The Love You Take
Chapter 1: The Predicament
Severus Snape, Potions master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, stood before his headmaster with a look of enraged astonishment on his pale, drawn face. The carriage clock over the mantelpiece showed the time to be near three o'clock in the morning. Thankfully, the fire in the room, hastily augmented upon the arrival of his visitors, dispelled much of the natural cold and gloom of the wee hours of a November night.
The headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, sat in a burgundy leather wingchair placed at a pleasant angle to the fire. Its twin, which Severus usually occupied when the headmaster came to visit, was empty, for the Potions master was towering over the seated, fatigued old man. Dumbledore's robes were both wet and muddy to mid-calf; his silver hair was wildly windblown and untidy; his ancient face was etched with exhaustion both physical and magical. Frankly, he looked like crap, and it unnerved Severus to a profound degree.
The third occupant of the room was not participating in the conversation; in fact, if Severus had not verified for himself that both respiration and heartbeat were present, he would have believed that Dumbledore had arrived at his rooms bearing the dead body of Hermione Granger. Still, the Head Girl lay upon the matching leather sofa in a boneless heap, wan as a ghost, her usually rampant brown hair a drenched and bedraggled mess about her head, her body wrapped as tightly as a swaddled infant in a plaid blanket of crimson and gold.
'Would you mind repeating that, Headmaster?' Severus inquired, his usually smooth voice low and ragged with fury.
Dumbledore sighed and raised his hand to his face, pinching his glasses from his nose so that he might rub tiredly at his weary blue eyes. 'I had a message from Tom – a request to meet him at a specific spot along the road leading from Hogsmeade up into the hills. He said he had one of my students whom he wished to return to me – and that if I did not come alone, he would be leaving a dead child, rather than an unconscious one, at my feet.'
'Why didn't you tell me?' Severus interrupted roughly.
Dumbledore replaced his half-moon spectacles and gazed at Severus steadily. 'I did not tell you because you would have argued with me about going alone – and I was anxious to retrieve my student.'
Severus simply glowered more darkly, so Dumbledore continued his tale.
'When I arrived there, Tom walked right out of the mist with the girl Levitated before him. He was laughing.'
Severus noted the pain in the headmaster's tone, and for a moment, his concern overcame his anger. Wordlessly, he Summoned the decanter from the sideboard and a goblet as well, and poured for his employer three fingers of Firewhisky. Dumbledore gratefully accepted the drink and took a lengthy swig.
'Tom allowed Hermione to collapse on the ground between us, and he told me what he had done – that she had been cursed with Eternus Perturbatio because, and I quote, "Even an old goat like you, Dumbledore, should have a willing wench in your bed.'" Dumbledore's mouth twisted in disgust as he repeated the Dark Lord's taunt.
'Why would he do such a thing?' Severus snarled.
'Oh, he was kind enough to share his reasons with me,' Dumbledore said bitterly. 'First of all, Hermione was chosen because of her relationship with Harry.'
'Potter ought never to have taken a girlfriend!' Severus said angrily.
Dumbledore shifted in his seat, sitting straighter; the Firewhisky was apparently warming and calming him, for now he spoke with his accustomed even tones. 'Severus, no one who knows them believes that Hermione is Harry's girlfriend – she is no more his girlfriend than Ronald Weasley. But she is his best friend, and she is integral to Harry's past successes and the planning of his future endeavours. To see her in distress would be very distracting and disturbing for Harry. Tom realises this.' Dumbledore rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepled his fingers before him. 'The second reason for his actions is that he wishes to humiliate me.'
A mulish look settled upon Severus' face, and he leant against the mantle, his hands shoved into his trousers pockets. He sneered but did not speak.
'Severus, you know my situation,' the old wizard said firmly. 'I cannot be placed in such a position with this child.'
Severus jerked himself from his place against the mantel with barely suppressed violence. 'Then give her to Potter or Weasley!'
Dumbledore's voice became thunderous with disapproval. 'And put this girl at the mercy of a boy too young to know his own mind? Too young to know how to protect her from herself and others? Too young to honour and respect her in spite of her infirmity?' He rose from his seat, seemingly fully recovered from his excursion into the cold Scottish night, and spoke with authority. 'You know you are the only man to whom I can trust her. You will do what must be done, and when the time comes, you will set her free to live out her life as she would have done if your Master had never interfered with her!'
Severus flinched at the mention of the Dark Lord in this context, and stood erect upon the hearth, his pale face mottling with mixed shame and suppressed violence. The headmaster, as always, played him like a violin, with the touch of a virtuoso.
'I won't do it!' he shouted, his fists clenched helplessly at his sides. 'You speak of your humiliation – of your position – what of me! What of mine?'
'If she imprints on me, there will be no way to hide it from the staff or the Order – and eventually, the Ministry would become involved,' Dumbledore said implacably, as if Severus had not spoken. 'If she imprints on you, no one will notice. You are solitary, and no one comes to visit you in your rooms.'
Severus stared at the sleeping female on his sofa. 'She is just a child,' he whispered.
'She is eighteen – well past the age of adulthood,' Dumbledore replied briskly. 'Severus,' he added, and waited for his Potions master to turn to him before he continued to speak. 'If you do not do as I wish, I will be forced to ask Lupin.'
'That werewolf!' Severus spat with disgust, tearing his eyes from the Head Girl.
'Yes,' Dumbledore replied inexorably. 'And if Lupin is the one upon whom Hermione imprints, she will be forced to leave school to be near him, for we cannot have him here. Nymphadora will have to be informed of the situation. Hermione's parents will also have to be apprised; they might even insist upon removing her from the wizarding world altogether.'
'Where she cannot be protected at all!' Severus ranted. 'And those Muggles will never understand her behaviour – they will likely have her clapped up in some sort of mental institution!' He advanced upon Dumbledore angrily. 'How can you even suggest such a thing?'
Dumbledore stepped forward to meet him. 'Then you will do it?'
Severus felt the searing pain of the bone-crushing clamp as Dumbledore's trap was neatly sprung. He stared at his mentor, his lips moving but no sound issuing from his throat.
'She'll be able to keep on with her schoolwork,' the headmaster said soothingly, his hand reaching to clamp upon Severus' shoulder. 'No one need know if she visits your rooms frequently, for we can connect her Floo to yours. I know you will be discreet, and that you will teach her the necessity of discretion, as well.'
Severus gave a last feeble struggle against the snare in which he was caught. 'She will be horrified,' he whispered brokenly.
Dumbledore grasped his other shoulder and gently shook him. 'She will not be horrified,' he said quietly. 'She will fix upon you, and you will become her touchstone, Severus. She will not know what is happening to her, or why she feels as she does, until you explain it to her. You must find it in your heart to be kind to her – emotionally kind – in addition to caring for her needs. Keep in mind that it is not her fault she is in this situation – and see if you cannot look upon your part in this as another contribution you are making to the war effort.'
Severus jerked away from the headmaster, his eyes blazing. 'Is not my entire life enough of a sacrifice?' he demanded. 'Must you have my soul, as well?'
Dumbledore did not answer, but turned away to the door. 'I will leave you to it, then,' he said.
'Headmaster!' Severus said desperately. 'Wait until she is awake – wait until I have spoken to her. Stay, to back up my story.'
Dumbledore simply shook his head, turning to address Severus from the door. 'We cannot risk having another person present when she awakes. She must imprint upon you if we are to keep her safe and out of harm's way.' He opened the door, pausing in the doorway. 'If you find that you need someone to verify your story, please feel free to bring her to see me tomorrow – but I feel quite sure that she will be too distressed in her mind to doubt you. She will be very much inclined to believe anything you tell her, providing her needs are met. The first few days will be the worst, you know.'
The door closed behind the departing wizard, and Severus resisted the urge to hurl the decanter of Firewhisky at the door for the mere pleasure of watching it shatter. Instead, he Summoned the straight chair from his desk and sat down beside the girl who lay in an enchanted sleep in his sitting room. In slumber, she looked impossibly young and unspoilt; the mobile mouth, too wide for beauty, was more comely closed than when open for her prattling, in which she seemed to be engaged during every waking moment. The skin of her face was smooth and unblemished, her lashes dark against her cheek. She was not a beauty, but she also was not unattractive.
And in the very near future, she would lose what innocence she retained to her Potions teacher.
A/N: The title is from the song The End by The Beatles, from their Abbey Road album:
And in the end the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.
Eternus Perturbatio is a Latin bastardization of "endless passion."