LL Chapter 10

On the footnotes, please see the forum for the fic! that way this will stay nice and neat for those that just want to read and if you want to discuss the footnotes there, please do so!  www.fanfiction.net/forum/Lioness_Loricatus/97627/ (I’ll move it here soon)


Chapter 10

The fruit bowl had long since been banished to the kitchens and Hermione paced around the folly’s columns, periodically tracing the stonework with the palm of her hand and following the growing vines that curled and twined up the cold, fluted columns.

She furtively looked to Severus as he sat on the top step, the first taps of drizzling rain glancing off him unnoticed. She blinked, concerned. Did he feel it? He dipped his head, his arms braced on his knees, then looked back up and out, away from her, to the wooded part of the property that separated the pond from the house. He gave no indication that the increasing drops were affecting him at all.

She put her hand out to feel them herself and brought it immediately back in to wipe off on her trousers. The rain was chilled, if not cold, and a fog was moving in if her glance across the brick fence was telling.

Should she ask someone to bring him a blanket? Should she just shoot him with a Warming Charm? Would he become angry with her for that? Either would be using magic, after all.

Then again, so was transfiguring the leaves into cups and he’d not said anything about that.

She leaned back against the column and watched him watch the greenery shift in the wind, mulling over her options. She could summon a blanket, cast a warmer on his jacket…but then what if he was so used to being cold it made him uncomfortable enough to take off the jacket? She looked around the dome for answers and shifted her back on the chilled stone.

And blinked.

Well, yes, that would be a start, wouldn’t it? And he might not even notice something that subtle.

With a small smile and another surreptitious peek to make sure he wasn’t looking, she whispered a spell on the wind with a twirl of her wand to the stone floor and hoped it would take. Would she have to charm each block or would it radiate from stone to stone? She watched the spell leech into the paver and waited for the faint glow to stop or shift past the tile’s barrier.

It was hard to contain her squeal of triumph when it slipped past the grouted joint and continued, fading in strength as it went, to the edge of the folly. The spell passed potency just as it reached Severus, just as she had hoped.

She gave herself a small congratulatory smile and sighed in satisfaction, then tucked her wand in her sleeve.

It took a few moments, but his posture eventually relaxed with the gentling heat slowly reaching for him.[1]

Ha! It had worked! She smirked. Of course it did.

Her smiled faded as she wondered at the possibility of his being desensitized. First the cold, then the rain, now a warming charm? True, these were extenuating circumstances, but…

Well, damn.

She needed to test that theory and that meant invading his space, space that he’d been slowly putting between them for the past hour.

As to that, what in all of England had she done? He blamed it on his changing circumstances, but focused his aggravation on her. Was she just a nearby outlet? Why then was he not tromping off into the verdery and doing damage there? Why so subdued? Why focus on ignoring her like this?

Why, indeed, unless the problem was, actually, her. She narrowed her gaze to the end of the vine nearest her head and the creeping tendrils swaying in the damp breeze.

That would be annoying enough. She pinched off a forearm’s length and turned back to her target, contemplating the best strategy for attack. Should she just walk up and tickle him? With or without his notice?

Hmm. Better do it without for best results, she just needed to keep her wand on hand in case he exploded again. That and he was a former Death Eater, after all, regardless of losing his memories. That didn’t make him any less lethal.

Right.

She swallowed, looked down at the leafy strand in her grasp and not-quite-crept forward to stand behind him. She lifted the vine and dangled it to the stretch of skin just between his hairline and the collar of his jacket—

“It’s not polite to sneak up on a person.”

“Oh!” She dropped the green on him and jumped in surprise. “How did you…?” Her voice faded off as she watched him reach up to his neck and pluck the vine away from his collar to examine it,

“What is this for?”

Hermione looked from the drizzling rain to his still form to the unrelenting stone floor and sighed. She moved to sit next to him, “I was testing you.”

His eyes flashed something dark at her as she dropped down next to him, “For what?”

She thought about the situation and marveled that perhaps her answer had been given anyway. “Well, for sensitivity, but I think you’ve passed that test.” She eyed him from the side, not daring to quite look him dead-on, yet. “In more ways than one.”

“And just what is that supposed to mean?”

My, wasn’t he bristly? She looked askant[2] to him. “You knew I was there?”

“Yes.”

She turned her head away and rolled her eyes at his blunt answer. “And you could feel the vine when I dropped it, so you’re sensitive to touch as well as proximity; ergo, you don’t need that kind of rehabilitation.”

He stared at her. She could feel it as she stared at her knees. Her knees were so much safer than the hauteur she’d be sure to find in his eyes.

“Why did you feel the spectacular need to test this out now and with this…weed?” He waved the thing at her as if it were offensive. She reached over with a clicked sigh and took it back from him.

Honestly! He was a scientist…of a sort… Surely he understood the relationship between research and testing theory? She peeked sideways at him to find his thin lips pursed and his nostrils flared. She still didn’t quite make it up to his eyes. “It didn’t occur to me before my research at the London that your physical sensitivity could be affected by your medication. Some Anti-Psychotics dull the senses.” Others, she thought as she looked to his hands, heighten it

She watched his hands still, flex, and relax in-between his knees in an indescribable pattern. In a perverse mind, she reached the bit of green over and ran it across the closest hand. He snatched it away with an inhalation.

His voice was tightly reigned with…something. “You needn’t have tried. I could have told you my sensitivity is functioning normally.”

He sounded so strained, strangling on some kind of emotion. She gathered the courage to look up to his eyes and saw him staring at the vine as if it were going to jump up and bite him. His face was perfectly placid, but his eyes were harrowed: great rows of torture were being sewn in the field of his mind and she couldn’t think of anything to do but ask in a very small voice, “Sh-should I apologize?”

He said nothing.

His nostrils flared and his chest rose, his hands clenched and released stiffly, but he said nothing. Tentatively, she lifted her hand, closest to him, and when its first fingertip barely brushed the cloth of his coat, his head snapped over and he bodily flinched away.

She froze, confusion broken across her face like a slap and as they sat, still, staring at each other in perfect statues, the rain increased in a pounding, incessant wave.

She blinked against it, he gritted his teeth, but they both persisted. She wasn’t sure why they had decided to do this…this staring contest. Was she trying to prove something to him? If so, was it to show him up or gain his trust? Was it working? This was insane, he was doing nothing but grinding his teeth into powder and giving himself a nervous twitch…probably a cold.

Fantastic, she needed to be the one to break the staring contest just so they could move up into the dome to keep from getting sick. Just as well, cold and wet was not her favorite look and something drippy was making its way down her forehead into her eye. She blinked against it and in that moment, he’d stood up.

Offered…his hand?

Why?

His voice was gravelly and dark. “The offer is not indefinite.”

That snapped her out of it, “Oh! Of course not!” She slipped her hand into his—so cold!—and used it to balance herself as she stood. “Your hand is freezing.”

Taking his hand between the both of hers, she chafed it a bit, letting the rainwater slip across them as she did so. He seemed compliant to letting her do this, so she held onto that hand and reached for the other, but he simply tugged everything out of reach and shifted over to a column, taking up his post of looking outwards again.

She mentally growled at that. What was so wrong with wanting to warm his hands? Ugh! Fine. He was going to be a prat anyway, so she might as well do something to actually gain his disdain. She pulled out her wand and quickly shot Drying and Warming Charms, successively, at his back.

He stiffened—vibrated?—and turned his head just enough to catch her eye. He apparently didn’t think she’d leave herself unattended while taking care of him, for the irritation and anger quickly turned to appraisal as he shifted his head further and dropped his gaze down her—?

Oh. Right. Thin shirt. Brilliant, Hermione.

Two spells, toute d’suite![3]

She looked up, sighed and made a face at him, but he just looked her up and down, shrugged, and looked back out. Again.

What was so incredibly fascinating with the blooming greenery? She took her three steps up to him, crossed her arms over her chest (thank you very much) and looked out with him.

They both stared off, aware of each other, but not saying or doing anything other than standing next to each other and breathing. It was driving Hermione crazy, this silence. She needed to say something.

Anything.

“So…um…what did you…three do today, while I was at the library?”

She rolled her eyes at herself. Even if speaking meant inane chatter which would probably get an irritating reaction from him. God, just something, please, other than staring at trees?

His voice was low and distracted. “Don’t be tiresome.” He sighed and ran his hand over the uneven stubble of his hair. “I’m assuming you were researching my condition from the bits of conversation Lupin and Potter allowed me to overhear?”

Don’t be tiresome. Right. She remembered all the times he’d berated her in class for volunteering extraneous information and thought to give him a bit of his own back with a simple, infuriating answer. “Yes.”

He turned his head to face her and sneered. “That’s it? ‘Yes’? Do you care to elaborate or does it entertain you to keep me in the dark? Does it even occur to you I may have valuable information to contribute?”

She grit her teeth and narrowed her eyes in irritation. “It did occur to me, yes, but I wasn’t going to just blurt out that we need to put you back on the medication and slowly wean you off of it.”

She almost didn’t catch his snide murmur, “As you obviously did not do just now.”

This was getting them nowhere. She needed to redirect them onto some kind of productive conversation where they didn’t feel the need to belittle or best each other. Thinking through possibilities, she tossed the vine out into the patch of dirt between the folly and the pond, ready for them to trod upon the next they walked the path.

For a few moments, she just breathed, enjoyed the cool, damp air and how good it felt in her lungs, watched little clouds forming as she exhaled through her nose, watched the fog creep over the brick fence and into the yard.

Her mind searched and searched through her mental library for an appropriate subject…

Ah. Finally. Something she could ask him, “Have you had any more episodes today?”

He’d obviously not expected her to say anything just then, for his brows crowded together in a suspicious expression, “What?”

Hermione tipped the corner of her mouth up at his expression. “Episodes? Have you had any more while I was gone?”

She heard an inaudible grumble and leaned forward.

“What was that?”

“Two,” he snapped.

She paused for a bit to let him calm down before asking her next question, “Were they any different than the ones before?”

He took a deep breath and looked away from her. Would his need to identify and neutralize the problem overwhelm his growing and reconverting necessity on privacy? She watched him inwardly battle his choices, no give on his face but that of a small twitch beneath his left eye.

She’d nearly given up on his answering the question when finally, he did, “The first one was shortly before I ate. That was smaller than the first grouping. The second felt like it would be larger but was controlled almost immediately.”

“Wha—” No, Hermione-girl, keep it simple and Don’t Be Tiresome. “How?”

He remained face-forward. “Lupin.”

“What did he do?” Oh, crap, stuck it in that one, didn’t I? Asked the obvious…but then again…perhaps they’d found something new? She looked to him, hopeful.

He looked at her, condescending to answer. “Well, obviously, he Stupefied me.”

She made an impatient gesture, “Have they tried nothing else?”

His scorn was rather sudden, “As in what, little miss know it all?” He turned to her, raked his black eyes down herself and back up again with contempt. “What else do you propose they use on me? I’m not some lab rat for experimentation.” His eyes narrowed on her, but she could see his shoulders shudder slightly in her periphery. Was that out of horror, fear, or indignity? Did it matter? Surely, there was something,

“I don’t know, a Body-bind? A Confundus? Anything that’s a trifle less harmful to your body when they use it!” She bit her lip as she reigned in her voice from reaching termagant levels. It would do them no good to start a shouting match and she rather feared Severus hadn’t lost his ability to win a game of wits.

She shifted a step to the side, but he followed her, stalking her, “A Body-bind would only restrain me physically, not my magic if it’s gone to a lower brain function and the same goes for the Confundus, a curse only useful for higher brain functions and fine motor skills.” She blinked as he actually poked her in the forehead, “You know this already in that bushy skull of yours! Don’t waste my time with such sub-par suggestions!”

They shared a few steamed puffs of breath in the chilled air until he flattened his mouth and spun back off to pace away from her. “Now is not the time for trials! I can feel the magic careening out of me when it happens and it is destructive.” He emphasized his point with a slash of his hand and a glare over his shoulder. “Lupin is right, we’re in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood and can’t afford anything less.”

For a moment, hope blossomed in her chest that Severus was back. He was there, right in front of her, stalking like a caged beast, spitting spite and vile vituperation and for the tiniest of moments, she could have sworn to see the ghost of his billowing robes shadowing behind him, his hair slinging and grabbing his face as he expressed his agitation.

He was there. It was almost like a Jekyll and Hyde, for the next moment, he was gone. As soon as he said the name Lupin, Severus had changed back to the unsure, defeated, shorn and worn man he’d become…the mere shadow of the vibrant and vile man he’d once been. She had watched his hand slash the air and that had dissipated the overlaid image, bringing home to her the fact that this man needed her, despite how much distance he was trying to lay between them.

She inhaled and lifted her chin, “So you did discuss it.”

“What?” His confusion was evident, but she pressed on.

“The available options. You did discuss it and they didn’t just randomly curse you with the first thing that worked.”

He stopped his pacing, sighed and turned away from her. “Technically.”

That low tone, nearly broken, full of contemplation, had her reaching for him, “Severus—”

He spun around with flared nostrils and an air of desperation. “You still haven’t divulged that which you learned today.” His pacing resumed, “Am I a walking curse? Will this dissipate? Can we stop it?”

What? What was he doing? “I don’t know.” His mercurial shifting was making her dizzy.

He smirked at her answer and kept talking, settling into his rant, “How is it affecting my body, my brain, every time it happens? Will I be a vegetable before it all ends?”

He was being so clinical over such awful questions. They needed to find out what drugs he had been on before they could find out any of that. “I don’t know.” To tell the truth, she didn’t know if it was the medication causing his episodes or not—

He threw up his hands, “Was this something visited upon me? Is it drug induced? Is it a result of the Resurrection-”

God, why was he asking these questions! “I DON’T KNOW!”

He smirked again, turned to her and took two steps before folding his arms over his chest as he said, “Well, then what good are you, you insufferable know it all, if you ‘don’t know’?”

Insufferable—Irritating—Calloused—Unbelievable! He’d been doing this on purpose to make her feel just as off-kilter as he’d been! Sanctimonious Prick! Ugh! She carefully kept her mouth closed and her stance still, knowing her emotion glittered in her eyes for him to see. Arse. He’d probably just think he’d only taken the wind out of her sails and she was angry about not knowing something.

Well, let him. “I don’t have to deal with this. I’m to make sure you’re taken care of, fed, clothed, and healthy; and obviously, I’m upsetting you by not having answers to questions I can’t find the answers to here.” Part of her protection of him in this house was to find a way to reintroduce him into society and part of that would be to find out what went on at Hestry’s, so one of the boys could take care of this malcontent until she got back with some answers and equilibrium.

Oh, it was so hard to come up with a happy memory in the midst of all this anger, but she thought of her first copy of Hogwarts: A History and the smell it had when she first cracked its pages. That usually did the trick. Well, at least she could do the messenger part of the Patronus Charm without difficulty. The full Patronus still gave her problems when she was agitated. She studied her little otter as the thought of who she would send it to. Harry or Ronald?[4]

Ah. Well, it would have to be Ronald. Harry would most likely be visiting Ginny tonight.[5] She sighed. That is, if Ron hadn’t decided to stick his foot in and make a family visit out of it. She’d just have to wait and see, wouldn’t she? It would probably save Harry an awkward moment if Ronald had to come back to help her, anyway.

Ronald, please come look after Severus while I investigate something at Hestry’s. The sooner, the better, please. Thank you.

After she watched her otter streak off into the foggy afternoon, her hazel gaze came back to settle on Severus’s blank one. “As soon as Ronald gets back here, I’m heading out.”

She didn’t think he could become more still or his face more blank and deadened, but they did. “Abandoning you charge so soon, then?”

What was with him? He had no right to—”Don’t get cheeky with meYour precious answers are outside these walls, and I do have a geas[6] to find them.” Somehow, she felt having her hands on her hips was probably not wise, so she dropped them and relaxed her stance.

His eyes were mere slits. “A geas? You make it sound as if you’re honor bound.” He sneered and backed up a step, then another. “There’s no need for these theatrics, Miss Granger, I believe I can find my own way out.”

And he turned to leave.

He walked down the steps, trod on the bit of vine laying innocently on the path and started around the pond.

It took that long for her brain to kick back into gear and run after him, nearly skidding on the wet stone before reaching the lawn. “Severus!”

He kept walking. Or rather, stomping. He’d reached the cattails.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She’d almost reached him. God, no, not now! He couldn’t leave! Someone would find him and kill him or something infinitely worse!

With desperation, she made a lunge and latched onto his upper arm. Cripes, it was skinny…

His forward momentum was halted and he turned to look at her as if she were an annoying insect. “Unhand me.”

She tightened her hold, adding her other hand for safe measure. “Where are you going?”

“I have no intention of remaining where I am deemed a nuisance and have every intention of finding out what is happening to me.” He glared at her hands. “Now unhand me.”

Every bit of his former evil was reflected in his eyes and it took every bit of her Gryffindor bravery—foolish bravery—to hang on and tell him, “No.”

He tugged his arm, she held on. He narrowed his eyes, leaned in towards her and tugged again, harder. She nearly stumbled, but turned it into rounding on him, coming around his front and pushing both her hands on his chest, back towards the folly.

She had no idea what the hell had gotten into her, but damnit, he Just Wouldn’t Listen! “Stay!” There was danger for him out there and—shove—there was no way—shove—she was going to lose him again!

She pushed him one last time, each push gaining a little more ground, but this time, their feet got tangled, his hands grabbed her arms and her head came down on his chest.

She sighed. “Stay? Please?” She could feel his nose, his face—what was it doing in her hair—she started to lift her head but hit his instead. They’d maintained an awkward balance until then, but at that, they tripped spectacularly in each others feet and hit the ground hard.

“Oot!”

How had she not noticed how bony his body was last night? Oh, good grief, had the Cushioning Charm on the Hammock made that much of a difference? She rolled a bit, got her foot stuck on his trousers and landed against him again, painfully. Her eyes came to rest on his scar…the big one. She inhaled.

/

He was breathing indignantly through his mammoth nostrils until he noticed her stilling above him. He looked down his face to see what she was up to, his arms out by his head and lifting, ready to shove her off if need be.

Instead, when he saw exactly what the vexing witch was staring at, he reached his hand over to cover it. She wasn’t allowed to stare at that scar. Not that one. Not when it was so easily as much her fault…

Yes, that’s right, she was there, wasn’t she? She’d been there, collecting his mind as it seeped out his ears, running away as he exsanguinated on the floor of that place he was apparently destined not to die. First Black’s deadly prank…in school?…then the snake…[7]

His memories swirled as if she’d slipped a stir in the top of his brain, churning the mass like so much soup.

It spun around again to them collecting his memories, her, Potter, Weasley…They had been there. They had been there and done nothing. He looked into her eyes above him now as then. Had he even wanted them to?

Even ignoring that question, why had he not received at least a burial? Even as traitorous and despicable as he remembered being in half-lit memories, there could never have been a time when he’d not wanted at least a proper burial. Did they have a tombstone for him somewhere? Some sickeningly non-descript epitaph, like ‘Here lies Severus Tobias Snape’ born and dead. Did anyone even know what he’d done for them? For so long?

Things were coming back to him in painful waves and it was worse with her lying atop him, staring at his hand, at his face, breathing on him with her justified life. Had they even gone looking for him after the Battle?

Quietly, he stared into her eyes and asked her, “So, tell me? How long after you watched me pass away from this world did you actually come back to look for my poor, forgotten body? Mmm?”

He slipped his hand away to reveal his scar and watched her digest his question with anticipation.

Her eyes flicked from his face to the scar and she became flustered, confused. She sat up off of him, to the side and tucked a curl of hair behind her ear. “I—what?”

He sat up, keeping his predatory gaze on her as he pushed the subject, “Oh. My mistake. You didn’t actually come, yourself, did you?”

She shifted her seat, moving a bit backwards. “W-huh?”

“Who did come looking for me?” He moved closer to her, hoping to make her feel hunted, cornered. “Potter?” Noble brat. “Poppy?” She would, too. Despite others needing her more, she’d always had a soft spot for him. Why wasn’t the girl saying anything? “The Ministry? How long?”

He cornered her up against a Linden trunk…or was it supposed to be called a Lime, now?[8] Regardless, he had her pinned with nothing more than proximity and a look and she braced herself against the bark.

“Excuse me?” Her foot shifted, slipped from gripping the grass and shot out towards him. He looked down at it, then back up at her,

“Hours? Days?” He crawled towards her, looming over her, “Weeks?”

Her voice was down to a whisper, “What are you—”

There. She was perfectly ready for him to strike and he’d have the high ground again. None of this wavering between them, no more suggestion and possibility when she was supposedly spoken for. He watched her eyes carefully as he slid forward and spoke low, darkly, into her ear, “Did you expect to find my corpse rotting on the dried and dusty floor, flies laying maggots in the putrid, flayed flesh?”

He’d whispered the disgusting question intimately, as intimately as his position crawling over, never touching her and her breath had heightened, agitated to the point where she’d cried out in response,

“Severus!” Shock and revulsion swept across her face in beautiful succession. “No!” Tears rolled out of her large eyes as they stared so incredulously at him.

“Oi!”

She turned, startled, to see the Weasley over his shoulder. Severus watched her face recover composure, then cast a speculative look back at the boy standing amidst the cattails. He walked over with a rectangular box under one arm and Severus took the wiser course, shifting himself away from Hermione, shuttering his greedy expression from them both.

“I dunno what’s been going on, but I think that last bit was a bit too far, eh?” He reached over to Hermione and gave her a hand up. She took it and surreptitiously wiped her face with the back of her hand. “Mione, go on. I can handle him while you run off to Hestry’s. You alright?”

Hestry’s! Severus scrambled to his feet and went to address Hermione but Weasley’s arm blocked his way. “You little hoyden! You’re going back there and weren’t going to tell me?”

She stumbled around to face him, looking from him to Weasley, then back again. Was that irritation on her face? How dare she become—

“How else am I to find out what they’ve got you on? They might even have some of the medication there.”

Impudent brat! “What, so you can steal it and bring it back here?” Weasley moved between them, but he sneered and paced away, back towards the folly. “I told you, I’m no one’s lab rat!” Never that! He knew perfectly well what it felt like to be tortured like that, to have to watch as someone was forced one’s concoction, just to see what it would do. The Half-Blood Prince lost quite a bit of his verve for experimentation once literally faced with the consequences.

He blinked. Where had that name come from? It was his, nonetheless. He sighed and took another step. It didn’t matter, now.[9]

The witch was calling after him. He rolled his eyes. Of course she was. “You don’t have a choice, Severus!” Didn’t he? She didn’t remember who she was dealing with, then. “If I don’t put you back on it within the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, your body could have catastrophic failure of multiple functions and we don’t have access to medical facilities that can handle that.” He stopped walking, taking in her words, the ramifications, what she was saying now and what she’d not been saying before. “You’re showing the signs of a serious dependency and quitting treatment abruptly like this could kill you!”

He turned halfway round and looked at the two of them. She was standing in front of the ginger boy, eyes glittering at Severus in frustration. He waited for her to continue, just as she was waiting for him to respond to her. He’d be damned if he’d give her that satisfaction.

“Haven’t you been paying attention, Professor?”

His eyes flicked narrow for a moment, his mind readying a barb sure to cut, but she continued,

“No? Too busy spitting out your vitriol, then? Well. I’ll just be on my way, back to Tinnet Hall, to save your backside, again.” She turned away from him and muttered something to the boy that sounded something like ‘ungrateful bastard’ but he felt the need to let her leave more keenly than the need to cut her down. “Thank you, Ronald, I shouldn’t be gone more than an hour.”

At that, she stomped off toward the house with a final glance flung over her shoulder at Severus. The look that passed between them was only a few seconds, but it was something filled with…

Too many things to think about right now. He had his health to worry about. Catastrophic failure? He felt fine, really…he looked down to his hands that were trembling ever so slightly.

“Well, that went well.”

Severus clenched his hands and speared Weasley with a dark look, “Oh, sod off.” Little Bugger. He didn’t need a babysitter, and why in Hades wasn’t Weasley yapping at him about the inappropriate situation he’d found them in? Or their spiteful words?

All he did was just rock back on his heels and lead them the rest of the way to the folly. “No, not likely. I am, however, to keep you quiet and entertained until she gets back.”

He was either completely whipped, completely oblivious, or completely lovesick. This boy had no qualms about Severus talking like that to his…whatever? Even though he knew the answer to his next question, he asked it just to see what the answer would be, “Why you? Why not one of the others?”

Weasley mounted the steps, but turned back at the top, “Oh, fancy being babysat by an old school chum, even if he is a werewolf?”[10]

Severus advanced, met and stood to his full height in incredulity. “Are you all insane? You’re housing a werewolf on the premises? Why don’t we invoke the Dark Lord as an Inferius? We’ll have a matched set!” Truly and completely mad! Yes, why not? They already had three Resurrected individuals, one of which was a werewolf, so why not? Why not have something else insane like Voldemortian Inferi? Yes, of course, that made perfect sense! The idiots!

Come to think of it, why did Lupin come through the veil, so to speak, with his infection intact? Wouldn’t dying rather have solved his problem? Or did Resurrection also resurrect every sickness one died with? That meant he, himself, would have needed his own infection taken care of. Severus paced a circle inside the cupola when no response came, working through the ramifications.

At the boy’s mocking question, Severus had remembered that prank, that time in the Shack before…and again many years later…Oh, Great Merlin, they’d housed him with the enemy! But…he’d talked to him that very morning, had accepted his help and had an intelligent conversation with him.

Severus nearly groaned in frustration as he turned and stared back out to the greenery, searching for some kind of order, some sanity in the chaos of memory floating around in his brain. Lupin wasn’t the enemy, but his werewolf was indeed to be feared—a sound behind him forced him to pay attention to whatever it was that Weasley had been doing.

Obviously he’d not remembered his manners, for he was performing magic right in front of him. “I thought I’d made mys—”

“Oh, shut up, it’s just a table and chairs.” Severus imagined leaping forward and throttling the boy for such effrontery but he rather thought it would be nice to sit on something other than hard floor or grass. He watched Weasley conjure up his furniture and continue blithely, “And you should know we have Remus under control. It’s your version of the Wolfsbane Hermione brews up for him every month.”

What? How much more did this person know? Seeing the word CHESS printed neatly on the box under Weasley’s arm, Severus understood the perfect opportunity to gain information via a neutral, if not quite friendly, game, as well as offering an opportunity to see how good this prat really was.

He watched as the young man set the box down and broke the plastic wrapping. “Harry and I went especially to Hamley’s to pick this up.”[11]

Was that supposed to mean something special to him? “Not that it really matters, but where?”

Weasley smiled at the opportunity to talk about the place. “Oh, it’s this awesome Muggle toy shop and it was no hardship to go, believe you me, even if it was to protect your sensibilities.” He gestured to Severus with his wand, then vanished the clear cellophane. “We figured you’d bark if you played wizarding chess, so we went and got a Muggle set.”

Bark?

Severus moved to sit in the accompanying chair.

Him?

Even during the less-than-sane events of the previous two years, he’d never been a raving lunatic. Starved for information and perhaps a little human decency, yes, but never insane.

Well, now that he’d been proven sane by Hermione’s arrival yesterday morning…

He wondered how she was faring at Hestry’s. Would she be wandering the corridors, or go straight for his office? If it were up to him, and if she’d given him time to discuss it, he’d have directed her to the storage room down the hall from Hestry. He’d seen an entire wall of records there, passing by an open door.

Weasley finished setting up the pieces on the board and swiveled it to face between them. “I assume you want to play Black?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Really? Huh, that’s surprising. Never caught you wearing anything but black, and with your hair and all…I figured…”

Severus studied the board with the beginnings of tactics and stratagem unraveling slowly through his mind. He glanced up in response, “White has the beginning advantage.”

“Well, yeah.”

“So why would I want to be Black?”

“Cause…well…I dunno.”

Severus sighed in annoyance. The boy obviously wanted to play White, but also wanted to offer choice of color to Severus. Now those two options conflicted. As always, a Gryffindor was perfectly fine being magnanimous as long as it suited him.

The boy shrugged and dug into his trousers for something. “Whatever. We’ll flip for it. Call it?”

He snorted. “Heads, of course. A Slytherin always rises above.”

Weasley smirked at him, “Well, I’ll take ‘tail’ any day of the week.”

Severus rolled his eyes at such juvenile humor and watched the coin fly, glint, then land with a soft pat in Weasley’s hand. He slapped it down onto his fist.

“Ha! I get…aw, bugger. Fine.” With a huff, Weasley swiveled the board around for White to face Severus. “Here, go ahead.”

He was very proud of himself for only smirking in triumph a little bit. Letting that thought go, he studied the board, thinking of an opening move and an opening question. E2-E4 kept rolling through his brain as the strongest and most versatile, leaving him open for different avenues, so he took a quiet breath and made the motion. He glanced up to Weasley. “She uses my formula, you say?”[12]

The boy paused, looked up, then pushed his pawn into the opening of a Sicilian Defense. Hmm. “Yeah. It takes her all day and she’s right scary afterwards, but after Slughorn refused, there wasn’t anyone else Remus could trust, you know? So she…erm… got hold of your notes and stuff and made it.”

That surprised him. “Why did Horace refuse?”

Weasley gave him a funny look and laughed, “Well, he didn’t want to be caught anywhere near a werewolf that was supposed to be dead but wasn’t, now did he?”

Severus had been reaching forward to shift another pawn to C3 in Alapin’s Variation, but paused with his hand over the board, giving Weasley a hard look. How much did he know? Hermione had dismissed his knowing anything out of hand, but obviously she had been wrong. The question was: did he continue asking him about his opinion on the Resurrected, or continue pinching him for information along the current conversation?

He completed the move and decided that current information was more important. “How did Hermione obtain my papers?”

Weasley’s eyes flickered a bit when he used her given name, but he answered without pause. “She petitioned the school…McGonagall gave ’em over.”

Minerva. She’d gone through his things and given them away to…well, at the time, a student. Weasley moved his pawn. He snapped down his own, Weasley followed suit, then they each took turns capturing pawns at D5. Severus made a face in annoyance and legged his knight to F3.

Had she done it to help Lupin? Of course she did, that woman had protected her cubs more fiercely than Dumbledore—[13]

Albus.

Weasley slipped his hand over the head of his knight and moved it to C6. Severus automatically reached for his bishop. The man with the pointy hat. Oh, Albus, what have I done? What happened?

Weasley moved his bishop.

Severus blinked at the board in irritation. “Are you just following my moves or do you have anything original to do here? Hermione said you were singular in your abilities with this game and I’d hoped that might be true with your choosing it as an entertainment, but if you’re just going to parrot my moves—” He snatched up a black pawn and slammed his down in place.

Weasley furrowed his brow and slowly took the white pawn with his bishop. “Did you do that on purpose?”

Of course he’d done it on purpose. “Why wouldn’t I?” It’s called sacrifice, you nitwit. But then, I rather had the corner on that market, didn’t I?

Weasley looked carefully around the board. “I dunno, you could be trying to set me up for something.”[14]

“Well, then I guess you’re on your guard, then, aren’t you?” With a smirk, Severus took the opportunity to Castle, knowing it would completely confuse his opponent.

Weasley blinked hard. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”

He arched a brow at the boy. He knew it was unorthodox to switch the king and rook so early, but really, “The question is: do you? I do believe Castling is a Defensive measure, allowable in this game, is it not?”

“Well, yeah.” With speculative look, he shifted his knight to E7 and out of the way to copy Severus’ move. He snorted. Of course. Was this really the chess wonder that everyone extolled in the boy’s first year?

He smirked at the phony prodigy. “Did I execute it incorrectly?”

Weasley jutted out his chin. “No.”

Severus placed his knight to D2. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Weasley did not respond, but completed the Castling he’d started in the previous move.

“Back to parroting, I see.”

“Oh, just shut it and play, would you?”

Severus smirked, slid his knight to threaten Weasley’s bishop and waited for him to retreat the black bishop before asking the question that burned in his mind ever since Hermione had landed so hard on him that afternoon. “How long was it before someone came looking for me? The night I supposedly died?”

“Mm?” He looked up from the board, startled. “Oh, well, it was that night. Tonks n’ Remus had ‘woken up’ so everyone had to be accounted for and proven dead or alive.”

He shivered involuntarily. The methods the Ministry would have employed…”Proven?” He felt the bile rise in his throat and pushed his rook over to threaten the black knight. The symbolism was not lost on him.[15]

He stared at the board, taking in all the pieces, not seeing anything, really, until Weasley did the only thing he could and moved his knight to F5.

He had to get that knight! Hmm. Ah! The advanced bishop would be able to slip backwards and threaten the knight again—

“Yeah, you were the only one missing. Even ickle Malfoy showed up in the Great Hall with his parents. Thought for sure we’d gotten him earlier, but ah well.”

How, in that entire battle, had he been the only one missing? And what was that about Malfoy? Something niggled in the back of his brain about that. Blast! He’d been too caught up in Weasley’s response to actually see where he moved his piece! Where had he moved it?

With a slight tremor, Severus took the knight with his bishop and watched in frustration as the boy looked at him strangely. Weasley reached forward and slid his bishop home to capture the bishop he’d just moved, but said nothing.

Severus took prerogative and leaned back in his seat before making a move. “So, why was my body allowed to be left…unproven?”

Weasley followed suit. “Ah, well, that was a bit tricky. Kingsley felt it was safer to declare you dead, you see? Your house had already been ransacked—sorry mate—and with rumors flying about with your body missing, every crime was yours or ‘Snape made me do it’, until Harry stood up at your posthumous trial. Hermione, too.”[16]

“Not you?” His whirlwhind explanation left nothing to the imagination. It seemed a mockery…to have given so much, only to be swept under the rug as an inconvenience. Who cared about that coal scuttle of a house[17]—well, except for the books, Sweet Merlin, the books!—but…He’d had a posthumous trial? What for? If he was dead, why would there be a trial?

“Nah, I dunno anything about you, really. But Harry did, and Hermione figured it out, I guess. I was still pretty steamed over Fred and Dumbledore and, well, everything…” He shrugged and looked suggestively at the board.

Severus ignored the suggestion. “Who went to look for me?”

“Um…ah, well, we all did, Harry and ‘Mione and me and Professor McGonagall…Madame Pomfrey…” He stretched his arms over his head, then relaxed back down. “A team from St. Mungo’s had already taken over the Hall, and those that were able were helping…” He snorted, “‘cept the Malfoys. They did a runner as soon as they could, didn’t they? Slimy…Oh, sorry.” He looked up in apology, but Severus simply leveled a deadpan stare and slid his remaining bishop up to take point at Weasley’s rook.

Weasley stared at him as if he’d lost his mind and shifted his rook one step over. Severus smirked and took his rook with his own, still having it set in place from his earlier run at Weasley’s knight and having the added benefit of, “Check.”

“Oi!”

Severus was about to chuckle until he saw his opponent finger his queen. Damn! Well, there had to be sacrifices, that was part of winning, wasn’t it? He completed the move and took Severus’ rook.

They both took in the board and possible strategy. He glanced up at the boy and wondered if changing topic in their conversation might distract him. Something from before, perhaps? “What, exactly, did Minerva hand over?”

Severus leaned back again, unwilling to make his next move until Weasley answered him.

He finally got the hint, sighed, and sat back, himself. “Lots of paper, most of which I never even looked at. Some trunks that I think are in the attic. Maybe a few other things, but I dunno, you’d have to ask Hermione. She’s probably catalogued it all and memorized the list, then spell-o-taped it on the inside back cover of the latest edition of Hogwarts: A History.” He smiled at his own little joke. Severus was not amused.[18]

He moved his knight into a defensive position at D4.

After a few moments and a cockey flick of his ginger brow, Weasley reached forward and dropped his queen in place one spot away.

Hmm. Time for the verbal sparring if he really wanted to set Weasley off. “You know, you’re not very complimentary of your betrothed. I’d have pegged you to be the drooling, dotty type of swain that would fawn all over your dearest love.” He pushed a pawn forward.

Weasley randomly made a move with his bishop and while Severus dithered over whether to move his own bishop, the boy replied, “Yeah, you’d be right, too, ‘cept ‘Mione’s not the type of gal that wants to be drooled on…” He smirked and looked up at Severus, “Regardless of how she wakes up in the morning.”

They exchanged several more pointless moves in silence until Severus just couldn’t resist pushing it a little farther, “My, my, trouble in paradise?”

Weasley slammed his rook into place. “Tch, that ship sailed off and left this bloke on the dock holding the luggage with the ticket paid for, if you know what I mean.”

A few more moves in silence, Weasley sullenly shifting his pieces as Severus tried to understand what he’d meant. “No, I don’t think I can wrap my mind around that metaphor. Please clarify.”

The boy blinked up at him. “I asked her to marry me, she said no.” They blinked at each other. “I had the ring, I was on my knee in front of my whole family, right? And what does she say? No. Just that. Ta!” He moved his knight with a firm tap.

Could it really be? Was it possible he’d simply misread their interactions? With a small trifle of hope, Severus took Weasley’s bishop with one of his own. “I must say, I am rather…surprised.”

“At what? No one else seems to be.” He pushed his bishop across the board.

“No, I’m not surprised she refused your suit—”

Weasley threw up his arm, “Fantastic, another one.”

“But I am surprised you are both still so amicable. Up to the point that I was under the impression you were both still together.” Severus looked down in surprise at the piece he was about to move. The queen. He’d been avoiding his queen the entire game, to the detriment of the left side of the board and handicapping him that rook. He slightly shook his head in wonder, in worry. How much was she going to affect his life like this? With a silent, inward breath and a bit of resolve, he employed his queen to D4.

Weasley narrowed his eyes, floated his hand above the board and twitched his fingers, then swiftly grabbed his bishop and dropped it down to F3. “Check. Yeah…well…she and Harry…well, we’re the same people, right? What I love about her didn’t change just because we’re not gonna get married, did it? I just…I just had to put her in another parcel, that’s all.”

That…was an impressive bit of logic, actually. Severus immediately moved his king the only place he could and Weasley backed off to shift his queen on another part of the board. He quickly looked around his pieces for something to shift over for better protection. And just what did he mean by, “Another parcel?”

He waved his hand in the air dismissively. “You know what I mean, compartmentalize. I had to just square it all away…You know?” He completed his move and sat back again.

Severus contemplated what Weasley meant by that and shifted his queen into position to start attacking his king. The boy snorted at him and slammed his pawn down diagonal to the queen.

He simply moved his queen forward and created a line to corral the king. Now he’d have to move the king to dissipate the threat. He smirked and remembered why he loved playing this game.

“Fuck.”

“Indeed.”

Weasley studied the board, his eyes flickering over it as if working through a mental maze. After a few silent moments, he slowly shifted his rook forward, neutralizing the queen.

Interesting. And difficult. Hmm. His pieces were across the board and effectively blocked, the only thing he could do at this point would be to take the rook, but that would…

Yes, sacrifice the queen. And that’s precisely what Weasley did. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like being reminded of a forced hand, a forced sacrifice. He moved his knight forward, hoping to gain some sort of ground with a new piece, but Weasley quashed that quickly by capturing it with his own knight.

The black knight.

The deadly knight.

He saw an opening. The dead knight! He took that piece triumphantly with his bishop and after the boy moved his bishop backwards, he struck again, taking a pawn along the far diagonal. There! Now he had a strong line across a good third of the board!

They dithered for a few moves until Weasley moved his queen over to negate his bishop’s power. Severus shifted the wrong pawn forward, lost the other, then pushed his bishop closer to the other grouping to focus his power since Weasley had divided it.

Ah, now he was employing that blasted black bishop again. At least he still had his rook’s protection…no.

No, no, no! He should have seen this coming! Damn it all to hell and back, the little bugger was using the queen versus rook endgame and he had no room to set up a javelin. He obligingly slammed his pieces into place, since he had no bloody choice, and glared as Weasley crowed, “Checkmate!”

Severus grunted in concession to the apelike celebration of his opponent.

“A-hah, that was brilliant!”

He sneered at the boy who was beaming so brightly. He supposed that was a good game, though he doubted his own form was what it could be. Memories missing, and all that. Nonetheless, “That was interesting. I’ll have to keep in mind that personal attacks during chess make you a viable opponent.”

Weasley’s smile faltered and he set the pieces he could reach back on the board. “Mmm. Yeah, I guess so. She always thought it was boring.”

So easily back onto the subject of Hermione? How interesting, “What, chess?”

“Uh-huh.”

Severus watched the boy—well, he supposed he could concede the point of young man—reach across the table for the last few pieces. Now that he thought about it, there really would be only three things in his way of pursuing Hermione: his health and livelihood, her acceptance, and, “Do you still love her?”

Weasley palmed a knight and pointed, “Now that is a freaking weird question coming from you, mate.”

He waved his hand to continue, “Regardless, the question remains.”

Weasley eyed him, finished placing the pieces and settled back in the chair, thinking through his answer. Their eyes met over the board, held, then Weasley released the stare as he shrugged. “I love her. But it’s one of those things where you’re not quite sure of the right definition of the word, anymore.” He dropped his head sideways into his hand, partially covering his face with his fingers. “I don’t wake up with her dribbling on my foot, and I don’t see that look in her eyes just before…well, you know…” He shrugged again. “But I think I’m starting to wonder if I might have something like that with another witch. I mean, it’s not like I have a lifelong obsession like you did with Harry’s mum—”

What?” Finally! Something informative! Severus leaned forward eagerly.

Weasley clapped his hand over his mouth. “Gah! I didn’t say anything!” He cringed in his chair and ran the hand from his mouth through his hair, leaving it sticking up in several directions. “Shite, Hermione’s gonna kill me!”

Severus was ready to do something violent. He grasped the edge of the table to control himself, “Everyone’s been dancing around this subject and it’s starting to get ridiculous. Would you please tell me at the very least the name of the person you’re all referring to?”

“No. Uh-uh.”

Childish! “It’s just a name, Weasley.”

“There’s power in a name, you know that.”

Was he that afraid of Hermione? “This isn’t the Dark Lord, it’s just a woman.”

A female voice interjected from across the lawn, “Lily. Her name was Lily.”

Severus turned his head sharply to see where her voice came from. Hermione was walking toward them from the end of the land bridge at the edge of the pond. How long had she been there? He slid his gaze to Weasley. Surely he was wondering the same thing.

“Hermione!” Weasley jumped up and strode down the steps to meet her on the green. “I—we just finished up our game. How long h-have you been here?”

They stood there and stared at each other in their uneven heights. She reached up and patted his cheek in a very platonic fashion. “I’m glad to know you’re thinking about possibilities, Ronald.”

He swallowed, she dropped her hand and crossed her arms at her chest. He looked to panic, glancing between Severus and Hermione. “Right then. I’ll just be on my way, unless you still need me? No? I’ll just go…tie my shoelaces round my neck for a bit, then.”[19]

It was hard not to laugh at his rather audible whimper as he loped off into the evening.

He watched her slowly climb the few steps and drop into the empty seat across from him with a heavy sigh. She scrubbed her face with her hands then peeked out between her fingers at him. It was an interesting look she was giving him, as if he were a particularly Vexing Problem and Fascinating Specimen all together. He kept watching her as he tried to decide which he’d rather be.

She dropped her hands to her lap, looked down to the floor, “So.” A breeze shifted her bedraggled curls as he waited for her to continue. Had she found anything on her brief expedition? Why was she back so quickly?

Come to look at her, she looked rather harried. She shifted back in her seat and angled so she could look at him. Ah. He was now the Fascinating Specimen.

Well, at least that was a better place to start than Vexing Problem. He held her gaze until she looked down at the board, picked up the queen and tapped it in an uneven tattoo.

She looked back up at him.

The realization hit him that she must have failed. That would be the only reason she’d be sitting there, fidgeting with a wooden figurine instead of barreling into discussion like she always seemed to do.

Her mouth opened, she took a breath, he waited…

She went back to tapping the queen.

Well, there was only so much of this he could take.

“Hermione!”

She jumped.

“What?”

So innocent. Bah! “What!”

She flinched. Not from fear of him, he could tell and was thankful. No, she flinched from something she wanted to say. And that made her next word all the more anticipated when she asked it in a very small voice, “Nothing?”

Severus deflated backwards in surprise, having no idea, “Nothing, as in what?”

She dropped the queen into place, straightened it, then flipped her hand in a gesture, trying to explain herself, “No reactions? No panic attacks? No booming explosions of uncontrollable magic?”

He blinked. “What are you havering about, woman?”

“Lily. I told you her name, Ronald told you who she was to you, but…nothing?”

Hermione’s face was crumpled in confusion, and for his own face, well, he was sure there would be something equally undignified.

But she was right.

Nothing. “No.” He exhaled in wonder, finding the landscape for order in his thoughts again.

Thank whatever gods were watching over this farce of recollection, for Hermione was blessedly silent as he contemplated the totality, the enormity of the situation.

If he’d felt a sense of awakening when he met Hermione again, if he’d understood his life when he met Harry…if he’d only begun to realize what Albus meant to him…

But Lily…

How could she be one of the four sets of eyes but be nothing to him? How? He’d felt the kindred spirit and friendship rolling from behind the anger and bitterness, the longing…

Nothing…

Why?

How could she elicit nothing from him now?

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