All thy vexations Were but my trials of thy love, and thou Hast strangely stood the test.The Tempest, IV.i
Sir, she is mortal; But by immortal Providence She's mine.The Tempest, V.i
Surprisingly, Lucy and Paula were allowed to visit. Molly and Sprout, knowing I missed them, talked McGonagall into it (she reluctantly agreed, because of Lucy's acquaintance with wizarding via her gran), and Arthur managed a Triple Apparition to get them to Hogwarts. They stayed for a week (Lucy took a well-deserved holiday) and seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. After a couple days' awe they quickly adjusted -- and Lucy appreciated the Elves as much as I.
I was flabbergasted to discover that Lucy and Severus got along during their one meeting. He stopped by my rooms to drop off a strengthening potion, and after some small talk (he was capable of it, surprisingly) he admitted he'd met Lucy's gran in searching for some terribly exotic ingredient.
It is, it appears, a small world after all -- whether muggle or magical. Severus derided the more religious aspect of the Caribbean approach to potions and healing, of course, but Lucy accepted his attitude with good grace, and when he left my rooms she confined her approval of him to a cheeky wink -- which I ignored.
Poppy and I made two quick trips to St. Mungo's to consult on therapies for my weakened left side, but other than that it was proving to be a long, somnolent summer.
I found I was often lonely. Solitude had never bothered me before, but everyone was incredibly busy -- except me. McGonagall was preoccupied with her new duties and the search for a new Transfigurations teacher; Pomfrey, Sprout and Molly were working overtime stocking up on supplies for some nebulous but certain future trouble; Hagrid was again traveling continually between Cornwall and the Continent, in his role as unofficial ambassador to the Giants. And Sirius Black was, thankfully, spending most of his time at Heart's Solace, with Harry Potter and the Weasleys. I'm certain that irritated Severus no end.
Severus himself was almost totally absent. He'd disappeared shortly after laying down his edict restricting me to the grounds (he hadn't, thankfully, found out about the trip to Hogsmeade). God only knew what he was doing, but I suspected he'd inheirited Dumbledore's mantle as leader of, for want of a better term, the Resistance.
Whether he could handle this, his new duties as Deputy Head, and his teaching duties as well had yet to be seen.
I didn't get much done. I'd decided to finally tackle the little monograph on The Tempest Severus had lent me so long ago -- purely for my own amusement, as I had no real intent to publish. But re-reading the play itself proved too distracting. Analysing Prospero made me think of Dumbledore, and that led to brooding on his death.
It had been horrible at Hogwarts for some time following the assassination. Even after Poppy had discharged me from the Infirmary, McGonagall's eyes and nose seemed perpetually red and swollen. Severus, still bothered by the aftereffects of his beating and the Cruciatus Curse, managed to maintain his composure in front of the students. But he couldn't keep it up in front of the faculty and staff. On the few occasions he was required to appear in the staff room, he retreated to monosyllables.
There was actually some debate as to whether Death Eaters had killed Albus or whether he'd taken himself out, and most of the assassins with him.
I was betting on the latter, though how he had known he'd be attacked was a mystery.
They'd caught him in front of the Ministry's call-box entrance. As at Hogwarts, one didn't Apparate directly there: one picked an Apparition point like Arthur's Muggle call-box and then walked to the Muggle warehouse which stood beside the Ministry call-box.
After the other members of the Confederation of Wizards had entered the Ministry Albus arrived late -- purposely, I assumed, to be certain no one else was caught in the attack -- and the Death Eaters had surrounded him as he approached.
They made one great mistake. Never ones to turn down a bit of fun, they played a sickening game of cat-and-mouse with him. He took it all without retaliation, and as their leader raised his wand to deliver the coūp de grāce, Albus made his move.
No one knew what spell he used: all the few witnesses could say was that there was a blinding flash of light and a concussive thump that knocked them off their feet. When their vision cleared, Albus and all but two of the Death Eaters were gone -- one of them dead, and the other so badly burned he was unrecognisable and died soon after. The facade of the Muggle warehouse was scorched beyond any attempts to repair or charm it with glamour (and for many months visitors and workers at the Ministry had to use an alternative entrance, to avoid the Muggle authorities who were still puzzling over the unexplained damage to the warehouse).
Almost simultaneously, two things happened elsewhere.
The Dementors housed in Aberdeen slipped their handlers and Apparated just outside Hogwarts -- with whose help no one had yet discovered though we suspected Barrett's father, as Dementors are unable to Apparate unless accompanied.
And Lucius Malfoy entered the Council Room, buried deep within the Ministry building, and informed Cornelius Fudge and all those assembled for Albus' competency hearing that he was dead. The meeting was abruptly adjourned, and all -- including Fudge -- fled to parts unknown. Most remained in hiding for weeks -- it's a wonder Fudge bothered to show up for my disciplinary hearing.
Thankfully, Severus could not blame himself for Albus' death, though I've no doubt he wanted to. He'd had no contact with Voldemort or the Death Eaters for weeks before the indictment was announced, and there was every indication that Voldemort acted on impulse to take advantage of the hearing. There was no way Severus could have known, and, knowing Albus, no way Severus could have stopped him from going if he had.
What a terrible and glorious immolation of self.
"Still using the walking stick?"
Severus's voice cut into my thoughts and I jerked upright, startled. "For longer walks, yes," I finally replied, "or if I'm very tired." (Which was far more often than I cared to admit.)
"Serves you right for meddling," he said as he entered the folly, ducking his head to miss the low eave.
He looked nearly his old self, though thinner than I'd ever seen him, and wherever he'd been he'd gotten sun: he had a quite respectable tan.
"We've had this conversation before," I warned him off. "I answer to a higher authority than the Deputy Head."
"You did," Severus said pointedly, and tried to stare me down. "What were you thinking of? I could have coshed you just now, and you'd never have noticed me approach."
"Him," I said softly, and Severus's face tightened.
"I suppose you want to know what happened."
"I know. I asked Alastor." Severus seemed surprised, so I added, "I didn't want you or Minerva to have to go over it yet again."
He relaxed and nodded with something suspiciously like gratitude.
"So," I threw out causually, "how is the diplomacy going?"
He started. "Poorly, and how in bloody hell did you know?"
"I guessed Albus would turn it over to you. Protheroe's more valuable in the Ministry, and Alastor, while crafty enough, can't control his emotions or be tactful to save his life. Moreover," I added, "you're brown as a berry, and I doubt you're the sunbathing type. Rome or Madrid?" (The Italian and Spanish Wizarding governments were based there.)
"Rome," he admitted with a reproving, sidelong glance at my meddlesome deduction. "Paris and Beauxbatons before that. Madrid next week." He shuddered.
"Oh, you poor man," I said dryly. "Toiling amidst the best of human civilisation while others rusticate with only the squid for company."
"I detest foreign food," he muttered defensively, and shifted his weight uncomfortably from foot to foot.
We sat in silence for a moment, and then he said, "Out with it."
"You tap your foot whenever you're about to ask me something impertinent. Spit it out."
"Well, since you ask -- was Fudge at all involved in the assassination, do you think?"
"No, so far as I can tell."
"Oh. I just wondered -- I take it there's a connection with Malfoy."
"Malfoy's money has kept Fudge in office for years. No connection other than the usual political toadying, I think."
"Oh. It's a shame, in a way. Might have been the one thing to get him out of office, if it could be proved."
He snorted a negative response and changed the subject. "Speaking of Malfoy, you'll be pleased to know that Draco will not be returning to Hogwarts."
"No?" I replied brightly. "Oh -- well, that's not entirely good, I suppose."
"Transferring to Durmstrang. His father obviously feels I'm no longer worth watching and that, in fact, I might interfere. Seventh Year is the traditional time to recruit Death Eaters," he said grimly, "but under the circumstances I suspect they may extend to Sixths...." He shrugged. "Crabbe is going also."
Something in his voice made me look up into his eyes. "Crabbe, but not --?"
"Goyle is staying."
"That's not much consolation. He's too thick to spy, but why else would his family --"
"You misunderstand," Severus cut me off. "He refused to go. His father has disowned him." He enjoyed the surprise on my face for a moment. "Congratulations, Professor Hunter, you broke up the Unholy Trio. Goyle may be thick, but evidently he's no longer unenlightened, thanks largely to your teaching."
"I can't see how --"
"Do shut up and take credit where it's due," he growled and paced along the folly's rail. "I don't offer praise often -- enjoy it when you get it."
"I would, except you've no real idea how I teach," I retorted.
"Incorrect. I've observed no fewer than three of your classes."
"I never saw you lurking."
"That is what you may expect to see when I observe you." He smirked.
He was deliberately baiting me now, so I switched tactics. "But how will Goyle cover his tuition?"
"It's been dealt with, there are precendents," he said as he impatiently waved away my concern with an elegant hand.
I thought I knew who'd dealt with it, and how, but I let it pass.
"Well... one out of three isn't bad, considering," I said thoughtfully as I poured myself more tea, and then grinned to myself.
"Just that Albus really knew what he was doing. You working at them from one side, and me from the other."
"I refute that Albus knew what he was doing -- all the time, at any rate. The present circumstance, for example...."
Suddenly the implacable lines of his face crumpled: he stopped near me, gripping the railing, his knuckles white. I thought for a second he was on the verge of another seizure (unwarranted, as he hadn't had one, to my knowledge, for a month), and I reached for his free hand and drew him down, ungracefully, beside me on the bench.
"I can't do this," he rasped, staring bleakly out at the lake. "What was Albus thinking? No one in their right mind trusts me, half the Death Eaters are after my head whatever Voldemort's orders, Fudge thinks I'm unbalanced and would love nothing more than to have the Board of Governors sack me, and Minerva's the only one standing in their way...."
He shook his head, and then buried it in his hands before he continued. "If ever there was proof that Albus was a doddering old fool, it's his misplaced confidence in me. Damn him. Damn him to Hades and back," he muttered with a harshness born of self-loathing.
"No rebuttal?" finally came a muffled query with a faint trace of Severus' usual sarcasm. "No rush to defend the greatest wizard of the century?"
"I'm hardly in a position to criticise -- I've wished him there on at least one occasion," I said, smiling at the echo of an earlier conversation.
"Would that be for dragging you to Hogwarts in the first place, or for foisting me upon you?"
"Neither, as it happens."
Severus let out a disbelieving grunt, dropped his hands, and leant back against the high back of the bench. After several long minutes during which we steadfastly watched the ripples on the lake (the squid was particularly active that day), Severus absently asked, "Who was it called his confidante, 'my gracious silence?'"
"Coriolanus, of his wife."
"How exquisitely apt," he noted, heavy on the irony.
In many ways it was an appropriate comparison -- an honourable man, sickened by the corruption of Rome, who betrays it to its enemies. (I could only hope he wouldn't take too many of the parallels to heart.)
When did I begin to worry about Severus Snape's heart? When did its importance begin to rival that of his intellect, to me? And when, by the name of all that's holy, did he start to think of me as a confidante?
Somewhere, somehow, Albus Dumbledore is dancing a jig -- the manipulative old dear.
"I've little experience of such things, but aren't supporters meant to chivvy one into feeling better about ones' self?" Severus asked querrelously, interrupting my thoughts.
Good. If he can quibble about my attitude and fish for an ego-boost -- even in such a roundabout, Slytherin way -- then there's hope.
"Unfortunately for you, I'm not the cheerleading type," I said dryly. "If that's what you need, best go find yourself a Weasley -- I understand there are several from which to choose," I added as a weak tease.
Severus managed a rueful chuckle despite the lameness of the observation, for which I mentally congratulated myself -- and then I sat bolt upright.
"What about the Weasleys?" I asked abruptly. "I don't know where Bill and Charlie would fit in --" I slewed 'round on my hip to face Severus, "but the twins' ingenuity might help, if it were channeled into something useful --"
"Perhaps," he replied thoughfully, and something sparked in the depths of his eyes.
I could see him turning the possibilities over in his mind.
"To hell with Fudge and Voldemort," he ruminated, "it's Molly that's the problem. If I put her chicks in danger, she'll have my balls for breakfast."
I spilled my tea. (He was entirely serious -- and I wouldn't have put it past Molly -- but the fact that he was willing to articulate it so blatantly was unexpected.)
When I could speak again without choking on laughter and had brushed the spilt tea from my lap I assured him, "Maternal pride will overcome maternal instinct -- eventually."
He smiled absently and retreated to his Machiavellian thoughts as I awkwardly settled back into the bench. I'd made the mistake of resting my weight on my left hand, and it was cramping badly. He noticed, and reached over to take it in his, massaging the protesting muscles. I cast about rapidly for a topic to distract me -- and him -- from what he was doing. (My muscle control might be damaged, but there was obviously nothing at all wrong with the nerve endings themselves.)
"As to what Albus was thinking," I hesitantly observed, "he chose the best brain in the Wizarding World -- and the one truly aware of what's at stake." Severus shifted uneasily beside me but didn't stop his work on my hand, so I continued. "Not to mention the one with the highest sense of honour and the ruthlessness to do what's necessary."
His fingers halted, and when he spoke his voice was cold and warning.
"Do not assign my character virtues where none exist, Miranda. Don't delude yourself, particularly where honour is concerned."
I glared at him. "I don't, and you are not the best judge of your own character. Do you really think," I asked indignantly, ploughing ahead to prevent him interrupting, "that I could respect the kind of man you think yourself? Or, more to the point, that Albus could?"
He look at me in surprise and opened his lips to assert just that -- and couldn't. He dropped his eyes to his hands, still clasped around mine.
"God knows you're not a nice man," I continued more placidly. "As it happens, I think nicety and ease are overrated. I'll take stimulating conversation and passion over them any day."
I'd never made such an outright declaration: never even hinted at it, in fact. His shock was palpable.
Then, hesitantly, he raised my hand to his lips and began to kiss it. I sucked in a lungful of air against the jolt of pleasure that flared in my belly and raced up my spine.
This is not fair: I've never reacted this strongly to something as simple as a kiss on the hand -- not that I've had that many --
"I thought I told you," I said thickly, "not to do that unless you were entirely serious."
"I remember," he murmured, and I felt him smile against my palm: then he nipped at the pad beneath my thumb, and nuzzled the pleasant hurt when I jumped. "However, as I recall that pertained to a specific area on your throat. Unless my knowledge of anatomy has degraded to the point of imbecility --" here he raised his head and smiled lazily in a way I'd never seen, "-- I'm nowhere near it. Yet." And he returned his attention to my palm, working his way down to the rapid pulse at my wrist.
"God save me from Slytherin logic," I muttered, and closed my eyes as he reached a particularly sensitive bundle of nerves.
"You've been far too indiscreet, for once. I don't think any deity can save you now."
"I don't think I want one to," I confessed.
He laughed, sending another little surge of pleasure through me -- very few people could elicit such obvious pleasure from him -- and besides, it was a decidedly sensual sound. He laid a final kiss on my hand with a faint rasp of beard stubble, and then brought my hand down with his own to rest on his knee.
"However..." he began ruefully.
I muttered a curse.
"...it's not wise to pursue this now," he continued softly, lips twitching at my obvious disappointment. "Not in the foreseeable future, in fact."
I was silent for a moment, and then admitted, "You don't need yet another hostage to fortune."
"No. Not you." Monosyllables again: that always meant complex, interesting things were going through his head, thoughts he was unable to articulate. "No more than you already are, at any rate," he added. We sat without speaking for a few moments, Severus running his thumbs against the back of my hand, and then from out of the blue he idly observed in an echo of my earlier thought, "Albus would have dearly loved to see this."
I snorted. "He admitted once he hoped we'd learn to be 'companionable.' A master of the deliberate understatement."
Severus smiled again. (You had to know his version of one -- it was seldom more that a quirk of the lips -- but in any case, he was doing that entirely too much today, and it was making me giddy.) And then he sobered, thoughts of Albus leading inevitably to the loss.
"You know, I think they never really leave us," I said softly, trying to find something to console him. "Not if we honour their memory and try to make them proud. For what it's worth, Severus, here's my advice -- do your best. That's all he ever asked of anyone. That's all any human being has the right to ask of another."
He grunted noncommitally, but his fingers tightened about mine.
Tendrils of fog were beginning to roll over the lake, and they roused my from contentment. "What time is it?"
Severus partly unbuttoned his topcoat, withdrew a pocket watch, and glanced at it. "Five-fifteen."
"Shite." I pulled my hand from his and scrambled to gather my things as he slipped the watch back into its waistcoat pocket. "I'm supposed to meet Poppy before supper -- it'll take me twenty minutes to get back --"
Severus stood and helped me rise, but stilled me when I bent to pick up my things.
"Breathe, Miranda," he commanded, and quirked an eyebrow at my startled glance. "This may have to last us a long time," he noted irritably in response, "so I intend to be quite thorough." He didn't wait for me to obey, but pulled me to him, drew my glasses off, and lowered his mouth to mine.
This was not the relatively chaste kiss of Christmas. It began languorously enough, but quickly deepened into an insistent, passionate demand which in no way reflected the tenderness he'd lavished earlier on my hand. (I later thought that should Severus come out the other side of this mess alive, gentleness would be a rarely-demonstrated and highly prized commodity: he approached this, as he did most things, with an alarming intensity.)
At the present moment, however, I couldn't care less. He'd pulled away from my lips and bent to find that forbidden spot on my neck, pulling my hips even more closely to his: I managed to slip a hand past his still-unbuttoned coat, fumbledthe top two buttons of his waistcoat free, and rested my fingers against the linen of his skin-warm shirt.
His heart was beating every bit as rapidly as my own.
He obviously wasn't concerned about my reputation, but Poppy was. She took in my glazed eyes and swollen lips (permanently stuck, it seemed, in a satisfied smile), and her eyes widened as she glanced down at my collarbone. She instinctively reached for her wand, and then she stopped herself and matter-of-factly did up the buttons of my blouse all the way to my throat, before I chanced to embarass my disheveled self in the Great Hall.
"You might have said, last time," she said grumpily. "I'm not such a prude as all that."
"It wasn't the case, then. That was for show," I explained.
"Oh -- oh. One of Albus' little plots?"
"Hmmmmph. You don't need anything in the way of --" she began practically.
"No. I think it was just a promise of things to come, when the business with Voldemort is over," I told her serenely.
Severus and I pointedly ignored each other when I took my seat at the Head Table, but Poppy's shrewd eyes darted back and forth between us, and she smiled knowingly to herself.
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'Who was it called': I've ripped off Dorothy Sayers yet again. Busman's Honeymoon, this time.
Shakespeare's Coriolanus: A proud nobleman and warrior abandons the corrupt power of Rome to fight for its enemies, the Volscians. Coriolanus is described a 'lonely dragon,' which fits Severus rather well, I think.