DISCLAIMER : The characters and many of the situations described in this story are the property of the incomparable J.K. Rowling. I make no money from this story, which exists as a work of tribute.
This story was written for Lady Karelia, aka Lady in the cloak, as a token of my appreciation for everything she does for the fandom.
I want to thank corinanderpie for a fast, furious, fabulous and fiendishly attentive beta: her awesomeness knows no bounds.
NOTE: This story was originally posted on OWL a long time ago, and now seems to have disappeared. I'm posting here mostly as an apology to my Phoenix Fire readers who have been waiting for an update with varying levels of patience. I love you all, and I even love your nagging!
Hermione Granger burst into his lab like a cyclone. Both leaves of the swinging door flapped behind her, emblematic of her agitation.
"Snape," she demanded imperiously. "I require your undivided attention."
Snape ignored her. Without looking up, he poked his wand thoughtfully into the layer of frothy white bubbles that covered the surface of his brew. According to the thermometer he'd clipped to the side of the caldron, the liquid had cooled sufficiently to begin the next step.
Granger stalked over to stand in front of his workbench and, as he gently tilted the cauldron to drain off the top layer of liquid, she furrowed her brow.
"What are you brewing?" she asked, momentarily distracted from whatever had brought her there.
"Ricotta," he replied absently. "It's for a dinner party I'm planning for tomorrow night."
"Oh." Granger's response was soft, and yet it hung on the air. It was almost, he thought to himself, a disappointed noise.
Correct, Granger. I scheduled a dinner party during our weekly pub night.
The silence that followed threatened awkwardness, so Snape broke it. It splintered into sharp fragments.
"Among other things, I'm planning to make balsamic-glazed fig and ricotta crostini."
For a moment, Granger floundered, but she managed to marshal a righteous anger to conceal her uncertainty. "Am I to understand, Snape," she demanded, "that you're wasting valuable time and Ministry resources to make cheese for your dinner party?"
A twirl of his wand set the square of cheesecloth hovering at exactly the right height, and Snape began to lift clumps of curds out from the boiled whey.
"Need I remind you, Granger," he replied calmly, "that my contract specifically gives me the right to research anything I please? Besides," he paused for emphasis, exaggerating the gesture of separating a scoop of curds from his wand, "were I to improve my ricotta recipe, I would count it a significant advance for the wizarding world as a whole."
Granger practically seethed with frustration. She ran one hand up the back of her neck and over the shorn curls at the back of her head. Over the two years she and Snape had worked together, her hair had got progressively shorter. Now only a riot of ringlets at the front of her head showed her hair's natural tendency to curl.
The latest haircut had merely encouraged the rumours that Granger batted for the other team. But while such short hair might have looked unfeminine on some women, on Granger the angles served only to emphasise the slender length of her neck and the delicate arch of her cheekbones.
"Didn't you have something of importance to discuss?" asked Snape. Having successfully needled her, he was ready to push her back on topic.
"We have a job, Snape," she snapped back, waving a thick folder of case notes at his cauldron of cooling cheese curds as if his preparations were somehow irrelevant.
How wrong she was.
"Wonderful," he sneered in mock delight. "Why don't you brief me while I finish this?"
After a second of frustrated hesitation, Granger conceded.
"Confidentiality clause," she snarled, holding out a parchment.
Without bothering to read it, Snape pressed his wand to the bottom of the page, leaving behind his signature and a small drip of whey.
"Right, then." Granger paused to draw breath and leant back against the opposite bench; she crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "A top-secret, experimental Muggle weapon has been stolen using Wizarding methods—"
"Recovery of stolen property is the domain of the Aurors' office," interrupted Snape, fishing around with his wand for another cluster of curds.
"You might find your conclusions more accurate, partner, if you wait to hear all the pertinent information before leaping," remarked Granger, falsely sweet. "Kingsley was notified of the theft this morning. I flagged this case ibefore/i it reached the Aurors' office because the weapons research base involved is located precisely in the centre of the intermittent magical 'Dead Zone' that we've been mapping for the past two months."
Snape paused, his wand in midair, a large clump of cheese suspended from the tip. The implications of Granger's information were clear, and, for the first time in their conversation, he lifted his gaze to meet her eye.
"You believe that the Muggle world has—deliberately or inadvertently—stumbled on a weapon that suppresses magic, and that some wizard, witch, or group of magically talented individuals has stolen the weapon concerned?"
"Exactly," replied Granger.
Snape let one eyebrow crawl slowly up his forehead, then returned his attention to the cheese.
"And what exactly is this weapon supposed to do?" he asked, his tone conversational.
Granger uncrossed her arms, extracting the folder of notes from the armpit under which she'd wedged it and flipped through it until she located a glossy Muggle brochure.
"According to the trade literature, the SonibeamTM looks much like a conventional loudspeaker but is capable of focussing a narrow beam of sound. 'Narrowcasting' within a frequency range audible to the average ear and at a comfortable decibel level, the SonibeamTM can produce music or other sounds that they only be heard in a specific location; utilising lower frequencies at a higher volume, however, the machine can be used as a potent weapon, causing physical and mental incapacitation and eventual organ damage. Prolonged use can result in death."
Granger's words struck Snape with an awful sense of dread. Quite apart from the possible magical ramifications, the very idea of such a weapon scared him.
"Clues?" he asked, fishing around in the depths of the whey for the last few shreds of curd.
"Conveniently, the Sonibeam is fitted with a radiophonic tracing device. Once we get far enough away from Ministry property that the magical energy won't interfere with reception, we can use it to pinpoint the weapon's current location." Granger pulled a sleek, black matte device from the pocket of her robes and held it up for Snape to see. It looked like an iPhone.
"No-one in particular, and furthermore, having looked at the security details, I'd say it would have been fairly straightforward for a witch or wizard to steal the weapon—even operating alone. We might be dealing with one person; we might be dealing with several. Quite honestly, I think it well past time the Ministry co-operated with the British military and had security wards added to the protection of at-risk locations!"
Snape hummed noncommittally. Granger had more than enough enthusiasm for her political reform projects and needed no encouragement from him. She was right, of course, but he'd always found snide commentary a more effective method for change than lobbying campaigns.
The ricotta was finally ready to drain. Lifting the opposite corners of the cheesecloth and tying them firmly, Snape suspended the bundle over the cauldron.
He gestured towards the door.
"When you're ready, Granger."
She rolled her eyes at his rudeness and stalked out of the room. He had to admit, she'd perfected his billowing trick a long time ago.
As Snape followed her through the Ministry hallways, he pondered the situation. The link between magic and music was deeper and far older than anyone knew, its origins lost in the mists of time. And the implications of this weapon were terrifying for magical and Muggle communities alike.
Snape didn't like guns, but he understood them. At their core, they were projectile weapons—a rock, thrown at an enemy, just technologically enhanced. But this—this was different. This was the deliberate manipulation of the human capacity for sensory perception in order to tear the human body apart. He felt a little nauseous.
It didn't take long to prepare for their mission. Granger had evidently cleared their access to the necessary departments earlier that morning, and they each equipped themselves with a gun and stripped down to Muggle clothing. Snape had to turn away when Granger bent over to hunt through a box of knives, eventually slipping one inside her boot; the black, tailored men's trousers she was wearing were entirely too revealing when she assumed that particular position. The trousers were partnered with a crisp black shirt, and she wore an asymmetrically cut, high-collared jacket over her shoulder holster.
"Are you any good with that?" he asked warily as she hefted the gun she'd been assigned, checking the weight.
"I did the training, Snape. Though I must confess, without the wandless charm I developed, my aim is likely to be fairly inaccurate."
"Good grief. I suggest you leave any actual shooting to me."
Granger raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "What are you? A sharp shooter?"
"There's little point in familiarising yourself with Muggle weapons if you use magic to do so."
"Listen here," she huffed, gesturing rather dangerously with her gun to emphasise her point. "I developed a wandless charm! I was anticipating a situation in which I wouldn't have access to my wand, not one where magic was entirely absent!"
"Lucky for you, then, that I was more thorough in my preparations."
There was no need to mention that had he known a wandless aiming charm, he would have used it.
"Fine. Let's just go."
Go they did, though Granger was visibly still annoyed with him. They left the Ministry via the visitor's entrance and walked several blocks without exchanging a word. It wasn't until they'd reached their favourite coffee shop and Granger had snagged a window table that she said anything.
"I'll have a latte, your shout."
By the time he got back with their drinks, she was hunched over the tiny glowing screen of the GPS device.
"Manchester," she said distractedly as he placed her coffee by her elbow. She picked it up and, without looking, twisted the cardboard sheath so that the seams lined up with the join of the cup. It was a gesture Snape had seen her perform hundreds of times.
Snape folded his long legs into the chair opposite and glared at a stupid-looking young man with a floppy fringe and a nose ring who'd had the temerity to look disappointed that Granger wasn't sitting alone.
"I say we go to the outskirts of town via the usual means"—she meant Apparation—"and then hire a car."
Snape nodded his agreement and sipped at his espresso. He let the tiny ceramic cup rest against his lower lip for a long second, feeling its warmth
"I'm just going to make a loo stop and then we can go."
Snape nodded again. As soon as she was out of earshot, the floppy fringe leant forward.
"You're a very lucky man," he whispered conspiratorially.
Snape gave him a look that would have blistered paint. When Granger got back, he stood up and thrust her paper cup into her hand.
"Let's get a move on," he snarled, practically pushing her out of the door.
Disapparating from the laneway behind the coffee shop posed no problems. Neither did hiring a car, since both Snape and Granger had their licences and Ministry expense account cards.
Granger drove. She'd mastered the GPS and programmed it to dictate directions in a tinny female voice. Within the hour they were cruising past the designated location: a late nineteenth-century row house, indistinguishable from its neighbours, in a block well along the path towards gentrification.
The GPS beeped loudly. "Destination reached," it intoned in a self-satisfied voice.
Several houses further down the street, Granger pulled into a parking spot and arranged the rear view mirror to give her a clear view of the target property.
"Plan?" she asked, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.
Snape shrugged. "Either we sit here and watch or we go in."
"The longer we wait, the longer they have to prepare."
"So, we go in?"
"Let's not forget, Granger, that we were led here by a homing beacon. We have to assume this is a trap."
Granger leant back in her seat, gripping the steering wheel and stiffening her arms. She pursed her lips.
"Either the weapon is not here and we fight our way out with magic, or the weapon is here and we fight our way out with guns," she reasoned. "I still say we go in. Our priority is to neutralise the Sonibeam, and we can't afford for the culprits to change location."
"Then we cast Anti-Disapparation wards before we go in."
Granger nodded. "Agreed—assuming, that is that we're not already in a magical dead zone."
Snape tapped his wand against the inside of the car door. "Alohomora."
With a click, the lock shifted, and the finger catch popped up.
"Great," commented Granger. Waving her own wand, she cast a complex Anti-Disapparition Jinx she'd developed the previous year. A vast improvement on earlier versions, this one would disintegrate if the caster of the jinx made an Apparation attempt. Thus it stopped others escaping without closing off her own route. "Shall we?" she asked, once she was done.
Snape jerked his head in agreement. But as her hand closed around the door release, he spoke; she hesitated and turned towards him.
"Granger, do try to make it snappy. I've a lot of cooking planned for this evening."
Without bothering to wait for a response, he climbed out of the car. He waited for her on the footpath, and from the jut of her chin as she passed, he knew she was annoyed.
"No wards," commented Granger quietly as they stepped through the metal gate and navigated the stairs to the front door.
Snape hummed his agreement. He scanned the front of the house for signs of a video camera or other Muggle observation equipment. He saw nothing. At the top of the steps, he reached out and rang the doorbell firmly. Automatically, he and Granger stood to each side of the door rather than directly in front.
He listened to the sound of the electronic chime echo in the house. There was no sign of human occupation.
"Fuck this," muttered Granger a minute or so later. "Alohomora." They both heard the metallic crunch of the tumblers shifting. "Ready?" she asked brightly, one hand on the doorknob; the other had suddenly sprouted her wand.
Snape thrust his hand into his jacket, closing his grip around the cool handle of the gun. He nodded at Granger, who threw the door open in one fluid movement and leapt inside, falling automatically into a duelling stance. He himself ducked through the doorway less than a second later, pressing his back up against the wall beside the door and scanning the room with his eyes; he held the gun at eyelevel, both hands engaged, his arms outstretched and rigid.
The room they had entered was huge, clearly the building had been gut renovated. It was decorated in a fairly tasteless Muggle style: an enormous flat screen television dominated one wall, and a big, psuedo-leather couch situated opposite ensured that the "entertainment centre" was the focal point of the room. Though the ceiling was double-height at the very front of the room, a mezzanine balcony covered an alcove kitchen and dining nook. Everything visible was decorated in co-ordinating shades of aubergine and grey; the overall effect was cold and unwelcoming.
For thirty long seconds, nothing happened.
Then an ear-piercing alarm squealed, only to be abruptly silenced seconds later. Their arrival had been noted, and someone was on hand to deactivate the system. Snape heard Granger swear quietly.
"Homenum revelio," she murmured. As the spell scanned the building, the shimmering green profile of a single occupant materialised in the air before the mezzanine balcony.
Just one, Snape noted, training his gun on a doorway visible at the back of the empty balcony. If the occupant were Muggle, he or she wouldn't have noticed the detection spell; if it was the witch or wizard they were hunting, though, not only their presence but also their magical ability had just been announced.
Unexpectedly, someone laughed. The voice seemed to come from all directions, and it took Snape several seconds to realise that it came from the television speakers.
"Nice," muttered Granger dryly. "Surround sound." With a grimace, she pointed her wand at the electronics and blew up the nearest speaker. It exploded in a small shower of sparks.
The response, once again, was laughter. "Oh, oh, oh!" crowed the voice. "Very in-ter-es-ting!"
There was something disturbing about that voice, something awfully familiar about that manner of enunciating "interesting" with four distinct syllables.
"Good afternoon, Rabastan," replied Snape as his brain supplied an image and a name to match the voice he'd heard. "I had hoped we might reacquaint ourselves."
"Severus! You'll forgive me, of course, for not having come down to welcome you in person."
Granger glanced quickly at Severus, seeking direction. Rabastan Lestrange remained hidden from view; his voice issued from the audio equipment.
"I'm pleased you are here, though," continued Lestrange, "because I've been hoping for an opportunity to test my new toy."
Snape braced himself, softening his knees slightly to deepen his defensive stance. There was an audible click and then a soft buzzing noise started up. That seemed to be the sum of it. Snape glanced at Granger, who was grimacing slightly. She jerked her wand a little urgently. The look on her face told him everything he needed to know, and he reached for his own magic. He could feel it, hovering just where it normally was, but he couldn't grab hold of it: it was too dispersed. Gone was the elasticity and pull he'd come to rely on, instead, magic eluded his grip like sand slipping through his fingers.
Even as his brain was theorising the possibilities of such a device—vibratory consequences of an aural assault on magical fields; typically magic disrupts electro-magnetic particles, no surprise, really, that the alternating compression and rarefaction of the longitudinal wave form could, at certain frequencies, disrupt magical fields—Snape pointed his gun at the speaker opposite the one Granger had destroyed and shot it to pieces.
"In-ter-es-ting, Severus. I always knew you were more Muggle than you let on."
Though both visible speakers were now disabled, neither the buzzing sound nor Lestrange's voice had been halted.
Granger, Snape noted, had stowed her wand in favour of pulling her own gun. Catching his eye, she pinched the fingers of one hand together in the universal gesture for chatter, than pointed at him. Pointing next at herself, she pointed towards the mezzanine.
Dread clutched at his chest.
Before she'd taken two steps towards the staircase that hugged the far wall, Rabastan's laughter rang out once more.
"I wouldn't bother, little Mudblood," he cackled. "You know, Muggle surveillance technology really is quite sophisticated!"
Granger froze. Snape hadn't spotted a video camera, but that didn't mean there wasn't one. He forced himself to take a calming breath and ran through the situation: on the negative side, they couldn't use magic (but then, neither could their opponent) and he and Granger were under the surveillance of an armed and invisible man; on the positive side, they were also armed, they were both skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and they outnumbered their attacker two-to-one.
"Plan B, then?" he asked, enunciating clearly. He had to trust that Granger would recognise his familiar jibe that the Gryffindor "Plan B" was just their Plan A, but louder. She made no response, but he saw her eyes flicker momentarily towards the staircase. He didn't nod in reply, but merely raised his chin slightly, as if in anticipation. One, he counted to himself. Two, three. "Run!" he shouted and sprinted towards the relative safety of the area under the split level.
Granger was only a millisecond behind, but it was just enough time for Rabastan to catch her momentarily in his line of fire as he burst out of the upstairs doorway.
Snape heard the bang and he heard Granger's exclamation of pain. Involuntarily, he spun towards her, in time to see her clutch at her shoulder and stagger. He saw the individual drops of blood as the arced away from the point where the bullet struck.
Without thinking about the rational response, he careened back the way he had come and lunged towards her. His shoulders thudded into her gut, his arms wrapped around her waist, and with the force of his impact he pushed her down behind the couch and out of the line of fire.
Granger gasped as he knocked her flying and bodily pinned her to the floor. Pushing himself back up on his elbows, he found himself face-to-face with a remarkably unimpressed expression.
"Get off me, Snape!" she whispered. "What the hell did you do that for?"
Trying to ignore both the feel of her body underneath his and the sharp lines around her mouth that showed exactly how much pain she was in, he levered himself off. There was blood—her blood—on the carpet, but he ignored that, too. With both hands on his gun, he poked it and the very top of his head over the back of the couch, looking for Lestrange.
Lestrange was pressed up against the balcony, waiting for them to show themselves, and as Snape's eyes appeared, he ducked to safety behind a pillar.
Snape glanced at Granger. With a resolute expression on her face, she was inching her way towards the far end of the couch—the end that was closest to the stairs. She was going to try again.
Snape waited until she was almost at the end of the cover provided by the furniture. From there she just had to cross a bare metre of open ground before the floor of the mezzanine would block her from Lestrange's line of sight.
"Rabastan!" he called, trying to commandeer all of their attacker's attention. "You're outnumbered! You might as well give up now."
Rabastan merely laughed. He was up to something, for from behind the pillar came noises as if something heavy was being moved around.
Moments later, just as Granger threw herself across the gap, an awful, unimaginable noise thudded into Snape's body. It wasn't a wall of sound, but a living, pulsating, painful field of energy. The relentless rhythm would surely crush him from the inside.
He saw Granger stumble against the wall, leaving a smear of red blood against the grey paint.
Under the force of the aural assault, his body was the air between the membranes of a drum: compressed, resonant, beaten. The sensation was incapacitating. Unheeded, the gun slipped from his fingers. Snape crumpled to his hands and knees.
He was, he realised, going to die.
And Granger was going to die, too.
Snape struggled to push himself back up, and drew in a shaky, painful breath. He couldn't harness his magic and he couldn't control his limbs, but there was more to him than that.
Severus Snape started to sing.
At first he didn't recognise the melody that he managed to squeeze from his body, but by the end of the first phrase, the lilting notes triggered deeply buried lyrical synapses. The words came flooding back, and with them came control of the song.
He could do this; he had always been able to do this.
No longer was sound rushing through him, tearing him apart. Now he was producing sound, he was shaping time. The distorted bass rumble of the Sonibeam became the murmur of a river, the shivering leaves of a summer's breeze, the rattle of dry branches in autumn; and to their accompaniment, Severus sang.
Granger was hauling herself up the staircase. Lestrange was bent over the now-visible speaker of the awful Muggle weapon, forcing the volume higher still. Severus's song disturbed him.
Severus was winning. As he took control of the performance, he felt the power shift. Like each soloist in the act of the sublime, he recognised his power and gathered it to him. He felt for the magic in his music and rose to his feet. He held it, and then he released it, and as he crescendoed up and over the break in his voice, the Sonibeam blew.
At the exact same moment, he saw Granger rise up behind Lestrange and bring down the handle of her gun hard across the back of his neck.
As Lestrange crumpled to the floor, there was an explosion of debris and dust, a flash of light, and then a blessed silence. With the hum of the Sonibeam gone, Snape felt his magic realign; it clicked back into place.
Wand in hand, Snape leapt towards the mezzanine, soaring upwards through the smoke using the spell he'd learnt under Voldemort's instruction. Two bodies were stretched out in the wreckage.
Rabastan, he discovered with relief, had been knocked unconscious. Within seconds, Snape had bound him tightly, extricated from his own pocket a one-way Portkey to the Azkaban high-security intake cells (another of Granger's useful MLE inventions), and tucked it into the collar of Rabastan's shirt. With his wand, Snape activated the Portkey, and Rabastan's prone body spun away in a flash of blue light. Yet even before Lestrange had disappeared, Snape had turned towards his partner.
"Granger?" Snape struggled to keep the panic out of his voice as he knelt beside her.
"I'm fine, Snape, it's just a flesh wound."
She was clearly lying. Her teeth were gritted together and blood was seeping noticeably past the hand she had pressed over the wound.
"I cannot agree with your diagnosis," he grunted as he bent and lifted her bodily.
She gasped at the pain and then bit down on her lower lip.
"Hold on," he instructed. He Apparated directly into the St. Mungo's emergency ward. With a muttered charm, he Levitated Granger's Unspeakable ID from her pocket and propelled it towards the triage desk, which he swept past without waiting for permission.
Within the ward itself, mediwitches and mediwizards leapt to help him immediately. He relinquished Granger's body only once they provided a hospital bed and hovered over her as they put her into a magical sleep and worked at extricating the bullet that was buried in her shoulder. It took time to heal Muggle wounds with magical means.
He had to be expressly instructed to move out of the way before he consented to back off several metres. A matronly mediwitch with tight grey ringlets pushed him into an uncomfortable visitors chair and pushed a cup of tea into his hands.
"She'll be fine, Unspeakable Snape," she reassured him. "You just need to give us a few minutes more."
Her confidence was well placed, and less than fifteen minutes later, a blond mediwizard brought Granger back to full consciousness. For a second, she struggled to sit up, though she calmed when she caught sight of Snape, who had automatically risen and stepped towards her.
"Snape," she breathed, smiling up at him with evident relief. "I didn't know you could sing."
"That's news to me, too! Perhaps you can get him to do karaoke tomorrow night when the two of you are down the pub," commented the mediwizard jovially. He seemed impervious to the glare Snape directed at him. "Now, Unspeakable Granger, I've just got to run a few more tests. Unspeakable Snape, if I could just get you to sit back down?"
Snape went reluctantly. At the foolish healer's interruption, the smile on Granger's face had faded. She hadn't looked at him since.
It was another hour before Granger was allowed to leave the hospital, but finally she was pronounced well. Snape watched from his uncomfortable chair as she Transfigured the tear in her jacket back in to whole cloth, and then walked her out onto the street. In front of the abandoned shop windows that fronted St. Mungo's, they both hesitated. Granger had her collar turned up against the chill evening breeze and she pushed the hank of curls that hung down over her forehead back off her face.
"I thought you had cooking to attend to," she stated, not looking at him.
Snape bit back the snide remark that rose unbidden. After a second's hesitation, he reached into his back pocket and withdrew a small white envelope. He was hyperconscious of the feel of the heavy cardstock under his fingertips. Awkwardly, he thrust it towards Granger's tightly crossed arms.
"What's this?" she asked, staring down at his offering.
Anxiety made him irritable.
"Clearly the Ministry didn't hire you for your remarkable powers of observation," he sneered.
Granger glared at him, and slipped one finger under the flap of the envelope. As she slid out the enclosed card, Snape felt an icy hand close around his stomach. The gilt edging, he realised, was overkill. Silently, he cursed himself for being such a fool. It took Granger only a second to read the brief, handwritten message.
"It's an invitation," she said stupidly.
He watched her hand close convulsively around the envelope, crushing it. He held his breath.
"So," she inquired suddenly, a hard edge in her voice, "who was it that cancelled at the last minute?"
No. She'd misunderstood. Snape opened his mouth to explain but found himself searching for words.
"Forget it, Snape," responded Granger angrily, pushing the invitation back towards him roughly. "I've got better things to do with my time."
Snape clutched awkwardly at the paper, then grabbed for her arm as she turned to go.
"Wait, Hermione!" It was the first time he'd ever used her first name like that—the first time he'd let himself say it aloud. "You're the only person I've invited!"
For a second she froze, before she turned slowly to face him. His hand was still curled around her biceps and he suddenly realised how close their faces were. She looked up at him for a long moment, her eyes scanning carefully over his face as if she was looking for something specific. Eventually she spoke.
"You're making balsamic-glazed fig and ricotta crostini, for me?"
Snape felt incredibly stupid. He shrugged.
"That depends," he replied, desperately wishing for the safety of the distance that they typically maintained. "Was that intended as an RSVP?"
"No," she replied slowly. "It wasn't."
He heard each word, yet they seemed to make no sense. He had to run them through his head again to process their heavy truth. She said no. Blood pounded in his ears.
Had he really expected anything different?
He wondered for a second whether he was going to throw up. As if that wouldn't put the seal on his moment of humiliation. He felt his face twist into the familiar set of his sneer and he would have twisted away—if she hadn't reached out a hand to brush against his cheek.
What mockery is this? He really was going to lose his lunch; in fact, he felt distressingly dizzy.
Her hand slid over his cheek. Her fingertips brushed over his ear and then buried themselves in his hair. They crept around to the back of his neck.
She said no, he reminded himself as his treacherous body leant into her touch and his eyes fluttered closed of their own accord. Every nerve ending flared in awareness of her presence.
"That wasn't intended as an RSVP," she whispered. "But this is."
Then she kissed him.
And as her mouth pressed firmly and sweetly against his, the joy he felt was like music in his veins.