Beta(s): My wonderful partner!
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Mild language.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Consider the fairy tale Tam Lin with Severus in the role of Tam Lin and Hermione in the role of Janet. Fit the circumstances into the HP universe. Be inspired (SS/HG).
Note: Thank you for such a wonderful prompt! It was quite interesting to try and work the elements of the original in and I hope the tale is recognisable. Thank you to my partner for stepping in to beta and for helping it come together. PS: I apologise for the gratuitous use of first person POV and solemnly swear never to do it again. Also for those who are interested, lavender roses symbolise 'love at first sight' and 'enchantment'.
Summary: An innocent walk brings Hermione face to face with a man long thought dead.
Beltane - 1 May 2004
Oh I forbid you, maidens a'
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh
For young Tam Lin is there
Ever since my rather brief relationship with keen hiker Justin Finch-Fletchley, I'd grown to love walking. It was a love that had lasted longer than the three weeks we were together – he couldn't cope with my admittedly rather vocal stance on house-elf liberties and I'd never quite gotten past how quickly he bought into the whole 'Heir of Slytherin' thing in our second year. Our split had been highly publicised, partly because it was reported by the Daily Prophet but mostly because I'd wasted a perfectly good ice cream by dumping it over his head in front of Fortescue's last summer.
Still, it had been enough to get me back into the habit of taking long walks; something my parents and I had done frequently before I started Hogwarts. I wasn't sure whether it was the fresh air, the exercise, or the connection to my parents that I loved the most. Either way, since splitting with Justin I had spent every other weekend exploring the countryside of home.
Today my hobby had brought me to a forest near Selkirk. I had tried to lure Harry and Ron with me but alas; the Cannons were playing and there was as much chance of getting them away from Quidditch as there was of getting Draco Malfoy to leave Astoria Greengrass for a Muggle.
As soon as I stepped into the forest I was assailed by the various scents. Mingled with the flowers were familiar herbs and I began a mental catalogue as I started my trek. Old Muggle folk tales told of a well within the forest and finding that was my main goal for the day.
It was beginning to warm up quite quickly, considering that it was only the first of May. The Beltane fires had been extinguished but the heat lingered, or so it felt. I walked until the sun rose to its peak and then was forced to stop; even Cooling Charms weren't enough to ease my sweat. I hadn't found the well but a rather delightful little clearing proved to be a good stopping point. I would rest, refuel, and find the well this afternoon.
The clearing quickly became one of my favourite places out of all the ones I had visited. It was cool, thanks to the shade provided by the large oaks that grew around it. A small stream was trickling somewhere nearby, if the sound of running water was anything to go by, but the biggest surprise was the sweet smell of roses. I wasn't sure where the rose bush begun, but it had spread out across the clearing, its flowers blooming wherever they could. They were lavender in colour, most unusual to see, but so enticing.
There was something almost magical about it, sitting there in a place clearly long deserted, surrounded by roses. I reached out to pick one, wanting a souvenir of this day. When I lifted it to my face to breathe in the scent, it was even more delightful.
"Fifty points from Gryffindor for stealing from my stores."
I screamed and spun around, wand out to hex whoever was behind me. I knew that voice – any Hogwarts student would have known it, but Severus Snape had died six years ago.
"Really, Miss Granger." His voice was as dry as ever, each word pronounced with enough sarcasm to make me feel eleven years old again. "Act your age."
"B-b-but," I stammered, backing up, wand extended at the apparition. "You-you-you're dead!" My brain, usually organised, had broken down into complete chaos because surely, surely that couldn't actually be Severus Snape, standing in the shade of an oak tree with his arms folded and his eyebrow raised, looking for all the world as though he wanted to put me in detention. Maybe a Boggart, or a ghost, or even a heat-induced fantasy.
"I believe, though my knowledge in this area is regrettably scant, that Mister Potter – the Boy Who Lived Twice – also died in the Final Battle."
He had me there.
I sank down, still keeping my wand pointed firmly at his chest in case he tried anything, trying to form a coherent sentence that wasn't about to lose any more house points.
"You survived?" I asked weakly. It still sounded stupid, but it was a marked improvement on the stuttering.
"Evidently." He didn't look too impressed by this. I studied him closely, my senses slowly returning to me. He was in the same clothes he had been wearing when I had last seen him- I fought to clear the image of his bloody, broken body from my mind- but his features were vastly improved. The deep worry lines that had scored his face during those final moments were smooth; he looked several years younger, although given how much the war had aged him it was still difficult to discern his true age. I tried to peer discreetly at his neck but could see no sign of the horrific wounds left by Nagini.
"Have you looked your fill, Miss Granger?" This sounded tired, rather than sarcastic.
"I haven't been your professor for some time, Miss Granger."
"I'm sorry." I managed to get to my feet again and slowly approached him, as if he were a wounded animal that would flee, or attack, at any moment. He remained impassive until I was close, and then held out his hand to stop me.
"Do not place a single foot further forward, Miss Granger, or you will be in deep trouble," he warned. I looked down, bewildered. What could possibly be different about where he was standing, to where I was standing? The only thing I could see was a few mushrooms, scattered in the grass here – almost like a circle...
"A fairy circle?" I didn't mean to ask this aloud. If I had, it wouldn't have sounded so incredulous.
Snape gave a long-suffering sigh. "I did not believe in such things either, Miss Granger, and yet here we are. Here I am, at least; the cold embrace of death would be sweeter than this. Do not enter the circle, lest you wish to forsake everything you hold dear."
These words sent a chill through me. Snape held out his hand and, as if in a trance, I placed mine in his, our hands joining across the ring of mushrooms that held him prisoner.
"Do not return here," he said softly, yet sternly. "Forget you saw me, Miss Granger. I am beyond all hope." He took the rose from my other hand and tucked it into my hair, a tender gesture that I would not have expected from the dour professor of my youth.
"Is there anything I can do?" I whispered. Tears were forming at the corners of my eyes and he released my hand in order to brush these away.
He delivered this as an order, in much the same way he had said "Open your books to page seventy-two". Something in me was programmed to obey. I stepped back from the circle, collected my bag and turned back the way I came. Just outside of the clearing, I paused to look back. Snape had disappeared, but I could feel his eyes on me until I had left the boughs of Carterhaugh far behind me.
I arrived at the Burrow in tears, unable to face going home alone. The spectre from my past had shaken me considerably, all the more so for the sheer hopelessness that emanated from him. I had long come to terms with my rather tumultuous feelings for the Potions professor, from the brief crush on him to the burning hatred that sustained us all during the war, to the deep sadness when he died and the understanding that came from his memories. Seeing him had brought everything back to the fore and I wept in Molly Weasley's comforting arms until I had no tears left.
Molly, with her mother's instincts, knew better than to ask what was wrong and simply had Arthur send a brief message to Harry and Ron. When the two of them came home, bursting through the door as if Voldemort had returned and was at their heels, I was coming to the end of my tears.
"Hermione?" Harry sat down next to me, his hand on my shoulder. "I thought you were going for a walk."
"Yeah, what the hell happened?" Molly kindly left us in peace and Ron took her recently vacated spot. "Did you see a house-elf getting kicked on the way or something?"
"I saw Severus Snape," I blurted out, unable to chastise Ronald for his comments. The truth was enough to silence him.
"Are you sure?" Harry asked after a long pause. "I mean, he's... He's dead, Hermione. You saw his body. There's no way he could have survived that."
"I'm sure, Harry. I saw him, I spoke to him, I touched his hand – he is alive."
"Bloody hell." Ron was the first to recover from this news. "At least that explains the crying, then."
I managed a small laugh. "Just a bit," I agreed. "It all came flooding back and, well, I don't think anyone really, truly grieved for him – or felt anything at all for him – when he died."
"No," Harry said, his eyes fixed on a point in the distance, no doubt reliving that night as I had earlier. "We didn't."
"Well," I said, hoping to lighten the mood, "I don't think he'll be returning to Hogwarts any time soon, so at least Teddy won't have to encounter the bat of the dungeons when he goes to Hogwarts." I was partially successful; Ron snorted with laughter. Harry managed a brief smile before concern settled on his features.
"Where was he?" he asked.
"Standing in a fairy circle in the forest of Carterhaugh," I said with a sigh. "I really must read more into the fairies; we were meant to cover them in DADA but we never got around to them... Are you okay, Ron?" I looked over to see Ron gaping like a goldfish, no sound coming from his mouth, so pale his freckles stood out.
"Carterhaugh?" He choked this out. "Are you mad, Hermione? Did you touch anything? Did you take anything?"
I shared a puzzled glance with Harry.
"It's just a place, Ron," Harry said, echoing my thoughts.
"No, it's not – haven't you ever heard of Tam Lin? Everyone knows about him. Hermione, did you take anything?" He was so adamant that I had to answer.
"I picked a rose, Ronald." I untangled it from my curls where it had been almost consumed by my hair and held it out to him. "That's all."
Without saying a word Ron left the room. I noticed he was shaking slightly as he did.
Harry patted my shoulder again. "I don't know either, if that's any help," he offered. "Ron's just weird sometimes."
"I know." I closed my eyes. I had heard the stories – I'd even read the poems, which was more than Ron had ever done. "There are Muggle folk tales about the forest and a man called Tam Lin, or Tamlane."
"They aren't just Muggle tales." I looked over to the doorway to see Molly entering, with Arthur and Ron close behind. "Tamlane Black was a wizard, my dear, and not a very nice one. He placed many powerful enchantments on the forest of Carterhaugh."
"Rumour has it," Arthur said, "that he sired over twelve children on Muggles via those enchantments for use in his experiments. The Obliviators worked overtime to keep his indiscretions from revealing too much about the world. Eventually they arrested him and sent him to Azkaban, where he got the Kiss. They never managed to break the enchantments and so instead his misdeeds were relegated to folk tales to scare people away."
"Twelve?!" Harry was gobsmacked by this, though not half as much as I was. Why did no one think to write important things like this down, or to teach them to Muggleborns at Hogwarts?
"Why didn't the enchantments fade when he died?" I asked, not really considering the amount of children to be the most important piece of information here.
"No one knows," Arthur sighed. I looked over at Molly despairingly. She said no words of comfort; instead she drew her wand and muttered a spell under her breath. I looked down to see a pale light pulsing from my abdomen.
"What's that?" I asked. Molly and Arthur shared a look. Harry was as confused as I was, and Ron–
"It's a spell to detect conception." Ron was quite calm considering the circumstances. "That's the curse of Carterhaugh, Hermione. You're pregnant, and I'd put odds on it being Snape's baby."
I stared at Ron, a ringing in my ears drowning out everything that followed Molly's exclamation of "Severus Snape?!" My hands were folded in my lap so tightly that they hurt. I tried to sit still, which was exceedingly difficult with my head spinning. Some sort of argument seemed to be going on, including many wild gesticulations, but the words were lost to me. I concentrated on Harry's worried face as best I could when he appeared in front of me, saying something. His green eyes swam before me, the edges of my vision going dark, and I felt myself falling forward.
Strong arms caught me and as my eyes drifted closed the voices started to return.
"...the shock, poor child."
"...can't believe there was something she didn't know..."
"Snape, of all people!"
"...to be okay, Hermione. You're..."
Then, at last, blessed peace.
"Forget you saw me."
"I am beyond all hope."
I bolted upright in bed. The sun was only just beginning to rise, and the cockerel was heralding in the dawn in earnest. This was how I had woken every day since Beltane, when everything started to go wrong; with Snape's words haunting my dreams. I was only just beginning to encounter the early symptoms of pregnancy and had a tendency to wake early with the overwhelming urge to vomit, or to pee. I was still in a turmoil over what had happened and, yes, at how stupid I'd been. Ron had read me the riot act several times over but, to my eternal gratitude, he and Harry, and the rest of the Weasleys, were being supportive. Arthur and Bill were campaigning to have the Carterhaugh Curse broken, discreetly so as not to bring my name into it. Molly, my source of knowledge for all things pregnancy related, was ensuring a steady supply of ginger biscuits to ease my nausea and had taken to keeping the house full of sweet scents that would not offend my sensitive sense of smell.
I had requested she keep the scent of roses far away from me.
The lavender rose that had been the source of my current predicament was currently in a vase. I had enchanted it to preserve its life and every morning I awakened to it, desperately hoping I would have answers to the questions rattling around in my head. What should I do about the life growing inside me? What should I do about Severus Snape?
As usual, I had no answers. I simply caressed the soft petals of the flower and headed downstairs for breakfast. Ron was already there, tucking into a hearty plate of bacon and egg.
"Morning," he said, reaching for his wand. A muttered spell cleared the air and my nausea settled. No doubt he didn't want a repeat of last week, when the smell so overpowered me that I vomited over the breakfast table.
"Morning, Ron." I snagged a piece of toast, dry, and started to nibble it. "Where's Harry?"
"He left early for work. How're you feeling?"
"Confused," I sighed. "I still don't know what to do."
"I do." Ron swallowed his mouthful and set down his knife and fork. "I've got an idea, anyway."
"I'm all ears." I said this drily but meant it in earnest.
"You should go back," he said, reaching out to take my hands in his. "See if you can find Snape and talk to him about it. Besides, you've done enough research into this by now – you know how to break the curse if you need to."
This made sense; it just terrified me. I didn't know if I could go back to the source of my troubles. What would I do if I saw Snape again? My emotions were already all over the place. I didn't know if I'd hex him, or worse, if I saw him.
"I'll think about it," I promised.
Ron nodded and returned to his breakfast. I took my toast and headed out into the garden, wanting some time to be alone.
Lughnasadh - 31 July 2004
Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
Amang the groves sae green,
And a' to kill the bonie babe,
That we gat us between?
It took some time for me to work up enough of the much-vaunted Gryffindor courage to return to Carterhaugh. I was in the first week of my second trimester when I realised I was fast running out of time to make a decision. Whilst the morning sickness still plagued me, and my stomach remained inconspicuous, I knew the baby inside me was steadily growing and the longer I left it, the harder it would be. Harry and Ron had insisted on accompanying me, despite my protests, and we made swift work of the walk. Along the way I kept my eyes pealed, having done research into the aos sí or sidhe, and noticed an abundance of fairy circles in the forest. Really, it was amazing that I hadn't stumbled into one by accident on my first visit.
"Lots of fairies around," Ron muttered, catching my eye. I knew he was thinking the same as I had been.
Harry said nothing, taking my arm to help me over a particularly overgrown patch – they had taken to treating me like a china doll – but his face was grim.
Just before reaching the clearing I held out my hand for them to stop.
"What's wrong, Hermione?"
"Nothing's wrong, Harry. I just think I should go in by myself." I was expecting an outburst at this but, to my surprise, Ron and Harry agreed immediately.
"No arguments?" I asked, a little taken aback.
"Snape hates us," Ron said fervently. "He probably wouldn't hex a pregnant woman but me and Harry don't have the same protection, and I like all my bits attached to me, thanks."
"Oh. I see." I had psyched myself up for an argument and now that none was forthcoming, I felt a little silly. "You wait here. Have something to eat."
"Call if you need us," Harry said seriously.
I nodded. I wasn't entirely stupid. Even confined by fairy magic as he was, I had no doubts that Severus Snape was an extremely dangerous wizard. I slipped my wand into my hand and stepped forth into the clearing.
It was as beautiful and undisturbed as the last time I had been here. The scent of roses hit me instantly, a stark reminder of exactly why I was here, and I pulled myself together rather than getting lost in the enchanting scene. There was no sign of Snape. A quick, careful examination showed that the mushrooms that formed the circle were undisturbed, and so I held out hope that he would appear.
"Professor Snape?" I called, slightly nervous of raising my voice too much in case it attracted the fairies. "Severus?"
No answer came forth, except for the slight echo of my own voice. I frowned. Had I really expected him to be waiting here for me? I'd been three months away from here, and he was in another realm. But how could I summon him? I glanced around, and my eye alighted on the roses, not quite so beautiful now that I knew the truth about the forest. I reached out and caressed the petals of one of the lavender flowers, sniffing it appreciatively before my fingers travelled down to the slender stem. One quick snap and all my problems would be over–
I sighed in relief, my fingers lingering a moment longer before I withdrew them.
"Severus," I said, turning around. He stood once more in the centre of the fairy circle. His face was wrought with sadness. To ease his mind, I took a step away from the flowers.
"I wasn't going to pick it yet."
"I wanted to talk to you before I made any decisions," I clarified. "I'm sure you understand."
He seemed pained as he spoke. "Would you punish an innocent child for my sins, Miss Granger?"
I was rather surprised at how level my voice was when I spoke. "I think, given our situation, that you really should call me by my given name, Severus, unless the next words out of your mouth are going to be, 'I'm sorry for letting you trigger the Carterhaugh Curse, Miss Granger'."
He had the good sense to look abashed.
"I am sorry for your situation, Hermione, but I ask you to consider mine before making your decision."
"That's why I'm here," I said, approaching the circle and sitting down close to it. "I want to hear what happened to you after we left you. I want to know why you are in the clutches of the sidhe and what will happen."
He turned his back to me, his posture stiff, betraying his nerves.
"I suggest you allow Potter and Weasley to approach. I will only say this once."
"You know they're there?"
"I am aware of all that goes on within Carterhaugh. Most of the other sidhe pay little attention to the comings and goings of mortals, unless said mortal steps into a circle and enters their clutches. I am rather more concerned with mortal affairs and so yes, Miss Gr- Hermione, I know they are there. Summon them before my goodwill deserts me entirely."
"Harry! Ron!" Their names left my lips immediately and, not ten seconds later, they both ran into the clearing with their wands drawn. Both paled upon noticing Severus, with Ron muttering several expletives under his breath.
"Is everything alright?" Harry asked, ostensibly speaking to me but never tearing his eyes from Severus.
"Yes. It's okay for you to be here. Severus has agreed to tell us what happened." I gave the Potions Master a stern look as I said this, since he looked tempted to go back on his word.
"Be seated and, above all, be silent," he snapped. Harry came to sit on my left, Ron my right, and we stared up obediently at him. I had one hand pressed gently to my abdomen and noticed him stare at it before forcing himself to turn away.
"I believe, Potter, that you will understand some of what I say," he began, most unexpectedly; Harry jumped at being addressed so. He stayed quiet, however, and let Severus speak.
"Upon your departure on that wretched day I had, I must admit, rather embraced the idea of peace. Like a marionette I had danced to the tune of two masters and was grateful to know my strings were being cut at last. Do not fret overly about your leaving me to die; I welcomed it."
Tears were already prickling the corners of my eyes. I blamed the hormones, rather than the eloquent speech.
"Upon my death I entered what I believed to be the 'choosing place'." Next to me, Harry nodded to show he understood. I recalled what he had said about King's Cross. "I was startled to be greeted by Lily Potter and yet, I felt it apt – after all, most of my major decisions had revolved around her. It made sense for the final one to be." Severus avoided looking at Harry as he said this. "Rather than explaining to me where we were, she simply asked me to go with her. As I have said, I was glad to; I gave her my hand and promised I would follow her.
"Rather than crossing to the other side, I awoke to find myself being tended to by one of the sidhe, a member of the Queen's court; one with red hair and green eyes. She had woven her magic well, and led me to believe that I had died and been greeted by my – by Lily."
Severus had been pacing about the confines of the circle but he stopped now, studying each of us in turn.
"Many years ago I helped her to escape the clutches of the Dark Lord. She had never forgotten that and appealed to the Queen for permission to save my life, and was granted it. The Queen is quick to grant the whims of her followers, and as quick to grow weary of their toys. I was healed and became a rather unwilling knight of the Queen's court, where I have remained until today."
Silence reigned after he had finished telling his story. Ron was the first to break it.
"You saved a fairy's life?" he asked disbelievingly. "Didn't you know how stupid it was to get involved with one of them?"
"I had heard the tales, yes," Severus snapped at the redhead, who flinched beneath his anger. "I was, however, not inclined to let a person die when I was in a position to stop it."
"I understand," Harry said, cutting across whatever Ron was about to say.
Severus met Harry's eyes and nodded. "Yes, Potter. I believe you do."
"So," I said, reluctant to interrupt the obvious male bonding session between Severus and Harry but at the same time determined to stay on topic, "Why did you let me pick the rose? Why did you let me trigger the Curse?"
Severus smiled – or at least he showed all his teeth. It may have been a grimace.
"Why does anyone want a child?" he asked softly. "So that a part of me will live on."
"You're not dead," Ron pointed out.
'I am beyond all hope.' Again these words came to me. I studied Severus carefully, noting the tightness about the eyes, the way he refused to meet my stare...
"Are you dying?" I asked, realising as I said it that there were more tactful ways to phrase it.
Severus looked away.
"It is none of your concern, Hermione. If you would help me, then honour my request."
I had never seen more emotion on Severus' face. An idea was forming in the back of my mind; a terrible, wonderful idea.
"I'll do it," I said, surprising both Harry and Ron. Neither of them truly expected me to get rid of the baby, but my instant decision seemed startling. Nevertheless, I had a plan. "Promise me one thing in return, Severus."
"Anything that is in my power to grant."
"Wear a rose so that I will recognise you."
Severus stared at me for what felt like an age, his eyes boring into me. He wasn't performing Legilimency; he simply wanted to assess my honesty and my conviction. My request seemed a little odd, but he was an educated wizard and had spent enough time with the sidhe to know what I intended. With a final nod, he disappeared in a swirl of black robes. Harry and Ron each wrapped an arm around me and we sat there, staring at the empty fairy circle, until the afternoon sun was low in the sky.
Upon returning to the Burrow I took to my room for a fortnight, dodging questions by playing up the symptoms of the second trimester. At the end of the time I had more information about cures for sciatica and breathlessness than I knew what to do with. I had been judged as 'blooming' by sixteen people and 'looking a bit worn out' by five, the latter of whom were mentally crossed from my Christmas card list.
I had also worked out what to do about Severus Snape. Fifteen days after returning from Carterhaugh, I summoned Harry and Ron.
"What's the plan?" Harry threw himself down on my bed immediately upon entering; only moving his shoes off my pillow when I brandished my wand menacingly. Ron, a little more experienced with my fussiness after living with me for a year, sat carefully on the floor, pointedly avoiding the scattered books. Putting shoes on my pillow was a hexing offence – shoes on my books, and he may never have been seen again.
"What makes you think I have a plan?" I asked, batting my eyelashes sweetly.
Both boys raised their eyebrows, looking so reminiscent of Severus that it brought a pain to my chest. I had spent so long thinking about the poor man that I had really come to care for him.
"Okay, fine. First of all, I spent some time doing research into the Carterhaugh Curse itself, rather than Severus. I've been passing anything interesting to your father, Ron, to forward on to the Ministry."
Ron nodded to show he was paying attention.
"I am not the only person to have visited Carterhaugh since Tamlane Black got Kissed," I continued. "I am, however, the only one to have triggered the Curse and conceived. Any suggestions as to why?" My tone made it clear that I knew the answer, so they rolled their eyes.
I laughed. "I'll tell you, then – I am the only one to have entered the forest while my soul mate was there."
This got a reaction. Harry sat up so quickly that he nearly hit his head on the low eaves of the bedroom ceiling. He started cursing profusely, while Ron gaped at me rather like a fish. It was mildly entertaining, although my reaction had been very similar to Harry's upon coming to the realisation that Severus Snape, of all people, was my soul mate.
"Thanks to the presence of the fairies, or sidhe," I said quickly before they could recover and question my sanity, "the forest is an extremely magical place. The Carterhaugh Curse was originally tied to Tamlane Black and targeted any virgin who entered the forest and 'took a part of it with her'. After his death, Black's control was removed from the Curse, but the magic itself lingered." I was impressed at how steady my voice was.
"Hermione, you're not a–" Ron never got to finish that sentence; I hit him with a strong Silencing spell. Harry, a little bit wiser, chose to ignore it.
"My initial theory was that Severus had taken the Curse upon himself and that anyone who had entered the forest could have been targeted, but that didn't make sense with what we know of the Carterhaugh Curse – it's been dormant for many years; if its magic could have been used, someone would have found a way."
Ron's frantic gesticulating indicated that he was sorry he had spoken without thinking. I lifted the spell in order to allow him to make a sensible contribution to the discussion.
"Bill said something the other day," Ron said, eyeing my wand hand warily. "It didn't make sense before but it does now. He said he thought there had to be a connection for the Curse to use. I thought it just meant he used to teach us, but now, well..."
"That was my theory too," I said, pleased to have it confirmed by someone who knew more about curses than I did. "And so I came to the conclusion that he and I were soul mates, or something similar; the Curse simply picked up on the connection and decided it was enough."
"That's ridiculous," Harry said, rubbing his head. "I mean," he amended hastily when I lifted my wand, "why would that happen? Why didn't the Curse just not work?"
"Who knows?" I answered, quietly annoyed that I hadn't been able to fathom that out for myself. "It's something I intend to look into, believe me, but please take my word for it."
"How do you know you're his soul mate?" Ron sounded as though he had had to force the words out. I thought we had gotten over the break up, but some of the old pain was showing on his face.
"There's a ritual," I admitted. "I found mention of it in a book at Grimmauld Place and performed it when we came back from Carterhaugh. It's a bit tricky. It has to be performed at Lughnasadh during a full moon. If done properly, it allows you to dream of your soul mate." I didn't add what an experience waking up after that had been. I'd blasted several good pillows into oblivion.
"Why isn't it done more often?" Harry asked eagerly. "Wouldn't everyone want to know?"
"Would you?" Ron beat me to it. "Would you want to know, Harry? What would you do if it wasn't Ginny?"
Harry frowned, his initial enthusiasm waning.
"Could you live with yourself if it wasn't?" Ron was really driving the point home. I was impressed, although a lot of it was probably hurt that it hadn't been him in my dreams. It was an excellent example of the dangers of forbidden knowledge. "Would you break up with Ginny to find your soul mate – or would you live with her, knowing all the while there was someone else out there who was meant for you?" He looked over at me. "What if Ginny did it, and it wasn't you?"
I reached out and clasped Ron's hand.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly. "A little more tact wouldn't have gone amiss, would it?"
Ron managed a smile. "It's okay, Hermione. If we were soul mates we'd never have broken up. It just... It hurts, to hear you're meant to be with Snape instead of me." He looked away. "Really brings it home that we're over."
"I'm still sorry."
He squeezed my hand and let it go. Harry was watching us, all traces of excitement gone.
"It's a horrible ritual," he said. I could tell from his face that he was working himself up again and I cut in before he had a chance to jump on his soapbox.
"The ritual itself isn't too bad. It's the knowledge that can be horrible. Since it was necessary to confirm my theory, I elected to undertake it." I folded my arms across my chest and dared either of them to contradict me on the necessity of the ritual. Thankfully neither of them was brave enough, despite being Gryffindors.
"Okay," Ron summarised, ticking points off on his fingers. "Snape is your soul mate, the forest picked up on that, the Curse triggered, and now you're going to have a baby dungeon bat."
I lobbed a pillow at him.
"So where do we come in?" Harry interrupted, not wanting to start a pillow fight – or wanting to but not sure it was wise at the moment, I couldn't tell which. "You've got a plan to rescue him, haven't you?"
"When do I ever not have a plan?"
"Good point. What do you need?"
"I need you two and the Invisibility Cloak."
Samhain - 31 October 2004
But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday;
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.
It was five minutes to midnight. I was perched on the lower branches of an oak tree a short way outside of the clearing. Harry was similarly positioned inside the clearing on a tree overlooking the fairy circle and Ron was opposite me, a few trees down. In one hand I held my old DA galleon; the Invisibility Cloak was tied loosely about my shoulders, rendering half of me invisible. I placed my other hand atop my burgeoning stomach, feeling anxious little flutters from the baby. I was in no shape to be climbing trees and pulling off daring rescues – but if I didn't, my poor baby would never know his or her father.
The galleon warmed in my hand.
Of course. –Hermione
If we end up in the fairy realm, I'll never let you live it down. –R
We wouldn't. I was entirely confident of this. On our way into the forest that afternoon I had cast charms on every fairy circle we had found. They were now glowing an eerie blue, all except for the most significant one.
Lots of lights starting over here. –Harry
This was it. I checked my watch: two minutes to go.
Ready, boys? –Hermione
Of course. –Harry
Why not? –R
I steadied myself, taking a moment to adjust to my new centre of gravity, and patted my stomach reassuringly before moving my hand to balance myself better.
"It'll be okay, little one," I whispered. "I'll bring your Daddy home."
We have liftoff –Harry
Muggle thing, I'll explain later. First rider leaving now. –Harry
I tucked the galleon into my pocket, pulled the Cloak over my head, and waited.
From the clearing came a hauntingly beautiful sight. The grey horse had an ethereal glow that also surrounded the cloaked rider. The cloak itself revealed nothing of the wearer's face, but was clearly made of fairy-spun silk, if the way it fluttered delicately in the breeze, yet refused to tear, was anything to go by. I held my breath as the horse picked its way through the forest, passing almost directly beneath the tree in which I was perched. I felt my galleon warm but couldn;t take the time to check it.
A second horse, this time a magnificent black stallion, pranced from the clearing. I studied the rider carefully. The cloak was similar to the first rider's. The shape was far too soft to be Severus; it seemed more womanly in form. I let it pass, almost flattening myself to the branch to avoid detection.
A third rider emerged; this time, the rider's hood was down. I barely noticed the dappled horse as all my attention was riveted on the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. He was taller and more slender than any human male, with luxurious blonde hair and captivating eyes like liquid gold. He looked like a Malfoy except gentler, more noble–
A sharp sting hit my arm and I blinked, looking down to see a red welt forming. When I looked up I could see Ron's worried face peering in my direction. He had evidently clipped me with the Stinging Hex. I shivered; the lure of the sidhe was indeed strong. I'd have to thank him for that later.
A fourth rider exited the clearing and my breath caught. The rider was shrouded all in black; the horse was a pure white.
Tucked into the bridle of the fairy steed was a lavender rose.
Liftoff indeed, I thought to myself, counting under my breath. I hadn't been sure he would honour my promise, given his despair on our last encounter. Thankfully Severus Snape truly was a man of his word.
As I reached five his horse was in the right position. I leapt from the tree, springing into Severus and knocking him from his horse. We landed in a heap on the forest floor, Severus' body cushioning me from the worst of the fall. Before anyone had a chance to react I was on my feet, his hand clasped in mine, dragging him away from the clearing.
"Hermione?" Severus' voice was so disbelieving that it was almost insulting. I threw back the Cloak with my free hand, leaving it fluttering about my shoulders.
"Did you doubt me?" I asked softly.
His hand tightened around mine. "You know what they will do."
"I'm ready," I said firmly. "I won't let go."
Behind me I could hear enraged screams breaking out from the procession. As I passed beneath his tree, Ron jumped down and began firing Confundus Charms at the fairies to buy me time.
"Run," I ordered. Severus obeyed, taking to his feet so quickly that at one point he was dragging me.
"Hermione!" Harry had mounted his Firebolt and was circling through the trees. "They're all piling from the circle now. You'd best be quick before–" His words were cut off by a burst of magic which he had to swerve sharply to avoid. A second wave of magic hit us and Severus was transformed into a vicious looking snake. It coiled around to sink its fangs into my hand. I shrieked and tried to grab it about the neck; holding its head as far away from me as possible, I broke into an ungainly sprint.
"I won't let go!" I repeated, wincing as the baby gave me a particularly sharp kick; I could almost imagine that it was telling me to hold on. A yell startled me – either Harry or Ron, I couldn't tell which – then Ron's voice:
I couldn't look back. The books had been very clear on the dangers of the sidhe in a rage and right now, they were furious. The horses were coming closer; I swerved off the path into a thicker clump of trees to try and lose them.
"You cannot flee." A voice like silver bells floated towards me. "He is ours."
"No, he isn't!" I yelled. The snake in my hands was shifting, growing; feathers sprouted and then an eagle attempted to burst out of my arms. I stumbled, clamping one arm around its furiously beating wings, the other trying to catch the beak before it took a finger off.
"Little one, won't you dance?" Fairies stood in the illuminated circles, beckoning me nearer. "There will be time for him after."
"No!" I hissed, catching a nasty clip from the eagle in my arms. Music drifted through the forest, a most enticing song...
"Ouch! Harry, what was that for?" Ron's voice, through the trees to my left, brought my focus back onto our goal. I missed Harry's answer and broke into a sprint once more, cursing my protruding stomach.
"Hold on, Severus," I whispered. A tingling sensation in my arms warned me of magic and I darted back onto the track we had laid out to the well, narrowly avoiding a burst of magic that hit a tree instead. The leaves began to wither and die, falling around me. I shuddered to think what magic like that would do to me.
Severus' voice drew me to a halt. I had the eagle in my arms, yet there he was, standing just to my left, his hand outstretched. As I stared I felt the eagle calm, change shape again; a badger lay quiescent, cradled against my chest.
"You have succeeded. Won't you come with me now?"
I studied him carefully. It certainly looked like Severus Snape – the imposing figure, the impossibly dark eyes, the lip curling at the sight of Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak – and oh, I wanted it to be!
I took a step forward, reciting the uses for dragon's blood in order to keep my cool.
"What did your riddle protect?" I asked warily.
"I beg your pardon?"
"The riddle, Severus. You know the one."
"We don't have time for this, Hermione. The aos sí are upon us."
"What animal did I turn into in my second year?"
"Why are you wasting time?"
I choked back a sob. "What did Hagrid name his Cerberus?"
The face of the faux Severus was twisting into an angry grimace. I stepped back. Harry and Ron had caught up with me and stood on either side, their wands extended.
"You're not him," I said, my voice shaking. "You are not Severus Snape."
The figure gave a shriek, tearing at his hair, glamours fading to reveal a glowing, ethereal woman with vivid red hair and green eyes, no doubt the one who had first lured him into the realm of the fairies. I fought the urge to go for my wand and hex the bitch.
"He is mine!" she shrieked, sounding like a harpy, or Fleur on a bad day.
Harry placed a hand on my shoulder.
"It's time to run, Hermione. They're trying to surround us and unless we want to get thrown into the gates of Hell today, we need to move."
Ron whipped around and started to fire off hexes. I urged my legs to move again, to keep heading for the well. There wasn't far to go now. A sudden twitch from the badger in my arms alerted me to the fact that Severus was changing form again. I looked down and–
"Merlin's hairy balls!"
-my arms were around the neck of a lion. I sped past a gaping Ron, swinging my leg over so as to try and ride it as if it were Buckbeak. I lay as flat as I could and dug my knees into his side to keep the magnificent beast on course.
"Come on, Severus," I whispered into the lion's ear. "Fight their control. You can do it! You're nearly there!"
Was it my imagination, or was there a sudden burst of speed from the lion? Yes, he was sprinting now, giving a fearsome roar, and the well was in sight. The sidhe had fallen back, distracted by Harry and Ron. I heaved a sigh of relief, and fell to the ground with a thump as the lion blurred and shrunk.
I caught at the shape desperately, fighting the instinct to free my hands: they were burning, blistering around the red hot iron that had replaced the lion. My eyes were watering with the pain; tears ran down my cheeks and dripped onto my charred, cracking hands, evaporating from the sheer heat of the iron. All that was left to do was wait for the final form.
"I'm sorry," I whispered; not for myself or Severus, but for the child who I was responsible for. "I'm sorry if this is hurting you."
A gentle nudge from my abdomen relieved me and gave me the strength to hold on until the iron became a smouldering coal. Praying that the folk tales were right I tossed it into the well, submerging my hands in the cold water immediately after. The burns were instantly soothed and I watched, amazed, as the blisters began to heal over. I closed my eyes, sobbing with relief.
I stifled a scream as I felt someone hold my hands, stroking them gently. I looked up to see Severus standing in the well, naked as the day he was born and giving me the softest smile I had ever seen.
Harry and Ron sprinted up to the well; Harry glancing over his shoulder every few seconds.
"We have to hide," Ron said. He tugged the Cloak from around my neck. "That redhead is not happy with us." The Cloak was thrown over Severus and he disappeared from view; only the feel of his hands on mine reassured me that he was still there. Harry tapped me on the top of my head with his wand and I felt the peculiar sensation of a Disillusionment Charm cover me. When I turned my head to glance, he and Ron were slowly fading into the background, blending in with the trees until I could hardly see them. Harry cast a Silencing charm for good measure and we waited. I was almost afraid to breathe in case I gave us away.
The sound of thundering hooves heralded the arrival of the faeries that had been chasing us, led by a redhead on a chestnut horse. It stamped impatiently and pawed the ground, reflecting the mood of its owner, who was pacing before the well angrily; the faerie who had stolen away Severus Snape. She was heartbreakingly beautiful. Her eyes were a vivid green, more so than Harry's, shaped like a cat's and set into a beautiful pale face. Her hair was redder and more perfect than any Weasley's could ever be, and the same ethereal glow of the sidhe surrounded her. I felt Severus tense, his hands squeezing mine so tightly that they hurt even more.
"Where is he?!" the faerie demanded, leaping from her horse.
A second horse emerged, bearing the blonde who had reminded me so much of a Malfoy.
"You waste our time," he said, staring down at the redhead with a regal bearing. "The hour is nigh."
"He was mine!" Coira snarled, looking frightening as her temper took hold.
"He was the Queen's to give, and hers to take away!"
I coiled away from the blonde's fury, feeling Harry and Ron beside me move into more defensive positions.
"You have lost the tiend, Coira. She is unhappy with you."
More hooves sounded. I released one of Severus' hands to slowly reach for my wand, holding it before my stomach. As if sensing the importance of the moment, the baby had stopped its relentless kicking; it, too, was waiting for the outcome of this night. More horses were coming from the woods. Coira began to look afraid, and I wondered what could possibly frighten the sidhe.
"It was not my fault, Cam," she said, her voice low and seductive as she approached the blonde rider. "Mortals interfered and stole him from me. I did my best to stop them–"
"If that was your best, then you are weak," sneered the blonde. "The Queen wishes to see you, Coira. Go to her, or I will make you go." I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and quelled the urge to run that his words brought out in me. The faeries glared at each other until, at last, Coira mounted her horse and left, flanked by the other riders. Cam turned to leave, and then glanced back at the well. I shivered when I realised he was looking right at me.
"It would be best you left, mortal," he said coldly. "Go with your man and pray you never cross our paths again."
He left, and I could breathe again. No one spoke until the sound of the horses faded and the tingle of faerie magic faded.
"That was close." Harry broke the silence. He began cancelling the spells that had hidden us. I withdrew my hands from Severus' and pressed them to my stomach, reassuring both myself and the baby. Severus took the opportunity to climb out of the well, passing the Invisibility Cloak back to me.
Ron stood up and stretched. "Was it just me," he asked casually, "or was that Coira a complete and utter bitch?"
"Just a bit," I agreed. I had really wanted to hex her – not just for the shoddy way she had tricked Severus, but for her general attitude. She was like Pansy Parkinson only much, much worse.
"Is it really over?" Harry was scanning the trees anxiously.
"It is over," Severus confirmed. His voice sounded steadier and surer than it had in some time. "May I borrow your wand, Mister Potter?"
"After everything we've done tonight, and considering you're standing there in the altogether, you can call me by my name," Harry said with a grin. He handed his wand over happily, ignoring the peals of laughter his comment wrought from both Ron and me. Severus smirked, conjured fresh robes, and solemnly passed the famous holly wand back to Harry.
"I must thank you all," he said, addressing the three of us but never taking his eyes off me – or, more precisely, the rather prominent bump that held his unborn child. "Even after we last met, I did not expect your assistance."
"We wouldn't leave you there," I said instantly. "We couldn't."
"Perhaps it is a good thing you are such Gryffindors," Severus mused, looking happier than I had ever seen him. "Otherwise my fate this evening would not be quite so pleasant."
"About that," Ron said, sitting down and staring up through the trees to the waning moon. "Are the Muggles right about what the faeries would do to you?"
I was grateful that Severus was an educated man, for he knew instantly what Ron was referring to. The smile left his face and he didn't speak; simply nodded once to confirm it was true.
I had a sudden thought.
"Coira." I didn't realise I had spoken aloud until Severus nodded again, looking a little pleased.
"Indeed, Hermione. It is most likely that she will become the tiend for her failure, and be sacrificed to Hell. I find it difficult to muster sympathy."
This statement resulted in absolute silence as Harry, Ron and I processed that. We had rescued Severus, but in doing so had condemned someone to a truly horrible fate. It was easier to absorb when I imagined what would have happened to Severus had we not intervened, and the looks on Harry and Ron's faces confirmed they felt the same.
"We'd better get out of here," I said decisively, struggling to stand. Harry and Ron moved to help me up but Severus was there first, his face completely unreadable under the moonlight as he pulled me to my feet.
"The Burrow?" Ron suggested.
I nodded. "Yes. We all need a cup of tea, and some of us quite badly need the loo. Then, Severus Snape, you can make arrangements to take me out to dinner."
It was the first time I had ever truly seen Severus Snape shocked by something.
"Of course," I said with a smile. "Usually dinner comes before the pregnancy, or at least before the sex, so you owe me a bare minimum of one nice meal. We can discuss things, such as why the Carterhaugh Curse triggered and why exactly I rescued you instead of letting you die. If things go smoothly, I'll let you kiss me after the second date. After that," I winked, giggling inside at how pale the Potions Master had gone, "we'll see."
Severus looked at Harry and Ron, who were wearing identical grins on their faces.
"You're not getting any help from us," Harry said with a smirk.
"We know what she's capable of," Ron said, adding, "Besides, I already broke up with her once, and I've still got the scars from it. You're on your own."
I couldn't hold my laughter in any more. Maybe it was relief. Maybe I was still flying high on adrenalin. Maybe it was the fact that not too long ago I'd been astride a lion and fearing for my life – but something about the whole situation was highly amusing to me. I felt a small nudge inside me and smiled.
"In all seriousness," I said, once my laughter had finally died down, "I really do need the toilet. Let's go home."
Harry and Ron disappeared with two small pops. I reached out to Side-Along Severus until he could replace his wand; he accepted my hand instantly, pulling me closer to him.
"You risked your life, and that of the child, to save mine," he murmured, leaning down so that his mouth was next to my ear. "I cannot guarantee romance or flowers, Hermione. I am not a pleasant man and you deserve much more than what I can offer. I will not blame you if you choose to love another – just know that I will be here for you always, as a friend if nothing more."
He lifted my other hand, touched my wand gently and conjured a beautiful lavender rose, which he tucked into my hair as he had before.
My knees were weak as I Apparated us away.
Imbolc - 1 February 2005
Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
Out of a brush of broom:
"Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately groom."
It was exactly one week since I had brought a beautiful, healthy, extremely loud baby girl into the world, and the Naming Ceremony was already here. Molly had offered to hold it at the Burrow, instead of at the cottage in Hogsmeade where Severus and I lived, and we had happily accepted, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't have to do anything but show up with the baby on the day. Molly, as honorary grandmother, was ecstatic and had happily arranged everything.
I was sitting in the garden, resting and watching Severus proudly carry around his daughter. It had been a rough few months since the rescue. The world at large seemed unable to forgive Severus, despite knowing the truth of his actions in the war. I had been forced to stand by as people spat at him and called him names. Even Minerva's calm exterior had cracked and they had duelled for what felt like hours before she had thrown away her wand, slapped Severus, and burst into tears.
With Minerva McGonagall on side, it was much easier to convince the world that Severus deserved to be here. It had been her idea to capitalise on the perceived romance of his rescue, and much to my disgust Rita Skeeter ran several prominent specials in the Daily Prophet declaring how 'true love had conquered all'. Severus had disappeared for two weeks after that, almost missing Christmas. He returned rather sheepishly and immediately confessed that he could certainly envisage loving me, if only I would have him. I decided to think about it.
Much to his annoyance, he was still waiting for an answer.
"So come on, then," Ron said, tapping my shoulder. I realised that I had been daydreaming and, without my noticing, everyone had formed a circle around us. "What's her name?"
I glanced over at Severus.
"Rose," I said softly, taking my sleepy daughter into my arms. "Her name is Rose."
A round of applause followed this announcement, and amongst the comments of 'beautiful' and 'traditional', I met Severus' eyes. In them I saw such love and longing that I felt as though my heart would break under the weight of it.
I beckoned him nearer. He came and knelt on the grass, stroking the tuft of black hair atop Rose's head.
"I thought about what you said," I said in a low voice, "and I've come to a decision." I leaned over, carefully shifting Rose's head so as not to wake her, and kissed his cheek softly. "I didn't save you from Hell just to let you go, Severus Snape."
He didn't answer: he didn't need to. The look in his eyes said more than words ever could.