The Black Unicorn
They got to her door. “Smetana,” she uttered, and the entrance creaked open. She motioned him inside. He went through the entrance, peering into the darkened rooms. She closed the door behind her and voiced, “illuminata,” and the chandelier above them cast a radiant light. The parlor was small, but at least she had had time to unpack some of her things and clean the dust off of the worn wooden furniture. She had decorated with several sculptures that the younger dragons had made from their fire; the stones had frozen in a molten, igneous avalanche. The light caught on them. Snape picked one up gingerly, admiring the facets of color in the gleaming, transformed minerals. During the kiss, earlier, he hadn’t had to go to that place he hated, that he had to use, when he had been with Voldemort. This new place held many distractions; it made him relieved.
“What are these?”
“Oh. Those are rock sculptures the young ones used to make. Kind of a good way to use their energy without hurting each other, you know. Blow off some steam, as it were.”
To her surprise, he laughed, a short sharp exclamation. She smiled. “What would you like? Please, do sit down.” She motioned to one of a pair of overstuffed chairs that sat near the parlor’s one Forest-facing window.
“Vodka. Neat. Unless you know how to make a decent martini.” He sniffed.
“Well, I DO know how to make a decent martini –really, Severus, your cheek – but I’m bang out of Vermouth at the moment.” She was rooting through the small refrigerator in the tiny kitchen that was part of the parlor. Chagrined, she stood up and got the vodka out of the freezer compartment. “I’m not entirely thick, you know.” She waved the frozen bottle at him. He creased his lips in surprised approval.
She poured him a shot of vodka in a scotch tumbler and handed it to him. She started to sit down opposite him in the other chair, but quickly reversed the decision, her hand going to her head in remembrance. “Oh, oh, no, I’ve got to attend to something in the kitchen. Here, can you move your chair over near the counter so that we can talk while I work? I’ll do it for you; I know your legs are bothering you….” She moved behind him to remove the chair but he snapped at her.
“*I* can do it myself. I am fine, thank you very much.” He stood up sharply, cracking his robes around him to make his point.
Right….,” she eyed him and went into the bedroom. “Back in a sec.”
Momentarily she came back in with a paper sack and went immediately to the small counter and began taking items out of the bag. Snape watched with interest, sipping his drink. “What are you doing over there, Admantia?” He leaned over his knees and cocked his head to one side, cradling the drink in one elegant hand. Her company was pleasant. His mind, so strong, was working well again. The poisons were leaving; he was very pleased with himself.
“It’s just a medicine. It….helps me with things.” She kept her head down, carving up the licorice.
“You’re lying.” He said smugly. “That’s a potion.” He got up and swept over to where she stood, looking over her shoulder and surveying the roots and other items she had scattered around the chopping block haphazardly.
“What if it is.” She snapped back at him, irritably. He was too near again. Snape set his drink down on the old marble countertop and began organizing the ingredients without her consent. She put her hands on her hips, frowning, but she decided not to interfere. He catalogued with remarkable assurance.
“Glycerrhiza Rhizoma, commonly known as black licorice, for binding and penetrating; Angelica Sinensis for clearing the blood and moving the energy of the potion…..ah.” He breathed appreciatively. “And here it is….Black Primrose, the strongest inhibitor of transfiguration in the known potion-making world,” he drew nearer to her. “so this is an inhibiting potion?” She nodded affirmatively.
“Yes. I usually take it all the time, but things have been so hectic. It helps me control myself under….certain conditions. As you’ve seen.” She focused her gaze on his hands as they moved among the potion ingredients. For such a slender man he exuded a great deal of heat.
His sense of confidence was returning strongly. He knew his potions. He could sense her respect, and it fed the phantom of his ego nicely. It had been a long time since someone had appreciated his skills.
“I see.” He glanced at her. She ran her hand through her hair to hide her nerves. He turned his attention back to the materials on the countertop. He continued his evaluation. “…..oh....the originator of this particular potion must have known what she or he was doing….Draconis Resina, Dragon’s Resin or Dragon’s Blood, aimed at the specific kind of transfiguration. In combination with the Black Primrose, I daresay the two augment each other’s main actions very nicely. Well constructed. Did you devise this potion yourself?”
“Good God, I should say not. I’ve already told you potions horrify me. My mother’s people had it worked out. I just buy the ingredients and put them together the way I’ve been taught.” She kneaded the muscle at the nape of her neck. The scent from him was threatening to crush her rational mind.
He moved away from her, undid his robes and swept them off his shoulders, folding them over the chair. He began unbuttoning his tunic sleeves. “I’ll make this.” His voice was authoritative. “You’re hacking up the licorice, going against its grain. That will eventually destroy its efficacy. The Dragon’s Resin needs to be crumbled carefully, not cut with a knife and….what did you do?! You’ve mangled the Primrose stems! Have your potions even been effective?” He hissed.
“I’ve bloody well handled it fine on my own, thanks so much, you rancorous man.” But she was getting used to his jibes; she found herself very much enjoying watching him work. His hands were skilled and he used the knife very efficiently.
“Here. Hand me that.” He motioned to the mortar and pestle on the other side of the sink to his left.
“You could say ‘please’, you know.” But she watched with interest as she handed him the tool. She fought with herself over being too near him; it was a struggle she was losing.
He worked efficiently; he was quite adept. He began to carefully grind the resin. “Will this stop transfiguration….under all circumstances?” He kept his eyes lowered purposefully.
“No….not absolutely everything. But under….certain conditions, the potion slows the transfiguration process down to a tenth of how quickly it would normally proceed. It just depends.” Against her common sense, she placed her left hand gently on the small of his back as he worked. He gave no outward sign that he noticed.
“How long does the potion take to go into effect?” He asked casually. He placed the primrose, now neatly chopped, into the mortar with the ground up resin.
“About 2-3 hours. If I’ve mixed it properly. Since I’ve got the resident expert, who knows? It might work faster, or better, or it might work more slowly. What do you think, potions master?” She was far too close to him. She could tell he was trying to control his arousal. She moved away from him slightly.
“I think that it will take 2 hours for a 50% effectiveness, and after 3.5 to 4 hours it will be completely absorbed by the body and 100% effective, but I have no direct experience with this particular potion and therefore, I am only guessing. But at least, Admantia, it is an educated….guess.” He turned to her, and she watched his nostrils dilate slightly. “Would you…..transfigure completely if I kissed you now?” His voice was low.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should find out.” He hesitated, then tipped his head to hers.
Throughout the entire evening, he had pretended, and pretended well. He had stoppered the upwelling of fear, he had used his fine mind to cover the pit of memories and terror that writhed just below the surface of his consciousness. In this fantasy, he could be a gentleman, pretend that nothing had happened, that they were out for the evening, as simple as that. His secret was going even better than planned; probably due to nostalgia or even simple lust, she was responding to him. This was quite nice. Though he knew, part of him knew he was playing with fire, that things weren’t as simple as they seemed, that a rift might appear. But…the evening was going so well, he ignored the voice.
She moved towards him, and placed her hands on the tops of his hip-bones; she leaned into him as they kissed. His mouth tasted like the aromatic cold of vodka, and again they were very tentative with one another. He kissed her gently, then with more force, and she gave in to the slick heat of his mouth. For a few intense moments she allowed her darker nature to surface, but their physical arousal was too much. She pulled away from him with great reluctance, feeling the change move over her with too much speed; her internal organs had begun to change; her eyes and teeth were almost transformed. Severus looked into her face and she saw by his expression that her eyes had changed over to gold-flecked retinas, with the reptilian slit of black for a pupil.
“My god.” He whispered.
. “I can’t control myself. It’s too dangerous, Severus.” She was breathing heavily.
“I….see. Then I’d better finish this potion.” He composed himself, turning away from her and she put her hand on his back again, but keeping a slightly safe distance. Her thighs and knees had transformed, parts of her arms and forearms, and her insides; she could feel her guts slowly transform back. Her skin always changed before the bones, then the bones, then her insides. Her blood was racing. She bent over the counter, waiting for her body to fold back in on itself.
“Does it hurt?” He asked quietly, grinding.
“Not exactly. It’s mostly an odd rearranging of parts.” She grinned ruefully. “I suppose it hurts a bit, but not much. Not anything remarkable.” The feel of him, his heat and his warm breath lingered on her and she struggled to squash her desire. She pushed away from the counter, and stretched, looking around to find something to do, anything to distract herself from her attraction to the tall man. “Here, I’ll go hang your robes up.”
“Mind the wand.” He muttered absently, grinding. The kiss had been highly distracting; she had responded to him again beyond the stretch of his imagination. It left him wondering, but he squelched the meaningful tendrils of worry as they stretched back into the rational parts of his brain.
She walked over to the bedroom door which opened out into the parlor, stretching her back out as she went. She closed the door to the bedroom and hung his robes up on the coat-rack attached to the door. “I’m almost done.” He looked up towards her. “Do you want…….” He stopped speaking and was staring past her. She had been moving towards him.
“Severus? What’s the matter?” His eyes had gone all wrong. All the wrong color, the wrong shape, his mouth had gone slack. His hands had stopped moving. “Severus?” she repeated, and looked behind her. There were his robes hung up, and in the corner behind the door and exposed now, was her riding crop that she had used when she was with Fafnaulda. It was one of her favorite possessions. It was made out of dragon-skin and at least five feet long. It had done her great services in the past but because of what happened, she kept it hidden. She again looked back at Snape.
He was coughing and choking; the cold granite against his naked skin squeezed the heat from him and left him writhing; Voldemort had a knee in his back and the crop pressed into his neck cruelly, ramming his chin down onto the stone floor. Voldemort slowly pressed down hard with his knee into the small of his back until his hips and genitals were flat against the floor, and equally hard with the riding crop until Severus’ cheek was plastered against the stone and his windpipe was almost completely obstructed. He fought to maintain consciousness, but the room began to blink out of existence. He tried to reach behind him with his right hand to get the riding crop off of his neck; he clawed with his hand but he was losing control of his arm, then his fingers flailed weakly. The world was spinning. “Where are you going, darling?” The voice hissed thickly, and suddenly the pressure was off his neck and he could breathe again. He gasped for air in huge gulps and he struggled to get up but Voldemort had him pinned quite effectively. “You’re not going anywhere. Our evening has just begun! I have a new toy for you tonight.” As he said this, Voldemort leaned down and whispered the words in his ear. Severus was trembling from cold and apprehension. He didn’t dare speak; it had taken weeks for the bruises to heal the last time he had opened his mouth. The knee pressure came suddenly off and his back muscles spasmed. Voldemort began to run his hand over his buttock cheeks, his fingers roughly probing his anus. “I thought we’d try something new tonight, my unicorn.” Severus’ throat started to close off as he began to understand what the new toy was going to be. He heard the click of the oil container on the floor being picked up, then put down. “No one could ever say I was cruel, could they? Could they, my black unicorn?” Voldemort’s hand was rimming the muscular opening with the oil and Severus tried to relax, but the cold in the old stone room and his own crawling fear were working against him. Voldemort’s erection was against his thigh as he continued his work with the oil. Severus clenched his fists together and tried to suppress the shudders that were cascading through his body. He felt Voldemort grope for the riding crop; there was the pause as he oiled the end, then again the probing at his opening. Slowly Voldemort rotated the riding crop around the edge of Severus’ anus, pressing in and massaging; in growing horror, Snape realized the object’s size was too big, even when he was relaxed. The monster was aroused and panting in Severus’ ear; the riding crop’s blunt end went in and Severus writhed as the red splitting filled his head.
“Severus. Severus. Can you hear me?” He was somewhere else. Somewhere….safe? Was anywhere safe? Yes. This place felt safe. There was protection here. But it was still very dark. The world swam in front of his eyes. The voice again came to him.
“Severus. If you don’t respond soon, I’m going to have to go get help. Can you hear me? If you can hear me, just nod your head.” He tried to nod his head. The light was coming back. He was back.
“Severus. Merlin. One minute you were here, the next you were just…..gone.” His eyes could focus now. Her face was white and drawn.
“I need….to sit down.” He found he had trouble moving. He waited for a moment, trying to remember how to move his legs. Admantia brought him his cane. For once she wasn’t speaking. He was very cold; he didn’t remember being cold here. He took the cane and leaned into it a bit and the feeling came back into his legs. The dragon-tamer was watching him; her eyes were darker and wider than he remembered.
“What happened?” she put her hand on his shoulder. She looked tremendously worried.
The riding crop. He saw it now, over in the corner behind the door. What was he supposed to tell her? “Sorry, had a flashback of being sodomized by your riding crop….quite awkward, shouldn’t have happened.” She led him over to the chair and he sat down heavily into it. Was it a flashback? Was it a warning? The only remotely positive thing about the flashback or hallucination, whatever it was, was that Voldemort hadn’t alluded to the present; the incident was set solidly in the past. But he clearly did not know what had made him go to that hard, horrific place. He knew it had all been too good to be true, his fantasy was crumbling as he knew it would; but he hadn’t been prepared for the fear. Despite the cold, he broke out in a sweat. He could not involve her in this. He needed to leave.
“What happened, Severus?” she repeated. She felt the first crawling sensations of fear spreading over her scalp. He was sitting as if too tightly wound. His eyes were somewhere far away and his scent had gone cold and thin, the acrid smell of an animal under stress.
“I have to leave.” He got up without looking at her and moved past her, heading for his robes.
“You should stay.”
“I should not be here. I should not be around you.” He looked away from her. He was completely gone. He had receded into a dark corner somewhere.
He finished fastening his robes and moved over to the door.
“That’s what he wants, you know.” Esmeralda found her voice, and it was brittle around the edges but clear and resonant. Snape froze.
“How…would you know what he wants.”
She continued. “What did Dumbledore say? ‘Divided, we are our own worst enemies. Together, we have a fighting chance.’ If you leave, Snape, you are still Voldemort’s puppet. All of Dumbledore’s work and protection, anything that I’ve done for you, these actions will be like smoke in the wind.”
He hesitated. “My presence here puts you in danger.”
She shook her head. “No. If you leave, I am in more danger than ever before. If you go, it means your fear is stronger than your trust of Dumbledore, and your trust of me.” Suddenly she remembered the letter. She had it stashed in the writing table by the window. She strode over to the table and opened the drawer. Snape watched her with burning black eyes.
“What are you doing.” But he didn’t leave. He remained motionless. She found the letter and held it out to him.
“I wasn’t supposed to have found this. It was completely an accident. But….if what you’ve written is true, you didn’t expect to live. You said things in this letter that you….have a chance to work from. But I can’t make you, Severus, I can’t force you to meet me half way. I can only remind you, I can only tell you that we’re stronger together and weaker and more vulnerable apart. And it is, as you put it, most definitely a shared and mutual feeling. Why do you think I came back?” She stood stock-still, wondering if her speech had had any affect at all. Knowing Snape, he would probably bolt. He always had in the past. Instead he slowly closed his eyes and his arms went slack.
He was deadly frightened now…he was hallucinating, she was speaking but he only partly heard the words, but some pieces of it made sense to him, through the waves of images…..reality and the past were colliding….his legs felt too weak, he was quivering in a cold sweat where he stood. He didn’t think he could make it out of the door even if he tried, and she was being….too kind. Why the kindness….his mind was overwhelmed, he tried to make sense of the images, the feelings, the fear…Voldemort’s stretched, viperous face, grinning lewdly…the mounds of candlewax stinking of paraffin from the candelabras…the ache of his knees against the stone…the monster’s nails in his back, too deep…he tried to control the shaking at his core. He just needed to rest for a moment.
“Damn you.” He leaned the cane against the door jam and sat down weakly in the chair. “Do you have any chocolate in this den of yours.” His right hand was massaging his temple. The curtain of black hair hid his face from her.
“Actually I do. I’ll heat some for you.” He had stayed. She found that she was still incredulous, but moved to get a mug and the chocolate. She pulled the other chair over towards the kitchen and a bit away from where he was sitting, and she melted the chocolate with her wand. She sat down next to him and handed him the now steaming mug. He took it silently.
“Could you extinguish the light. I’m not feeling well.”
She muttered, “oblivio,” and the chandelier went dark. “How *are* you feeling?” She tried to keep her voice steady.
“My insides are cold; stomach is very queasy. The chocolate should help in a minute.” He sipped slowly. She waited. Her own guts were tied up in knots. She should have gotten herself some chocolate as well. He leaned back in the chair, and in profile now, she could see that his eyes were still closed. His adam’s apple was exposed, his throat looked delicate and statuesque in the shadows of the darkened room. “I don’t really know how to describe what just happened.” His voice was very guarded. “I….looked over and saw……the riding crop. Your riding crop. It…” she saw his face tighten in anxiety. His mug hand began a very mild tremor. He placed his right arm slowly down on the upholstered arm of the chair to stabilize it. “He used it on me, you know. Pinned me with it. I remember not being able to breathe. He did….other things to me with it. I don’t think I want to be that specific. Not right now.” Her skin was standing up all over her forearms and neck.
“My sweet god.” She whispered.
“Oh. That was the least of my worries. At least, when I was conscious I knew what was happening. The rape was not the worst of it. It was the not knowing where I was. Or what I had done while I was drugged. He forced me to take several potions; he used to give me a very powerful potion that induced….sexual stimulation….in a man who was not, shall we say, up to snuff. In other words I was usually too terrified to maintain an erection with him but he would…..insist. Ha.” Snape laughed weakly. “Is there more of this.” She got up and got the entire stash of chocolate and got herself a mug as well. Once his cup was re-heated he continued. “But what just happened now wasn’t just a simple flashback. It was more like I was right there, squashed again on the cold stone. I could feel him, smell him. He was….with me. I don’t know what this means. I’ve been taking something that Dumbledore has provided; it has helped with the nightmares, it assists in the smoothing and assimilation of bad memories, but this….was like a realistic flashback.”
Esmeralda cupped her own mug. “Pomfrey said that cruciatus victims frequently suffer from hallucinations, neural and otherwise. She said it was part of the symptomology. Do you think it might be that?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never experienced the cruciatus curse before. Two of them, at that. It could be.” He rested his head against the chair. Voldemort’s actions in the flashback had been part of his memory; the monster had not spoken of current events. Could that explain the vision? The chocolate was starting to sweep through him warmly, untwisting his insides. “I hope so.”
He continued. “I was so very sure that we would fail, Dumbledore and I, you know. It was far too risky, the ritual, very intimate; we were exposed for almost 2 hours. I just knew…..I had to do it. As I’ve indicated in the letter that you so blithely read. And you arrived; I had no idea that he had asked you to teach Defense. It was a complete shock. Then things began to change. The ritual seemed to take affect and the two crucios didn’t kill me. I began to think that I would survive. I don’t know how to describe this feeling inside of me to you. I had totally given up my life. I only had one goal left, and that was to leave the earth knowing that I had taken just one step in the right direction, for once in my miserable existence.” He paused. He sipped the chocolate. “and….you did appear. Very oddly. Such timing.”
“Albus.” She said, softly.
“Yes. Albus…..”. his voice trailed away. He fingered the mug, thinking. “I…think part of me…..did not want to discuss this with you because….then you would know the extent…of my damage. Before I told you, in some small way I could ignore what happened and…pretend that I was, to a degree, normal. But I also understand that no person could forgive me, come close to forgiving me, for what I have done. Just as no person could desire to be involved with one so mangled… as myself. That is just a simple reality. And for a few days, I was able to imagine what that would be like.” His face twisted into a self-deprecating scowl.
The room was dark; shadows moved across furniture slowly as a breeze blew branches outside the window. It was very quiet in the room for a moment.
“I will be going now.” He moved to set the mug down, his face set into the impenetrable mask. He was far, far away.
She leaned towards him out of her chair, and placed a hand gently on his right arm as he tensed to stand up. “Severus.” She was watching him, the stillness, the frozen mask of his face, too brittle. His eyes were not seeing her. “Come to bed. Sleep with me. I miss the company of another. I miss……you.”
“Esmeralda……I am injured. I am not whole.” He whispered. He had broken out into the cold, loose sweat again. He should leave. But the fatigue was making him lose the control he had over the images, the candlelight, the snake’s face in shadow, laughing, snarling…..
“I don’t care. Sleep with me. I want nothing else from you. I promise.” She could see that he was very tired. Finally he gave a small nod and relaxed back into the chair.
“But you’d better….take that potion. I don’t want to wake up impaled on those talons of yours.” He gestured weakly towards the kitchen.
“I’ll get to it.” She got up and went into the dark kitchen to make an infusion. She heard him get out of the chair and move into the next room.
She finished the infusion and drank it down. It tasted much more concentrated; that was good. She was still trying to sort through all of the information he had given her, but her intuition told her that the best thing for them both was sleep, and frankly she needed his physical nearness. She knew he needed it as well, but to tell him that directly would just drive him off.
She set the empty glass down and went back into the bedroom. He came out of the bathroom as she entered, his hair a little wet and his robes and tunic off. The tails of his shirt were out of his trousers. He gestured around him. “Do you have any clean nightshirts in my size, or is this going to be my shroud for the evening?” She smiled.
“I’m afraid that’s your boy. Sorry, Severus. I sleep in the nude, I’m afraid. And my long-sleeved shirts wouldn’t fit you. I think your shoulders are slightly wider than mine.”
“Slightly.” He muttered. He waited by the bed for her; the moon was waning, but there was still a very weak light from it outside, shining over the tops of the trees of the Forest. She could hear the wind rustling through the branches and it made her feel at home. She got her robes off and her skirt and blouse and went into the bathroom. When she came back out, he was sitting in the bed with the covers pulled down. His arms were crossed and his brow was furrowed, but as she walked towards him his brow grew more relaxed. She was a little embarrassed to be so naked in front of him, but she thought the gesture would help. He had exposed himself and had been brave enough to remain with her. It would only be polite to return the favor. He watched her approach the bed, and again the veneer of stillness had settled over his face. Nothing but his eyes moved in that ivory countenance. She got in under the covers with him. He stretched out on his back and she knew he was nervous. She curled partially against him and carefully put her right arm on his belly under his shirt. He relaxed a bit, and she pulled herself closer to him and stretched out along his length. He was very warm.
You feel good.” She whispered.
“Yes, well, so do you.” He growled, but his voice was hushed. He tensed against her.
“What?” she asked into his neck. She had already closed her eyes. Dragons slept together in curled heaps and she had missed that.
“How can you….be attracted to me. How can you still want me around after what I’ve told you?” he whispered. He could not believe where he was, that she was against him like this. Tiredness flowed through him; her warmth entreated him to relax, to sleep.
“It’s not about what a person has done, Severus; it’s all about how they handle the fallout.” She stretched languidly. “What I mean is that all of us make mistakes – horrible ones, little ones, ones with far-reaching consequences. It just happens. But what counts is how we handle the mistakes. Do we bury them. Do we pretend they never happened. Do we try not to repeat the mistake. Common sense stuff really.” She thought for a bit. She kissed him behind his ear.
“I murdered them. I mixed the potions. I did not know they would use them for that purpose. I was so incredibly stupid.” He whispered. She waited. “The death-eaters….they recruited me. They told me I was a man apart. They praised my concoctions to the skies. One day, a death-eater came and got me and took me to one of their homes for a celebration. They had forced the poisons on several wizards and witches, and a couple of muggles. They had died, horribly, by my hands, my skills. They were celebrating the event; they wanted me to celebrate with them.” All of his muscles had clenched up. He had turned over on his side away from her and his hands were wedged in his groin.
“Yes. I know. I also know what you’ve put yourself through out of guilt and remorse. There’s nothing more to be done there, Severus. Let it go.”
She turned to her own mistakes, and she went back to that night drenched with sorrow, when she had lost Fafnaulda. She involuntarily withdrew from Severus, remembering.
“You’re disgusted by me.” His voice was flat.
“No…no! That’s not it at all.” She tried to relax again into him. “No. I was just thinking about my own mistakes. About Fafnaulda.” All too clearly, she remembered her friend turning under her to block the deadly spells cast by the death-eaters on that bone-cold night in the highlands. If she had had her guard up, Fafnaulda would still be alive, still be her closest companion. But the older dragon had known the danger, and had moved herself to take the strikes.
He took the hand that was curled around his belly, and carefully he moved his fingers on hers. “I put her in danger. If I hadn’t been so distracted, so careless.” Esmeralda’s voice was tight.
“I begin to see how much more easy it is to forgive others their shortcomings, than it is to forgive ourselves.” Snape said, dryly. Part of him was confused…she didn’t want sex, she had told the truth….fatigue washed over him in waves. He was too tired to concentrate on what it might mean….he closed his eyes.
She relaxed further into him and hugged him to her. She watched the moon’s weak light turn the mown grass of the school grounds silver-white; her eyes stretched out to the Enchanted Forest and she began to feel more at peace in this strange room with the familiar-scented man. His breathing became more rhythmic and she felt his muscles untense slowly. She pulled the covers up over his shoulder, and didn’t remember anything past that.
She didn’t quite know what woke her up. She opened her eyes; dawn was spreading, all vermillion and purple, along the edge of the horizon line beyond the Enchanted Forest. The air looked clean and the dew was sparkling on the grass outside the window. She blinked and sat up. Severus was not in the bed, but where he had lain was still warm and hollowed out. She heard sounds behind her in the other room. And there were smells….she heard a cupboard click shut quietly. She got up and used the bathroom and went out into the other room. She saw Snape standing by the small stove cooking bacon, disheveled in his makeshift sleeping shirt. He apparently had not heard her get up. He looked sleep-mussed and younger than usual. “Hullo.” She said quietly; she padded softly over to him. He looked up at her suddenly and she watched the flush creep across his cheekbones.
“Good……morning.” He tore his eyes away from her and continued poking at the bacon. “I found…the rasher of bacon in the refrigerator and as you can…..see, took liberties with it; there’s porridge on the back burner there.” He kept his eyes steadfastly on the stove. She moved to him and again, put her hand on the small of his back. This time it had the effect of straightening his spine. The flush crept over his jaw and began moving down the side of his throat; she watched this lazily. She leaned into him and breathed deeply.
“You smell good.” She moved behind him and pressed her breasts into his back and encircled him with her arms. “You smell delicious.” She breathed these words into his neck.
“You are smelling the bacon.” His voice was prim. She was attracted to him; he had not imagined things last night; that was why the kiss had been so well-received. That explained it.
“No. I don’t think so.” She kissed his neck, and moved the cloth of his shirt out of the way so she could kiss his shoulder. She moved his hair softly with one hand and kissed his jaw and throat. He had gone motionless.
“I’ll just….turn off the stove.”
“You do that.” He didn’t move. She was kissing the other side of his throat and neck. She moved her hands underneath his shirt and traced over the smooth angles of his ribcage, the hollow at his sternum. Her hands continued slowly down to his belly, and languorously over the crest of his hipbones. She did not take her mouth from his throat for a long while. His smell was hypnotizing.
“Perhaps we should….go back into the bedroom.” His head was back a bit to allow her better contact.
“Is that what you would like.” Her right hand was slowly tracing patterns in the trail of hair that started right below his navel; her left was in the cut of his groin.
“Yes.” He was having trouble opening his eyes but he finally did. She moved around to his front and took his hand in hers and kissed the palm. He could see that her nipples were very erect.
“How long does the potion last.” He gently cupped one of her breasts in his hand. He had locked down on any part of his heart that reached out tentatively….this was sexual, nothing more. His eyes closed.
“twenty-four to…..twenty eight hours….usually……” She tore herself away from him and pulled him into the bedroom; she helped Snape get his shirt off. His hands ran over her ribcage, her shoulders.
“You’re very muscular.” His voice was soft.
“Working with dragons will do that.” She whispered. She ran her hands over the jut of his vertebrae, the sharp cut of his shoulder blades. His hands cupped her throat at the nape of the neck. Finally she pulled away from him. “Is there anything in particular you want to do?” Her eyes searched his face; his expression was guarded and though he was aroused she could sense the underlying apprehension. She very well knew what she wanted to do, but she was trying her damnedest to exercise caution.
“I’m….not sure. I will admit that I am a trifle……nervous.” A shadow of a smile played around his lips but his pupils were rounder and darker and…did his eyes look haunted? Was she imagining things?
“We can take our time about it.” She whispered. She kissed him again, gently. She kissed his throat, and his sternum; she nuzzled his chest where his armpit and torso met. His hands came up and stroked her hair. “Would you like to get back in the bed?” They had slept there together; she realized it was a safe place.
“Yes. That would be good.” But inside he was frozen with fear; could she feel it? He couldn’t believe that he could even speak. Images that he had worked hard to clamp down on were now roiling and colliding in his mind, he worked so hard to block out what had happened, the remembered ache of his erection from the poison, the other man pawing him, Esmeralda real now, her own lust for him, just desire…that was all it was….but he was pulled towards it, his own desire was so close, just underneath the thick layer of his overwhelming anxiety. She took his hand and they moved over to the bed. She slipped in beneath the covers and he followed. She laid on her right side, facing him. They pressed together, kissing; he closed his eyes and tried to relax, tried to accept her arousal; his body was hard and soft in all of the right places. She withdrew from him for a moment.
“May I touch you.” She sensed his anxiety but he nodded. She stroked his right hip where he lay turned to her and carefully she ran her hand over the length of his erection. She was very gentle and slow. His breathing changed; his eyes closed at the sensation. She was so aroused herself that she was finding it hard to concentrate; her heart seemed too high in her chest. But she knew they had to go very slowly. She continued stroking him, listening to his body. His eyes were still closed and he was flushed; she quickened her hand around him, squeezing the silky hardness of him; he felt so good.
Her hand on him was unlike anything he had ever felt; she was so careful and kind that his mind could not push the question now that he had masked so carefully….he could feel her reaching for him, offering him something, but it could not be, he could not dare hope for that hideous mirage, he had given up, long ago, part of himself laughed cruelly….or was it someone else inside of him, laughing so derisively? Laughed, sneering, at his weak, delusional hope….he quivered, so cold, nothing but sex, an attraction…but the voice, weak and small, would not still. He clamped down on it, knowing that the voice was there to destroy the neat but empty reality he had made for himself.
He was trying very desperately to not make noise. He shifted his hips towards her slightly and brought his right hand down against her thigh. He could respond to this, though. He knew what to do. Shyly almost, his hand tentatively explored her own genitals and she opened her legs to accommodate him. She was wet with arousal and she could not keep herself from crying out as his fingers stroked her own smaller erection. His scent was so thick around them that she was faint from it.
The more he stroked her the more erratic her hand become on him; her desire had moved past her rational mind and she was not thinking clearly any longer at all. She was in a haze of heat; she was whispering his name against his neck, kissing him, calming him, while she slid over his body. She stroked his chest and belly trying to assuage his fear; she moved her hips over him and took him inside of herself. He did not stop her, but Severus closed his eyes, his face drawn, and his hips tensed up under her as their bodies joined. She could smell his nervousness mixed in with the other maddening scent. She whispered to him soothingly and held one of his hands with hers. She wove a dark shelter for him, calling on the other nature of herself, feral, hidden in forest shadow. She wound her love around him like the most delicate incantation.
Something shifted within him, the anxiousness that had constricted his features softened, and he opened his eyes to her, the guarded veil dissolving. His eyes asked a thousand questions that his voice could not utter. She stroked him with herself, unhurried, gentle, still calming him with her hand. She bent over him and kissed his eyelids, his brow, trying to answer him. Almost….his heart, layered in the crust of ice, stilled, hidden, the shadow of warmth breathed on him and he began to respond. His body began to ripple underneath her, his fingers fluttered on top of her thighs. She squeezed him with herself more urgently; she was liquid, muscular heat around his erection. Severus’ eyes closed again; the scent of him changed and relaxed, grew closer to her, the scent of hope, the promise of trust. His hips began to roll underneath her; Esmeralda bent over him protectively, groaning his name in his neck as she came with his quicker, shortening thrusts. He gasped almost in surprise at his own orgasm. She rocked him as his spasms subsided, and laid over him, her face against his hair. She rested there, simply enjoying his smell for a few minutes. Then she shifted her weight off of him gingerly and rolled over to his right side.
He was very quiet; his eyes followed her. It was impossible. The kindness she offered, the gentleness of her against him, it had to be an illusion. It had to be….he had to calm his shaking, he had to keep it there, otherwise his heart threatened to pull in on itself and disappear with a tearing, imploding hurt he knew he could not bear. His spirit had taken too much damage, he could not accept it. His mind….no, worse, his heart ran from her, ran from the thing that he had dreamed desperately and hopelessly for. For old times then, the attraction of her past, and what he represented…..he closed his eyes. Old times past, when he had been young, and could still offer her something. He relaxed into the blanket of despair, so familiar, a known, dark home.
She pressed up against his side; he seemed rigid where he lay; she could feel that some part of him had retreated wildly, had run from her. Before she had time to ask him how he was, there was a rap at the door. Snape sat up. He became suddenly very alert. Esmeralda sat up as well and looked around for her robes, distressed to be interrupted like this; Severus was not right. She jumped out of bed and pulled her robes on hurriedly; he was looking around the room in a panic. “Where are my robes?!” he hissed.
“Over there…” she pointed to her closet. There was knocking. Snape ran over to the closet and pawed through clothing frantically. “Look, I’ll get the door; just be calm. It’s probably Dumbledore, wondering where you are.”
“Yes, yes. Still! It’s just so….uncivilized to be caught this way.” He was flustered, pulling on his robes.
“Severus….” She started; he watched her, her expression was worried. His own face was still, and he was having a difficult time looking at her. He swallowed and shrugged his robes on.
He was still in shock from what had happened, from what had been offered. Part of him wanted to believe in what he had felt, and the other part of him knew it was just sex. She was attracted to him, it was as simple as that. He could not bring himself to believe…to even think, that it had been more than that. But somewhere a voice whispered that he was lying to himself, that what was clearly offered was not in his imagination….he shut his eyes tightly and pulled on his robes. He slammed shut on that figment, he could not dare to hope. She paused beside him, but he busied himself with his robes, keeping his face down. Finally she left his side and swept out of the room.
She left the bedroom and walked out into the parlor, pausing to adjust her own robes and sweep her hair out of her forehead before she answered the door. She could hear Snape cursing very faintly in the bedroom. She opened the door, and Albus stood before her, his eyes twinkling.
“Esmeralda! Good morning.”
“Albus. It is so nice to see you.” She smiled warmly at him, and gave him a strong hug, and motioned him into the parlor. She was very glad to see him. Snape came through the bedroom door, barefoot, and adjusting his trousers surreptitiously under his robes. He stopped in his tracks.
“Severus. I thought I’d find the both of you here. Am I interrupting?” he raised his eyebrows inquisitively and politely at them both.
“Oh, no no no,” both Esmeralda and Severus answered at once, then turned to each other. Dumbledore watched as both of them developed furious blushes.
“Ah….” She turned from Snape, giving him a look, and back to Dumbledore. “We were just…..getting ready for breakfast.”
“Oh.” Dumbledore sniffed the air. “Bacon.” He commented. “Cold.” Esmeralda’s blush grew darker.
“Well, we…..were just…we were detained unexpectedly. Would you….” Her hand ran through her hair. “Like a sandwich? I think I’ve got some cold ham…..” Dumbledore went over and sat down in the chair near the window, quite composed. Snape went and pulled the other chair back into position across from Dumbledore.
“If there’s enough for a third person, I’d love a sandwich.” He called into the kitchen. She made signs that this was not a problem at all.
“How are you, Albus.” He asked, trying to be nonchalant.
“Very good; an absolutely beautiful day. I was a bit worried about you. Pomfrey said you had disappeared. She had checked your infirmary room, and your dungeons, but you weren’t about.” His face was completely calm. “I assumed you were with Esmeralda, but….just to be on the safe side, decided to come by.”
“I……see.” Snape’s blush grew deeper as well. His face was absolutely still. Esmeralda was only half-listening; occupied with making sandwiches she could not quite hear everything that was going on.
“Regardless, I hope you had an enjoyable morning.” Dumbledore indicated Snape’s feet, shoeless and sockless on the carpet. He began to smile, very gently. Snape swallowed.
“And your hips? Legs, are they better?”
“A bit.” Snape was terse. Esmeralda turned from the kitchen, a knife in one hand and a jar of mustard in the other. She called from the kitchen, searching for bread.
“Remarkable, really. His hips have improved tremendously.” Snape closed his eyes, the blush furious now. Dumbledore smiled broadly. Esmeralda looked up suddenly, realizing what she had just implied. She looked at Snape. Snape looked as if he were ready to melt through the floor. Dumbledore chuckled to himself.
“Sorry, Severus.” She called from the kitchen. But Dumbledore’s expression grew more serious, and he leaned over to Snape.
“Severus. I….am now seriously concerned about an issue that came up last week before we performed our ritual.” There was something about Albus’ demeanor that made Snape’s skin prickle. He was quiet, watching Dumbledore.
“What is it.” Dumbledore dropped his head, his eyebrows furrowing.
“Do you remember the worry that you expressed over the fact that you could not remember what happened after you drank the fluids with Riddle? Do you remember that?” Snape nodded mutely; his belly started to knot up. Dumbledore looked up, but he was not meeting Snape’s eyes. “I am now worried about that incident as well.” Snape tried to decipher Albus’ expression, but the older wizard’s face was unreadable. Snape had not forgotten the incident or the issue, but he had put it out of his mind, as Esmeralda had shown up safe at Hogwarts.
Over the last couple of days, Albus had started to count dates, and months, and the events within. He could not bring himself to tell Snape directly what he suspected; that Voldemort might have been involved in the death of Fafnaulda. That, in fact, Esmeralda might have been the main target, and the Death Eaters had simply missed. And if this was true, all three of them, and potentially the entire school, were in grave danger; if Voldemort had gotten through once, he could get through again; the target was close at hand.
But he could see what was happening between Severus and Esmeralda, and he knew what delicate ground Snape stood upon. To broach the subject too bluntly would provoke the worst nightmare possible for Snape. He offered another solution, one that would either confirm or allay his fears.
Snape waited. Dumbledore usually had ample reasons for doing the things he did, and Severus had learned to be patient when it came to the more experienced wizard’s ways.
“Snape. I need to ask you to take dragon’s blood. I need to know what happened between you and Voldemort that night.” Severus became rigid. Esmeralda walked into the room with sandwiches, coming in on the last part of the conversation. She placed a hand on Snape’s shoulder. Dragon’s blood was unstable, it was poison to some, hallucinogenic to others….in all, it gave them an ability to see through the layers of situations, and time itself. It was a potent but unpredictable substance.
“What?” Her voice had grown unbelieving. “Is that absolutely necessary?” She placed the plate down on the parlor table by the window. Snape and Dumbledore did not reply; they exchanged glances.
“Esmeralda, I need to know what Voldemort did to Snape that night. I need to know…what happened. We could all be in serious danger. I need to hear the conversation, I need to know what this dangerous man was thinking.” Albus left out the personal issues; he was trying to be as circumspect as possible. Severus watched Dumbledore, and he sat up stiffly in the chair.
“When did you want to go through with this?” Dumbledore clenched his fingers on the chair’s arms and gazed at them both with feeling.
“As soon as possible. The students are due back Monday night; I must gather all the information I can to take the proper precautions for both their safety and ours. Snape; I’d like you up in my rooms within the next hour. Esmeralda, you are entirely welcome to come, but I must warn you, the information we hear could be….disturbing.” He looked at her through the tops of his spectacles.
“Is this entirely necessary? Isn’t there another way to obtain the information you need?” Esmeralda’s mouth was drawn in a thin line of worry. She had seen people who had taken too much of the blood; some went insane. Others suffered brain damage. It was very dangerous. “I mean, what about temporal travel? You could use that.” Dumbledore shook his head.
“To be perfectly frank, Esmeralda, I actually believe Voldemort was able to penetrate Hogwarts because of a temporal rift from too much use of time travel within the school….I definitely do not want to go that route.” Esmeralda was adamant, however.
“But Albus. The stuff is dangerous, it’s poisonous!” Dumbledore cut her off.
“I’ve administered it before. When diluted, and in very small quantities, given carefully, it is a useful substance. I’ll do the test on him to make sure he’s not allergic to it. Esmeralda, I don’t want anyone hurt, either.” He gazed at her, but his expression was resolute. Esmeralda leaned against the chair Snape sat in. She went quiet. Her hand pressed hard into Snape’s shoulder. All three of them were silent, the sandwiches forgotten.
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