The Most Powerful Magic
Time seemed to slow, as it does when one realizes that an accident is inevitable. The look on Healer Pye's face told her something was terribly, terribly wrong. With Severus. She glared at him.
"What is going on?" she demanded. She was sure that Pye knew something she didn't.
"Miss Granger, Severus is dying," he said.
"That's not possible," she insisted, the shock of his words fuzzing the edge of her awareness, her vision blurring. She was about to add that Severus had been quite healthy when she left, but then remembered how often he had looked so gaunt and she had attributed his appearance to the lighting.
"The venom from Nagini was potent and persistent. It was slowly killing him."
"But you healed Arthur Weasley. Why couldn't you heal Severus?" she asked. Pye was shaking his head.
"I believe the love of his family cured Mr. Weasley," the Healer said. "Severus didn't have such support." Hermione felt his eyes staring through her. "Until you showed up."
"What do you mean?" She felt heat flare in her cheeks.
"Severus's health improves remarkably whenever you are close to him. In fact, in the past month, he deteriorates quite rapidly when you are apart. Your very presence has kept him alive."
Hermione's mind whirled as odd instances involving Severus clicked into place and finally made sense. His cadaverous appearance whenever he returned from an excursion outside the shop and which disappeared after a few moments speaking to her. The way he sometimes stood so close to her. She squeezed her eyes shut - had he accepted their relationship because his life depended on her presence? A cold lump formed in the pit of her stomach and seemed to weigh down her limbs. Was their relationship a lie?
In rapid succession, other moments flashed through her mind. The garden in the moonlight when they first kissed. Standing so close to her when they worked in the shop. Bringing her with him on his visits to Hogwarts. And when he went after Crabbe - he had physically needed her to be nearby! The times she had ended up in his bed because . . .
"Winky!" she exclaimed, astounded, turning on the elf. "Winky, you knew about this!"
"Master was sick," Winky said, her large round eyes misting.
"Was?" Hermione felt like a knife had been twisted in her gut.
"Master doesn't need Miss anymore," Winky pulled her pink towel up from her shoulder and wiped her eyes. "Master said Winky belongs to Miss now." The elf couldn't have looked more glum.
Hermione whirled back to Pye. He nodded toward his fireplace.
"If he is still alive, you're the only one who can help him."
She bolted to the mantle, grabbed a handful of Floo powder and pitched into the grate. What did Severus always say?
"Home!" she yelled at the emerald flames and jumped into the blaze.
As soon as she landed in the apothecary's kitchen Hermione dashed to the back door and flung it open. She desperately scanned the garden, hoping to catch a glimpse of the black-clad figure, easy to see against the green plants. Nothing.
Bolting for the shop, she cleared the kitchen and hallway in seconds. The shop proper was deserted, the sign on the front door blaring "OPEN" and Severus' hand drawn sign informing customers the shop would be closed for a week still underneath. She couldn't take it anymore.
"Severus!" she called out, panic almost choking her. Nothing.
The stockroom. Nothing. The lab. Nothing. The library, his bedroom, her room. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. She was about to slam her door, terror causing her hand to tremble, when she spied a scroll on the foot of her bed. Running to it, she unrolled the parchment and noted that Severus' cramped handwriting covered its entirety. Her heart sank.
Her familiarity with his script allowed her to scan the document quickly and comprehension was swift. It was his will and he had left her . . . everything. Including Winky. And if the elf believed Hermione was now her mistress, then that meant Severus was . . .
Tears that had been threatening since Pye's office now flowed unhindered. She pressed her trembling hand to muffle a sob that burbled from her throat. Where could he be?
She paused - that was actually a good question. She had not found Severus' body and that meant he wasn't dead until she did. So again - where could he be? In a flash of insight she remembered the Mirror of Erised.
Hermione tossed the parchment back onto her bed and strode to the wardrobe that housed the magical mirror. She grabbed the handle, took a moment to compose herself, focusing on the desire of her heart - her Severus - and flung open the door.
Silvery mists swirled across the surface of the mirror. "Please, please, please . . ." she murmured. The grey mists brightened to green - green leaves - green plants. She watched intently. It looked like - it was! The Silver Wolfsbane. And sprawled nearby, deathly pale face framed with black hair . . .
Hermione bolted from the room, streaked through the kitchen and nearly bust down the back door to get into the garden. She ran down the center aisle, past bed after bed of herbs and leaped over the corner of one to gain the side path that would take her to where they had kissed for the first time.
And there he was. The sight nearly brought her to her knees but, shaking, she swayed to a stop, just barely able to keep her balance. She drew a deep breath to calm herself and carefully approached where he lay, stepping over a garden rake and stopping by his side. She looked down at him.
He was pale – but was it the pallor of death? She pressed her fingers to her lips, reluctant to call to him in case he didn't answer and thereby prove her fear. She studied the face she had come to love – and it didn't seem as gaunt as she had seen it before. If he were dead . . .
Hermione slipped to the ground, kneeling at his side with both hands covering her mouth, trying to squelch the sob that tried to escape. He was alive! But then, what was he doing sprawled unconscious in the herb garden?
It was then she noticed a trickle of blood coming from his nose. She cocked her head to the side to get a better perspective. It seemed swollen – and a bit misshapen as well. Glancing back over her shoulder at the rake, two and two finally equaled four. He moaned again. Hermione dropped her head to his chest . . . and laughed.
"I'm glad you find my predicament so humorous," he said groggily and gingerly prodded his nose. "Damn house elf."
She laughed harder, her body shaking against his as the pitch of her voice rose until she was weak with laughter. He snugged an arm around her and that hysterical laughter instantly dissolved into hysterical tears.
"I thought you dead," she wept onto his chest. "Healer Pye . . ." She couldn't catch her breath. "Nagini's poison . . ."
"Did he mention that the effects diminished whenever I was near you?"
Quite unable to talk, she nodded her head, which he must have felt against him because he continued.
"He thinks it's because you love me."
"Severus, I . . ."
"He's wrong." His words were clipped, abrupt. He dropped his arm from about her and used it to prop himself up. She rocked back on her heels, stood, and took his elbow to steady him as he wordlessly rose, limbs quivering. His manner was now so cold, so aloof. This wasn't going to go well.
"Miss Granger . . ."
"Let me set that nose," Hermione said, crushed at his formal address and wanting to forestall what he was going to say. She lifted her wand. "Episkey." She heard the muffled sound of bone setting itself and his nose was back to normal, although it was still swollen. He had no reaction to what must have been a painful procedure. "And clean you up a bit," she added hurriedly when he opened his mouth to speak. "Tergeo." Her wand siphoned off the blood trailing down his cheek. "And . . ."
"Miss Granger . . ." He grasped her wand hand and pulled it away from his face.
"You're still in love with her, aren't you?" She blurted out, tears stinging her eyes. "You still love Lily."
He stared at her with those unfathomable black eyes.
"Healer Pye is wrong. His theory is that Arthur Weasley was cured because his family loved him. But I now know that was not the case. Arthur Weasley was cured because he loved his family."
"I . . . I don't understand . . ." Her heart felt as if it had stopped beating.
"I am alive because I love you, Hermione," he said quietly. He let go of her hand and stepped back. "If I still loved Lily I would have been cured soon after Nagini bit me. I started falling in love with you when you came into my shop that first time, but I fought what I was feeling - which was quite impossible to do whenever you were around." He seemed to take a deep breath. "The last time I fell in love it was a colossal disaster for all involved and for thousands that weren't. But when I saw that you might feel the same way, I took a chance and I gave those feelings rein – until . . . until I realized that the Amortentia was affecting you. By then it was too late."
"Severus . . ." Hermione smiled up at him, the relief swelling in her heart leaving her bereft of anything to say. He lowered his eyes and looked at his hands, brushing soil from his palms.
"I understand that things are different now," Severus said. "You needn't be burdened by my feelings for you. I am prepared to nullify your apprenticeship immediately. In fact, I am prepared to give you anything you want - you need only ask it of me."
The silence was deafening. Hermione felt as if the whole world had stopped to listen to her proposal. She saw Severus swallow and then finally look at her.
"Why would you want . . ."
"I feel the same way about you now as I did the day I left for Australia. It wasn't the Amortentia," she said softly. She stepped up to him, encircled his waist with her arms and rested her chin on his chest, looking up at him. "Now, will you marry me or not? And remember that you have just promised to give me anything I want."
She saw those icy black eyes soften as they gazed into hers. He nodded and she smiled up at him.
"Now I want a kiss, Severus," she said slyly and reached up on tiptoe. He obliged and kissed her as if it were completely voluntary on his part. "And one more thing – never again doubt that I love you."
"Never," he said gently and smiled down at her. Hermione stepped back, took his hand and pulled him along the garden path.
"Lovely!" she exclaimed and the joy that flowed through her revealed how green the plants were and how blue the sky. She knew when this man committed, he committed with everything he had. Might as well put that to the test right now. "Because it's time for you to meet my parents."
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