him a queen – isn't that exciting? Then again, I'm sure he'll tire of living vicariously through your cock long before then and prove this all a moot point. Wouldn't you be proud then to know you sold out the Order to watch me die screaming in agony?"

As hot tears of frustration formed, Hermione turned away and caught her breath. She wiped her eyes, then again faced her paling wizard. "I love you, Severus. Obviously, I didn't want Minerva to be the one to tell you, but… I've been so afraid to tell you because I knew you'd dismiss it and me. And I don't…"

She shook her head. "It's alright if you don't feel the same for me. You're not obligated to, and I don't expect it. But if that's the case, just say that. Just tell me you don't feel that deeply for me. Don't say you can't love me because you're worried you'd sacrifice everything we've worked for to save me. The Dark Lord winning will not save me; it will not spare me any pain. You wouldn't put someone you love through that torture."

She stepped backward, steadying herself on the end of the counter. "Think about it… and maybe you could let me know what you decide… if you love me, or you don't, or if maybe you could with more time. It won't change what I feel for you, but at least I would know where I stand."

Frozen, Severus watched her rush out the front door. His body felt like lead while his mind whirled. He did not know what to do, or to think, or to feel. He wanted to go after her to… to what? Or he could go shout at Minerva for clearly setting up another ambush, but he just could not move. He could only sit there as nightmarish visions flashed through his mind.

"Are you decent yet?" Draco creaked open the side door. He cleared his throat as he approached the brooding man at the table. "Is it safe to finish my breakfast, or do I need to disinfect it first?"

With a growl, Snape pushed out of his chair and stomped outside.

"Guess I'll just fuck off then, yeah?" Draco sneered, stabbing his spoon into the porridge. A minute later, he dumped his half-eaten porridge in the sink for the elf to wash up. Through the window, he watched Snape kick a tree trunk before collapsing against it.

"Maybe you shouldn't have hauled me out of bed at the crack of dawn." Shaking his head, the pureblood moved to the sitting area. He flopped on the couch and quickly found the few hours' sleep he had been deprived.