Written as a pinch hit for the sshg_exchange)
What Yet Remains
by Beth H.
(c) July 10, 2007
Hermione didn't have to look up from her notes to know that Magda had sidled up behind her and was poised to share some Very Important News.
"He's watching you again."
The words were spoken in a hushed whisper that carried farther than normal speech would have done, and it was only with great difficulty that Hermione was able to keep from glancing at the object of Magda's news bulletin.
"He's not watching me," Hermione said quietly.
"He is," Magda insisted. "I've been keeping an eye on him all day."
Hermione turned around and raised an eyebrow at her assistant. "So you're telling me that the terrible thing he's apparently doing is exactly the same thing that you're doing?"
Magda had the grace to blush, but she shook her head. "It's not the same thing, and you know it. Severus Snape is creepy. I still don't understand why you hired him to work on this project, not when there were so many other qualified applicants who weren't creepy."
"Because for one thing, he's one of the very best living potions' brewers in Europe, and any research facility - particularly one in the public sector - would be lucky to get him. And for another, because we owe him."
"We owe him a job for...what? For being an arrogant, anti-social prick?"
"No," said Hermione. "For being instrumental in saving the lives of me and my friends and quite possibly the majority of our world during the War, regardless of the fact that most witches and wizards will never have any idea how much Severus Snape risked."
"And is that the reason you gave him his own office, too?"
Hermione laughed quietly. "Okay, that was because he's an arrogant, anti-social prick. All right, gripping as I'm sure you're finding this conversation to be, there's still that little matter of the budget report which has to be on the Minister's desk by noon tomorrow. Or...is it finished now?"
"Not quite," Magda admitted sheepishly.
"Then maybe you should concern yourself with that and not with whether one of your colleagues looks up from his tasks on occasion when he happens to be outside his office."
Magda rolled her eyes, but headed to her desk and got back to the report. Hermione, on the other hand, was finding it unbelievably difficult to keep her mind on her own work.
In point of fact, Magda was absolutely correct in her observation that Severus had been spending quite a bit of time each day watching Hermione. What Magda seemed not to have noticed was that Hermione had also been watching Severus and not just in the way a nominal supervisor might ordinarily keep an eye on an underling (no matter how loosely that term might be applied in his case). Severus was a conundrum, and there was little that interested Hermione more than a conundrum.
And yes, if forced to be honest, Hermione had to admit that her interest in Severus Snape extended beyond the simple desire to solve a puzzle, although why that was true was almost beyond her powers of analysis. It certainly wasn't as if Severus had blossomed into a charming and attractive man over the past few years. However, there was something incredibly intriguing about him, at least as far as Hermione was concerned.
How far his apparently reciprocal (and admittedly flattering) interest in her extended or where it might have stemmed from, Hermione had no earthly idea, and it wasn't as if she could discuss it with anybody. As far as any of her friends or colleagues were concerned, her post-war relationship with Severus was purely professional, and Hermione couldn't really tell how much Severus wanted that state of affairs to change. While he seemed to be growing more relaxed in her company, it was only when they were alone, and even then, some distance always remained.
"Everybody's gone," said Hermione, turning around and trying to act as if she hadn't been startled by his sudden appearance behind her. "You might as well call me by my first name."
"Hermione," Severus said, inclining his head slightly. "I was wondering whether you'd had a chance to look at the data from yesterday's trials."
"A bit," she said.
She shook her head. "Nothing conclusive. The aloe's healing properties seem to have helped a bit in the recovery stage, of course, but it doesn't appear to have lessened the severity of the Cruciatus itself." One corner of Severus' mouth curled into a half smile, and Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes...you told me so."
"I did, didn't I?" he said. "In any case, it'll take a while until we're able to determine the long term effects, and in the interim, I suggest we try the flobberworms."
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "Yuch! I hate working with flobberworms. You're going to have to slice them, you know."
"Are you giving me an instruction as my supervisor, or are you making a personal request?
"Ah," Hermione said. "That would be telling, wouldn't it?"
It took almost a full minute before Hermione became aware that the two of them were standing mere inches apart, smiling at each other, and that her hand was resting comfortably on Severus' forearm. Even stranger was that Severus was making no attempt to pull his arm away.
"Would you like to...negotiate the question of flobberworm usage in slightly more congenial surroundings?"
Severus blinked, then frowned at her. "Does a discussion of flobberworms actually require a...."
"Oh, for heaven's sake," she said, rolling her eyes. "That was supposed to be an invitation to dinner."
"It was? Then why didn't you just ask?"
Amazing, Hermione thought. No matter how much one individual male might differ from another in almost every aspect of his personality, on a certain level, all men turned out to be Ron Weasley.
She sighed. "Severus, would you like to join me for dinner tonight at my flat?"
He paused very briefly, then said, "Thank you for the invitation, Hermione. I'd be happy to accept."
"Great," she said. "Would you turn off the lights in the laboratory while I finish up over here?"
Hermione left him to it and set stasis charms over the still-incomplete potions. When she turned back towards Severus, she discovered him frowning at his wand, the lab lights still illuminated.
"Is there a problem, Severus?"
"I'm not sure," he said slowly. "I can't imagine there's anything wrong with my wand, but...."
His voice trailed off, and Hermione instinctively took a step closer to him. "Try it again," she said, quietly.
He scowled, but did as she'd asked. The lights flickered briefly, but Severus finally succeeded in extinguishing all but the emergency lights that floated above the centre aisle.
"Are you all right?" Hermione asked. "You aren't having trouble with your magic, are you?"
"Don't be absurd."
"I'm just concerned that...."
"I'm not interested in discussing it," he said brusquely as he walked towards the laboratory door. "A single instance of erratic magical control is nothing that need be a matter of concern. Now, shall we be on our way?"
It wasn't until she and Severus were sitting beside each other on the couch, sharing an after-dinner drink and talking quietly about inconsequential matters that had absolutely nothing to do with Hogwarts or the War or work, that Hermione realized that the two of them were actually on a date. She had a sneaking suspicion that dating, per se, wasn't exactly a common occurrence for him (she knew it wasn't for her; she could count the number of dates she'd been on since leaving school on one hand and still have fingers to spare), but there didn't seem to be any of the first-date tensions between them that any reasonable person might have expected there to be.
Of course, that could be partly explained by the fact that the two of them were far too tired from the long hours they'd been keeping at the laboratory. Speaking for herself, Hermione didn't have much energy left over for worrying about the state of her social life, such as it was, and the same was probably true of Severus. In fact, it looked as if Severus was probably more tired than she was, judging by the way his eyes kept fluttering shut, even when he was speaking.
Well, Hermione thought, there probably wouldn't be a better time to test whether the relationship that had been developing between her and Severus was a simple friendship, or whether they might be working towards something a little more...intimate. She slid her arm across the back of the sofa, then softly squeezed his shoulder.
"Hey," she said quietly. "You look like you could do with some sleep."
Severus started, then frowned. "Apparently, I've outstayed my welcome," he said, straightening up from the slouched position he'd found himself in. "I'll just...."
Hermione shook her head. "That's not what I meant, and there's absolutely no need to leave."
She couldn't remember ever seeing Severus looking so confused. Even when Hermione patted her own leg, Severus still looked as bewildered as if Hermione had been speaking in a foreign language. In the end, she had to tug on his arm - gently, but persistently - until, casting a wary eye, he surrendered and lay down on the sofa, his head resting on her thigh.
For a few minutes, Severus lay as stiffly as if he'd been the victim of somebody's miscast Petrificus, but all in all, it took rather less time than Hermione had expected for Severus to relax enough to close his eyes.
Shortly after, Hermione could feel her leg start to fall asleep.
It struck her, as Severus began to snore, that if Hermione had truly been as experienced in these sorts of situations as she'd tried to convince Severus she was, she might have suggested that they retire to the far-more-comfortable bedroom earlier in the evening. Hermione sighed, then casting a silent Nox, she summoned her grandmother's old quilt from the hall cupboard, covered both of them with it, and fell asleep accompanied by the steady pulse of Severus' heart beating beneath her palm.
Despite it being a Saturday, Hermione awoke at the rising of the sun to the unfamiliar (though not unwelcome) feeling of a very large, very male hand wrapped around her naked breast. She looked down and saw that Severus, still asleep, had slid almost entirely beneath the quilt sometime in the night. He was no longer snoring, but his mouth was open and so close to Hermione's left nipple that he could surely have tasted it with hardly any effort at all.
For a time, she just lay on her side, Severus resting half on top of her, and tried to imagine what kind of conversation the two of them were going to have when he finally woke up, but it was impossible. Severus' unpredictable nature was one of his charms, even if Hermione knew that most people wouldn't have characterized it that way.
Hermione stayed where she was a bit longer, enjoying the quiet and the warmth of Severus' body against her own, but in the end, nature called, and she slipped off the sofa to visit the bathroom. One look in the mirror, and Hermione decided that cleaning charms might not be enough that particular morning, and when she finally left the bathroom and put the kettle on to boil, she could hear Severus stirring in the other room.
A tray of magically-brewed tea in hand, Hermione walked back into the livingroom to find Severus sitting up on the sofa, his stocking clad feet curled up beneath him and the quilt wrapped tightly around his shoulders.
"Morning," she said, sitting down beside him. "Can I interest you in some tea?"
"I could murder a cup," he said, looking at the mug as if it was a lifeline. He slipped one arm out from underneath the quilt, and Hermione handed the mug to him.
"I know you don't take sugar, but there's some milk in the kitchen if you're interested."
He nodded, then leaned forward and picked his wand up from the coffee table and waved it once. After a moment, he waved it again, but no milk appeared from the other room.
"Black tea is perfectly fine," he said, refusing to meet Hermione's worried gaze.
"Come on, Severus," she said. "Something is clearly wrong, and I think we should talk about...."
"As I told you last night, there's nothing to talk about." He scowled into his tea cup.
"Now you're just being foolish!" she said. "When a problem with your magic pops out of the blue like this, you can't just ignore it and hope it will go away. For all you know, it could get worse, and...."
"It already has," he muttered.
"I said," Severus growled, "that it already has! My magical abilities have been losing potency over many months now, and there's nothing to be done. Given the terms and conditions of my employment, I should have told you, but I didn't. However, I'm certain nobody expected me to be in the least bit trustworthy. Under the circumstances, I'll understand if you feel the need to terminate my contract."
He placed the mug of tea down on the table and stood up, looking a little confused when Hermione just stared at him in response.
"Are you quite finished?"
"Excuse me?" he said.
"Are you finished with your speech?" she asked. "It wasn't quite as dramatic as some of your other oratories have been, but I suppose it was a little early in the day for an improvisation."
Hands on his hips, Severus glared down at Hermione. "What in the name of Merlin are you blithering on about?"
"Do you really think that I don't know you well enough by now to tell when you're desperate to change the subject about something?" Hermione shook her head and got up from the sofa. "Bring your cup into the kitchen so that you can get some milk for your tea, and then we'll talk."
"Talk? About what?"
"About this odd condition that you don't want to talk about."
Severus frowned. "You're not planning on sacking me?"
"Of course not."
"Then how is my temporary magical malady any of your concern?"
Hermione snorted in a decidedly unladylike manner. "In the first place," she said, "a condition that's been getting progressively worse for months can no longer be considered 'temporary.' And for another thing, I doubt very seriously whether you're in the habit of spending your nights cuddling so closely with somebody that you're practically nursing from their breast. I know I'm not in any such habit myself. That being the case, I think it's safe to say that we've reached the stage where your concerns are my concerns. Come along, then."
She marched off, trying to project an air of confidence even where she felt none, and was gratified to hear Severus' footsteps behind her. She was slightly less pleased to hear him grumbling phrases like 'bossy boots' and 'know it all' and something that sounded very much like 'worse than my mother,' but as long as he wasn't going to leave, she could put up with some not-exactly-uncharacteristic petulant behavior.
Three hours later, Hermione had a much better understanding of the progression of Severus' symptoms, but for once in her life, she didn't find the possession of knowledge even the slightest bit reassuring. As for Severus, well...he seemed more agitated than he had before they spoke, almost as if talking to someone else about his recent loss of magical power had finally made it real to him in a way it hadn't been before.
"Are you sure it's been affecting everything?" she asked, pouring her fifth cup of tea. "There's no distinction between simple spells and more complex forms of magic?"
He shook his head. "None whatsoever. In theory, I still have the ability to do anything I once could do, but in practice it isn't true. Being unable to make a summoning spell work on the first try isn't the end of the world...."
"Right," Hermione said, nodding in agreement. "But Apparating when there's a thirty percent chance it isn't going to work just might be. You know," she said, tapping her fingers on the table. "You really need to set up an appointment with one of the Healers at St. Mungo's. If you have some rare...."
"It's not some rare disease," Severus said dismissively. "It's not a disease at all."
"How do you know? Have you already seen a Healer?"
"No, but I know how to read medical journals," he said.
"That's not good enough," Hermione said impatiently. "You should know better than to try and diagnose yourself." Severus scowled and muttered something under his breath that might have been 'harridan. "If you're not willing to go to St. Mungo's, then you have to agree to see Madam Pomfrey, at least."
"For your information, I have already paid her a visit."
Severus narrowed his eyes at Hermione. "Are you accusing me of lying?"
Hermione's first instinct was to say that she would never do that, but this was Severus Snape. Not only would he be unlikely to believe her, but for decades, Severus and the Truth had little more than a passing acquaintance with each other. Instead, she just raised one eyebrow and waited to see if he was going to elaborate.
"I saw her last month, you doubting Thomasina. If you feel the need to Floo Call and check on the veracity of my words, be my guest."
For a moment she was tempted to do just that, but in the end she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, she could always contact Poppy after Severus returned to his home.
"What did she say?"
"She said exactly what I suspected: that whatever is affecting me is no known medical condition, magical or otherwise."
Hermione frowned. "What about a Curse of some kind?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "That's an area in which I do have some expertise, and I would vouch my life that this is no Curse."
"Severus, you are wagering your life. Look," she said," I understand you know a great deal about Curses, but...all right, what would you think if I told you that Remus had started to brew his own Wolfsbane?"
Severus snorted. "I'd think that he was a complete fool, not seeking out an expert in the...." Hermione grinned, and Severus looked back at her in disgust. "I'm sure you think you're terribly clever now, don't you?"
"Yes," she said perkily, then walked around and came to a stop just behind him. "I do, actually."
She waited for a moment to see what he was going to say in return, but Severus just leaned back against her and sighed resignedly, which took all the fun out of their verbal sparring match. She drew him against her in a light embrace, then rested her chin on his head. "We'll sort it out, Severus. I promise you we'll sort everything out."
"Perhaps," he replied, but it sounded to Hermione as if he didn't believe for a second that a solution would be found.
It was a mark of how worried Severus was about the whole situation that he let Hermione bring in Bill Weasley for a consultation. It wasn't as if he questioned the eldest Weasley's knowledge or expertise when it came to Curse breaking, but while Severus had reached a mild accord with Ron and Ginny after the war - and actively respected the twisted way the twins' minds worked - there had never been any love lost between Severus and Bill.
Severus did accept, however (although not without a great deal of persuasion on Hermione's part) that every one of the surviving members of the Weasley family considered Hermione one of their own and would do anything for her, even if that "anything" included extending their assistance to him.
"...and there's no pain associated with any attempts to perform magic, right?"
"No," Severus said between clenched teeth. "As I told you two days ago and last week and the week before that."
"Listen," said Bill, leaning back in his chair, boot-clad feet up on Severus' desk, watching as his Quick Quotes Quill started to take notes on a new roll of parchment. "If you want to end up as a Squib, that's perfectly all right with me."
"This is ridiculous!" Severus said. "Clearly you have no idea what you're doing, and...."
"Okay," said Hermione, interrupting before matters could get out of hand. "It's been a long day for everybody, and Severus and I have been inside this lab for fourteen hours straight now. I think maybe we should all go home for the night and get some rest before tempers fray any further."
"Fine with me," Bill said.
"You'll owl if you come up with anything?"
He nodded and smiled at Hermione. "Of course. Are you sure you don't want to come by for supper? Fleur and the kids would love to see you."
Hermione could feel the disapproval coming off Severus in waves. Ordinarily, she wouldn't do or say anything to encourage Severus' bad behaviour, but Bill was going out of his way to remind Severus that he was not welcome in Bill and Fleur's home.
"I'm afraid I can't tonight, Bill," she said, sliding her arm around Severus' waist. "We already have plans."
"You're positive? I can sweeten the pot. Ron and Harry are dropping by this evening, and I have it on good authority that you haven't seen them face to face since their housewarming party."
She smiled, but shook her head. "I'm positive. Some other time, though."
"All right, then. Next week?"
"Next week. Give my love to the family, and thank you, Bill, for all the time you're putting into this."
"Anything for you," he said, before stepping out into the corridor.
Instinctively, Severus waved his wand in an attempt to make the door slam loudly before Bill could Disapparate home, but all Severus succeeded in doing was create enough of a breeze to make all the papers on his desk fall down onto the floor.
"Goddamn it!" Severus shouted before throwing his wand across the room.
Hermione took a deep breath, but didn't say anything. She just sat down on Severus' desk and dangled her feet over the edge, waiting patiently for Severus to calm down. While nobody could argue with the fact that Severus had a very short temper, from Hermione's perspective, he'd actually been behaving in a fairly civilized manner for the past three weeks, despite quite a bit of provocation from Bill.
"Well? You might as well say it," Severus spat.
"What is it that I'm supposed to be saying?"
"That I'm an ungrateful bastard and that it would serve me right if Weasley told me to get fucked."
"You know, Severus, it seems to me," she said quietly, "that you don't need any help chastising yourself. However, if you think you deserve to 'get fucked,' I happen to know somebody who'd be perfectly willing to help you out with that."
For a minute Severus just scowled at his fingernails, then he looked up at Hermione. "Precisely how hard are you trying not to laugh at me at this moment?" he asked.
"Oh, I'd say quite hard," she replied, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth.
He shook his head. "Could you explain exactly what it is that I like about you?"
"Well," said Hermione, a very serious expression on her face. "Rumour has it I'm good in bed."
"You certainly don't expect me to simply accept your word for that, do you?" Severus asked, smirking a bit.
"Of course not," said Hermione. "No researcher worth his salt would."
"Well then," said Severus, rising from his chair and extending his arm to Hermione. "It looks like you're in for a long night of assisting me in my research."
As it transpired, Hermione and Severus were engaged in research all night, but it was not the sort of research that either of them had in mind when they left the laboratory. Less than thirty minutes after arriving at Hermione's flat, Bill's head appeared in the green flames of the fireplace, asking if Hermione had a dual language translation charm, because he'd just figured out what the Curse was, that it was something the Goblins had come across in Egypt, and that he was sending over a recipe for the cure.
"And Hermione?" Bill said, chuckling quietly, but not so quietly that that the two of them couldn't hear him laugh. "Tell Snape that Old Gripplehock says it has to be taken three times a day for a two months and that it tastes absolutely vile."
As soon as the parchment containing the recipe fluttered through the flames, Bill disappeared, the sound of his laughter echoing in the empty fireplace.
"Just five minutes alone with him once my magic is at full strength again," Severus snarled. "That's all I ask. It doesn't even have to be five minutes. Three would do. Two minutes, in a pinch."
"You know," said Hermione, seeing if she could make any sense out of the half-Aramaic, half-Etruscan document without resorting to a translation charm. "You'll stand far less chance of getting ulcers someday if you could just let things go on occasion."
"Let things go?" Severus said incredulously, and Hermione laughed a little, even though he hadn't intended to say anything amusing. She'd clearly be better off developing a potion to cure ulcers instead of expecting Severus to change the habits of a lifetime.
"Come along then, Mr Miserable," she said, getting up off the floor. "We've got a potion to make."
Hermione had always prided herself on her skill at brewing potions. It wasn't her absolute best subject when she was in school - that was Charms - but she was certainly talented enough at the art of potions making to have earned an Outstanding when she finally took her N.E.W.T. level exams.
However, once she had translated the recipe, sending a copy of the translation to Bill for the sake of completeness, it turned out to be so complex a potion that she wasn't at all sure that she could have brewed it if Severus hadn't been by her side throughout the entire process. Potions making requiring rather more magical input than most witches and wizards think, Severus was unable to actually do the brewing himself, but he was able to walk Hermione through every step as if the potion was something he'd made a thousand times before.
With the two of them working together the way they were, it didn't seem possible that any mistakes could have been made in the brewing. However, certain as Hermione was that the two of them had got everything absolutely right, after Severus had been taking the potion for a time, Hermione did start to wonder exactly when they were going to start to see some results. It was to be expected that there might be a bit of a delay before the potion started kicking in, but surely the delay should have been no more than a day or two at the most. Severus had been taking the potion for over a week now, and far from seeing a strengthening of his magical powers, he seemed - if anything - to be even weaker magically than he'd been before. In fact, when Hermione really thought about it, she couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Severus pick up his wand. It didn't quite matter at the moment, since the present stage of the project depended more on analytical thinking than it did on magic, but that wasn't going to be the case in a few week's time.
Hermione sighed, and tried to turn her attention back to whatever Magda had been saying about the state of war between the lab's two interns. Hermione supposed she should be taking more of an interest in her staff, but compared to the dire state of Severus' magic and the possibility that they might just be coming close to a breakthrough in finding a cure at last for the Cruiciatus, squabbles between two eighteen year olds over which one of them got to take the earlier lunch break paled in comparison.
"...and then Anthony turned into a thestral."
Hermione frowned. "He what? That's not possible, is it?"
"Of course not," Magda said, smiling broadly. "I was just checking to see if you were actually paying attention, or if you were off in the clouds again."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Magda," said Hermione. "I've just been distracted recently."
"I've noticed. I don't suppose you're ready to share whatever's so interesting that you can't keep your mind on your work."
"Well," Hermione said, glancing across the laboratory at the door to Severus' office. "It might be that Severus Snape and I have been spending all our free time together, shagging like rabbits."
Magda shrieked with laughter, then shook her head. "You'll really have to come up with something a little more believable next time, you know."
There was nothing like telling the truth to ensure that nobody discovered your secrets.
That night - for the first time since their first time - Hermione felt a little strange in Severus' presence, and she had absolutely no idea why that might be so. It wasn't as if Severus was acting distant or aloof. If anything, he was more attentive and more affectionate than was usual for him. However there was something disconcerting about the way he looked at her, not as if he was performing Legilimency (which Hermione had to admit had crossed her mind at first), but instead, almost as if he had never seen her before - or perhaps as if he was never going to see her again.
The intensity and sense of completeness with which Severus approached Hermione's body that night was almost devotional. Unlike the poet Marvell's impatient lover with his hyperbolic promises of adoration ("An hundred years should go to praise / Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze; / Two hundred to adore each breast, / But thirty thousand to the rest") - promises never meant to be kept - Severus seemed to have found the means to slow Time's progress.
Each hour of the passing night lengthened into an aeon, each age replete with sensation, featherlight touches of lips on closed eyelids, the bump of noses, warm mouths sharing breath, the exploration of hands making their way across the always-new worlds of bodies, skin against skin, rhythmic thrusts, beads of sweat on foreheads and between breasts, pants and gasps and cries of completion and embraces so warm and so strong and so all-encompassing that it was almost as if they had transcended their individual bodies and merged into some new being, one born of passion and love.
"World enough and time," indeed.
When Hermione awoke the following morning, Severus was no longer beside her in bed.
She had a brief flash of something very like panic, as if an unknown force had somehow taken Severus away and Hermione would never see him again, but the sound of the teakettle whistling in the kitchen soon put paid to that ridiculous, irrational, too-much-like-Divination notion. Hermione took a deep breath, then took Severus' white button-down shirt off the back of a chair, slipped it over her head, and went to join him in the kitchen.
"Good morning, Severus," she said.
He turned around and nodded in reply. He was dressed only in black trousers, his too-lean frame still damp from a shower and his hair clean but tangled as it fell about his shoulders. He wore that oddly shy, almost-smile that she'd grown accustomed to, but there was a strange, discordant note of sadness in his eyes, and all of a sudden, Hermione knew she was right to have been worried.
"We need to talk," he said.
Hermione closed her eyes briefly, then poured herself a cup of tea and sat down. Any minute now, Severus would be saying "It's not you, it's me." A pity he didn't have control over his magic at the moment since she couldn't really see hexing a defenseless man. Maybe just slapping his face would be an appropriate response in such a cliched situation?
He joined her at the kitchen table, but he crossed his thin arms defensively over his pale chest and refused to meet her gaze.
"When I woke up this morning," he said, "I looked at you asleep beside me, and for the first time I could remember in decades, I felt truly happy."
Well, she thought...that wasn't at all what she had been expecting him to say.
"And then I realized I didn't have any idea what your name was."
For a moment, the only sound in the room was the tick of the old clock on the wall.
"I went into the livingroom and found the postcard your parents sent you from their trip to Brazil." He took a deep breath. "Hermione. I know that's your name now, but there's no guarantee that I'll remember it tomorrow."
Hermione frowned. "I don't understand. What is it about my name that...."
"It's not just your name," he said, meeting her eyes finally. "I remember that there's an important potion made by adding asphodel to an infusion of wormwood, but I have no idea what it is. Yesterday - I think it was yesterday - Marta...Magda asked me to sign a requisition for some new equipment I'd ordered, and for a moment, I couldn't remember how to sign my name. She didn't say anything, but I know she noticed."
"You've obviously been affected by a memory charm of some type. The question," Hermione said, as she reached for a piece of parchment and a quill and started to take notes, "is trying to isolate what specific spell it was, because...."
Severus' long fingers closed gently around her wrist and stilled the progress of her writing.
"It's not a memory charm, Hermione," he said. "The two of us have barely been out of each other's company for weeks now; when, exactly, would somebody have had the opportunity to cast a spell on me? In any case, can you think of even one memory-related charm which is progressive, the way that this one seems to be?"
The fact that she couldn't think of any at the moment didn't mean a thing. She had to be right. There had to be a simple way to reverse whatever was happening to Severus.
"Hermione, you know that this has to be related to my progressive loss of magic...."
"I don't know that, Severus. We don't know that."
"We do. Don't lie to yourself," he said harshly. "And don't lie to me."
"Severus, we can fix this. I know we can."
He shook his head. "I don't think we can, my love." How ironic, for Severus to say the word 'love' for the first time at the very moment he was saying goodbye. "Medical cures haven't worked. Magical cures haven't worked. It's getting worse by the day. The only thing you can do for me now is help me to...."
"You are not going to get me to help you end your life, Severus Snape!"
Severus snorted. "Of course not. I was going to say you could help me find a place to stay where I can be taken care of when the time comes that I'm unable to take care of myself. I'd prefer that it not be in the wizarding world, however, since there are far too many witches and wizards who would take a great deal of pleasure in seeing me in a vulnerable state, and I'd rather not spend my twilight years hanging upside down with my underpants on display, even if I'm not aware it's happening."
"Not acceptable, Hermione."
She scowled. "I didn't even finish what I was going to say."
"You didn't need to. I'm sure you were going to do as all Gryffindors would do and offer to take me into your home permanently."
"Severus," she said. "I love you."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then shook his head. "If that's true," he said slowly," it won't be true for long."
"As long as it was just my magic that was disappearing, there might have been a chance for us, although rumour has it that I'm rather difficult, even at the best of times," he said with a small smile. "I can only imagine how badly I'd behave as a Squib. But with neither my magic nor my memories..." He shook his head. "Everything that defines me will cease to exist, Hermione."
She tried to come up with some response - tried to say something to get him to change his mind - but she knew he was right. Hermione took one long, shuddering breath, and in the next instant, Severus had wrapped her in an embrace.
"Don't cry, Hermione," he murmured, as he held her tightly in his arms. "I don't want you to cry."
"I won't," she said, even as a tear started to slide down her cheek. "Just promise me you won't go away. Promise you'll let me continue to try."
Hermione extricated herself from his embrace, then turned around to face Severus. "Is that a Slytherin promise or a real promise?"
He shook his head. "You're just lucky," he said with a doleful tone, "that I can't remember if that should be taken as an insult or not."
Despite herself, Hermione laughed.
They spent the rest of the weekend together, simply enjoying sharing one another's company. Severus continued to take the potion, but they both knew it was probably useless as each passing hour brought no improvement, but only fuzzier memories.
When Monday came, Hermione would have preferred to stay home from work, but it was impossible. There were too many responsibilities that went along with a job like hers, too many other people depending on her, so in she went, with Severus in tow. There was little enough he could do to help with the project at this point, but Hermione wasn't about to leave him behind at her flat. When they got to the lab, she set him to work slicing shiitake mushrooms for a small project she had in mind for the interns.
At 11:00 a.m., Bill Weasley walked in the door, holding the copy of the recipe translation Hermione had made for him and wearing a worried expression on his face.
"Is this what you've been using for Snape?" he asked, with no preamble.
"Yes, of course," she said, frowning a bit. "What's wrong with it?"
"Gripplehock took a look at it this morning, and...okay, one of the ingredients was supposed to be bark from the Maidenhair Tree, but that's nowhere on the page."
"Bill Weasley!" Hermione growled, sounding alarmingly like Severus. "What have you done?"
"I swear the potion's not dangerous or anything with the missing ingredient," he said, holding up his hands and taking a step away from her. "Gripplehock said it wasn't. It's just...without the Maidenhair bark, there might be some symptoms that mirror the Muggle disease Alzheimer's."
Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"Temporarily!" Bill added quickly. "Just temporarily! Here...I have the quantities of bark you'll need to include per standard dose. Um...sorry about that."
"What's going on?" Two sets of eyes turned at once to find Severus glowering at the newcomer. "What are you doing here, Weasley?"
"Apparently," Hermione said angrily. "The recipe we were given from Mr Expert over there had a missing ingredient." Severus frowned. "Maidenhair tree bark."
"Is that important?" Severus asked calmly.
Bill's eyes widened at the frighteningly uncharacteristic response. "Um...yeah, Snape. It's important. Anyway, you have the right recipe now, and that should help with...um...that other matter, too."
Now it was Hermione's turn to frown. "What other matter, Bill?"
"The impotence. Sorry it lasted longer than it should have done, but once Snape starts taking the right potion, he'll...."
"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked. "Severus isn't impotent."
Severus snorted. "I most certainly am not. I may have a faulty memory at the moment, but I can recall at least seven occasions just this past weekend when...."
Hermione flushed and placed her hand on Severus' forearm. "I don't think Bill needs to hear all the details, Severus."
Bill shook his head. "But that's not possible, Hermione. Impotence is always tied to Curses of this type, at least for wizards."
"Are you absolutely certain?" she asked. Ordinarily she wouldn't have considered questioning a professional in this way, but after the debacle with the potion recipe, she wasn't sure she trusted Bill as far as she could throw him.
"Absolutely certain," he said indignantly. "If the two of you are...doing it, his loss of magic isn't due to a Curse. Hell, it's more likely that he just gave it away, ridiculous as that thought is."
The thought was ridiculous, but when Hermione turned towards Severus, he wasn't laughing. In fact, he was absolutely ashen.
"God, what's the matter with him, Hermione?" asked Bill worriedly. "He looks like he going to throw up."
She bit nervously at her bottom lip, then laid her hand on Severus' forehead. "I don't know what's wrong, Bill. He doesn't seem to have a fever, but...Severus, what's the matter? Are you in pain?"
Severus squeezed the bridge of his nose. "I don't....what Weasley said about giving my magic away. I think I did."
Bill's eyes widened. "You what? What are you talking about."
"At the end of the War. I think...that bloody potion! I can't remember." He turned towards Hermione. "Remind me."
She frowned. "Are you trying to remember Harry's final showdown with Voldemort?"
"Yes. I think so."
"Okay, well, it was Harry in the front, then Ron and I just behind him."
"You weren't the only ones though, were you?"
"No, of course not. Remus was there and Tonks and Shacklebolt."
Severus shook his head. "That's not all. I was there, standing behind Voldemort, and...what about Longbottom and the Lovegood girl?"
Tears came to Hermione's eyes, remembering her two missing friends, but she nodded. "They were there, too."
"Eight of you against the Dark Lord, but you still weren't strong enough, not quite...not against Him," Severus said, his eyes screwed up tightly as he tried to remember. "And there was nothing I could do, because He had taken the precaution of casting a spell that made it impossible for myself or Wormtail or any of the others in the inner circle to use magic directly against him, just in case any of us turned out to be not quite as loyal as we appeared to be."
Hermione's eyes widened. "That's right! And I remember Harry screaming something, just before the very end, just before it all turned around. He said....oh!"
"Yes, he called me a coward," Severus spat. "And not for the first time."
"Wait a minute," Bill said. "What does any of this have to do with Snape's magic being taken away?"
Hermione shook her head. "That's not what happened," she said. "He gave it away."
"It was just like you said. He couldn't do anything directly to Voldemort, but he could share his own magic, at least for a while. There's an old spell, but it's very dangerous and it requires that the person casting the spell be extraordinarily controlled and extraordinarily brave. If the caster doesn't have enough control, he or she could banish every bit of magic from their system and end up killing the person with whom they were attempting to share the magic, as well."
"And did Snape have enough control?"
"Of course I did," Severus said smugly. "However...."
Bill shook his head. "You didn't bloody well reverse it, did you?"
"I can't remember," Severus said, but his flushed face told Hermione that he was lying through his teeth. "If I didn't reverse it, however...it's just possible that magic has been seeping out of me for...the past two years."
"God," Bill said, still shaking his head in disbelief. "And you just noticed it?"
"Shut up, Weasley."
"No, you shut up, Snape."
"No, you shut up!"
Hermione shook her head. Muggles or Wizards, young or old, men were absolutely impossible! Perhaps it wasn't too late to see if Tonks or Ginny might be interested in playing for the other team.
The end of the Bloody Magical Crisis, as Severus had taken to calling it, was fairly anticlimactic. Hermione explained the situation to the surviving recipients of Snape's magic, and one evening, soon after the side effects of the bad potion had worn off and Severus was in full possession of his memories again, everybody gathered at Hermione's flat, where Severus had to try nine times before he was able to successfully reverse the spell and reclaim his magic.
And then they all ordered out for pizza.
Not all of Severus' magic returned, of course, since what he'd shared with Luna Lovagood and Neville Longbottom could never be reclaimed, yet he never complained about what he'd lost, for he remembered only too well just how much worse it could have been.
As for those who still want to know what sort of relationship finally developed between Severus and Hermione, well...if Severus were asked, his answer would probably be that it was nobody's business but theirs and that only a dunderhead would be unable to figure out the answer for him or herself.
And to be honest, Severus' wife's answer would probably be the same.<
Quotes taken from Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" (1, 13-16)
Comments, critiques, chit chat: bethbethbeth [at] gmail
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