This is the story I wrote for the LiveJournal SS/HG exchange. I had a lot of fun writing it as it had all my fave elements in it: strong characters, dialogue, humour and sex. There'll be one more chapter after this.
If you are interested, I'm posting a fic inspired by a character in a Charles Dickens' novel. I fell completely and utterly for the tormented yet gorgeous John Jasper when I saw the recent BBC adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The fic is called 'Mr Jasper's Cadenza'. Give it a go if you like a bit of dark, lustful Victoriana.
I've also just made a laurielove facebook page. The link is on my ffnet profile. Pop over and like it - I'll post news and updates there.
September 3rd 1998
Hermione had tried very hard not to look at her watch that morning. There was no need for her to do so, after all. Her job at the Ministry didn't start until January and until then she was doing some freelance work for the Daily Prophetto what were essentially her own deadlines.
Unfortunately, clocks were everywhere. There were two in the Muggle coffee shop off Charing Cross Road in which she was now sitting, her foot tapping frantically under the desk. With a tut, she reached for her latte to steady herself. Her watch peeped out under her sleeve as she extended her arm.
863 miles away in the highlands of Scotland, a new school term was starting at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At this precise moment the Headmistress, Professor Minerva McGonagall, would be fussing over the new intake in the Great Hall and ushering them to their first classes.
And Hermione wasn't there.
She brought the coffee cup up to her mouth again, bringing her watch with it.
She was nineteen now. After the horrific trauma of the past year, she had expected more from herself. But now that school was officially over, now that there was no reason for her to return to study (she had successfully taken her NEWTs at the end of the summer), she felt remarkably hollow.
She missed the comfort of the buildings, the security of having her days planned, her friends, even her teachers. Some of them.
Of course, there were the odd few whom she could quite happily do without. One mainly.
After Severus Snape had survived his brush with death she had tried to muster some sort of liking for him. She respected him, certainly, admired him hugely, but ... like? That would take a personality shift on his part, and after their brief encounter at the Ministry enquiry into the final battle, it was clear that was not going to happen.
She had tried. She had initially been delighted to hear of his survival, and Harry had told her a little of what Snape had imparted to him as he believed he lay dying. It had at first changed her opinion greatly. And with her new found admiration brimming within her, she had approached her former Potions Master at the enquiry. As she got closer the remarkable nature of all they had been through overwhelmed her and she had rushed up, beaming, saying how thrilled she was that he had survived and, as was natural with her, clasping him in an embrace. He had extricated himself from her arms in horror and looked at her as if she had just doused him in slime. Brushing himself off, Snape had turned his cold eyes on her, no different to before, and drawled, "You always did have a tendency to be overly emotional at the most inappropriate times, Miss Granger. Thank Merlin I no longer have to suffer your histrionic inclinations any longer." And he had spun on his heels and stalked off, leaving her standing alone, speechless and embarrassed.
But Severus Snape was not occupying her mind very much this morning. She had dismissed the incident quickly, despite the sharp humiliating pain it had initially caused. She was used to that from him, and if he was going to continue in that vein even after the war, he really wasn't worth the effort.
She took another drink from her cup.
No. She would not miss Severus Snape.
She wondered how the sorting had gone the previous night. Lily Bones, Susan's sister, was starting. Hermione smiled to herself, picturing the little girl with the sorting hat chuntering away on her head.
Her foot started to tap under the table again. Hermione huffed with annoyance. She really must go and do something productive. There was that article she had to write on the wards she had used during her time on the run with Harry. She could go and work on that. But it wasn't due for another three weeks. It would take her all of two hours to write a good first draft.
Shopping. She could do that. Not really in the mood.
Yes. She would go to the British Museum. She hadn't been since her parents had taken her as a child, before wizardry, before Hogwarts.
She could have found a quiet spot to Apparate from, but she took the tube instead. Sometimes, doing it the Muggle way was a great way of wasting time. She sat on the rickety carriage. As ever, her fellow passengers, despite being crammed together like sardines, existed only in their own worlds, blotting out the humanity of anything or anyone around them. It suited Hermione fine. Solitude could be good.
She glanced through the glass doors at the end into the carriage beyond.
The heads of the people bounced in time with the movement of the train.
And then she saw him.
Blocked partially from view by the heads of others, there, staring straight at her for the briefest moment, were the eyes of Severus Snape.
Hermione gawped unblinkingly and tried to push her way closer to the door to get a better look. The black hair was the same, although now he had turned away from her. She craned forward, straining her neck to try to glimpse him again, but the train had pulled into the next station and in the turmoil that followed, both in her carriage and his, she lost sight of him completely.
The train rumbled on. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut. Perhaps she had been imagining it. What would Severus Snape be doing on an underground train in Muggle London? Perhaps she'd had too much coffee.
Taking a deep breath she convinced herself she had been seeing things. Lots of people had long black hair and wore only black clothes.
She got out at the next stop for the Museum and once she had mounted the broad steps and entered into the extraordinary domed glass atrium she calmed down, convincing herself she had imagined it. Breathing deeply, Hermione took herself off around the Ancient Egypt exhibits first.
She went into the room containing the Rosetta Stone, pausing until the gaggle of school children around it had moved off. When the crowds had dispersed a little she moved forward and peered at the time-aged rock, marvelling at the ancient carvings which had unlocked the secrets of hieroglyphics. She moved around to the other side and perused it carefully, crouching down for a better look. For Muggles, the ancient Egyptians certainly had remarkable ingenuity and creativity.
Hermione smiled in wonder and raised herself up again, looking over the stone to the corridor beyond.
A man in black, his head turned in her direction, walked along it, disappearing swiftly as he moved beyond the wall.
Hermione's heart caught in her mouth and she dashed out, bumping into a lady coming the other way.
"Oh, sorry. I'm so sorry," she blurted as the woman humphed with indignation and glared in outrage.
Hermione excused herself and rushed into the corridor. The man had vanished. She hurried along and looked to the left down another hallway. There he was. It was him. She knew it. He was dressed in a black jacket and black trousers and his hair hung down to his shoulders.
Hermione pressed along. Again she was thwarted by people and nearly lost him. He turned along a small corridor to the right. She followed rapidly, prompting glares and tuts of annoyance from the public.
She reached the corridor at a run. He had vanished. It was a dead end.
Spinning around, her hands pulling through her hair, she cursed her failure.
"Where are you, you bastard?" she hissed, louder than she'd intended.
"Hardly the way to address your former Headmaster, Miss Granger."
She turned, her breath catching. Emerging from the shadows of a dim recess as if part of the darkness itself, came the familiar form of Severus Snape.
If she hadn't been in the British Museum she would have rushed up and slapped him hard across the face.
"It was you! I knew it! I knew it was you! What the hell have you been playing at? What are you doing here? You were on the tube too. You're following me. Why are you following me?"
"Questions, questions, always questions. Do you never grow tired of your prying hysteria, Miss Granger?"
The shock and sense of unbalance wrought by seeing him suddenly jolted her anger. She hurled her temper at him as years of pent-up fury finally came to the fore.
"Oh, stop it! I'm not going to put up with your dismissive derision any more. Seven years of it was more than enough, believe me."
"Six," he interrupted. "As I recall, you were absent for 213 school days last year. How the governors ever saw fit to allow you to sit your exams I will never know."
"Don't you dare bring up last year. Still the pathetic bully, Professor Snape? You're no better than some malicious little third year."
Hermione was breathing heavily but paused her flow of anger long enough for the air to fall silent around them. They were in a dark, unused side corridor. A few dusty glass cases filled with Mesopotamian statues surrounded them, their hollow eyes gaping at the strange exchange between the bushy-haired girl and dark-eyed man.
Hermione tried to steady herself, standing tall. Snape did not move.
"So ... unless you just happened to fancy a jolly to the British Museum at exactly the same time I did, I will repeat my question ... why are you following me?"
"I wanted to ensure I met with you outside of the Wizarding world."
She crossed her arms indignantly, relishing the frisson of confrontation more than actually processing his motives. "You could have got in touch and arranged a meeting. I'm sure the Ministry would have been able to liaise for us."
"I did not want to go through the Ministry."
"They interfere and I do not wish to trust them with this."
"Trust them with what?" Her mind had calmed enough for his dialogue to spark her curiosity. The man opposite her held himself tall. He was wearing a Muggle suit, but it was finely tailored and made of the deepest black cloth. He cut an imposing figure against the white walls of the museum.
"Anyway, I wasn't sure how you would react to the prospect of a ... meeting."
"You're right. I would have told you to take a running jump. So ... you decided to stalk me instead?" She cocked her eyebrows, reinforcing her grievance.
He frowned. "Don't be stupid. In any case — it seems to me that you were the one stalking me."
"How dare you!"
"It was you running down the corridors, peering through train doors, pushing past bystanders to get to me."
"Oooh ... if I had my wand you would be ..." Hermione clenched her fists and took a tense step into him.
"What, Miss Granger?" Snape asked as smoothly as ever, clearly not at all perturbed by her show of indignation. If anything, he was finding it rather amusing.
She moaned in fury but leashed in her temper. "Oh, for heaven's sake, never mind! Just ... tell me why the bloody hell you're here!"
"Miss Granger ..." He stepped closer into her again and glanced around to see if anyone was nearby. Snape leaned in, his eyes sparking black. Her breath hitched and she swallowed hard. For whatever reason, she was rather excited. She hadn't been excited for a long time.
The dark haired man now standing remarkably close to her opened his mouth to speak again. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"I asked why you're here."
"Aren't you going to tell me?"
"All in good time. You always were an impatient little so-and-so."
"I'm not a so-and-so."
"Yes, you are."
"No more than you're a mean-spirited bigot."
"That is a very ungenerous attitude to take towards someone who has just offered you tea."
"I want to know what you're doing here!" She knew she sounded petulantly impatient. She had very nearly actually stamped her foot.
He smirked. "You never were one for patience."
Hermione wailed again in frustration and stomped off out of the corridor, calling after her, "Come on then, you miserable sod. Tea's this way."
She hurried back down to the cafe in the atrium, walking so quickly she wondered if he was keeping up. But when she reached it and turned to him, he was only a step away from her shoulder, and looked as if he had hardly been ambling.
"What do you want?" she asked tersely.
"I'll tell you when we're sitting down."
"Noooo. I mean now. To drink. And eat, if you want."
His eyes shifted. It was the closest he came to embarrassed. "I suggested tea; I'll pay. What would you like, Miss Granger?"
His sudden show of manners took her aback, but she saw an opportunity. "Earl Grey, thanks." She glanced at the cakes on offer. "And some carrot cake. And that pineapple and mango selection pot would be nice. Ooh, and look, they've got those little chocolate swizzle sticks. I like nibbling on them. And I could do with a bottle of water for later too." The cafe was expensive. Her lengthy and costly request was only fitting after seven years of torment.
"Do you always eat this much?"
"No. But if you're paying, Professor Snape ..." She grinned exaggeratedly at him. He sneered a little before reaching for his wallet.
"It seems ridiculous you calling me Professor now."
"Does it? What on earth am I going to call you otherwise?"
"That isyour name as far as I'm concerned."
He threw the carrot cake, fruit pot, water and chocolate stick down on the tray. "You really are an infuriating little madam!"
She leaned in and smiled triumphantly at him. "Good!"
"Twenty-five pounds, please," declared the cashier.
"Golly." Hermione leaned in and mused in his ear, "That's about thirty galleons. You could get a new brass cauldron for that."
"Shut — up! I know how much it damn well is!"
The cashier eyed them curiously. "Twenty-five pounds, please, sir. We have a long queue, sir."
Snape flung the exact money at the woman and, gripping the tray in long fingers, paced with it over to a table near the back. Hermione followed him with a wry smirk.
"You'd better bloody eat every single last bite of it."
"If you're nice for a change, I might share ... Severus."
He looked at her in alarm. She had surprised herself with her bravado and the sound of his name on her tongue, but she held her nerve and cocked her eyebrow at him. "What? Isn't that what you wanted?"
He poured his own tea and took a sip. It was clearly too hot and he grimaced in pain.
"Now ..." she leaned in. "Why are you here?"
He placed his tea cup down carefully before speaking. "I need help."
"Yours of course, you little fool!"
Hermione was stunned. Never had she ever thought Severus Snape would come to her for help of any kind. She stared in silence, her mouth slack. "Don't stare at me like that! You look like a constipated goldfish!"
"I ... but ... me ... umm ... what sort of help?" For once she was lost for words.
He took another sip of tea, more carefully this time, and spoke, low and serious. "I am dying."
Again, Hermione was too shocked to speak. Snape this time continued unbidden.
"The magic which cured me initially of the snake's bite was only a temporary measure. The healer knew it, as did I, but we kept it a secret between us, hoping to come up with a more permanent solution together. But the healer himself died a few weeks ago; he had had an illness for many years which he had borne privately. His death was sudden and surprising. He was a highly intelligent and skilled wizard. I trusted him. I needed him. To reverse death you need a confluence of minds, a synergy of skills and thought processes. I am now alone. I need someone else."
"But you look so well."
He glanced at her. She was looking at him with genuine concern.
"At the moment I feel essentially well. I can tell things are changing, but my body still functions perfectly well. That is the problem: I do not know how much time I have, and when the end comes, there will be little or no warning."
"Severus ..." This time she said it without a hint of cynicism. Her brows were furrowed with concern. "I want to help you. I will help you as best I can. But ... I'm not a healer. I wouldn't know where to begin."
"I have the knowledge necessary and I can teach you all you need to know. I require your ... intelligence." He grimaced slightly, as if it pained him to say the word.
Hermione fell silent, the immensity of his request eliminating her previous petulance. She glanced down at her uneaten carrot cake and pushed it towards him.
"Would you like some? I haven't touched it yet."
His eyes met hers briefly, black and wide. "Thank you."
Severus took a bite of the cake and Hermione shifted uncomfortably while he ate. She was humbled and thrilled by his proposition. He could have gone to anyone. Why her?
It was clear: he respected her. He trusted her.
"Where are you living?" she asked.
"I have a flat in London. Muggle London. Hampstead."
"Must be pricey."
He glared at her. "I am not without means, Miss Granger. I sold my house at Spinner's End which helped offset things, but in any case ... like I said; I am not without means."
"You sold the Spinner's End house?" She sounded surprised.
"Surely it held many memories for you."
His eyes turned cold again and she swallowed hard, fearing she had overstepped the mark. But slowly, he dug his fork into the cake and pulled a piece away. "There comes a time when we all have to move on. Memories do not need a manifested reminder to endure."
Hermione smiled softly. Perhaps she should re-evaluate her perception of him after all.
"Where are you living at the moment, Hermione?"
His sudden use of her first name threw her completely. "Umm ..."
"Come now, surely even you can remember that." He was smirking.
"I'm actually living at my parents' old house in the Cotswolds until I start at the Ministry in January."
He tutted. "That is too far away. You will have to stay with me while we sort this business out."
"You will have your own room. What is the problem?"
The thought of staying in Hampstead was in actual fact very appealing, but she could not believe he had offered so swiftly. "No problem. Great. Thanks." She couldn't fully hide the tone of amazement in her voice.
"Right. Well, if you've finished your business here, we should go and get on with things straight away." He stood up, expecting her to do the same.
She laughed. "I don't have businesshere, Severus. I was here for my own pleasure."
She saw his face flush a little. "Well ... have you finished whatever it was you wanted?"
Hermione nodded. "OK."
They left the museum swiftly with Severus pacing ahead in his usual way. He took ridiculously long strides. Once outside he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her into an alleyway. Before she knew it he had Apparated them both away.
They arrived with dizzying violence, causing Hermione to lurch against him and grab onto his jacket for support. His solid presence was suddenly very reassuring. She did not immediately let go. Glancing up, she saw him looking down with a confused frown, not at her face, but at the grip she had on him. She stepped back. "Sorry."
"Right. Umm." He glanced around and ran his hand through his hair furtively. It was clear he was suddenly aware of his ex-pupil standing in what had, until now, been his own, very private space. Hermione did not make a show of looking around, but she could tell he kept it neat but well-filled with many books. There were original works of art on the walls and the proportions of the room pleased her. She immediately felt comfortable.
"I'll show you where you'll be sleeping." He slunk away rapidly out of the room. She hurried after him. It was an old Georgian building with high ceilings and he led her to a door far at the end of a long corridor. Opening it, he motioned to her to go in. Hermione smiled. It was a fine room, tastefully decorated, with a large sash window looking over the rooftops of west London. "This is lovely."
"It should be adequate. There is a bathroom just down the hallway. It will be yours alone. I have another."
Hermione looked at him with an appreciative smile. His cheekbones were tinged pink and he looked away swiftly.
"I'll need to get some stuff from home. I can Apparate."
"Well, do so quickly. I was hoping to get started within the hour." With that he turned and left, shutting the door behind him.
Hermione stood in Snape's spare room, smiling to herself. She may not be back at school, but with her former Potions Master ordering her about in his usual terse manner, she felt oddly comfortable with the familiar. And he had certainly provided her with a challenge. A curl of excitement twisted through her and she Apparated away to get her things. The sooner she went, the sooner she could be back.
She piled several clothes, books she could not do without, and a few toiletries into a bag quickly and had soon Apparated back to Hampstead. Once she had unpacked she went back to the living room where she found Snape standing by a desk, clearly waiting for her.
"Good. Come. Let me show you." He indicated the vast pile of parchments and books on the desk. "Here. These are the notes Quirinius made before he died and the texts and documents he referred to."
"Quirinius? Your healer?"
He leaned over the desk, pulling out a paper here and there and searching over them with his long fingers. Hermione stood beside him, staring at the bewildering array of magical texts before her. She inhaled deeply. His aroma filled her senses suddenly.
It was rather nice.
Severus explained, "He had to refer back to magic used in ancient times, centuries old enchantments. The sources he used were hundreds of years old, more in some cases. The bite of Nagini had been enchanted so that her venom was infused with magic originating in medieval times, making it almost impossible to find any sort of antidote for it. The Dark Lord knew exactly how to render magic lore as impenetrable as possible. This, combined with the deathly quality of the snake being a Horcrux, made the impact of her bite on me ever more lethal.
"My work meant that I had already protected myself against the darkest magic I could, but there was a limit to what I could do. I managed to stave off the initial effect of the bite, although that would not have been apparent to anyone finding me ... as it happened, that was you, Potter and ... that other one." Hermione managed not to comment on the jibe at her ex-boyfriend. "Luckily, Quirinius was sent by the Ministry to help battle survivors and he alone detected that I was still alive. He healed me remarkably well initially. But together we knew the venom still within me would eventually do its worst. We worked tirelessly and thought, hoped, we had solved the mystery. Quirinius and I knew that we had all the ingredients necessary. We had a healing potion and spells required to render it effective. We knew we had to work together. The magic refers to two sharing skills and minds. He was the best person to do that with me: a remarkable wizard. If anyone could do it, it was him. And he thought so too - Quirinius was certain it would cure me fully, but it did not quite ... work. As I said, combining all the spells and potions only served to patch things up, not provide a ... permanent solution."
"How do you mean exactly?"
"We did everything that was required, everything the spells asked, brewed the potion perfectly. But it was still not enough."
"You said you had everything?"
"So I don't understand why it didn't work."
"Something is missing. What, I know not."
"And that's where I come in."
"But you have more experience than me, Severus. Surely you would know what is necessary."
"I told you — it takes two to render the magic effective, but I still do not know how exactly. I thought I could achieve it by working with Quirinius, but even before his death it was clear his partnership was not going to be enough. I know I am close, so close, but I cannot realise the final ingredient, as it were. I am hoping you will be able to find it for me, together with me."
She fell silent but felt ridiculously inadequate. "I'm very humbled by your faith in me."
He tutted, suddenly reverting to the Snape of old. "Don't be humbled, just get on with it!"
Storming from the room, he left her staring at the bewildering array of parchments. Hermione didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Hermione spent the next few days poring over the documents Severus had shown her. The thrill of exploring ancient magic and the urgency of trying to save someone's life made her work like a woman possessed.
She would sit at the desk in his living room, surrounded by parchments, scribbling away. Severus would often work across from her. There was no denying their compatibility when it came to work, although it surprised them both.
There were times when Hermione would be perusing a text with furrowed brow, her mouth moving in time with her thought processes. When she looked up she would find Severus across from her, staring at her, his face relaxed, with what could almost be a smile curling over it. With a blush, she would lower her head and continue with her work.
He was more relaxed than she had ever known him, despite the imminent possibility of his death. He genuinely seemed to appreciate having her around, although she doubted he would ever openly admit to it.
After days of studying all they had, going through all the words, all the spells and potions recipes with a fine tooth comb, Hermione sat back late one night and rubbed her eyes blearily.
"I don't get it." She tossed her quill down, defeated. "You've done everything. You have all the ingredients here. You've used all the correct spells and charms. The healing spell you concocted should have worked. You had two people focused on the magic, one of whom was the wounded person, you said all the right words, you imbibed the right potions. It should have bloody worked." She shook her head, desperately frustrated by her own inability to make the breakthrough.
"Clearly it didn't," he stated from the sofa behind her.
"I know that," she sighed. "I've tried so bloody hard. I'm just at a loss."
"Well, so am I!" Severus stood suddenly and came to lean over her, his hands pressing into the desk. "And unless we solve this mystery I will die, Miss Granger. I would appreciate you trying even harder."
Her indignation rose swiftly. "How dare you! I have tried my hardest. I want to see you healed as much as you do!"
His eyebrows rose in surprise. "And why would you want that? I thought you hated me."
"Of course I don't hate you!"
"You did before."
"Well, you were a bastard before."
"But not now?"
She tore her eyes away from his and huffed, feeling her cheeks flushing. "Well, no. We've ... got on, haven't we?" She dared look up at him again.
"Think, woman!" His own frustration rose to the fore again.
"Not if you call me that!"
"There must be something. It's there. It's all there, you just haven't looked hard enough." He pointed desperately at the piles on the desk.
"Neither have you!"
Hermione slumped, her head hanging in her hands, and sighed so deeply it resonated through the room until it eventually hummed with silence again.
"There's one thing," she said at length, unsure of herself.
"Well ... it's the bit about the confluence between the two people. It may be that it is not quite enough to work together, to incant the magic together."
"But that's what it says," he responded tetchily. "It says: 'When two are conjoined of mind and soul, when two share as one, the true magic will have fruition.'"
"Exactly. When two people share as one. I think it's something to do with that."
"But I did all that. The magic was shared, everything we did, we did as one: chanting at the same time, drinking potions at the same time."
"But maybe it doesn't mean that. Maybe it means sharing something that the two people both have. Sort of exchanging, giving, one to the other."
"How would that work?"
"I don't know." She brought her nails to her mouth, creasing her brows in thought. "Perhaps they mean blood?"
He too was realising. "A Blood Gift?"
"Well, let's do it then."
"Are you sure?" She glanced up uncertainly. A Blood Gift was an ancient ritual from the darker arms of magic. "This wouldn't be like a silly prick of the finger and rubbing a couple of tiny drops on our thumbs together. I mean a deep wound to collect a significant amount of blood from both of us and then combine it in a cauldron."
"I know that. I have known about Blood Gifts for as long as I can remember."
"They're associated with the Dark Arts. They often result in loss of consciousness. And I know people have died doing them. It's illegal."
"You don't have to tell me that, you fool! It's hardly the first time I have pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable. This may be the only way. Come along. What else needs to be done to prepare for it?" His conviction was palpable.
She rubbed her eyes, not quite believing they were going through with it so quickly. "We need a copper cauldron, a silver knife, birch wood for the fire, some of the potion you concocted before and a dark space. They say if you don't do it in dim conditions, light can remove some of the concentrated magical qualities of the blood." She looked at him anxiously. "Perhaps we should wait a day or two."
"We'll do it now."His face creased as he thought rapidly. "Come with me."
Severus reached down and pulled her to her feet in strong fingers. Hermione found herself practically being dragged along.
He pulled her down the corridor and opened a locked door she had previously assumed was just a cupboard. Indeed, it did seem to be a store room of some kind. In stark contrast to the rest of the flat, which was bright and airy, this room, although not small, was packed with shelves and cupboards. There was a window at the far end, but the shutters were closed and only a thin slit of light was able to break through.
A table sat the middle, oddly bare compared to every other surface in the room. Severus waved his wand and a few candles flickered into life. He busied himself preparing things.
Hermione stood staring around her in wonder. This room seemed to contain much of the work of Severus' life. Although every available space was densely packed, all the bottles and instruments were carefully labelled and ordered. She crossed to a shelf and studied its contents.
"Unicorn mane, dodo feathers, midnight lily stamen, willow root ... this is all fascinating. I had no idea you had all this."
"I have collected all my life. I didn't become a Master Potion Brewer for nothing, you know."
"I could spend forever in here."
"Hmm ... if you did, you may come across more than you bargained for."
She smirked. "I can cope with that." Hermione glanced at Severus. He had a slight smile on his face too. For a moment, they both locked eyes for a moment more than was necessary. Hermione inhaled sharply and crossed her arms in front of her. "Right. I suppose we should get on with this."
He didn't move, suddenly seeming hesitant.
"As you said ... this is a highly dangerous process. By its nature, in order to work, it requires the two people to be alone, and to perform the ritual at the same time, otherwise the magic is lost. Therefore, if something goes wrong, there is nothing that can be done."
"What choice do we have?"
"I am not concerned for my own welfare. But ... I should not presume with you ..." He could not look at her. His concern was touching and unexpected.
"Severus, I've been through worse. It's not the first time I've risked my life."
"I hope it won't come to that."
She smiled. "I shouldn't think it will. But I really want to do this. Now ... where's the cauldron?"
She crossed to the table in the middle and waved her wand over it to clean it carefully.
Severus took a cauldron from a shelf and placed it on the table along with a long silver knife which glinted in the reflected candlelight.
Hermione rolled up her sleeves, suddenly exhilarated by what they were about to do. "Put the healing potion in the cauldron first and light a fire with the silver birch wood under it. You need to build up to a strong flame slowly. Don't put all the kindling on at once."
Hermione had assumed control without being aware. But instead of reacting with annoyance, her former teacher simply stepped back and let her get on with it, surveying her silently.
"Now ... give me the potion." She held her hand out, staring into the cauldron without even looking at him. Suddenly aware of her dictatorial command, she glanced up, a look of realisation on her face. "Please."
Severus' eyebrows rose again. "I see you have retained your need to be in charge. Still, I cannot quibble with your ability with potions. You were clearly well-taught."
It was her turn to smirk. "Hmm ... I think I was, although my teacher's methods were sometimes a little ... dogmatic. Perhaps that's where I get it from." Again their eyes met for longer than anticipated. And this time the coil in Hermione's belly, which she had thought was excitement at the magic, leapt erratically. Severus' eyes shone dark in the candlelight. He did not look away but handed her the potion slowly and carefully.
"There you are."
"Thank you." As she took it from him, her fingers brushed his briefly. She felt the strength and warmth contained in them fiercely, but they had slipped from her before she was fully aware of it.
With another deep breath in, she focussed on the cauldron and poured the healing potion into it. It fizzed and bubbled immediately. "We need to incant the first charm together. I've got the words written here," she stated.
"I don't need to look at them."
"Well, you've had more practice than me. Ready?"
He nodded. With a breath of preparation, together they chanted: "Sanguis sanguinem, duas animas in uno, corpore sana ..."
The potion bubbled and seethed suddenly, a dark red smoke rising from the pot and curling around them.
"Right," she stated emphatically, enthused by the success so far. "Ready?"
"So certain, Miss Granger?"
His tone of voice suddenly took her straight back to the classroom. She rolled up her sleeve and watched as he did the same, noting the release of each of those little black buttons which so defined him. He gripped the material and tugged, revealing a surprisingly toned forearm.
"Always certain, Professor Snape." She smiled. He looked at her impassively for a moment but then she saw the corner of his lips rise a fraction and her belly somersaulted yet again.
Hermione extended her arm, her fist clenched, the under part facing up so that the soft flesh was exposed. Severus did the same, bringing his own arm over so that it rested next to hers, the fist pointing towards her. And so their two wrists lay side by side, nestled beside each other like yin and yang.
Hermione reached carefully for the silver knife and glanced up at him. "We need about half a pint of blood each. That should be enough. It doesn't matter if it's more."
"I have lost blood before, as you know. Have you?"
She swallowed. "Not really."
His eyes narrowed. "Are you sure you wish to proceed?"
She nodded tersely. "But hurry up before I change my mind."
Severus placed his hand over hers on the handle of the knife. She sucked in as his fingers curled around hers. For a moment the anxiety of what was to come was quelled.
They placed the blade against her wrist and then chanted together: ,i"Dare sanguinem, miscere sanguine, corpus sanare." /iAnd as they spoke, as one, they drew the blade over their exposed wrists. The dark red of their blood seeped out immediately and Hermione sucked in a breath as sharp pain ripped through her. They brought their hands over the cauldron and their blood, mingling and joining, began to pour relentlessly into the potion. Immediately the liquid writhed and smoked, great plumes of dark mist coiling from it.
"Are you alright?" Severus asked steadily.
She nodded, but the sight of her blood draining from her was hardly one which reassured her. She concentrated hard, willing it out of her as quickly as possible.
Surely that was enough? But Severus did not move and appeared remarkably unfazed by the whole experience.
Her eyes were fixed on the cauldron, bubbling relentlessly, demanding more blood, her blood. Her arm was red now; his seemed to have been hardly affected. The thin red line of the wound dripped his blood neatly into the potion whereas hers seemed to have spread indignantly over her whole forearm creating a vision of gruesome mutilation.
Hermione closed her eyes and swayed.
In the ever dimmer recesses of her mind, she vaguely heard the man next to her say, "I think that is probably enough. Move away now and ..."
And everything went black.
Ooh err. Next and last chapter very soon. I can think of something they could try ...
Hope you're enjoying. x