Hermione Granger
Drama Romance
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 03/19/2002
Updated: 09/01/2005
Words: 220,150
Chapters: 28
Hits: 163,807

Falling Further In


Story Summary:
The story begins in the summer holidays before the sixth year. After her parents are murdered by Voldemort Hogwarts becomes Hermione's home. She joins the staff in the fight against Voldemort and learns more of the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom. Will *eventually* be Snape/Hermione. Lupin is again the Professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and has a black dog who lives with him - Sirius Black in his animagus form.

Chapter 26

Chapter Summary:
Hermione learns more about the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom
Author's Note:
I've reposted 26 because I was so pleased with myself for remembering the graph line function that I posted the uncorrected version...


Still slightly fuddled by the effects of phoenix euphoria, Snape's memories of the next hour or so were always a muddle of raw emotion, of which fear predominated: fear that he had finally lost his mind.

"Didn't you hear me?" asked Professor Sprout, her normally mellow voice shrill with excitement. "I said the Dark Mark has gone!"

Snape stared at the unsullied flesh of his forearm.

"It's not there," he said slowly. "The Dark Lord isn't dead, is he?" He looked up at the semi-circle of people crowding around him.

"We have no reason to think so," said Dumbledore, playing with the ends of his beard. "I believe you must owe Fawkes an even bigger debt than we first realised. The only purpose of Dementors is to suck joy from the lives of those with whom they come into contact. Soul-stealers, they feed on everything we hold dear. Yet after a few minutes listening to Fawkes, perhaps less - it was difficult to concentrate on anything but the beauty of his song - and the Dementors literally dissolved. Without misery and despair there was nothing to hold them together."

"I think the Dark Mark was probably created by more complexity than that," said Flitwick dryly. "Even as a boy Tom Riddle knew his Charms."

Snape gave no sign that he had heard. More intent than a cat at a mouse-hole, his attention had returned to the pale skin of his unmarked forearm, as if waiting for the Mark to spring back into visibility the moment he looked away.

"Then we can only presume that phoenix euphoria at the level of sound induced by that Sonorous Charm of Severus' was enough to defeat the darkest of magic," said Dumbledore.

"There's one way to find out," said Madam Pomfrey briskly. "With your permission, Severus?" The question was, quite clearly, a formality; one hand on his wrist, she had already taken out her wand.

His emotions roiling, his control precarious, Snape rather lost track of events after that as his arm was examined by Poppy, then Albus, sniffed by Lupin and Black and checked again by March, their expert on Charms. Each one of them confirmed that there was nothing but healthy, unmarked flesh.

"It's true, Severus," Lupin told him earnestly. "You smell of yourself again, rather than of nothing." He tried to tamp down on a surge of envy; the darkness which ruled his own life and which, unlike Severus, had not been of his choosing, would never leave him.

"My dear, it's true," confirmed Madam Pomfrey, in an odd, choked sounding voice. "The Dark Mark has really gone. It's as if it has never been."

"Don't you understand," squeaked Flitwick, tears of joy pouring down his face, "you're free!"

Snape hardly seemed to notice his embrace, or the kisses from Professors McGonagall, Sprout and Madam Hooch; even Black managed a manly handshake.

"I never thought I would see the day when Severus Snape was at a loss for words," Black joked awkwardly, more moved than he cared to admit by the expression on Snape's unguarded face. He felt oddly embarrassed, as if he had seen something not intended for his eyes.

"Can't you stop, even now?" hissed Madam Hooch furiously. "Say one word out of line..."

"He wouldn't," said Professor Sprout simply. "This is a great day for us all."

For the life of him Snape couldn't stop staring at the spot the Dark Mark had occupied; the Mark which, one way and another, had blighted the last nineteen years of his life. Nineteen bitter, wasted years.

"How can I be sure it won't reappear?" He refused to believe it was gone - refused to let himself hope. He had made that mistake last time.

"Well, as you won't be returning to Voldemort I don't see how the Dark Mark can reappear," said Professor Sprout brightly. She glared at Dumbledore when he failed to pick up his cue.

Snape just sat staring at his arm. "If I don't Albus loses all link with Voldemort."

In other circumstances the look of consternation which crossed Dumbledore's face would have been comical. "Ah," he said slowly. "That is a problem," he conceded.

Flitwick straightened at Snape's side. "It would be death for Severus to go to Voldemort without the Dark Mark. Besides, he has done enough."

"I couldn't agree more," said Professor McGonagall briskly but her eyes were shining. Even minor victories had been hard to come by of late and there was nothing minor about this.

There were murmurs of agreement from the others.

"We'd be throwing away a huge advantage if you sent Professor Snape back to Voldemort," said Ron slowly, as he thought something through.

"In what way?" asked Dumbledore, peering at Ron intently from over the top of his half-moon spectacles.

"We're not really sure what kind of link there was between Professor Snape's Dark Mark and Voldemort, only that there was one. When Professor Snape went back to him Voldemort went to some trouble to personalise his Mark. Voldemort may have felt the Mark go, or he may know nothing about what's happened. But sooner or later he'll find out that he's lost his connection to Professor Snape. He'll be thinking of little else. It could keep him off-balance for long enough for us to work out how to kill the bastard. He won't know if Professor Snape is dead, whether the headmaster found a way to remove the Dark Mark, or perhaps even whether Professor Snape did. Even better, Voldemort's bound to wonder if his powers are failing."

"Which can only be to our advantage," said Bill.

"It sounds to me," said Charlie slowly, "as if we need to test someone else's Dark Mark with phoenix euphoria. Presuming Fawkes can be persuaded to oblige."

"You may not approach Percy," Professor McGonagall told him sternly. "Is that clearly understood? We all understand how you feel but it could ruin everything. It would be a different story if he comes to us."

"We could be looking at this the wrong way round," said Ron, nervously fingering his ear ring when he recognised Charlie's mutinous expression. "Maybe phoenix song at the level of intensity we're talking about isn't so much a destroyer of dark magic - evil, if you like - as it is the equivalent of a Veritas lens. Take away the darkness and there's nothing left of a Dementor. Perhaps the reason Professor Snape lost his Dark Mark is because he never was a Death Eater. Not really. Not..." Ron flushed and stared at the floor as he mumbled "...not in his heart."

"Sentimental claptrap. I think I'm going to be sick," muttered Black.

"Say it any louder and I can guarantee it," Madam Hooch promised him in a vitriolic whisper.

Flitwick had remained at Snape's side as an unlikely looking protector. Now he beamed his approval at Ron. "I believe you may have hit the nail on the head. I suspect that if Lucius Malfoy had been in that wood he would have emerged with his Dark Mark intact. I also believe there's a strong possibility Fawkes' song might have caused him considerable harm. Old manuscripts speak of phoenix euphoria causing madness. Imagine the affect on a mind if an evil individual is made to understand - in his heart - the consequence of his actions? I have always believed that if there was more empathy in the world there would be fewer wizards willing to main and torture others."

"Well said, March," said Dumbledore absently as Professor Sprout gave her husband a smacking kiss on the forehead. "But if Ron's theory is correct - and, like you, I see no reason why it shouldn't be - then phoenix song will reduce Voldemort to what he really is." There was a far-away look in his blue eyes.

"A dead man," said Madam Hooch with relish.

"No, I fear that might be too much to hope for." The sentiment sounded all the more shocking coming from the usually gentle Flitwick. "But take away whatever power Voldemort gains from his link with his Death Eaters, remove the unicorn blood, snake venom, the charms, and his link with Harry... His strength would be seriously compromised, presuming he has any left at all."

"Which would give us an opportunity to kill him," said Madam Hooch, her strange eyes glowing in light of the fire.

"We don't have plans, we have theories, ifs and maybes," complained Black.

"Three months ago we didn't even have them," pointed out Professor McGonagall.

"Hermione came to me yesterday morning, wondering if Voldemort might have held a private initiation ceremony for anyone in our current Upper Sixth," said Madam Pomfrey. "One to which Severus wasn't a party."

"I seem to be rather stupid," said Snape slowly, sounding as if he had been drugged. "You mean I don't have to go back to him?"

Professor McGonagall wasn't the only one who had to look away from the naked hope on his unguarded face as he waited for Dumbledore to reply.

"Never," promised Dumbledore, his firm tone giving no hint of his inner doubts about how they would manage without any link to the progress, or otherwise, of Voldemort's madness and its implication for the wizarding - and Muggle - world.

Snape just sat there.

And suddenly it was all too much. The years he had spent learning to mask his emotions, until even he had begun to doubt if he had any, might have been for nothing. Snape swung his head away from the eyes piercing him; kindly meant or not, he had no protection against them.

He concentrated on trying to control his breathing before he shamed himself by bawling like a baby in front of Black and Lupin. Lost in this most personal of struggles it was few moments before he became aware of the receding murmur of voices, footsteps and then:

"I'm really wanted to have a word about..." began Dumbledore.

"Albus, let the boy be," snapped Professor McGonagall. "This night most of all."

A door closed and Snape allowed himself to slump, although he knew he wasn't alone; he had lost his sense of Hermione when the others had crowded around him, edging her away. It was worryingly out of character that she should have allowed that to happen. He half-turned where he sat on the footstool to see her standing a few feet away.

"The others have all gone. I should like to stay, if you'll let me." She sounded uncertain, hesitant even, but the longing in her voice was unmistakable.

Odd that it should take something as simple yet complex as love to unman him.

Then she was with him, holding him fierce enough to bruise and he hugged her back, as though clutching a life-line.

The members of the Inner Circle were speculating wildly about the loss of Snape's Dark Mark as they headed downstairs, falling silent only when they reached the door at the base of Serpens Tower. Ron was the first to slip away.

Bill knew better than to tackle him about what had caused the rift with Harry; instead, he followed Professor McGonagall to Gryffindor Tower, waiting until she invited him in to her office, where they could be sure they wouldn't be overheard, before he asked if she knew anything about the quarrel.

"Ah. Yes." Professor McGonagall fidgeted with her wand. "Are you sure you wouldn't like some more tea?"

"Positive. You can tell me," Bill said easily. "I don't flare up like Ron. Insults to our family are nothing new."

"As I understand it - obviously this doesn't come from Ron - it seems that Harry refused to see your mother and was less than complimentary about the twins. Specifically about your parents ability to feed two more children," she added with obvious reluctance.

Bill nodded, although his mouth had thinned.

"There's worse," said Professor McGonagall, tired enough to need to share the burden with someone.

"Tell me. If I can help, I will," he said quietly.

"Yesterday morning I found Harry in the grounds when he should have been at a career guidance session with March. When I questioned him Harry said there was no point going because Voldemort was his future. And...and that he wasn't having some Goblin half-breed telling him what he could and couldn't do," she added miserably.

"He said that about March?" said Bill furiously. "I'll - "

"Yes, yes," sighed Professor McGonagall. "Now you understand why I haven't told anyone. You'll do nothing, of course. It isn't a conversation I want to hear repeated. For the sake of March and Ceres most of all. They would be...devastated - and not just because of the regulations forbidding the use of wands by all but wizards."

"But March - "

"Under current law he is categorised as a half-beast. As is Hagrid."

"I've worked for goblins for so long that I'd forgotten the law. I shall say nothing, of course."

Professor McGonagall sniffed. "The alternative never crossed my mind."

"We could have said the same about Harry."

"I wish I understood what's happening to him," she muttered worriedly. "This school year... He's changing out of all recognition. I've mentioned it to Albus but he's so preoccupied with Hogwarts. All he says is that it's a difficult time for Harry and that we must be patient."

"I suppose Voldemort hasn't got inside Harry's head again?" asked Bill.

"I managed to persuade Albus to check on that much. He says not, but these days maintaining the link with Hogwarts takes up nine-tenths of his attention. Harry's headaches have returned with a vengeance."

"What does Poppy say? I know when I was in the fifth form there was a fashion for smoking... You don't need to know the details," Bill said weakly, travelling from colleague to shifty-eyed pupil in the space of seconds.

"Oh, please," said Professor McGonagall, a smile relieving the anxiety on her face. "Why do children persist in believing their teachers are morons? No, don't answer that. Harry isn't smoking anything."

"He's never had a proper family of course. Mum never pulled him up on anything because he's had such a rough time of it and Albus..." Bill changed tack. "I suppose it isn't surprising if Harry is slower than most to mature. It doesn't necessarily mean anything. Teenage boys..."

"After fifty odd years of teaching there isn't much you can tell me about 'teenage boys'. The problem is that Harry isn't just any boy. If he's fallen prey to Voldemort..."

"We'll both keep an eye on him," said Bill, projecting reassurance.

"You really think it's that simple?"

"No," he admitted, "but it will give us a breathing space to find out what's really going on. I suppose there's no chance we could sneak off to Hogsmeade to get drunk?"

"None whatsoever," Professor McGonagall said with regret. "But I can offer you a gillywater."

Bill did his best to look enthusiastic at the prospect of drinking scented sugar water.

Snape never knew how long he and Hermione sat entwined on the low footstool. Long past time for his breathing to have steadied again. It was only as he wished for a handkerchief that he realised she was shaking against him, sobs racking her.


It took her a few moments to calm enough to reply.

"It's just...relief. I've been s-so afraid for you," she managed, in between hitching breaths. "Every night I... I never knew if you'd be k-killed." Her voice was harsh, unfamiliar, the raw emotion seemingly ripped from her as she was overset by every nightmare and every hope she had done her best to suppress during the last three months. But then she had never been half-hearted in anything she undertook.

The days and weeks and months of worrying each time he had been summoned had marked her more than he had appreciated at time. Towards the end, it had been all he could do to force himself to leave, let alone to have the strength to think of her - beyond seeking her out for his own comfort. The sounds of her grief hurt him in a way he had never experienced before but he let her cry herself out until she quietened except for the odd exhausted hiccup. Her face was streaked with tears and mucus, her skin was red-splotched and her pretty hair hung in lank strips. Unable to locate a handkerchief Snape dried her face with his hands, then took her in a loose embrace, intent on offering whatever comfort it was in his power to give.

She was shivering and shaking with reaction, her hands icy, her face hot and she seemed barely aware of her surroundings. Snape was appalled when he heard himself begin to murmur the sort of stupid, comforting inanities he had despised others for using. Because in truth it wasn't over, and they weren't safe. Life wasn't. Particularly while Voldemort still had existence. But the vacuous phrases seemed to soothe Hermione, who snuggled her face into his throat; her cold fingers locked in the bunched fabric of his shirt, brushing his skin through the places where buttons had been torn off by the force of her grip.

It occurred to Snape that there was an unexpected contentment to be found in such a simple thing as hugging the woman you loved, despite the cramp in his leg and the fact the phoenix euphoria seemed to have worn off. Then, because he wasn't accustomed to glasses that were half full, it also occurred to him that his position was uncomfortably reminiscent of that summer's day when Albus had asked him to break Hermione's unnatural calm over the murder of her parents.

He had taken on the distasteful chore, never expecting to find a friend in her... But then he hadn't expected to fall in love either.

His musings were interrupted when Hermione gave another unpleasantly moist sniff and began to fumble in various pockets.

Snape recognised that he was lost when his only reaction was to use his wand to sever a portion of his shirt for her to use as a handkerchief. It was prosaic and unromantic but it convinced him, as little else could have done, that this was real; that she was sitting curled on and around him, one hand on his shoulder, the other in the centre of his back, stroking him gently.

"All right?" he asked, although he already knew that she was. The shivering had stopped, and the terrible tension was gone, Hermione draped against him as if she was boneless.

Hermione stirred with reluctance, having been absorbing the living warmth of him. He was still too bony, but now he had the chance to heal, to rest... To live. She firmed her inclined-to-quiver chin.

"Sorry for all the drama," she muttered gruffly. "Me collapsing in your arms is the last thing you needed."

An expression on his face which few people would have recognised, Snape tenderly nudged lank spikes of hair from her eyes with his index finger.

"I think that perhaps this time together is exactly what we both need," he said slowly. "I never allowed myself to think what these weeks have been like for you. And I should have done. I'm sorry." He had always hated apologising but it was easy with Hermione because he cared what she felt about him, and because she had been hurt enough.

She uncurled slightly the better to study him, then, leaning forward the necessary few inches, she kissed him once, slowly and gently on the mouth, her lips just parted.

"Can we go to bed now?" she asked. "Only I'm so tired and you should be by now. I just want to snuggle up close and sleep for a week."

Snape paused just a fraction too long.

Hermione's corresponding frown gave way to a grimace of comprehension. "Bloody Albus," she said without heat. "I forgot. You gave him your word," she remembered, too tired for bitterness. One hand on Snape's shoulder to steady herself, she eased onto her feet, looming above him where he still sat on the footstool.

Snape looked up, feeling the chill now they were apart. "That was a mistake," he said calmly, waiting for sensation to return to his legs before he tried to rise. "My only regret is that I permitted Albus to interfere in something that doesn't concern anyone but us. And I shall tell him so when we wake up."

"But... Are you sure?" she asked hesitantly. The promise she had made to Dumbledore was as nothing in the face of Severus' need. If they only had an hour, or a day, she was going to make it count, binding him to life with nothing more than love and the promise of a future in which he could be happy.

Snape nodded, the gravity of his expression relaxing. "You come first," he said simply. "I was a fool to think it could be otherwise. Put it down to a lack of practice on my part."

"I don't understand," she said and it was then that he appreciated just how tired she must be.

"Being in love," he said wryly, this not how he had planned to make his first declaration. He gave a self-conscious grimace and hoped for the best.

"Oh," said Hermione. But the smile which lit her face moments later, even as tears welled in her eyes, made him feel decidedly odd. No one had ever looked at him as if he was...everything. It should have scared him to death.

It probably would, in the morning, but for now there was only Hermione.

On his feet by this time, he gently traced her jaw line with his thumb, then bent his head and kissed her forehead. "You looked so tired," he said quietly. "Do you want me to carry you to bed?"

Hermione gave an unloverlike snort of derision. "Up all those stairs? No! Severus, put me down! You'll strain something we might want to use later - besides, I'll get sea sick."

Hermione still in his arms, Snape paused in the doorway. "Nonsense," he said, just managing to control his breathing as he set her back on her feet. He hadn't appreciated how great a toll on his strength the last weeks had taken.

With the sense not to tease, Hermione tucked her arm in the crook of his; leaning towards one another, they made their way up to his bedroom.

With little interest in her surroundings she didn't linger in the bathroom for long. Using one of his white silk shirts as a nightdress she sleepily padded over to the bed.

"Which side do you prefer?" she remembered to ask.

"The left."

She slid onto the right side of the bed as if they had been doing this for years and waited for him to join her.

He was forced to resort to wearing one of the grey nightshirts he used for decency's sake when called out in the middle of the night on some school emergency; his preference was to sleep in his own skin under plenty of warm bedding. Suddenly losing his nerve, he postponed the need to make any decision by placing more logs on the fire and checking the shielding spell in place to deal with any sparks which might fly out. Then he dimmed the lights and in the eerie snow-light pouring in through the vast, floor to ceiling windows, he drew a chair up to the bedside and shrugged into a warm robe, in which to sit vigil over her.

It was then that he discovered she was staring at him.

"What on earth are you doing over there?" she asked, flipping back the covers. "Not that I really care. Just come to bed and hold me." From her tone he might have been the one doing her a favour.

Snape shrugged out of his robe, gave his nightgown a disdainful tweak and slid in beside her. He inhaled sharply as she wriggled closer and wrapped herself around him, her chilly feet leeching warmth from his calves. He would have made a token protest, just to establish he wasn't turning into a house elf, when he realised she was already asleep, one hand holding his forearm over her, as if to be certain of where he was.

Inhaling warm wafts of Hermione, Snape sank into sleep.

Hermione had imagined the first time they made love so many times. Obviously it was always spectacular. Sometimes their love-making was so slow she thought she might die of pleasure, at others it was graceless, with nothing to bond them but a mutual drive for completion - but always - always - it was ultimately wonderful. It had never occurred to her that holding a sleeping wizard while he breathed goose bumps down her neck could mean everything. And when he whimpered and twitched in his sleep it was her voice and hands which calmed him, without ever disturbing his rest.

She had been asleep, curled on her side with the warmth of him spooned against her, when she had stirred, woken by the sun flooding through the vast windows, the light intensified by the snow outside. For a second she had wondered where she was, before she felt him plastered against her, hardening against the curve of her bottom. Her breathing accelerated as she felt the first stirring of her body, even while she reminded herself that he needed this sleep. But her sense of him intensified with the ache to touch and be touched by the conscious man.

She gave a soft sigh, her hand sliding down over her belly, only to meet his far larger hand intent on the same location. Snape mumbled something in a sleep-thickened voice - it sounded like her name - as he fumbled with sleepy purpose; then, easing her leg forward, he parted her like a ripe fruit and slowly sank home.

Their coupling had been clumsy and not particularly comfortable; she was still quite dry, the angle wasn't right until she managed to move a little and he finished too soon, his face buried in the hollow of her neck, one hand on her breast. But she wouldn't have changed a thing.

Ironically, he had only seemed to wake fully as he slipped from her.

"Hermione? Oh, my - " Shooting up in a flurry of panic, he eased her onto her back. His touch was light and insubstantial as his fingertips drifted over her belly and thighs before delicately brushing her.

"Did I -? Yes, I did. Are you - ? Of course you're sore. I'm sorry. So..." He looked appalled and mortified in equal measure, and so worried for her that she stopped his mouth with her own, kissing the tension from him.

"It's all right," she said at last, cradling his worried looking face between her hands. "It doesn't matter."

"It does to me," he said, bruised vanity revealing the truth.

A little sore and frustrated she just managed to muffle her first snort of laughter against his throat but it spilled from her anyway. "Oh, I'm not making fun of you, really. It's just...you looked so..."

She wriggled until he was supine beneath her, his eyes wide and still worried, his hands gentle as they caressed her lower spine and the tender, sensitive skin of her inner thighs.

"I mean it," she promised him, in between deepening kisses. "It might not have been perfect, but it was real. Though maybe next time if you could wake up before..."

She had been watching all the small muscles in his face relax, had seen anxiety be replaced by unwilling, wry amusement at his own humiliation. Now he groaned and looked at her from under those ridiculously long eyelashes of his.

"There isn't an ounce of mercy in you, is there?"

"None at all," she confirmed cheerfully, easing down beside him and fumbling for the covers when she realised she was getting chilly.

"Um... I didn't think of contraception or - " he began, serious again.

"I just had time to," she said, having decided that if she allowed him to brood they would never hear the end of it. She had begun to realise he had a tendency towards hair shirts.

It was only when she caught sight of Severus staring at her, a lingering disquiet still in evidence, that Hermione appreciated that his reaction was due to more than bruised masculine pride.

"I need to understand," she said gently. "Why has this disturbed you so much?"

He didn't meet her eyes. "Because I remember all too clearly what it's like to have no freedom of choice. I never wanted that for you. Least of all that I should be the one to - " He stopped abruptly and swallowed hard.

"I was awake," said Hermione.

Snape blinked, then turned to her. "What?"

"You heard me. I'm also a powerful witch. I could have stopped you before you got started. If I'd wanted to. But I wanted you to make love to me. I was aching for you to. I'd been lying in the dark promising myself I wouldn't wake you up so we could make love. And I wish I had a camera so I could take a picture of your expression," she added in a different tone, cupping the side of his face in her hand. "I could make a fortune."

His relief nakedly exposed, Snape nodded. "I won't insult you by asking if you're sure but it means so much to know..."

"I can imagine," said Hermione with feeling, holding him tight until the wave of emotion which had shaken her was easier to handle.

Snape kissed her, his lips making small, slow forays over hers, as if he thought she might need coaxing. It quickly became obvious that he enjoyed kissing.

Hermione ruthlessly severed his nightshirt with her wand before straddling him. She smiled her satisfaction when she saw him visibly lose concentration.

"No," said Snape, with what he hoped was decision. "You're too sore."

Hermione leant forward to whisper in his ear.

"'I am like a jackfruit on the tree.

'To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:

the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,

But oh, I warn you against touching -

the rich juice will gush and stain your hands.'."

She watched the imagery work its magic on a man susceptible both to her and to words. Without warning and supple as one of the snakes he professed to dislike, he moved until she lay supine in the shadow his torso cast as he knelt above her, his bony face intent. His large hands slid up her thighs, thumbs homing in to slide back and forth, back and forth, dipping in and out until she was grasping the sheet, her face slackening.

"'You have bereft me of all words, lady.'," he murmured, before he kissed her - not on the mouth.

Her toes slowing uncurling from where they had been clenched, her sense of him was the next thing to return, even though he had eased from her. She could still feel the echo of their union, one again where there had been two.

"When you make amends, you make amends," she said, boneless with pleasure. "I must quote poetry more often."

"I thought you didn't like it."

"I could learn to love it," she said.

Flat on his back, his rib cage still rising and falling faster than usual because three months in Voldemort's company had taken a physical toll, Snape managed a "Mmn," of acknowledgement as he battled to keep his eyes open.

Hermione kissed the corner of his mouth and wiped away the moisture from the bumpy bridge of his nose. "I've always liked your nose," she said, following her own train of thought.

"Mmn," Snape said again. It seemed inevitable that she should be a talker.

Hermione licked her thumb and rubbed a mark high on his left arm, then gave an apologetic grimace when she realised it was the beginning of a bruise. He would be wearing more than one by tomorrow.

"Sorry," she said. "I'm talking too much, aren't I?"

Snape's head turned on the pillow, his face alive with sudden laughter and a tenderness that stole her breath away. "Never," he said simply.

"I'll remind you of that," she warned.

With a sleepy-eyed determination he crawled off their love-rumpled bed, gave a long, slow stretch and padded towards the bathroom.

As she watched his unselfconscious stroll away from her she realised just how thin he had become; there was hardly anything left of his bottom. Hermione comforted herself with thoughts of feeding him up on some of the wonderful puddings the house elves made, only to refocus to find him standing beside her, holding a sponge and a soft towel.

When she realised what he intended there was a moment when she felt embarrassed by the intimacy before she gave herself up to his care. Like Cleopatra with her hand-maidens she luxuriated in the attention being lavished on her - not least because she was realistic enough to know it was unlikely to last.

"I should return the favour, it's so much nicer than a Cleaning Charm. But I'm too comfortable and befuddled to think of one. I thought you would be asleep by now," she teased, as he slid back beside her.

"Me, too," he admitted with a wry grin. He tucked an arm over her and snuggled close. "But there seem to be compensations."

"Seem?" queried Hermione.

Snape pulled the sheet over her head.

The light had changed the next time they awoke, to hear the wind whistling around the tower.

His hair still damp from his bath, Snape ordered food while Hermione got ready. One of the plump, comfortable sofas drawn up in front of the library fire they fed on buttered toast and poached eggs and looked for the salamander in the fire.

Hermione licked butter from her fingers and frowned as she studied the mantlepiece. "Is it me or has that carving changed? They were entwined serpents yesterday and now it's a man and a woman - and if I didn't know it was crazy I'd swear the man has your backside. Who's the woman?"

"Ah," said Snape, a clementine half-peeled in his hands.

"Is that the 'Ah' of a wizard playing for time, or one who just got juice squirted in his eye?" asked Hermione with interest.

"It's the sound of me trying to avoid sounding like a romantic idiot. I didn't believe the stone-mason who carved the mantlepiece for me when he said the stone was charmed."

"Not hexed?" asked Hermione, through a mouthful of clementine

"No," he said, with a crooked half-smile.

Hermione slipped a hand between the folded of his silk dressing gown. "What's the joke?"

"I...um... It's romantic twaddle. Well, I thought it must be at the time..." Snape gave her a faintly bemused look. They had been together for under twenty-four hours and already it was difficult to remember his rooms without her. His bed without her.

"And now?"

Snape sighed. Best to get it over with.

"The stone-mason told me that the carving would change when I met my one true love," he said in a rush.

Hermione gathered up the folds of his robe, which she was wearing against the draughts, and padded over to take closer look.

"Before you start criticising you might want to remember that the other pair of hips are yours," Snape said into the silence, acid because he was afraid his expression was probably as fatuous as hers.

"Oh," said Hermione, half-turning back to him. "Well, that's all right then," she added gruffly.

"Yes," he admitted.

Hermione made herself comfortable beside him and helped herself to one of the plump brown figs perched on the pomegranates and oranges. Caressing it briefly, she split open the moist flesh and offered it to Snape.

She knew he had remembered when he silently bent his head to feed from her hand.

After one mouthful they were exchanging fig-sticky kisses, cushions sliding to the floor as they made themselves more comfortable in front of the fire.


'I am like a jackfruit on the tree.

To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:

the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,

But oh, I warn you against touching -

the rich juice will gush and stain your hands.'

Ho Xuan Huong: 'The Jackfruit'

Translated from the Vietnamese by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

The jackfruit is a distant relative of the fig, if a great deal larger.

Thanks to comments received about the poem, which I copied from an anthology I've owned for some years, I thought to check the net and found this translation of the same poem. As always in these cases the original poet is at the mercy of the translators. I prefer the above version.


My body is like the jackfruit on the branch:

my skin is coarse, my meat is thick.

Kind sir, if you love me, pierce me with your stick.

Caress me and sap will slicken your hands.

Translated by John Balaban

'You have bereft me of all words, lady.'

Shakespeare: 'Troilus and Cressida' (see also 'The Merchant of Venice')