(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Some characters are a bit ooc.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Bundling: An old practice, allowing a courting couple to share a bed and get to know one another more privately, but without (much) physical intimacy. Sometimes, it was also a practice to accommodate guests when bed space was limited. How/where/why do Severus and Hermione come to find themselves in this situation? (SS/HG or SS & HG.)
Note: I'm so thrilled to have received this prompt from eoforyth for the 2018 LiveJournal sshg_promptfest; it was my first choice.
Summary: A journey into the woods for a cure means Hermione and Severus will have to make a decision that will affect their lives, but it also creates a revelation that brings love.
"I can't believe I let you Apparate us!" Severus Snape hollered, his voice echoing among the trees of the forest he was stomping through, making the person toward which the reproach was directed cringe in humiliation.
"'Let's go to the Carpathian Mountains, Severus'" he said in a falsetto, "'We're bound to run into a colony of vampires there, Severus'. We've been walking for hours, Granger; I have yet to see or smell a single vampire. I should never have listened to your far-fetched idea!"
Hermione stopped stomping through the snow. "If you hadn't sneezed just as I Apparated us, I would not have lost my determination and Apparated us to the edge of that cliff. If you hadn't had sneezed a second time as we landed, we would not have fallen OFF the cliff and snapped both of our wands!!"
"Oh, so it's my fault now, is it?" Severus sneered.
Hermione seethed, "Yes. It. Is."
"How is it my fault?" Severus yelled, indignantly.
"YOU SNEEZED, YOU GIT! You disrupted my Apparation."
Severus was about to offer a scathing commentary on her hair—which had been the reason he sneezed in the first place; he had snorted a strand as the pair were entwined for the Apparation—when he realised she was correct. "Fine," he snapped. "What do we do now? We've been walking for hours; there is very little light left, and I don't half fancy walking around in the dark."
Hermione giggled a bit. She knew enough about Severus to know that when he was particularly frustrated or tired, his carefully cultivated pattern of speech fell by the wayside. She was exhausted as well, she had to admit. To walk in snow that was at times up to her thighs was not fun, and she was cold and could no longer feel her toes. "My parents watched this documentary on the telly when I was younger," she began.
"I don't give a shite about your parents' viewing habits, Granger."
"If you'll shut up a minute, you'll understand what I'm telling you!" Hermione snarled. "It was about survival in emergency situations; I was intrigued and went to the local…"
"Library," Snape supplied with a smirk.
"Yes, library," Hermione said, sticking out her tongue.
"Oh, the height of adulthood, Granger," Severus deadpanned.
Attempting to stamp her foot, which amounted to just shoving a bit of snow a couple of inches since she couldn't lift her leg, she went on, "I learned a few ways to survive in different situations, or perhaps you've forgotten about my adventures in camping-hunting-killing megalomaniacs a few years ago?"
Severus had no comment, but waved regally at her to continue.
"We need to build a windbreak and find something to cover it. We could build a small igloo of sorts with the snow and then find some branches to put over it. I have some flint in my bag….oh no!" she cried.
"What's the matter?"
"I've lost my bag! It must have fallen away when we dropped off that cliff."
"You always carry flint in a handbag, Granger?" Severus asked, intrigued. Women did carry the most unusual things in their bags; he had had an aunty who used to carry a tea cup (Royal Doulton with hand painted periwinkles), two hard boiled eggs, seven socks that fit no one, and at least a dozen biros, for example.
"I've had that particular bag on me since we were on the run. I put an undetectable extension charm on it. I can pack my entire flat in it if I wanted to with room to spare, but it won't do us any good now."
"I don't suppose you had a tent in it?"
"Lost it while doing the adventure thing," she bemoaned.
"Can't you summon it?"
"The bag or the tent?
Severus arched an eyebrow in response and said, slowly, "The. Bag. You. Daft. Bint."
"Without my wand?" She looked at him as though she thought he was a complete dunderhead.
Severus smiled with glee at the idea of putting one over on Granger. He had to admit she was an incredibly intelligent and talented witch, but it spoke to his inner childishness to be able to do something she couldn't, and he did so enjoy riling her up to watch her magic spark.
"A pity you can't do wandless magic," he drawled lazily. With a grand gesture he put out a hand and called, "Accio Hermione's bag!"
As the minutes ticked by, Severus' muscles began to cramp in the arm he was holding up. He gave it a shake and tried again, more loudly, "Accio Granger's handbag!"
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
"Hem, hem," Hermione interrupted.
"What!" Severus yelled impatiently.
"Had you done a lick of research on this area before we'd left, you'd have known that the ley magic in this forest is attenuated differently than other areas. It is why vampires tend to live here. The difference in attenuation means that you can't use wandless magic as wandless magic requires—"
She was cut off when Severus turned around and gangly shuffled past her growling, "I KNOW all about wandless magic, I don't need a lecture from you. Now, what about this stupid egloo thing you want to build?"
"It's igloo, not egloo. We just need to build a three sided wall and place some boughs on the top. We need to make it small enough so that our combined body heat will keep us warm; the air will not pass through the snow which acts as insulation."
"Won't it pass through the branches on top?" Severus pointed out.
"We put a layer of snow on top of the branches, but leave a smallish hole for fresh air. Once we are in the igloo, we pack the opening with snow. We should be able to sleep through the night relatively warm, and we'll be able to move on in the morning."
Severus said nothing in reply, and the pair got to work. It didn't take long to build a small structure, but it did take a bit to find enough branches to cover the top. Both had had to walk quite a distance, and as a precaution, shouted to each other at intervals to ensure each the other was still in range.
It was Severus who had suggested placing branches on the floor of the igloo in order to keep their bodies off the snow and thereby more warm and dry, and Hermione agreed. Once the shelter was completed, they crawled in and began to build up snow in the door way. It took them a moment to realise that lying back to back was entirely too cramped in such a small space.
"Must you poke me with your elbows, Granger?" Severus snapped.
"How I can poke you with my elbows? You've got me trapped by your overly long legs. My kidneys would appreciate your moving your knees."
"Why didn't we make this bigger?" Severus complained.
"Smaller makes it warmer. Now roll over; we'll have to lay front to back in order to fit."
With a bit of shuffling, a few 'oofs' and 'ows', the couple settled. After ten minutes, Hermione said, "Oh, shite."
"What's the matter now?" Severus asked exasperatedly.
"I've got to wee," Hermione said sadly with a sigh.
With a groan, Severus rolled over and kicked at the snow covering the entrance. He then crawled out of the igloo and stepped to the side, not assisting Hermione as she struggled out of the hole.
"I'll just go over there then, shall I?" she asked, pointing to some closing growing trees.
Severus smirked and answered sarcastically, "Oh, yes, you shall." He turned and began to walk away.
"Where are you going?" asked Hermione.
"I might as well take advantage of the disruption of our sleep."
"HA!" Hermione laughed. "You had to go, too!"
"Just go so we can get back into the infernal igloo and get some sleep."
In a span of ten minutes, the couple were snugged into the igloo again.
Not far from where Hermione and Severus attempted to sleep, a witch and wizard stood near a tree, Disillusioned, and Silenced, especially after Hermione's outburst about the botched Apparation caused them to laugh. They had been watching the couple for about an hour as they argued and then toiled in the snow, making their crude shelter.
"Ben," began the woman, "shouldn't we take them to the cottage now?"
"No. My magic tells me it would be better for them to spend the night in their igloo. We'll come back for them in the morning."
"I don't see how we'll ever convince them; they don't sound as though they love each other or even like each other for that matter."
"You know as well as I do, El, that they wouldn't be here at all if the magic hadn't guided them."
The woman, though stooped from age, stood on tiptoe and kissed her husband's cheek. "It pulled us here, didn't it?"
Ben hugged his wife. "It did, and the Keepers before us and on down through time. Come along; I'm cold and tired. Let's get to the cottage."
It was quite early, probably only two hours after dawn, when Hermione woke to the sound of muffled voices outside. At first, she thought Severus was talking in his sleep, which would have been a joyful change from snoring. She attempted to sit up, but Severus suddenly pulled her close and spoke very quietly in her ear.
"Do not move, but be ready to leap out of here if need be. The igloo is sturdy, but the top is where our advantage will come. Be ready to move and fight as soon as I tell you too."
"So there really are people out there?" Hermione whispered nervously.
"Yes. Be ready to act."
"How should we approach them?" a woman's voice spoke.
"Suppose we should knock?"
"Really, Ben? Just walk up and knock on the snow and hope they invite us in?"
"It's not like they have their wands, El; we have the advantage."
"Let's just get on with it, Ben! They're cold, tired, and probably very hungry."
"The ley wouldn't let them die, you know that," said the man.
"I know. Well, we'd better call them." With that, the old woman called out, "Come on out, dears. We won't hurt you."
Hermione and Severus lay in readiness. No matter how kind the voices sounded, war had taught them to be ready. It was when a hand started to bang on the bough strewn covering that they exploded from the igloo, hands raised in fighting readiness.
Or would have been had Severus not leapt too high and hit his head on a low hanging branch, concussing himself. Hermione tripped over his falling body with an 'oomf' and began to cry.
The old woman went over to Hermione and pulled her to her bosom. "There, there; don't cry." She helped Hermione to stand and then draped her warm cloak around her. "Take that one, Ben," she said, nodding her head toward Severus. "Let's get them to the cottage and warmed up. I can see she's hungry and tired, otherwise she wouldn't be taking on so."
It was a walk of about a half mile to the cottage and El made it with the efficiency of one who has walked in the snow for years. Of course the snowshoes she wore may have had something to do with it.
Hermione sniffled and said, wearily, "I should have packed snowshoes."
El hummed in agreement. "That would have been a good idea, but it's a moot point now. Come along, we're nearly there, and we'll get you warmed up."
"But what about Severus?"
"Is that your man's name?" asked El.
Hermione shivered, but not from the implication that Severus was 'her man'. "He's not my man, but yes, his name is Severus."
"Ben has him; he'll be fine once we get him warmed up. Look up ahead; you can see our place."
Hermione was thankful for the site of the sturdily built looking cottage. The trees surrounding it protected it from the worst of the snow. Smoke wafted lazily from a stone chimney and snow decorated its thatched roof like lace. The walls of the building were red brick, necessary in order to find the place in the winter; white on white would not have done at all.
A blast of warm air greeted Hermione when El opened the door to the cottage. She was bustled into a moderately large room and pushed toward a blazing fire in the centre of one wall.
"Lay him down on the hearth rug, Ben, and then Rennervate him. I'll get some tea started."
Hermione watched as a very old man with the seeming strength of an ox lay Severus down. Pulling his wand from a leather pouch at his waist, he performed the incantation, and Severus bounced up into readiness again.
"Whoa there, my good man; you'll not come to harm here."
"Severus," Hermione said as she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, they are here to help us, not harm us. I feel it to be sure."
With a long look at the older witch and wizard, Severus sat in the chair that had been proffered. "Thank you," he said shortly.
"Can we get you something to eat?" asked El.
"Perhaps you could tell us your names?" asked Hermione.
El laughed at her error. "Oh, of course; forgive me for not minding my manners. I am Elenuta and this is Benedikt Golan.
"Hermione Granger," Hermione introduced herself and waving at Snape, "and this is Severus Snape."
"We have heard of you, for sure," Ben said. "We do get news here, however remote we are. Now, El, if you'll get some tea, we'll get them warmed, and learn of their mission here and perhaps," Ben smiled mysteriously, "tell them how they managed to wind up here."
There was a bit of a bustle as El went to the far side of the room to put the kettle on. Ben busied himself throwing another log on the fire and taking the younger couple's wet things to hang on the pegs nearby. In no time at all, all four were sitting with cups of fragrant tea warming their hands.
Ben asked, "So…what does brings you here."
"I am creating a new potion; a cure for nerve damage. We are searching for ingredients, one in particular," Severus answered. "However, we must speak with the vampires in order to find it."
Elenuta said, "We are familiar with all of the flora here in the region; tell us what it is and we can show you."
"I'm afraid we must speak with the vampires. I have been able to obtain whatever plants I thought may have been useful from my usual sources."
El and Ben looked at each other. "All right," said El. "We'll discuss how we may be able to help you with the vampires. After you are fed, that is. Hermione, come and give me a hand, please?"
The women moved to the end of the large room where the cooker was, and Elenuta waved her wand to start a fire within it. "We'll just prepare a spot of breakfast; something hearty to warm you both. Were you out in the cold a long time?"
"We were walking for several hours. We had, erm, a mishap with Apparation that required us to walk to complete our journey."
Hermione missed the quiet chuckle and smile Elenuta made as she turned to fetch some eggs and a few rashers of bacon. and a tin of beans. "It is rough to walk in the winters here in the mountains, especially when you're not well-prepared. Snow shoes would have been a sure thing, eh?"
Hermione laughed. "I was telling Severus about a survival show I had seen on the telly. You know what a telly is?"
"We do, actually. I'd seen one once at a Muggle shop in London."
"So you are not completely cut off from the wider world?" Hermione asked.
"My, no! We do manage to get to Britain and the larger cities in Romania. But you were telling me about a survival show?" Elenuta guided the conversation, even though she knew the answer.
"Oh, yes. I was telling him about the show and what I had learnt, which is why we built the igloo. However, had I been truly prepared, I would have remembered how to make the snow shoes! I'm such an idiot."
"No, my dear, you're not. It's just that you'd been walking in cold for hours. You're bound to be muddled and confused."
"Now, if you'll dish up the beans and then get that kettle and make a fresh pot; the bacon is done and these eggs are nearly so. I just need to make some toast. Breakfast is simple here, but nourishing."
The women finished putting the food onto platters and took them to the table. Elenuta called the men and they all sat down.
The foursome sat silently for a while, digging into the warm meal. After ten minutes or so they began to make small talk. The younger couple brought the older pair up to date on what had happened during the wizarding war. When they were finished, Hermione asked, "Elenuta, what do you and Bendickt do here? It is quite isolated, although I must admit it is enchanting."
Taking a sip of her tea, Elenuta answered, "Ben and I have a unique position here. One we've done since well before you both were born."
"Do you work in town?"
"No, here at the cottage," said Elenuta with a glance toward Ben.
Severus cleared his throat. "You're not telling us something, something that I fear is rather important." He looked at the older couple. "I am an accomplished Legilimens, and no, I've not used it on you, but I was a spy for twenty odd years and can read body language rather fluently."
"All right then," said Ben. "We'll be straight with you; El and I are Keepers of the Covenant."
Hermione looked perplexed and then laughed. "But, that's just a legend! I read about it in a book on the lore of vampires, but there was nothing to it, no evidence to support it!"
Elenuta and Ben laughed, and El pinched her husband. "Don't feel like a legend to me!"
"You're having us on, surely!" whispered Hermione.
Severus was quiet a moment and then said to Hermione, "They are not having us on, as you so eloquently put it." He turned to the couple. "This time I did Legilimize you; you are speaking the truth.
"You're not kidding?" Hermione looked at the old couple incredulously.
"No," Ben answered simply. "If you're finished, let's go sit by the fire; we have a story to tell you."
Severus and Ben went to the fire and spent a moment poking at the logs to expose more of the heat. Hermione and El quickly cleared the table and did the washing up. Once they were settled, a fresh pot of tea was placed on a nearby table between the chairs.
"Believe it or not," Ben began, "El and I were quite adventurous when we were young. We enjoyed outdoor pursuits such as skiing and hiking, no matter weather. I was a Herbologist, and El here was willing to follow me and be my aide; much like you two are now, am I correct?"
Hermione answered, "In a sense, you are. Although I work at the Ministry, I do occasionally help Severus with some of his research."
"I told you I could see it, Ben," El said smugly.
Ben answered, "You are always so perceptive, love." The couple smiled at each other, and Ben picked up the story again.
"It was 1927, and we were newlyweds on our honeymoon trip. We had always heard about the intrigue of the Carpathian Mountains, and from a Herbology standpoint, the flora I could find was indeed a draw to the area as well."
El took up the story next. "Our first night around the campfire we had discussed that we both felt pulled to this particular area. There was, within us, such a feeling of peace, of…"
"Wholeness," Ben supplied.
"Yes, wholeness." El nodded.
Ben stood and went to bin that held the logs, selecting one. He returned to the hearth and placed the log on the coals. "It was the second night that we were visited. Three vampires, quite young, but then they all look young," he snorted. "They stayed about fifty yards away, but in the stillness of the forest, their voices carried. They said they were a deputation from the clan of vamps that lived in this area. They said that we were to walk toward the north about a mile and would find a cottage." Here Ben stopped speaking and looked fondly around the cottage. "This cottage, as a matter of fact."
"When we tried to disobey by leaving, they came upon us and, erm, led us to the cottage," said El.
"You must have been quite frightened!" Hermione gasped.
"Strangely," said El, "we weren't. Even though in a moment they could bite us and leave us for dead, we felt calm and peaceful, as though it were the right thing to do."
"And it continues to feel the right thing to do," Ben added, "even after all these years."
"But what is the Covenant?" asked Hermione.
"It's actually one of many," interceded Severus.
Hermione turned in her chair to face Severus with surprise. "What?!? You know about this?"
"Of course," he said smugly. "Most vampire clans have one."
"But if you knew about a Covenant, did you know about the Keepers? How were we even supposed to get to the conclaves if we needed to go through a Keeper?" A bit of magic sparked along Hermione's hair as she grew angry. "Why on earth did you not tell me? How can we even get the ingredients to save your life if…"
"Hermione, I knew about the Covenants, but not the Keepers," Severus said earnestly.
"And you felt no need to tell me? To tell me that we might not find the ingredients? I thought you trusted me." The hurt in her voice was evident.
"Perhaps, "Elenuta interrupted, her tone McGonagall-enough to cause the pair to instantly become silent. "Perhaps the pair of you could explain what you were doing here in the first place before we discuss our role in all of this?"
"Yes," said Ben, "it will help us piece together the puzzle a bit more.
Severus inhaled and remained quiet a moment. He never liked exposing his weakness to anyone, especially mere strangers, but he was in dire need of the ingredients.
"During the Final Battle, I was attacked by a snake and left for dead. If it hadn't been for Hermione's quick thinking, I would not be here now."
"I did no more than one should have." she said, blushing furiously.
"I was taken to St. Mungo's to recover and did for the most part. It wasn't until several months later that the residual after affects began to appear. I have intermittent paralysis of all my limbs, trouble speaking, and a painful numbness and tingling throughout my body. At times, I am unable to leave my bed due to weakness, and there is some trouble with my digestion."
"Are you able to function at all when it happens?" asked Ben.
"No," replied Severus. "However, the effects are transient in nature. I began to document them so that I could find a commonality among them from which to begin my research. I've determined that the venom has affected my autonomic nervous system and thus, must find a cure based on that."
"Auto what?" El asked, looking confused.
Hermione answered, "The autonomic nervous system controls everything in your body that you don't; all the subconscious things your body does. For example, blinking, breathing, heart rate, digestion, and the like. Severus has had damage all along the nerves of the ANS and this causes his attacks."
"I see," El said, nodding in understanding.
"Although I can and will survive these attacks, they are at times very painful and disorienting and are progressing. Merlin forbid I be in the middle of a dangerous potion when I lose control of my muscles. Therefore, I began to search for a cure."
Hermione added what she knew to the story. "Severus determined that he needed a neutralizing factor in the potion and realised it was an antigen his blood seemed to no longer have."
"Yes, Nagini's venom seemed to have destroyed this antigen, so we needed to look for something that could be introduced into my blood that would reactivate the missing antigen."
"But," Hermione said, "it also needs to not act as a foreign agent and cause the body to react and kill it, much like an antibiotic or vaccine."
"Yes," said Severus. "I need an anti-antigen, if you will. We tested the blood of all known creatures, magical and non-magical, whose blood properties are similar to humans for this antigen and could not find it. It was a pure leap of…erm…logic, you might say, on Hermione's part that gave us our answer."
Hermione and Severus were both blushing and looking directly at their cups.
Ben began to chuckle and cleared his throat. "So, this leap of logic…erm…how did it come about?"
The younger couple looked at each other. Severus nodded and Hermione turned to the older pair and said, "Severus and I had been researching for weeks. We were exhausted and had begun to bicker—"
"Most would say we bicker all the time," interjected Severus.
Hermione smiled. "Be that as it may, a friend of ours, tired of hearing us sniping, burst into the lab one afternoon and forced us out. She warded the room so we could not re-enter and made us take some time off. We went to my flat where we ordered some take away and watched some films."
"Part way through the first film…a 'chick flick'," Severus sneered, "I went out to the local off licence and got some ale and whisky. When I came back, Hermione had put in a new film."
"Interview With A Vampire," Hermione said.
"Yes and while watching that drivel, we got drunk—"
"And made evil comments about the actors. I tell you, Tom Cruise… a little munchkin, Severus? Really?"
"I thought I'd need to conjure one of Hagrid's handkerchiefs the way you were drooling every time that one actor, Brad Pratt—"
"Pitt," Hermione corrected, her face reddening.
"Came into view. Regardless," Severus said, slightly snickering and waving away Hermione's indignation, "we began to speculate about vampires when Hermione had a bit of inspiration."
"And that was?" asked Ben.
Hermione eagerly began to speak, "At first, I was just being silly, but as I babbled away, we began to realise we were on to something. Severus produced a couple of sober up potions from some pocket or other of his cloak and we got down to business!"
"What did you discover?" asked El.
Hermione continued, "Vampires have no human blood, and therefore, they don't have the antigen we need. However, they do have certain properties of their body simply by being undead. They do process the blood they need to drink to 'survive'," she used air quotes, "and thus their DNA must have an anti-antigen in order to process the blood and for their bodies to function, such as they do."
"We simply need a few skin or hair samples, perhaps even a sample of whatever fluid functions as blood in order to test them for the potion I will brew," finished Severus.
"You don't ask for much, do you, lad?" asked Ben incredulously.
"Hermione and I discussed it, and we are prepared to offer a sacrifice for the exchange," Severus said quietly. As soon as his words left his mouth, the room became eerily quiet.
"May I have something cold to drink?" Hermione suddenly asked, her face betraying a myriad of emotions.
"Of course," said El quickly. "Ben, why don't you take Severus outside to show him the garden? It's magically protected to be climate controlled. I believe we may have a few specimens he's never seen before."
The door closed behind the men and Elenuta turned to Hermione. "All right, my dear, what on earth were you thinking?"
Her reaction was not at all what Hermione expected. "What do you mean?"
"You are the one offering the sacrifice, aren't you?"
"Because I love him. I love him so much I am willing to do this."
"You are willing to become a vampire for him? How is that love? Oh, sure, you can have carnal knowledge of him, but you'll never bear his children, you will outlive him. You will see him grow old and die while you stay young for nearly all your lifetime. You can't do this!"
Hermione looked at El in confusion. "I'm not going to offer myself as a vampire! I'm offering my chastity!"
"What?" El gasped.
"We both know that the purest of blood is the most highly prized for a vampire. I am a virgin; I am willing to offer some of my blood to the vampire clan leader in order to obtain what we need."
"Are you out of your mind!?! Do you realize that once you offer it, you will need to remain chaste forever? You will have to return to the clan periodically to allow them to feed off of you; what happens if one of them goes rogue and feeds too far? I don't think you've given this a shred of thought at all!"
"I have!" Hermione shouted as she paced the cottage living space furiously. She stopped at a window and looked out, watching the two men bent over, inspecting the garden. "I love that man desperately. I would die for him so that he could live."
"And live for what, I may ask, if you die? We do get the papers, you know; we've read the stories. Does he know you love him?"
"No," Hermione murmured. "I was afraid to lose what we have, so I've not told him."
"He loves you, you know. He would do anything for you. Can't you feel it within you? It's the only reason you could have come to this area, to this spot. It's how Ben and I came here. The ley magic knows and drew you here. You have love, both of you, for each other. And it's part of the Covenant, once established, that the vampires don't feed on or kill the Keepers."
"You keep speaking of this ley magic and Covenant and Keepers. I think it's time you explain yourself," Hermione demanded.
Elenuta looked at Hermione and said, "Yes, of course it is. It is why we were all sitting together in the first place, wasn't it?"
Hermione nodded. "I'm sorry I yelled."
El took a step toward Hermione and held her arms open. Hermione smiled and allowed herself to be gathered into them. "I am too. You threw me for a loop, my dear. But, once Ben and I tell our tale, then you will understand, and we can find some answers to Severus' problem. However, you may have to spend the night here; will that be all right?"
Hermione pulled away from the loving embrace and answered, "Yes, it will. We'd planned on a week in the forest if need be. However, I did lose my bag; it had everything we needed in it."
El was heading toward the fire to get the kettle. As she walked back toward the sink she said, "This afternoon we'll head out to where we found you. Ben and I need to check that ley boundary anyway. You can come with us and show us where you fell."
"Do you have enough snow shoes?" asked Hermione.
"Magic, my dear, magic!" El and Hermione laughed together and went to make a fresh pot of tea.
As the women were chatting in the cottage, Ben was showing Severus some of the more rare specimens in the garden.
"This will all be yours soon," Ben said.
"Well, you'll be the Keepers, won't you?"
"You know, you never did tell us about that," Severus chided.
"I suspect El needed to knock some sense into Hermione about her sacrifice. Imagine offering yourself as vampire fodder." Ben said.
"Oh, she wasn't going to do that! She was going to offer them her purity."
"Her purity!?!" Ben spluttered. "Is she daft? Are you daft? Do you realise what doing such a thing means?"
"Not in a carnal sense!" Severus argued. "She was going to allow them to take some of her blood; maiden's blood is highly prized among vampires, is it not?"
Ben smacked Severus round the head.
"Ow! What did you do that for?" Severus yelled, rubbing his ear.
"How long did it take her to talk you round to such a stupid idea? Did you think you'd just waltz up to the vampires and say, 'here, take a few drinks lads, and we'll be on our way'? Do you know how often you'd have to come back? The clan would want more and more and before you know it, one of them has taken too much and she'd be a vampire."
"Of course she wouldn't let them go that far!"
"And you'd have the power to stop them once they were overcome by the blood lust? You wouldn't be able to draw your wand fast enough before they were upon you as well."
Severus scrubbed his face and then admitted, "I suppose we didn't consider that."
"No, you didn't," Ben huffed.
The two stood side by side for a moment, looking at the garden.
"You love her, don't you?" asked Ben.
Severus inhaled sharply. "Yes. It is obvious?"
"To El and I. And the magic, of course."
"Why the magic? You and El have alluded several times to the ley magic, the Covenant and the Keepers. I would like an explanation."
"You deserve it." A tap on the window made them turn to see El beckoning them to come in. "El must realise it's time to tell the story as well; I can tell by the look on her face."
The pair made their way to the cottage. As they entered and were removing their cloaks, El said, "There's fresh tea. We've a story to tell, eh, Ben?"
"Yes, we do."
"This afternoon," El said, "we need to go back to where we found these two. Hermione lost her bag, and we need to see if we can find what's left of their wands."
"That'll give us a chance to check on the ley boundaries in that area," suggested Ben.
"That's what I thought as well."
Once the group was settled again by the fire, Ben leant back in his chair. "As we said earlier, we were newlyweds on our honeymoon trip. I think we'd gotten to the point where the representatives from the clan had led us to the cabin. We weren't scared, as we said; quite at ease, actually. We entered the cottage and found Santorio, the leader of the clan Carpathia."
"Clan Carpathia?" asked Hermione.
"All the vampire conclaves, or clans, have a region to which they belong. We are the Keepers of the Carpathian clan. There are two other major clans; the Transylvanian conclave and the Cucuteni clan. There are also several other smaller clans throughout the country."
"But what is the Covenant?"
"The Covenant is a pact among the clan and their Keepers. It is as old as the first vampire and keeper…so thousands of years. It is considered a sacred trust or vow between Keepers and clans, and to break it would mean instant death for the Keepers. That has happened only once. Each clan has one, individualised for the most part, but there are certain vows within the Covenants that are the same; for example, the members of the clan do not feed on their Keepers, the Keepers do not attempt to kill the vampires. That's the simplest explanation for now."
El added, "When you become a Keeper, you learn the ins and outs, with a liaison between you and the clan to teach you all you need to know."
"We were chosen by the magic," Ben added, "as all Keepers are; it drew us here. I assume you both know about the power of ley magic?"
"Of course," said Severus. "It is part of some of the oldest magic there is. Most magical communities spring up where there are strong ley lines. Hogwarts, for example, has the strongest lines in England. The Four Founders chose the site for the school for that reason. The lack of ley lines here is part of the reason we chose this area to search for the vampires; we knew that they are drawn to areas of less magic."
"But for magical folk, ley magic is obeyed as though Merlin himself has made the order. It is compelling. It is what drew you here…why you 'chose' this area, whether you knew it or not. You may have Apparated here, chosen this area by design, but it was really a compulsion to come here."
"For both of us?" asked Hermione. "And if it was a compulsion, does it mean we are here against our wills?"
"No," said El. It's a compulsion only in a sense. It's more a calling…of magic calling magic. You can refuse it."
Hermione nodded in understanding and looked at Severus. He nodded to her, letting her know he understood as well.
"Have all the Keepers been married?" Hermione asked? Her eyes glanced toward Severus, and El, upon seeing her do so, smirked.
"Yes. There have been other Keepers who were not married when they were first drawn here. However, there is one condition that must be met, two really, to complete the Covenant once it is entered."
"What is that?" Severus asked.
El answered, "In order to make the bond between the Keepers and the clan strong enough for the Covenant to protect everyone, they must be handfasted if they are not already married or fasted, and they must consummate the fasting."
Hermione had just taken a sip of her tea and coughed it down her front. Severus dropped the spoon he had been stirring his tea with. Both cried, "What?!"
"Oh, yes," El said. "If the Keepers are not married to begin with, the vampire clan leader will handfast them. It's all perfectly legal in this country and in Britain. The vow is consummated in the cottage. Since Ben and I were already married, we only needed to consummate the Covenant on the night we took the vows."
Severus recovered first. "Why are you so sure we are the next Keepers?"
Ben answered, most matter-of-factly. "Your auras."
Hermione began to laugh. "You're joking! Our auras? You sound like Professor Trelawney!"
"Who's that?" asked El.
"Divination professors at Hogwarts," Severus interjected.
"Ah, El acknowledged. "In any case, the ley magic simply sparkled upon your arrival," El said enthusiastically. "We just knew it was time."
"Time for what?" asked Hermione.
"Time for us to move on…to allow the new Keepers to take over the Covenant."
"What did you feel when you first came here?" asked Severus.
"Wholeness, as we said earlier" Ben supplied.
"Yes," El agreed. "And it has done ever since. We always feel at peace, at one with the area. Never any turmoil or struggle. We have our fights, believe me, but they never last long."
Severus stood and paced the room a bit, a habit he developed as a teen when contemplating a situation. "What happens if we don't accept the call to become Keepers?"
"The conclave will be absorbed by the next strongest clan. We would still be protected and cared for. That has never happened, but it would mean an end to one of the oldest clans in history. Sort of a dying of the line, so to speak," said Ben.
All four were silent until El spoke, breaking some of the tension in the room. "Well," she said, looking at the mantel clock, "we should probably head out to find your bag and wands before it gets dark. It does so early here during the winter. When we return, Ben will send a message to the vampires and arrange a meeting for tomorrow if possible, the next day at the latest. You'll have to spend the night, I'm afraid."
"As long as we find my bag, we'll be fine," said Hermione.
It had been a long search, but Hermione's bag had been found as well as the remnants of their wands. Only a trip to Ollivander's upon their arrival home would repair the pieces, if at all.
Along the way, they spoke with the Golan's in more detail about the Covenant and roles as Keepers. Aside from the issue of needing to be handfast, Severus and Hermione learnt the life as a Keeper was rather quiet, but fulfilling.
When they returned, Hermione and El prepared some soup and sandwiches for supper. Afterward, the couples spent an hour or so by the fire, telling stories of life in England and what the Hermione and Severus might expect from the magical communities in Romania, should they choose to receive the Covenant.
After saying goodnight to their hosts, Severus and Hermione stood facing the small bed that neither had noticed before. It was tucked away in what both had assumed was a wardrobe. They were both dressed in borrowed night wear. As they had intended to camp, they would have slept in their clothes rather than change into night things and had packed none.
"I have only ever read about these sorts of beds," Hermione said. "In colonial America for example, and in the Netherlands."
"What's it called?" asked Severus, warily.
"A bundle bed."
"And the purpose?" Severus snidely asked.
"Well, mostly during courtship. A couple gets into the bed fully dressed and talk. I believe some sects of the Amish in America still do this. Sometimes there is a bundling board in the middle."
"As we are not courting, I can't see why we need to sleep here."
"Severus," Hermione began, "this house isn't designed for a full extra bed. I think it looks rather cosy to be honest."
"They are magical, couldn't they expand the room? Transfigure a chair?"
"It's just the two of them. There has been no need. Besides, where's your sense of adventure?" Hermione smiled wickedly at him, looked down, and then chuckled.
"What's so funny?" Severus asked.
"Nice knees, Severus."
With an affronted gasp, Severus squatted in order to hide his knees with the hem of his nightshirt. Even he would admit they weren't his best feature. "Yes, well, I've seen more elegant feet on a hobbit."
He stumbled from the force of which Hermione had shoved him, but caught himself before he fell on the floor. When he looked back, Hermione had scrambled into the bed and was pulling up the duvet around her. He smirked as she angrily punched her pillow into shape and turned away from him.
"Budge up, there's not enough room for the two of us if you insist on sleeping in the middle."
"The middle is about all there is to this bed."
Severus reached over the mattress and pushed Hermione to the edge. He slipped under the duvet and began to settle. He squealed when Hermione put her feet on his warm legs. "Eh gods, woman! Your feet are freezing!"
"Oh, you mean my horrible Hobbit feet?" she asked with an innocent tone, but with an evil smirk, she dug her heels into his calves. "My feetses wants to be near the warm, my precious."
Severus stopped wiggling and burst out laughing at Hermione's reference. She too began to laugh and rather amiably, the pair skootched around, trying to find the best way to sleep. Once they found it, they sighed in relief and exhaustion.
They lay there quietly for a bit, each listening to the sounds around them. A muffled snore came from the only extra room in the house that was the bedroom of their hosts. The fire occasionally cracked and popped as it began to burn down.
"It's snowing again," said Severus quietly, looking out of the window across the room.
Hermione snuggled closer, not aware that she had done so. "I remember when I was younger a time when it was snowing. School had been cancelled so I went out to play in the snow. I remember making an angel in the snow and then just lying there, feeling the snow land on my face. The other children hadn't come out yet and not too manyneighbours hadbegun to shovel. It was so quiet, almost so quiet you could hear the snow falling. After that, whenever it snowed, I made it a point to go out either early in the morning, or preferably in the evening to hear the snow."
"Why in the evening?" Severus asked.
"There was something about the grey sky that made the world seem quieter. It was so lovely, looking at the branches of trees covered in snow, contrasting against the grey of the sky. In the distance I could hear the scraping of shovels against the pavement, but it was still so quiet. I also liked to see all the lights that had been covered with snow. It was all rather pretty."
"I used to hate winter," began Severus. "I think probably because we were so poor and couldn't afford the electric to heat the house, or that's what my old man usually screamed about. I never had clothes that were warm enough, or enough nourishing food."
"Is that why you always dressed in so many layers?" Hermione asked.
"I suppose so, come to think on it. That and the dungeons were always damp."
"I notice you don't wear so many layers now."
"My situation is better; no more cold damp dungeons. I've enough money to live comfortably, and as a wizard, I know a few charms."
"That you do," Hermione chuckled.
A few more moments of silence passed before Hermione spoke again. "Do you believe Benedikt and Elenuta? About our being called here, I mean."
When she got no immediate answer, she asked, "Are you asleep?"
"No." He turned onto his back, causing Hermione to shift so that her head was resting on his shoulder. Neither gave thought to it. "I'm not sure what I believe, to be honest. It's a lovely tale to be sure, but until I can find some literature to support it…"
"It seems as though it's just too perfect, you know? What is it they said? 'called by the magic', 'great love born of honesty first', 'safe passage through the vampire clans'."
"Romantic to be sure."
"Are you romantic, Severus? When you date, do you do the sorts of things women like?"
Severus chuckled. "There have only been a few since the war, Hermione. And none of them wanted much more than a few nights of…erm…"
"Yes," Hermione said, "'erm'. I know what you mean."
"What about you? What happened between you and Ronald?"
"We realised we wanted different things quite quickly. We parted very amiably, whatever Molly may have wanted. Since then, there was just a Muggle or two from Uni. Nothing serious…just a few drinks at a pub."
Severus was uncomfortable with this sort of discussion so he steered things in another direction.
"Do you like your job?"
"Hmmm? Not as much as I thought I would be. It's research, but to be honest, it's just a lot of paper pushing."
"You are not happy there?"
"Not especially. I had hoped to be on the cutting edge of research…the discoveries, but I apparently am not experienced enough, according to my supervisor, a very old man with hair growing from his ears." She shivered which made Severus chuckle.
"I was thrilled when I got your owl, needing help with your new potion. I've never felt more alive since school." She sighed a bit with pleasure. "And I've enjoyed your friendship. It has been a very precious thing to me."
"It took me a long time to contact you to be honest. I knew I needed help, but, well, I am prideful."
"Stubborn more like."
Hermione squeaked when Severus poked her in response. They both laughed for a moment when she asked, "What made you decide to make the potion in the first place?"
"The paralysis mostly. I never knew when it would happen, and I had taken to not leaving the house as a result. I could deal with the digestive issues by simply watching my diet so that when I had problems they weren't painful. The more, erm, intimate issues were harder to deal with. I felt, well… incomplete…I no longer had all the capabilities of a healthy man. It was a blow to my sense of self, to be honest."
"I can see where that would be hard to deal with," Hermione said quietly. "When you are well again, what do you want from life? Do you have plans?"
"I do a small mail order business now, on top of teaching. But I don't want to teach forever. I want to leave Hogwarts and strike out on my own, whether to own a shop or continue my mail order business, I have yet to decide."
"Would you ever need help with either? You know I'd be willing."
Silence fell between them. An ember popped in the fireplace, causing a flare of light that bathed the room in a warm glow.
"Would you want to be a Keeper? Would you want to be a Keeper with me?"
Severus rolled over to face Hermione. Quite unexpectedly, he ran a finger down her cheek. "It would not be a hardship to work with you."
Hermione smiled, "Only you could twist an answer to be an answer but leave so much to be a question still."
"What did you really want to ask me then?"
"Is there enough between us to live together? Is there enough between us to be handfast? Would we hate each other for being forced into a relationship in order to satisfy the magic?"
"I respect and admire you, Hermione. Beyond that, I am unsure. I think we should think on this and not make a rash decision, regardless of the magic and the possible end of the conclave."
Hermione nodded and closed her eyes. It was not the answer she wanted at all, but she would not let Severus see her disappointment. She would not be the cause of yet another vow for him to be beholden to.
"Thank you, Severus," she murmured. "Let's get some sleep, yeah?"
Severus lay quietly until he felt Hermione's body sag as she fell into a deep sleep. He reached out and tucked her a bit closer to him. "Must keep your hobbit feetes warm, my precious," he whispered.
The following morning, Ben sent a message to Santorio and negotiations for a visit did not take long; the meeting had been arranged for mid-afternoon the next day. In the meantime, Hermione had asked him and El to expand a bit more on the duties of a Keeper and what sort of ceremony there may be in the handing over of responsibilities.
El explained that as Keepers, she and Ben were required to ensure the boundaries of the conclave were not broken by humans moving into the region. It was the Golan's responsibility to maintain the Muggle repelling charms in any area where a human may pass. This was for the protection of both the humans and the vampires. They were also responsible for providing liaison between the conclaves of vampires in regard to clan land matters as well as between them and the magical Ministry of Romania. They provided the day to day needs of the vampires and such as clothing and other amenities that the vampires were not able to obtain otherwise. As hard as it may be for the Keepers to know it was happening, they were strictly forbidden to interfere with how the vampires obtained nourishment.
The vampires also had a responsibility to the Keepers to provide a home, safe passage among the clans, and safety as they went about their pursuits. When a new Keeper took charge, it was part of the Covenant to provide a cottage in the area of the forest of the former Keeper's choice. The vampires would see to the needs of the Keepers for the rest of their lifetime.
The ceremony was fairly simple. Hermione and Severus would be required to wear ceremonial garb and recite a series of vows to bind them to the clan. It was not an unbreakable vow since they would have had to agree to become Keepers in the first place. They would then slice their palms over a chalice out of which each member of the clan would taste. This would imprint them upon the vampires and was how the protection of the Keepers was established. The vampire's enhanced sense of smell would always know who they were and where they were should the Keepers notify them clan that they were in danger.
It was just after two in the afternoon when Severus and Hermione found themselves seated with the leader of the Carpathian clan. Santorio insisted on hearing their story, who they were, and what they had been through. He had heard what happened through various clan gatherings, but wanted to hear the story from them. Then, after discussing Severus' health and the need for samples from the vampires, Santorio decided that a sacrifice would not be required for just a few scrapings of skin, hair, and a sample of blood. He did question them at length, regarding their being chosen as the next Keepers. When they expressed their need to think on it, Santorio relayed his disappointment that his conclave may become extinct. However, even he understood that he could not force the couple to obey the magic.
Once they returned to the cottage, Severus was eager to return to England to begin his potion. Ben and El Apparated them back to Hogwarts, stating they would take some time to go to London for some unique food supplies that the vampires could not obtain for them in Romania.
Hermione and Severus had no contact for the next month once they returned home and finished the potion. It was not on purpose; Severus had had to patent his potion and then run clinical trials. His own recovery had certainly benefited from its use. Hermione had mounds of paperwork to push through to the various departments for which she completed research. All in all, neither had had a chance to spare for a social life.
It wasn't until the annual Memorial Ball in May that the couple met again. Each had come without dates.
Hermione ran into him at the bar and said, "Well, if it isn't Mr. Sleep With Them and Leave Them!"
Severus stiffened and turned to see who it was. He had slept with a few women who had pestered him afterwards for something more. Perhaps this was one of them, and he would need to be on his toes to avoid a scandal if he didn't quietly put them off.
His eyes widened when he saw that it was his Hermione. The thought that she was his Hermione was a pleasant one…one he had subconsciously been thinking about in the past month.
"Well you know me…always leave them wanting more." He waved back at the bar and asked, "Drink?"
"No thanks," she said, holding up her wine glass. "This'll do me for the evening. Severus," she began, laying a hand on his arm to stop him from leaving, "can we go somewhere? I need to speak to you."
Severus looked around. "I'm ready to be shot of this place, are you?" Hermione nodded. "Let's get out of here."
They quickly made their way to a Floo. "Yours or mine?" Severus asked.
In a trice, they were in Severus' sitting room. "Tea?" he asked.
"Only if I can help."
"Lead the way," Severus said with a smile.
Once settled on the sofa, Hermione sipped her tea and then set it down. "I can't get our visit to the vampires out of my mind. I can't tell you how relieved I am they did not require the sacrifice."
"As I am. I know Ben thought we were completely daft."
Hermione smiled. "As did El. She was quite furious about it as I remember."
"Ben boxed my ears," Severus said, taking a sip of his tea.
For a moment, the couple sat quietly, drinking their tea. The fire crackled and flared, sending waves of warm into the room.
"Severus, have you thought anymore about…"
Setting down his mug, Severus leant back into his chair and answered, "Yes, Hermione, I have. Over this last month, I've thought more and more about it as I've had to pander about to the Ministry's requirement after requirement in regard to my new potion. Test this, test that…it's been a blasted chore."
"But you have worked so hard! Surely this isn't any different than any of your other potions. Why the sudden problem with the usual testing requirements?"
Severus stood up quickly. "Because it's all so ….so…" He turned back to Hermione. "I can't get that night out of my mind, Hermione. The hours we spent talking, the feel of you next to me…and yes, the call of the forest. It was in me, I just didn't want to admit it. All of this…" he waved his hand around his home and stalked over to his desk, snatching up reams of notes regarding his research and threw them to the floor. "All of this is nothing compared to that call…compared to you."
Hermione let out a small sob of joy and leapt from her seat. As soon as she was in front of her Severus, she put her hands on either side of his face. "I, too, have been unable to erase the memories of that night, the feel of the pull. I want that, Severus, I want that with you. Let's go back…let's tell Elenuta and Ben that we will be the next Keepers of the Vampires."
"Yes," Severus hissed as his head moved closer to Hermione's. "Yes, love, we will." He kissed her tenderly at first and then with a passion that neither of them would have imagined.
When it became too much for them, they parted, breathing heavily.
"Will you stay with me tonight?" Severus asked. "I promise…we'll bundle, nothing else."
"Elenuta said the bond will be stronger if we wait to consummate our relationship at the cottage, once we are Keepers that is."
"So be it," he said simply and guided her toward his bedroom.
It was difficult to tell all of their friends they were leaving Britain behind. Especially difficult for Hermione was telling Harry, for he was the brother she never had. There was no reason why their friends couldn't visit though; as Keepers they and their friends would be safe from harm in the region over which they kept. Ben had explained that if their friends wanted to regularly visit, a small amount of blood would be taken so that the vampires would learn their 'scent', so to speak, and not attack them as they moved through the forests during their visits. It, too, was part of the Covenant promises.
Severus decided he would prepare potions as part of a mail order business to earn money for whatever the vampires couldn't supply. Hermione, with the help of Kingsley at the Ministry, would become a research consultant for the Romanian and Slovak governments.
Ben and Elenuta were thrilled to show Hermione and Severus their duties. They were actually very easy; the role the Keeper and their duty to the vampires was so ingrained and routine it was hardly any bother. The older couple were actually quite happy to relinquish the cottage to the younger couple and set up housekeeping in a new cottage the vampires built for them on the far side of the region.
Santorio himself handfast the couple in a lovely and small ceremony on the day they were bound to the Covenant. Harry, Ginny, Draco, and Minerva were the only guests, and afterward mingled with the vampires, making new friends as they did so.
Later that night, when all the visitors had left—El and Ben to their new cottage and the vampires to their homes, their magical friends to theirs—Hermione and Severus felt the Covenant become complete as they learned about the depths of their love for each other in their new home. It was a bond so strong that neither could truly remember a time when one was without the other.
Years passed and Severus and Hermione grew old, but were extremely happy together. Friends visited often, and they too took the time to visit England when the desire for greasy, newspaper enshrouded fish and chips became overwhelming. No children came into their lives and when it hadn't they sought a professional opinion. Sadly, Severus' exposure to the venom and the subsequent treatment seem to have affected his ability to reproduce. He and Hermione discussed developing a potion to cure him, but they realized that as enchanting as it would be to raise a child where they lived, there would be more the child needed than the area could provide. The logistics of flooing the children of their friends over for visits would be difficult at times and obviously, they would not be able to invite the local children to come over and play. They both mourned, but ultimately felt it was as it should be.
One winter afternoon, when both were well into their hundreds, Hermione looked out of the window while doing the washing up to see a young couple tramping through the snow. It was obvious they were lost, but Hermione knew better. Her magic told her so and the aura was obvious.
"Severus," she said.
"Yes, love?" he replied, looking up for his book.
"The new Keepers have arrived."
Severus stood, marking his spot in the book, and went to stand near Hermione. "So they have." He leant down and pressed a kiss to her head. "Are you ready?"
"Oh yes. It's time."