Each step was made with leaden feet, the funereal blooms in her arms tainted with putrefaction. She wished for the will to turn away, even at the cost of her own mind. Better hers than his.
The door opened at her touch, as always. She was his Secret-Keeper, after all, or at least that was how it had begun. Tears threatened as she saw the twin to her bouquet already arranged on the kitchen counter. Her arms wrapped around his neck, his mouth claiming hers, and she embraced the thorny stems, knowing their bloody censure would soon be justified.
He caught the brightening in her eyes as his lioness saw the blooms and knew that she wasn't alone in marking their six-month anniversary. How could she have believed he might forget? Six months of happiness in over four decades of despair. How could she ever think that he might not number every stolen, blissful moment?
There was melancholy in her kiss, but there often was. They lived on borrowed time. The Death Eaters grew more desperate and still he walked the knife edge, as like to be cursed by friend as foe. Her guileless embrace was his only solace.
Every kiss was a bittersweet farewell, every button a step on the road to perdition. This time there would be no Severing Charm to send them cascading onto the flat's wooden floor in her impatience. Never again would she taunt him for being buttoned up tighter than a bride in her wedding gown. She felt him tremble under her thorn-pierced hands and gentle lips as she stripped him bare. She wept inside as reverent fingers returned the favour. The oil-slick, petal-strewn bath broke her heart as he lowered her in, but when he joined her she forgot everything except him.
Her skin glowed in the candlelight, damp with the sheen of water and perfumed oils. He resolved to claim every inch as his own, from the narrow scar that rested between her perfect breasts to her pink-painted toes. He settled into the steaming water, kneeling between the pale gold of her legs, brushing his lips against the inside of a dimpled knee where it broke the water's surface. He would have extended the trail of kisses but stubborn hands tangled in his hair, pulling him up and drawing their bodies closer. "Enough foreplay," she whispered, as she straddled his lap.
She pressed her lips to his, his mouth capturing her sigh as she sank onto him. Using her grip on his head she pushed against the water's buoyancy, taking him deeply into her, until her behind pressed against the coarse hairs on his legs. Powerful arms reached around her and his hands curved over her shoulders, to pull her closer still. Her eyes met his as they flickered open. Holding his gaze, she slowly began to move. Shallow waves lapped the edge of the bath and sent petals spilling onto the tile floor, but neither lover so much as blinked.
Afterward, he let her shampoo his hair and sponge his body clean. He didn't tell her that her circling fingertips on his scalp coaxed him into a lassitude that he rarely knew. He didn't mention that these ministrations did more to make him feel cherished than their lovemaking. He simply submitted to her wishes, watching her from under hooded lids when he could. When he pulled the sponge from her hand, he made a jibe about them being no better than a pair of baboons eating fleas, and she just smiled, as always, and presented her foot to be massaged.
She knew she should fight it, but this was what she wanted, too, wanted every moment, except those where she was destined to break him. She watched in the mirror as his deft fingers tamed her wet hair into a heavy French plait, drying it in place with a complicated wand gesture. She wondered if she might find it in herself to leave at the normal time and knew that she wouldn't. She leaned back against him as he kissed her neck and knew she would drink every last drop from her poisoned chalice if it meant being with him.
She was quiet as they ate, too subdued for his beautiful know-it-all. Usually, she chattered about every Order meeting and every piece of gossip. He would make sarcastic comments and they would both pretend that he didn't see beneath the superficiality of it all, as if he didn't know she was working to make him feel connected to her world, to feel trusted and loved. He knew she hoped his name would be cleared and she didn't want him to be at a disadvantage when the time came.
His only hope was that she wouldn't join him in his fate.
She tried to pretend she couldn't see the concern in his eyes, not when she knew the stroke of midnight would see it turn to revulsion. She walked away from the table that they had shared in more ways than one, leaving her dessert uneaten, making her way through to the bedroom and the only window in his home that let in part of the city skyline rather than more narrow streets and closely-packed buildings of ancient grey stone.
Arms wrapped around her waist, his voice whispering in her ear as they gazed at the castle's silhouette. "Do they know?"
Potter would have stolen her wand and chained her to her bed before they knowingly let her come to him, but she still stiffened in his embrace.
"Minerva thinks I've taken a Muggle lover. Arthur. I don't know. Sometimes I catch him watching me."
It didn't escape Severus that she avoided mention of her closest acquaintances. "The wolf?"
"I've kept my distance," she answered with a hint of sadness, "and I always wear perfume."
Severus knew there was something wrong, even if she couldn't or wouldn't say what. Turning her around, he rested his forehead against hers. "Stay."
She had never asked. He had never offered... until now. They both knew that her presence would be missed, that she was expected to sleep at either Order headquarters or The Burrow. To make such an offer, he had to be aware that the end was coming, had to feel the metaphorical walls closing in. Tomorrow, they would search for her. If she couldn't break the curse, tomorrow wouldn't matter.
She had expected to need to make an excuse, had thought he would regretfully remind her of their positions and try to usher her away. Instead, he embraced his betrayer.
She drowsed fitfully in his arms. So young to carry so much weight on her shoulders and he cursed himself and Dumbledore for being the cause of much of her burden.
He leaned in to stroke her arm and press a kiss to her shoulder.
"Too much... You wouldn't ask Ginny."
Severus began to shake her but she wouldn't wake up.
"I won't. Not for the Order, not for you, not for anyone. I won't be that murderer's whore."
Severus pushed himself away from her as if her touch burned him more painfully than the Dark Lord's brand.
The masked figure staggered backwards as he appeared on the moonlit hillside, leaning heavily on the silver-topped cane in his left hand until it seemed to get bogged down in the damp earth and take him tumbling with it. For several seconds he appeared to struggle to rise again before he let his hand slide down the cane's ebony shaft and slumped into a black mound barely visible in the brackish grass. Rolling onto his right side, clutching at his left forearm as if he would claw the flesh free from the bone if he could, he moved no more.
Wormtail waited. His master's guest had no affection for him, no affection for anyone they had all thought until the new spy had brought news to the contrary. Tonight, the Dark Lord would punish the traitor. Nevertheless, the Animagus would not willingly risk Snape's displeasure. Even if he didn't make use of every possible opportunity to get his revenge for past slights, Snape would make him suffer simply for being witness to the weakness he currently displayed.
Wormtail waited... until his fear of his master's displeasure outweighed his fear of Snape, forcing him beyond the wards protecting the Riddle House.
Severus leant heavily on both his round-shouldered companion and his cane.
"We should hurry," the other man all but squeaked. "Voldemort isn't known for his patience."
"The Dark Lord," Severus corrected, "will be just as capricious if we get there instantly or ten minutes from now. Now, try to at least pretend you have a little sympathy for an ally who has run afoul of the Order and give your new playmate a chance to get here."
Severus nodded toward the dark-robed figure exiting the Riddle House.
"You, boy!" Ratty summoned Smith in a nasal whine. "Come help me."
The two men all but dropped Severus on the floor, the older man scurrying to take position behind Voldemort's throne-like armchair, while the other slouched petulantly into the corner.
Severus removed his mask and tipped his head forward in deference. "Master," he acknowledged.
"Tell me why you have been summoned, Snape?" Voldemort drawled, dropping his hand from the arm of his chair to brush the top of Nagini's head.
"I would not like to presume—"
"And yet you presume much." Voldemort pointed his wand at Snape's sleeve. "Accio!"
Severus's wand flew across the room and snapped beneath Voldemort's fingers.
If Severus had been in any doubt that his career as a spy was finally over, it ended in that instant. Voldemort might routinely visit pain and humiliation upon his followers, but he would destroy one's wand only if he no longer had any use for the person who carried it.
Severus tilted his head back, looking proudly down his nose at the seated mage, daring him to do his worst.
"Crucio!" snarled Voldemort, drawing the spell out until Snape crumpled in on himself and writhed on the Persian rug. Voldemort's lip twitched as he met Severus's defiant glare. "Legilimens!"
Severus's body hung suspended in mid-air, pulled taut in a blasphemous imitation of the relics in the Riddle private chapel. White flesh and crimson blood were visible through rents in his once fastidiously perfect clothing. He gritted his teeth, resisting as the force of Voldemort's will tilted his head down until Severus was forced to meet his gaze.
Voldemort cackled with laughter as vision followed on vision.
"What is it, master?" squeaked the man at his side, his gaze flicking eagerly from Voldemort to Snape.
Voldemort flicked his wand and Severus crashed face-first to the floor. "He is broken."
A young woman with wild, brown hair cried out in delight over a squirrel stealing scraps from their picnic.
The couple walked precipitous cobbled streets, hand-in-hand, Hermione dragging him into a pine-panelled restaurant.
That same woman, dressed in white satin, bouquet in hand as she traversed the aisle of an empty church.
Voldemort's eyes narrowed. Strands of red light flew from the end of his wand like a magical cat-o-nine-tails, and came crashing down on Severus's back as he swayed on all fours. "Come now, Severus! Did you really think you could marry the Mudblood and hide it from me?"
Snippet followed after snippet. A flash of her smile, the scent of her hair, the look of unadulterated joy when she mastered another of his spells. The night he almost stumbled onto the werewolf's den. The agony of knowing that Dumbledore didn't care, that Black's murder attempt had merited him no more than a detention that Severus had been forced to share with him for going out of bounds. Coming home to find her waiting. Leaving his flat tonight, closing the door behind himself and reflexively checking the switchblade mechanism on the old cane to ensure it still moved freely.
Voldemort screamed his triumph. "Accio!" The cane flew to his hand, just as Snape's wand had earlier. Soon a six-inch blade slid from the cane's end. He stood up and walked over to where his rat-like helper stood over Severus, using a handful of the former Potions master's hair to pull his head up so that Voldemort could see Severus's eyes. "A Muggle toy? I am disappointed in you, Severus. Did you really... think... that this... would do you any good?" He emphasised his words with a slashing cut to either cheek and then pinned Severus's hand to the floor.
Severus could feel blood pooling under his hand. Fortunately, the blade was preventing the blood from draining too quickly. Of course, Severus knew that it was only a matter of time before Voldemort would get the urge to see what happened when he pulled it out... just as soon as he got bored of trawling in Severus's head for crimes he could use to justify his sadism. Even so, the scent was enough to draw Nagini from her spot by the fire, her face only inches from Snape's as her forked tongue flicked in and out to test the air.
Severus reeled at the extent of Hermione's perfidy and he knew that he had been played for a fool, that somehow the girl must have known how he had watched her for days before he had finally approached her.
He replayed their courtship in his head, wondering how he, the master spy, could have been so naïve. His stomach roiled as he remembered his contentment under her care. He pictured the scene he had just heard recreated, his imagination filling in the blanks where Potter and Weasley must have pressured her and he wept because in that instant he understood.
"Tears for the Mudblood?" Voldemort taunted. "Did it hurt when you found out you were just another mission? The spy spied upon?"
Severus did his best to smile sweetly back, meeting Voldemort's gaze directly, as he slid his free hand inside his robes, his fingers curling around the wand he found there. "You wouldn't understand," he told the Dark Lord. "Tears of relief. Tears of joy."
Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "Relieved to be free of her, no doubt, but I see no cause for joy."
Severus grinned back, a dark maniacal grin. "Then, maybe you need to look a little closer."
He slapped Hermione awake, pushing the tumbler into her hand and covering it with both his own, not allowing her to set the glass aside.
She made no effort to resist him as she choked the burning mixture down but her eyes were wide with fear. "What did you give me?" she asked resignedly.
"Veritaserum... and some of that rather fine single malt you bought me for my birthday."
"Yes, you idiot girl. Much as I loathe that damn Potter brat, I'm well aware that in his own self-obsessed fashion he loves you... almost as much as I do."
"That means your little drama is the concoction of a rather poor imagination and since I can see no reason for you to act in such a way of your own free will, I assume you have been placed under the Imperius Curse. Breaking it would take time I doubt we have, but the Veritaserum in conjunction with the strength of mind I know you possess should allow you to provide the information I will need. Or am I a deluded old fool?"
"For a wizard, you're not even middle-aged and you're—"
"That was a rhetorical question, my dear."
He reached into his wardrobe and drew out one of his white, high-collared shirts, throwing it to her. Where they would be going Hermione's déshabillé might at least make them hesitate before the hexes started flying.
"Talk while you dress. How long have you been under the curse and who cast it?"
"Today," Hermione replied, pushing the words out through gritted teeth. "I went to Marks's for the roses and when I came out I met Zacharias Smith... or someone who looked like him."
Severus couldn't help gazing heavenward. Standards were slipping when the Dark Lord stooped to enrolling Hufflepuffs.
"How soon may I expect to be summoned?" Severus asked.
"Not long. Wanted you off-balance. Legilimency. Get everything."
"And you? What happens to you after this?"
"If you don't break, Smith will fetch me and—"
Severus grimaced and cut her off before she could get any further. "They torture you until I do. And if I do break?"
"Suicide. The secret dies with its Keeper and the Aurors get a tip-off. They find my body here. If Voldemort doesn't kill you, the Order will."
He kissed her, his wand moving behind her back. "I'm sorry."
"Severus Snape, undo this spell, right now," Hermione demanded.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," her former teacher announced, picking up her wand from the nightstand and depositing it inside the robes he had put on. "Not until the Imperius has been lifted. I refuse to lose you now, especially by your own hand. Consider yourself fortunate I used Incarcerous rather than Petrificus Totalus."
"Just because you want me to be able to use my mouth."
Severus's lips twitched and an eyebrow arched upward. "On occasion." Without further explanation he swept from the room, his robes billowing out behind him.
Voldemort dropped his attempt at Legilimency as he realised the import of the last scene. Snape had come here with not one but two wands. He had been played. Severus had allowed him to know about the cane's mechanism.
Even as he realised that he had seen only as much of Snape's memories as the former teacher had wished him to, he heard the phrase, "Avada" fall from his protégé's lips and responded by diving to one side.
"Kedavra!" Severus finished the incantation. Green light arced from the tip of the wand and enveloped Nagini's head in a glowing nimbus.
"No-o-o-o!" Voldemort howled his rage, clutching at his verminous aide's left arm with his free hand. His eyes never left the spy, ready to deflect any attack Severus might hurl, but none came.
Snape just watched.
"To me!" Voldemort commanded Smith and Wormtail, even as he summoned the other bearers of the mark to take part in the double agent's downfall. He would make the traitor suffer before he died, allowing his brethren to curse him until his mind was as broken as the Longbottoms', but his death would be Voldemort's alone. He had a Horcrux to replace, after all.
The useless rat cringed, apparently heedless of everything but the livid mark that sent its throbbing summons far and wide, but Voldemort heard his newest recruit take position behind him.
When the stroke fell Voldemort didn't instantly recognise it. It was only as the blond ripped Voldemort's wand from his hand and stepped around into his line of sight with the blood-stained open-throat razor that the narrow, deep cut began to burn and Voldemort saw the spray pulsing from his own throat.
'You can't kill me!' Voldemort protested but no words came out, only a wheezing gurgle of aerated blood.
Severus gave a low, ragged laugh. "Thought you were safe because only Potter could kill you? Polyjuice, you imbecile! Or maybe you thought you had nine lives? Dumbledore was hunting down your Horcruxes even before he died. Hermione and Potter took over where he left off. All they needed was a way to get the snake."
The Dark Lord sank to his knees. He watched Pettigrew pull the blade from Severus's hand, Snape waving him off when he would have healed the wound.
"Later, Lupin. I have a gift for him before he dies." Severus stared into Voldemort's eyes. "Adfero!"
Harry leaned in to whisper softly in the Dark Lord's ear as Snape forced scene after scene into Voldemort's mind. "I never used to understand when Dumbledore said that I had a power you knew not, but he was right. Snape knew we wouldn't ask Hermione to do that because he knows we love her... and Hermione would have to love someone to do those things. Even him..." He nodded in Snape's general direction. "Why do you think he let you do all that to him? For her. You lost. You're dying because you couldn't see that. Enjoy the show."
It wasn't as if she didn't understand exactly what he was doing, or even that had she been in his position she would have come up with any other alternatives, but that didn't mean that she wouldn't make him pay... later... once the curse was gone.
She watched as he removed a mirror from a box on the living room mantelpiece and seemed to speak into it. Whatever might have been said was terse and to the point and within a few seconds Snape came striding back into the bedroom and slung her over his shoulder in a fireman's lift.
"You might at least have warned me we were going to Apparate."
"I don't have time for unnecessary explanations," Severus replied, straining to see into the darkness.
"What about necessary ones?" asked a familiar, normally kindly voice that now seemed to have a core of steel.
Voices echoed and lights flared from every direction, twins, Ginny, Ron, Bill, their mother and even Fleur.
"Hermione, dear, are you alright?"
"Apart from being Imperiused, Veritased and Incarceroused and showing my best on-a-promise knickers to the world, I'm just fine."
"I believe you've all met my charming wife," Severus drawled.
Severus cut across the clamour of questions that erupted before Hermione could choose one to answer with more candour than either of them might like. "Hermione became my Secret-Keeper three years ago. We've been married for six months... and that is as much of a personal nature as I care to share."
"That's bollocks," Ron protested. "What the hell would she ever see in that old git?"
"He's intelligent and brave and challenging and funny and just hearing that certain tone of voice gets me—"
Hermione rapidly found herself set on her feet, with Severus's mouth covering hers.
"Enough!" Severus bellowed and brought his fist crashing down on Molly's table. "Voldemort will never be weaker. I am offering you and your damn Order a chance to end this, now. All I ask in return is that you assign a couple of competent wizards to prevent Hermione from harming herself or putting herself in harm's way should her bonds be broken before the Imperius Curse is lifted. What the hell are you all waiting for?"
"Nagini," Hermione blurted out, to Ron's dismay. "She's the last Horcrux. Harry can't make his move until we have a plan to kill her."
Silence shrouded the room as the older members of the Order discovered how far they had been kept in the dark and the precious opportunity they now had. In that silence, Hermione realised that even from half a table away she could hear her husband's laboured breath.
"How long, Severus?" she demanded.
"A while. The act will be more convincing for a little extra pain."
"The act will be no act at all." She turned to the Weasleys. "If you don't trust him, then do it for me. Arthur, go with him. Fred, George, headquarters. Molly and Fleur get me."
Severus and Arthur popped into being at the edge of a stand of trees. Pulling free of Arthur's grip, Severus pointed to a clear area further along the valley than their current position. "I will appear there. If the plan works, Wormtail will come from further up the hillside. The rest is up to you."
"You're sure Pettigrew is the Secret-Keeper?"
"He's always there. He welcomes all the new arrivals."
"Is there nowhere closer we can Apparate to?" Arthur asked.
"Not unless you want to risk being heard. Fetch the others. I must return home. You have ten minutes."
Severus selected a red-ribboned parchment from behind his research papers and placed it on the centre of his blotter. He retrieved his wedding ring and, regretfully, set it down beside the will, knowing any satisfaction he might take from wearing it openly would be paltry compared with Hermione's distress if the Dark Lord claimed it as a trophy. He searched cupboards until he found the potions he was looking for, draining the vial of strengthening solution immediately.
Finally, he warded the flat against Hufflepuff intrusions, put on his Death Eater mask, pulled a silver-handled cane from its stand, and left.
Severus pressed himself as low to the ground as he could. He would have preferred to take on Pettigrew one-on-one but the chance that the Animagus might turn rat and escape was one they could not afford. Instead, they hoped to lure him into an ambush where he might be simultaneously disarmed and disabled. Severus only hoped that Shacklebolt or someone had had the foresight to arrange them so that they wouldn't end up hexing him or each other.
"Expelliarmus!" Someone needed to tell Weasley that volume and power were not relative.
"Stupefy!" Those damn twins.
"Remus Lupin!" Minerva McGonagall stared at her former pupil. "Do you realise what you've just done? An Unforgivable?"
"I didn't hear anything unforgivable," Tonks stated. "Did you?"
The werewolf began to strip, closing on the body. "I followed through on a promise I made to Peter and to Sirius seven years ago."
"Couldn't you have stupefied him?" Minerva argued, even as the three youngest Weasley brothers rushed forward, pulling clothing, hairs and personal effects from the corpse and setting them to one side before they began to drag it away.
"I don't make the same mistake twice, Minerva."
"Weasley." Severus called Ron back. Extracting a handful of vials from a pocket, he passed all but one to him.
Ron nodded and stashed them safely before catching up with the twins.
Potter came running over as Remus added Pettigrew's hair to a muddy concoction, watching it turn a sulphurous shade of yellow. "I should be doing this."
Severus gave Harry a withering glare. "You never knew Pettigrew and I sincerely doubt you could act like you enjoy watching someone tortured so much that you just might wet yourself, even if it is me. Leave it to the grown-ups, Potter."
Severus assessed the angles and the distances. Of course, there could be more members of the Order hiding in the grass than he had seen so far but those arrayed around his arrival point would be too likely to hit him... Well, there were probably several who would gladly claim that their footing slipped and they hadn't meant to hex him. They would be too likely to hit Lupin, though. This was going to be down to the two of them and, after what the insolent whelp had done to Hermione, that was precisely how Severus wanted it to be.
Smith was less than six feet away when Snape cut off his whining about Wormtail not having authority to order him around with a non-verbal Silencio. The boy grabbed at his throat.
A flick of Snape's wand turned his prey upside down, dangling as if held by his heel. Snape planted his cane in the soft earth and a second later Smith's wand flew to his hand.
"Hardly a conventional opening move," Remus commented.
"You forget that I had the advantage of teaching this cretin Defence for a year," Severus countered. "Smith never could cast without shouting his head off."
From behind his mask, Severus watched the youth dangle helplessly in the air, raising him until the upstart and he were face-to-face and Smith's eyes filled with a slaughterhouse fear.
In a flash of merciless light, Severus lifted his wand arm and sliced deep into the boy's guts, Smith's mouth widening into a silent scream. "You should know better than to harm what is mine, boy," Severus jeered. "Provided you continue to hold everything in and it is attended to immediately, your wound should not be life-threatening. I suggest you answer our questions quickly. Nod for yes. Shake for no."
The hillside was a battle ground, blasts of red and green lighting up the sky. The Order had painstakingly warded a wide tract of land in front of the house with an Anti-Disapparition Jinx. If Alastor Moody had heard of a Roach Motel he'd have found it a fitting comparison. The Death Eaters were arriving in ones and twos, and the only advantage they had was that no one quite knew where the next one would appear. Occasionally, if they were lucky, they'd appear behind someone and get off a spell before they were mobbed and cursed to a standstill.
Old scores were being settled. Greyback had rapidly discovered that his attack on Bill Weasley had been neither forgotten nor forgiven by any of the members of his family, but it was the elder of the Montgomery sisters who caught him with an Entrail-Expelling Curse.
Neville Longbottom might have managed to hold his own after he waded in against Bellatrix Lestrange, but he hadn't the edge he needed to take her down until Luna and some other former DA members came to his aid.
Even quiet Susan Bones ruthlessly extracted her own measure of revenge for her aunts and uncles.
Severus had only allowed Lupin to tend to his wounds because Alastor Moody was too busy interfering in the clean-up to make himself useful. The werewolf looked even more like a refugee from a jumble sale than usual, in Pettigrew's too-wide, too-short clothes, but for once Severus stilled his tongue and let him get on with the job in hand.
"I take it that you are the one who was really responsible for the improvements to the Wolfsbane Potion?" Remus asked.
"Would I do anything to help you?" Severus snorted.
"Perhaps not, but you might... for a friend of Hermione's."
"I would quit the false modesty, if I were you," Harry surprised himself by joining in. "There are an awful lot of people who are going to need convincing as to what side you were really on if you want to stay out of Azkaban. Hermione is brilliant. She can understand anything, but she's an instruction-follower, not an innovator. I should have known where all those new spells, the potions were coming from."
"As if you wouldn't be first in line to put me in a cell and throw away the key."
"Not when it would hurt Hermione, I wouldn't."
"You would see Albus Dumbledore's murderer go free?" Snape drawled. "I suspect you will find yourself in a very small minority."
"I would never let his murderer go free," Harry argued, "but there has to be more to the story because if it was that simple then... she wouldn't either."
"Unlike most Gryffindors, Hermione is a remarkably rational, fair and open-minded woman. That was why, when I needed a Secret-Keeper, it was her I chose to approach."
Remus looked from Harry to Severus, deciding to take his leave of the territorial
manoeuvrings. "I'll just fetch Moody then, shall I?"
Dawn lightened the sky as the unlikely couple of Mad-Eye Moody and Severus Snape appeared about a hundred yards from The Burrow. Severus chafed visibly at the necessity to match his pace to the one-legged man's.
"Why did you marry the girl?"
Severus stopped dead in the middle of the yard and turned to the former Auror. This was the last question he'd expected from the old man. His mouth opened and then he reminded himself that in certain quarters Mad-Eye Moody's opinion commanded a great deal of respect so he answered truthfully, if evasively. "Because she's my insufferable know-it-all."
All three women in the room were tense. Molly kept glowering at Fleur as she made more tea which no one would drink, to which Fleur would roll her eyes and pick at invisible dirt beneath her impeccably manicured nails... and Hermione, who was now gagged, glared equally at both of them.
The knock at the door and the arrival of the two men might have been The Second Coming, at least until Severus spotted the gag. His censure fell first to Molly, who glared some more at Fleur.
"All I deed waz azk if you were good in bed."
It took Moody over two hours and, in Severus's considered opinion, far too many attempts on Hermione's part to hurt herself before Smith's Imperius Curse was finally lifted. Looking around the kitchen at what had become her second family, all finally home again, she took Severus's hand. "I know you probably all have tons of questions but..."
Severus didn't bother to move, his eyes meeting one of Moody's. He'd let Severus have some leeway because of Hermione, but now she was safe.
"You know there's still an arrest warrant out for your man?" Moody reminded Hermione, and her face fell.
There was an instant babble of noise from everyone in the room, until Severus cut through the din. "It's alright. It was going to happen sooner or later. I might as well go with Moody now and get it over with."
"But—" Hermione protested.
"And why would I be wanting the paperwork?" Moody asked. "I'm retired. You'll have to talk to one of the youngsters, but I guess they'll be busy sortin' out all them Death Eaters for a few days." He winked at Hermione. "I'll tell Shacklebolt to expect him down at the Ministry on Monday, shall I?"
Hermione pushed him down among the pillows.
"Should I ask exactly how much you told the irritating Veela about our love-life before Molly managed to gag you, or just assume that Molly will never look me in the eye again?"
"I told her you were considerate," she said, smiling at the way Severus raised his head to not quite brush his face against hers, as if it were enough to simply inhale her presence.
"Mmm." He blew on her earlobe.
"I said you were inventive and unpredictable and..."
"And Molly will never look you in the eye again."
Unforgivable (First of Several Prequels)
Tidings of Comfort and Joy (Next Fic in Chronological Order)