This was posted in response to the Haunted House Challenge on Live Journal's grangersnape100 from 10-24-2007 to 11-04-2007. It had never been posted elsewhere because I'm all too fully conscious of its defects. It was written as an exercise in letting the creative juices flow without censoring, writing a few hundred words each day. I thought from time to time of dropping the choppy drabble form with the breaks of 100 words each, expanding, revising, getting it betaed. I decided to just post it as is—and unbetaed. I hope people enjoy it despite its faults. Happy Halloween!
For Droxy, without whom there would be no grangersnape100 community—and who always has kept it a safe and fun place to post: for everyone.
Severus rubbed his arms, clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. He glared at the Bloody Baron. "Could you try to remember not to walk through me?"
Ignoring Severus, the Baron craned his neck, putting his head through the stacks. The Grey Lady has to be about.
Severus didn't realise he'd spoken aloud until he heard the Baron say, "You should talk. Twenty years of devotion to a dead woman. At least Helena's a ghost like me." The ghost inclined his head toward the table where Miss Granger sat. "Try living before muttering at me."
The Grey Lady shuddered. "I wish he'd haunt elsewhere. A thousand years of being stalked."
"He loved you," Hermione said.
"He murdered me."
"Quite. I suppose that's a sticky point. But perhaps if you forgave him, you both could move on."
"A ghost can't move on." She arched a brow. "Unlike you."
"Ron … "
"Wasn't up to your standards? Not bright enough?"
Hermione's face heated. "Cleverness isn't everything." When she saw Professor Snape, her chest tightened.
"Did I say it was?" The Grey Lady shot her a knowing look. "But a major attraction for you obviously. Certainly isn't looks."
Severus sneered at the Baron. "Advice for living from a ghost."
"I can recognise the walking dead—"
"Romantic advice no less from one who royally cocked things up in life. And now you're stuck. Ghosts can't make amends." Severus' glance flicked towards where Hermione conversed with the Ravenclaw ghost.
The Baron rattled his chains. "She won't accept my amends. Perhaps ..." The ghost's eyes glowed.
Recalling stories about ghostly possession used to finish tasks uncompleted in life, Severus swallowed hard. His circumstances left him wide open to the fellow Slytherin to wend himself into the crack in his soul.
"Attracted? I don't know what you could mean." But Hermione stared at Professor Snape nevertheless. Hopeless, absolutely hopeless. "In any case, I need to get back to my research."
Helena nodded her head. "Best ignore the feeling. Maybe it'll pass. No good comes of getting too near some murdering Slytherin."
Shooting up from her seat, Hermione grabbed the edge of the table, gripping down so tightly, her knuckles were white. "How dare!"—seeing Madame Pince start to rise, Hermione lowered her voice to a harsh whisper —"he's no murderer."
"Yes, I can see you're completely unaffected by him."
Breathing hard, Severus backed up until he felt the shelves at his back. The Baron glided towards him, almost flowed like a liquid. Gripping his wand tightly, Severus tried to think of what spells might work on a ghost.
"So afraid? After a millennium haunting, have you ever heard of me injuring a single breathing being?"
"There are ways—"
"Why don't you scream? That pretty Gryffindor might come to your rescue."
"Leave her out of this!" He hoped Granger wouldn't involve herself.
"Or what? The thing is, dear Severus, there is little you can threaten the already dead with."
The Grey Lady peered over the table to look at the scroll Hermione had been reading.
"The Ravenclaw Diadem ... what are you planning you presumptuous girl?"
Hermione bit her lip. In life, the Diadem had caused the Grey Lady to betray and steal.
"I simply thought... to recreate—"
"You could use my help then. What would you be willing to give in return? Hmm?"
A movement behind the Grey Lady caught her attention. Through the apparition of the Baron, she saw Professor Snape move deeper into the stacks and heard him yell at the ghost stalking him. "Excuse me."
Seeing Granger sprinting to where he and the ghost stood, Severus's heart began to pound. Bollocks. Was there any spot of trouble she wouldn't put herself into the centre of? "Back off, Miss Granger."
"Shouldn't you be telling that to him?" She gestured at the Baron.
Severus straightened and pointed his wand menacingly at the Baron. "You had to choose this pathetic existence as a ghost. You must greatly fear going into the void. No threat? One word: Exorcism."
"Oh, Severus, one should never make a threat one won't back up. You're not exorcising the Slytherin ghost so ... lightly."
Hermione looked at Severus's tight face. Striding forward, he put himself between the ghost and her, and she felt a surge of irritation and admiration both. Unlike with Ron, she didn't believe it was because she was a woman. He'd probably have done the same for Harry. He just acted as if it were the natural thing that he'd do the protecting—or maybe it just never occurred to him that anyone would put themselves out to protect him.
Nevertheless, she stepped forward a few steps to place herself by his side. She peered into the Baron's face. He looked ... amused.
The Baron inclined his head towards Hermione. "Letting a lady fight your battles, Severus?"
"One does not 'let' Miss Granger do anything. Besides which, she is not a lady."
Severus gazed at Hermione, and as their eyes met, he formed an image carefully in her mind.
"She's a witch," Severus said softly.
Pointing their wands simultaneously at the Baron, they together incanted "Expectum Patronum" and two silvery forms erupted from their wands: A silvery lioness and a raven.
The Baron backed off and began to clap. "Well done. But that doesn't mean there isn't unfinished business between us. Ta Ta."
Hermione gripped the Professor's arm. "What did he want?" Feeling chilled, she glanced up.
The Grey Lady glided towards them. "What did he want? I imagine what I want from you."
"What do you want?—Miss Ravenclaw."
The ghost trembled, as if calling her by name hurt. "I want to ... borrow your body. You'd have to invite me in. But the niceties don't need to be observed if Dark Magic leaves you open to possession." She curled her lip. "Like with that one there you fancy so much."
Hermione, carefully not looking at Severus, wondered how you gag a ghost.
Pacing in front of the fireplace, Severus glanced back at Hermione. She bit a nail, inspiring an urge to stride over to her and jerk the thumb away from her mouth as if she were one of his first-years.
All the way from the library to his dungeon quarters, she hadn't spoken—which from her said volumes more than any words. As had her red face at the Grey Lady's comment she fancied him. Him.
The change in her Patronus was telling too. A raven.
But then his own had let the cat out of the bag. He winced. Literally.
"'Invite her in.' Would she leave when I want, too?"
"You're not considering ... ?"
"I haven't found anything new about the Diadem in weeks. Maybe—"
"If she knew how to create the Diadem, she wouldn't have stolen it."
"That's occurred to me. Still, they both knew the Founders. The knowledge—"
"That's what she's counting on, Miss Granger. Your Ravenclaw-ish hunger for knowledge."
"Hermione. I'm no student, Severus. I'm not letting you keep me at a distance. Especially after I saw—"
"What makes you think my Patronus has anything to do with you!"
"Maybe because you just suggested it."
He glared at her. "Our feelings are immaterial, a distraction—"
"I disagree. Those two have been haunting Hogwarts for a millennium. There's mentions of them in Hogwarts, a History, but they've never been a danger—"
"Peeves would disagree—"
"My point is, why now? Why us?"
"I imagine the Grey Lady sees a lot of you in her. Then there's your interest in the Diadem."
"And seeing her interest in me, and how we've been together so often lately, made the Baron interested in you?"
"The Baron and I have plenty in common." His tone was beyond bitter.
Hermione rose from her chair and moved to Severus, stopping his pacing with a touch to his arm. He jerked away from her.
"You're nothing alike."
"We're both murderers."
"What you did for Dumbledore had nothing to do with murder."
"You don't know all I did."
"Do you regret it?"
His eyes closed tightly. "I do."
"Dumbledore told Harry remorse heals the soul. I believe if the Baron tried himself against you, he'd find you sealed up tight." She rolled up the sleeve to his left arm. "You keep acting like your bloody Mark is still there. Well, it isn't."
Watching Hermione lift a charred jewelled piece out of the velvet-lined box, Severus tried to push down his foreboding.
Rubbing the metal with her thumb, Hermione read its inscription aloud. "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure."
As if saying the words conjured her, the form of Helena Ravenclaw formed before them, causing a gust of wind to blow through the room, rustling scrolls and ruffling the pages of books.
"Splendid. The wisdom of the ages—"
Severus huffed. "Was obviously wasted on you, or you'd have returned the Diadem and not wound up dead in the wilds of Albania."
"Why is that Slytherin here?"
Hermione smiled at Severus. "Because he's as stubborn as I am."
"And because after twenty years enslaved to two of the most ruthless and wily wizards of any age, I have learned some principles for bargaining with evil spirits. For instance, that promising 'anything' means 'everything' and not to take vows I haven't seen written down first." He sat down, crossed his legs, and pulled a piece of parchment towards him and picked up a quill. "Let's start with exactly what you want Hermione's body for, shall we?"
"I want to live again—through her."
"Her body is already taken."
"By you? Has it progressed so far?" The Grey Lady's smile was a taunt.
"Severus, please." Standing behind him, Hermione rested her hands on his shoulders.
Even yesterday, he would have shrugged her off, but in front of the ghost, he allowed it. Only to present a united front, of course.
"What do you want?" Hermione asked.
"I wanted vengeance through this form, but my ghostly presence isn't a torment to the Baron. I'm trapped. But if for a time I could live again, I might be able to break the cycle. I want rest."
"Is that what the Baron wants too? Just a chance to talk once again to the love of his life?" Severus' voice was an insinuating purr.
The Grey Lady's cheeks grew opaque, a ghostly blush, then her eyes glowed. "Whose blood do you think spots his robes, that puts the blood in 'bloody'? I can't speak for the Baron, but I assure you I don't want to jump his bones."
"Thank Merlin," Hermione muttered. "Now to get down to business. This enchanted parchment will make whatever we write upon it a magical contract. Let's come down to terms, shall we?"
Suppressing an urge to cast an Incendio on the parchment, Severus tilted it towards Hermione for her signature. He had to bite back a last minute plea for her not to do this, to remember all the stories of pacts with demons.
As soon as she lifted her quill, the Grey Lady flowed into her body. Hermione stiffened.
It was like witnessing a death, when you knew, knew what made a person had been extinguished. Then a new light shone in her eyes. Hermione's eyes always reminded him of chocolate: rich, warm.
The eyes were still brown—but not warm.
Hermione had felt a shock, like plunging into an icy winter lake. She screamed, or willed herself to, but she felt numb, distant. She could look out through her own eyes, but it was as if she peered through a tunnel.
"Hermione." Severus' own eyes were wide with shock, his voice barely above a whisper.
She heard herself laugh. Her body twirled about. The voice she heard wasn't the one she was used to hearing with her own ears, but the voice you hear on a recording that doesn't seem you. "The owner is presently away. Can I help you?"
Severus hadn't noticed before, but Hermione resembled the Grey Lady greatly. Yet as the ghost's hauteur, her petulance, settled on Hermione's features, she looked more a stranger.
In a way, that made dealing with the intruder easier. This wasn't Hermione. Helena. That's how he must think of her during this week.
Helena's hands flew up to explore her face, caressing it. Then dipped into her robes to stroke her chest—the area where her mortal wounds used to be seen on her apparition. "Can we get chocolate? I want to try chocolate. I love this body."
"Don't get too comfortable."
Her lips stretched into a smile. "I have until sundown to feel this body's pleasures, then you'll have her back."
"Until the dawn. Then you'll return."
"Miss her? Ah, but if I get some business settled, I might cut the holiday short. As soon as you let the Baron in."
"We never agreed—"
Her nails raked over the bare skin of one arm, blood welled from the scratches. When Severus stepped forward, she pointed her wand at him. "Tut tut. Nothing in our agreement can keep me from doing a great deal of damage. Hermione Granger is my hostage."
Helena licked the frosting off her fingers like a greedy child.
Severus whispered into her ear, "Hermione has better manners. You're drawing attention."
"Oh, is this a secret?"
The very pact they signed could send them to Azkaban. They hadn't been able to add a term against self-injury because possession itself was harm. Tidy little trap.
Even with Helena's promise she wouldn't harm herself further before he could speak to Hermione, he was afraid to leave her alone. Yet seeing her wear Hermione's body ...
Seeing a flicker of fear on her face, he looked up at the enchanted ceiling. Sundown.
The moment Hermione sensed feeling returning to her limbs she flung herself into Severus' arms. He stiffened but she clung to his waist, hanging on as if he were the only rope keeping her from falling from the tower. She sobbed against his shoulder, and finally, she felt a hand rest on her hair. "Don't do it, Severus."
"Everything. Just as she can. She hasn't left completely."
"I can't just keep her in a full body-bind. If I agree—"
"No—" She lifted up her hands, grabbed onto his hair and pulled him down for a kiss.
The moment her lips brushed his, all thought fled, and he kissed back bruisingly hard. Her fingers tightened on his hair, and she bit his lip, causing him to open to her, deepening the kiss. When they finally broke away from each other, they were both left gasping. He ran his hands down her arms and held her at arms' distance.
"As much as I enjoyed your form of argument—certainly much more succinct than is your wont—it's not wise to do this in front of the—"
"Right. Because after all this best keep them guessing how we feel."
He started to let go of her, and she grabbed his hand. "Please, don't stop touching me. All day. I could see, I could hear, but I couldn't feel a thing. I feared I'd run mad."
He sighed. "Which is why—"
"We'll write all the terms down—"
"Yes, because that turned out so well."
"They'll both have what they wanted all along. If we limit their time ... There'd be no more reason to hurt us."
"She could ask the Baron. To hurt himself. And he might do it. To atone. And I could only watch."
Hermione's grip on Severus' hand was painfully tight, but after her plea not to let go, he couldn't just jerk away. He lifted his other hand to stroke her cheek, and as he hoped, she relaxed, letting him gently tug away his hand. "You felt nothing today. Even if—"
"She tortured you—"
"I'd feel nothing. Given the Baron would only be borrowing my body, I doubt she'd take much satisfaction inflicting anything permanent. We could demand they have no more than an hour, more than enough time—"
"To near kill you."
"To make her peace. And his."
His fingers were playing along her jaw, just the sides of them trailing her skin, and she felt a tingle right down to her groin. Just his voice did this, made parts of her go boneless and others tighten. What he did to her with a touch, Ron hadn't been able to do with a kiss. What he'd done with a kiss—
"I had her write down everything about the Diadem. Even—"
"I don't care."
His hand dropped. "We're paying a rather high price—"
"Had I known—"
"Well, now you do, so make the best of it."
He glared at her, and she took a step back. "You seemed to consider the Diadem worth jeopardising your very soul. You expounded to me on all the fables of its uses. That wearing it brought people back from madness and didn't we owe it to the Longbottoms to try. If you're going to use Dark Magic, then use it. Don't put an arrow through the bloody rabbit and then refuse to cook the stew."
That stopped him short. Words he'd long given up hope hearing said to him: you're right; thank you; I'm sorry; I love you.
"It's late. You should return to your rooms."
She shook her head. "I want to stay."
He swallowed. "What are you saying?"
"That I felt like I died today, and when you touch me, I feel alive. That if Helena gets a show, I don't bloody care. That I love you, and even if you can never say—"
Maybe it's that he couldn't say it yet. Maybe this was his way of saying it, but he caught her up in his arms and with him filling her mouth, his tongue caressing her, she was happy to let it go.
He broke the kiss and buried his nose in her hair, inhaling scents that had nothing to do with her shampoo. Her lips moved down his jaw, and he felt deft fingers unbuttoning his high collar, her mouth moving down to lave exposed skin, stopping at the white knot of raised flesh. Her fingers pressed down, explored there, and he felt her hands begin to shake.
"We don't have to—"
"Silly man. I want you ... Nagini?"
She sucked on the skin above the scar until he hissed at the sensation. Her eyes gleamed. "There, now I've marked you."
"Tut, tut. I can't take points or give detention. What can I do to get even?" He pushed her against the wall, ran his hands down her sides, nuzzled her chest. Her own hands pulled his shirt out of his trousers, and her palms stroking his skin made him inhale sharply. He hadn't thought to ask, but where her hands explored next told him nothing in his reaction scared her, that she wasn't—if not practiced...
"You've done this before."
"That's a problem?"
He didn't like how her mouth set, her eyes hardened, as if getting ready for a slap.
"I'm relieved frankly. But I might kill Ron Weasley—"
"Don't bring him in here with us. Please, Severus. We have enough company as it is."
She didn't like the doubt in his eyes, how far away he looked, so she peppered his face with kisses, continued to undress him. She was expert at using making love to avoid arguments, and though it probably wasn't the healthiest habit, she didn't want to bring in the ghosts of Hogwarts, let alone that of past loves, tonight. If he could let Lily lie, she could do the same with Ron.
Weasley had hurt her. Clearly. And how long before he hurt her, left scars all the uglier? He didn't know if in the end, if he was the better man. And it was little consolation that any wounds he inflicted on her now would cut him more deeply.
And he wasn't young enough anymore to heal cleanly.
But then her hand found him, stroked him, and when he moaned, she giggled. It wasn't mocking—just full of such obvious delight she could affect him, move him, that he bent himself to seeing just what sounds he could evoke from her.
He rubbed his cheek on her chest, then pulled up her t-shirt and sucked her breasts through her bra. She shrieked and dug her fingers into his hair. His hand dropped lower, teasing her through her knickers, then sliding underneath, finding and rubbing the bundle of nerves there. "Oh, God, if you stop touching me—"
"We have too many clothes on."
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. They made short work of the rest of their clothing. He never stopped touching her, and by the time they undressed, she didn't have the patience for the slow exploration she had envisioned.
She lay back on the bed, the candlelight turning her brown hair splayed on the pillow into a burnished gold and copper. Venus to my ugly Vulcan. When the bitter thought made his mouth turn down, she captured his lips with hers, then took him into her hands, guiding him into her. He moved in slowly, stroking her inside whilst watching her eyes, concentrating hard to make sure he didn't just crash in like the boys she had known. She clenched down, tightened even more around him, her lips moving on his, making urgent sounds low in her throat.
His possessive look as he moved above her thrilled her. He's mine.
When she'd viewed the scenes in the Pensieve, Severus had been at St Mungo's, and the Ministry had been considering transferring him to Azkaban. The "anything" he'd said he'd give for Lily had made her look at Ron and wonder how much he would have been willing to sacrifice.
The answer would have been his life, but not quite what she'd read in Severus' eyes. And that was terrifying, especially now. She didn't think he knew any limits, and she had no idea how to keep him safe.
Hours afterwards, Severus lay awake, his arm resting just below her breasts, her soft snores making him smile. No Venus, just a very real woman. He knew only one way to protect her if the Grey Lady didn't agree to new terms. He could perform an exorcism. There probably wasn't any other way ultimately to protect Hogwarts with Helena having proved so dangerous.
Their contract forbid exorcism, and he was a signatory. The price would be the same as violating an Unbreakable Vow.
His life might end just when he had a chance at happiness. What else should he expect?
As Severus woke, he became aware of a warm weight spooned close to him. His hand rested on her bare hip. When he shifted his head, his nose was buried into a bushy mass scented of apple and a hint of citrus. He moved his hand down, stroking the silky skin. Not a dream. He felt what was certainly a rather soppy smile stretch his face. He planted a kiss at the nape of her neck. "Good morning," he said softly.
She scooted even closer, and she turned towards him, then she stiffened, her eyes flew open, and she screamed.
When Hermione had awoken, she'd felt his erection pressing against her bottom and had wiggled closer. The warmth in his voice had brushed across her, made her tingle, like his lips had on her neck.
When she'd turned towards him, the light hit her eyes, and then she could only watch as her own body hurled away from Severus, snatching the sheets off the bed to cover herself.
"Don't touch me," Helena said.
He sneered. "Don't worry."
"I feel sore in"—she sniffed her arm—"I can even smell you on me. This room reeks of what you did. Disgusting."
"Yes, you are. I'll never touch you if I can avoid it. You're only wearing her skin—you in fact bargained for it. Don't blame us for body snatching and your own voyeurism."
But even as he said the words, he felt disgusted at himself. In a few moments, she'd stripped him of his happiest memory, making of it something sordid. He gazed into her eyes and saw the contempt there he'd always expected if he tried to court Hermione.
He picked up and threw to her some of Hermione's clothes. "Get dressed. We need to seek out the Baron."
But after he left the room, Helena stretched out, clutched his pillow to her and sniffed it. "It's not fair," she whispered.
Caged up for the day, Hermione tried with the feel of her magic to find a way to rattle the bars. That look on Severus' face—
She didn't understand what was going on in a mind that for a millennium had only existed as ectoplasm, a magical imprint of personality. But somehow, she felt they had touched a nerve in the Grey Lady, and Hermione feared before this ended she would take it out on both of them.
As soon as they saw the Baron, Helena ducked behind Severus, clinging tightly behind him and clutching at his arm. He pried her fingers off his arm—gently—aware this was really Hermione's body. "For Merlin's sake, this is what you wanted."
Helena's eyes were wide, and a sheen of sweat covered her. "Right." She took a breath and stepped into the ghost's path. "Hello, Eldred."
The Baron shifted from translucent to transparent. "Helena. I've sought you everywhere."
Severus put himself between Helena and the Baron. "I assume you'd prefer a warm body to interact with. We have a proposition."
Hermione badly wanted to look at Severus, but Helena's gaze was fixed on the Baron. Severus didn't seem as focused on the negotiations as he should, as if it were beside the point.
That morning, she'd listened as Helena poured poison into his ear as they'd searched for the Baron: That she remembered how Severus had followed Lily around, like the Baron had stalked her in life and death. Asking Severus if he'd wanted to shag Hermione as a student. Asking if he'd let Hermione go if she came to her senses.
A finger—she'd try to move a finger.
"Have you ever done this to others?" Severus asked bitterly.
"No," said Helena.
"But what's to stop you in the future?"
Bollocks. Would he have to do a Potter to set this right?
And this contract, designed to bring back spirits to work out issues unresolved at death, possibly wouldn't keep the possessing ghosts from hurting each other's hosts. For when the matter involved their murder ...
Last time they'd confronted each other in life, the Baron had stabbed Helena to death. Severus couldn't risk a millennial haunt had changed His Bloodiness when Hermione could pay the price.
Severus pointed his wand at them. "Requiem æternam dona—"
His hand flew up to his neck and his knees buckled.
For once Hermione's and Helena's wills were as one. "No." She ran to his side and knelt down.
He was struggling to speak. No doubt to complete the exorcism.
"Idiot. She loves you. You might as well stab her in her heart yourself." She pulled him onto her lap. "I just wanted to know. What it was like. To live again. Make him feel what he cost me. Cost us." She shook him. "Don't be such a bloody Gryffindor."
Enough of his resolution broke with her words that he could breathe again. "'Gryffindor?' Now that hurt."
The Baron floated over him. "Lad, this isn't necessary to protect your lass or Hogwarts. We can go to the ghost council—they'd have never allowed an involuntary possession had I chanced it, and they can make sure our ... goodbyes will do no harm. And ... if I can get one last chance to talk to Helena in a living body—for one hour of that I'll happily trade another thousand years of this half-existence."
"Please," Helena said, Hermione's eyes staring down at him.
Even through the wool of robes, Severus felt cold in the presence of so many Hogwarts ghosts crowded around him. It didn't help his nerves they had all met in the Shrieking Shack. They could have gone elsewhere if Severus had been willing to wait, but he wanted this over with and Hermione released as soon as possible. After almost dying there—thrice—the place raised goose flesh even without the presence of ghosts.
Severus felt as if a shard of ice pierced him and turned to find the Baron tapping him on the shoulder. "Are you prepared?"
Hermione stared at Severus through eyes still controlled by Helena. The instant he signed the contract, he stiffened. When he raised his eyes to hers, they were no longer his own. His walk was different, more reminiscent of Viktor than Severus, as if this were a man used to riding a horse or broom that had never had to tread lightly.
She wasn't sure if it was she or Helena who took a step back at the look in his eyes. Ever since they'd moved to save Severus, she'd felt fleeting sensations from her own body, emotions not her own.
"How does it feel, Eldred? To wear flesh again?"
He bent to her and whispered, "Delicious. After this—we could immediately take them back. Once inhabited, it's hard to resist us. And don't you feel it—the Dark Magic swirling around both of them? They've both cast Unforgivables."
"You're very free with what isn't yours."
"Since when have you been fastidious about that?"
"Since you stole something of mine. My body, my soul with your knife in my heart."
"Think of what we could contribute, all the knowledge they've lost we can bring back."
"Good to know you haven't changed."
"All that magical lore—more than either of their puny minds could ever rediscover. Helena, tell me you don't want this. To feel the blood rushing through your veins. To breathe in air. To taste ... feel again. Don't you want to see the world beyond the walls that hemmed us in for a millennium?"
She sneered. "Put you in a live body you quickly shed those chains."
"I wore them for you! I am sorry. In these bodies we can have a real life again. I can make it up to you."
"They won't haunt us. No one will ever know."
Helena closed her eyes. And when she opened them, for a moment she seemed to pierce through to see Severus, not the Baron. "I forgive you. Not because you deserve it, but I wish to no longer be tied to you." Tears ran down her cheeks. "I want to go home. I want to see my mother again. And I want to know that wherever I'm going, you won't be there."
She raised Hermione's wand. "Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis."
Plunged back into his body, cold overwhelmed Severus as wind rattled the shack.
"He's gone," said Severus.
Her hands cupped his face. "I'm sorry for things I said. I always was bad about poking at snakes. Twas the death of me."
Grasping her wrists, he pulled her hands down. "Miss Ravenclaw—"
"I'm afraid I've also always been bad about coveting things belonging to others." She kissed him hard and fast on the lips, then whispered in his ear. "I don't think Hermione would mind a kiss. I saw—and felt—everything. You might have been worth ... lowering my standards for."
She handed over her wand. "I believe you know the incantation."
"It were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." Some of the hauteur returned to her face and voice. "Don't tell me—a sentimental Slytherin. Save it for your Hermione."
He pronounced the words of the incantation then, feeling a sorrow he'd never expected filling him. When he finished speaking the words, the breeze that blew through the shack was a caress on his face.
The next thing he felt was a slap.
"Bloody Gryffindor, indeed. You called us reckless? I suppose I wasn't worth living for."
But she was gone.
Severus found Hermione in the library, reading the scrolls on which Helena had written about the Diadem, the box with its pieces on the table. When she looked up at him, he saw her eyes were swollen and red. He sat across from her. "Is it repairable?"
"I don't know."
"I just think that some things are so precious, you should keep trying, even if it's broken and scorched. Don't you?"
"I do." He reached out and put his hand on top of hers.
"Don't touch me."
"Don't leave. But when you touch me, I get rather ... distracted."
He sat back down. "You're both wrong, you know. About my being Gryffindor in how I acted."
"Yes, because you actually had a cunning plan to survive. Perhaps a Horcrux?"
He sighed. "Albus never did understand Slytherins either, even if he sometimes acted like everyone's caricature of one. We're not reckless, not gamblers, and we're not sacrificing. Hermione, I acted how I did because I couldn't risk your life and sanity ... and because your life was more valuable to me than my own without you in it. I wanted you safe."
"You'd have plunged a knife into my heart. Especially ..."
"You took the most extreme option. On impulse?"
He shook his head. "I'd considered it the night before."
"You made love to me knowing you'd—"
"You never discussed it with me. Together we might've found another way."
"You were possessed by Helena. You thought she'd never quite left, and you were right. I couldn't consult you."
"This morning when Helena taunted you ... you were quiet. Usually, you'd just dish it out right back. Unless she was getting to you. Convincing you to leave me. I thought ... that might be your idea of running away."
"I'm not such an idiot. Why—"
"Why not? Everyone runs from me. Ron did every time we fought or things got difficult. I was so tired of that and of bickering I stopped arguing. I told myself I was growing up, learning to choose my battles. I decided love meant chipping away at yourself until you were the shape of the other's desire. But, ultimately, I didn't want to lose myself."
"I desire you, not some Galatea, insufferable know-it-all though you might be. Even if I do fear, as the Grey Lady put it, you'll come to your senses."
"You challenge me. I feel with you I won't be chipped away, diminished, but grow. But if you can't accept that I love you and trust me ... I loved Ron and it hurt to leave him. Like some terrible injury it takes months to recover from. I wouldn't have recovered from your death, and it would hurt so much more to walk away from you. Maimed, if not crippled."
"I'm rather too brittle to chip away at myself ... maybe too old to grow. But I'll try rather than see you hurt. Maybe that's what love means. I ... I do ... I love you."
She came around the table and sat on his lap.
He touched his forehead to hers. "I assume it's all right to touch you now?"
She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him on his nose, then his cheek, then his brows. "You could have saved us a lot of that argument with those three words."
"Some things need to be talked out."
He claimed her mouth, drinking her down, his hands pulling her so close she found it hard to breathe, yet she wiggled on his lap, teasing him—
"Fifty points each from Gryffindor and Slytherin."
They broke apart to see Madame Hooch grinning at them.
"You can't take points off her. She's not a student."
"Should I take 100 points off Slytherin then? Oh, don't scowl so, Severus, you go back to looking ugly when you do that. I'll return the points. Would seem ungrateful to dock your Houses considering you won me the pool."
"The pool?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, the betting pool on how long it took before you two were mating like kneazles. Nevertheless, I'd suggest—what's that phrase I hear Muggle-borns use? Ah, yes. Get a room."
"We'll do that," Hermione said.
Severus stood by her side as the restored Diadem was placed on Alice Longbottom's head.
Working out the Diadem's restoration had taken years, and Hermione had confessed to Severus that she was tempted to search for the Resurrection Stone to question Rowena Ravenclaw herself. He reminded her of the trouble they'd got into the last time they'd meddled with Dark Magic and departed spirits, and she'd decided to let be.
Neville knelt beside Alice, searching her face. "Mum?"
Her hand lifted to touch his cheek. "My dear boy."
Even when they took the Diadem off, Alice's eyes remained clear.
"Her Healers want to limit her exposure to the Diadem, at least at first, but oh, Severus, we're all so hopeful."
Just outside St Mungo's, they weren't exactly alone, but when Hermione pulled him down by the ears for a kiss, he didn't object.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, you've been married for years. Can't you keep your hands off each other?"
Severus felt like hexing Ron Weasley for that despite his friendly grin, but at Hermione's look he didn't even make a sharp retort, just limited himself to a scowl. He stood by stonily, crossing his arms, whilst they chatted.
Hermione could tell by how stiff Severus was when she took his arm he wasn't happy. "Don't tell me you're jealous."
"No, I trust you. But I do doubt he ever got over you."
"That's not much a compliment to Katie. You know she's expecting? Ron told me Hugo if a boy, Rose if a girl. Honestly, I'll never understand the pureblood penchant for flower names."
"I suppose I can't imagine anyone not seeing what a treasure they'd had in you and regretting the loss."
"Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure."
"I beg to differ." And demonstrated how much.