A/N: *Happy dances into the room*

*smothers all of you with love*

Seriously, thank you all for sticking with this even though I'm the most scatterbrained and unreliable author on the planet. It means so so much to me.

Happy Easter!


Darkness and Silence

By Kittenshift17

Chapter Thirty-One

By late evening, the Death Eaters were still lounging around Hermione's house and she was a little horrified to say that some of them were growing on her the longer she spent in their presence. Dolohov had taken the time to teach her, Draco, and Theo several dark-ish spells that might be used combatively, should the need arise and even when Bellatrix had snidely pointed out that Hermione was liable to use the spells against the Death Eaters, they had persevered.

She had spent the majority of the afternoon, in fact, with Rowle, Dolohov, the Lestrange brothers, the Malfoys and even Snape instructing her in different branches of magic that she was sure would horrify Harry and Ron should they learn she knew it. She had found that a large portion of the magic they learned at Hogwarts was the watered-down versions and Dolohov, in particular, took consternation with the notion that their wizarding youth were being so handicapped by the education system and the Ministry. Indeed, he ranted at length about how he would overhaul the system to be more like the practices within Russia and Hermione had noted that Voldemort listened in idly, seeming intrigued by his ideas and his passions, which Hermione was suspicious had not been voiced before that very day.

By the time Christmas dinner was devoured, everyone's stomachs were full to bursting and Hermione found a strange sort of peace as she reclined on the couch with her head in Snape's lap, a book in front of her face while he played with her hair and faced off against Lucius and then Rabastan at games of wizard chess. A small part of her was horrified that she could relax in their presence when they were all such wretched people, and yet when they were together, they didn't act like it. The feeling within Selwyn Hall that Christmas night was no different to the warmth and comfort she was sure she'd have felt at Grimmauld Place. Indeed, it was more welcoming, all things considered since she doubted that the Weasleys and Harry would be overly thrilled to have her in their midst now that she was Madam Snape of Selwyn Hall rather than simply Miss Hermione Granger, likely to one day be their daughter-in-law and/or sister-in-law.

She missed Ron, she thought idly as she turned the page of the novel she'd picked up, but after the way Harry had behaved toward her recently, she couldn't truthfully say she'd missed him. Ron, at least, had been understanding. But then, she and Ron had a relationship vastly different to the one she shared with Harry. Harry had always seemed rather more like the brother she'd never had, and she supposed that in a way his reaction was to be expected. She'd slept with and subsequently married a man he detested with all of his being, and she'd done it on the orders of Lord Voldemort. He didn't like Snape, didn't approve of her feelings for Snape, and didn't like exposing her to danger in such a manner. It was a typical overprotective-brother style reaction, and yet Hermione wasn't feeling particularly charitable toward him over it.

Ron, at least, loved her and had more cause to be angry with her or disgusted by her choice given that they shared a torrid past, and yet he'd accepted what she'd done and supported her even if he didn't entirely approve of or agree with her choice of husband. That Harry couldn't find the same empathy bothered her more than it had any right to, and she huffed as she turned the page though she'd lost the thread of the magic she was reading about.

One of Snape's long fingers moved from her hair to push the book away from her face where it obscured his view to her eyes, raising one eyebrow and looking wickedly amused.

"Is the novel's content not to your liking, wife?" he asked sardonically.

Hermione snapped the book shut and laid it upon her stomach.

"Just not engaging enough to focus my mind," she admitted despite the other members of the Death Eater party and even the Dark Lord seated about the room, lounging comfortably and entertaining themselves in the manner of a close family at the holidays.

"Little is anymore, I'd imagine," Draco Malfoy drawled from the other end of the couch where he was facing off against Theodore Nott at his own game of chess.

"One cannot devour centuries worth of knowledge and still find the trite writing of so whimsical a wizard as Waldershins Wenklins in any way engaging," Theo agreed.

"You recommended the book," Hermione protested, frowning at Theo.

"It was intended as a sleep aid," he replied dryly, and Hermione laughed.

"Most useful, then," she muttered, shaking her head, her eyes returning to Snape when he carded his fingers through her curls once more.

He eyed her in silent question and Hermione sighed, widening her eyes and inviting him into her mind if he so chose. When he swept in, it was with all the stealth of smoke wisps under a door in a still corridor. Hermione quivered at the sense of closeness before offering the thoughts that so troubled her surrounding Harry's reaction to her marriage and her annoyance and hurt feelings.

Snape snorted as he withdrew from her mind, shaking his head and laughing meanly.

"Did you imagine it would go any other way?" he asked sardonically.

Hermione sighed.

"I suppose not," she admitted. "Doesn't mean it's not rude."

"You speak of the reaction of the Order to your wedding, Madam Snape?" Voldemort intoned, evidently eavesdropping. "And here you'd led me to believe they took it well."

Hermione rolled her eyes at Snape and his mouth twitched as he tried not to smile.

"The Dark Lord spoke to you, Mudblood," Bellatrix hissed when Hermione offered no immediate reply.

"Well spotted," Hermione answered. "Do you do circus tricks too, or is stating the obvious the full extent of your skills?"

Sniggers sounded from around the room, the wizards evidently taking delight in Hermione's growing rivalry with the elder witch.

"Shall I show you some of my tricks?" Bellatrix invited meanly.

Hermione lifted her head from Snape's lap to look directly at Rodolphus, who currently faced Severus in a game of chess.

"Is she coming on to me?" she asked the wizard dryly.

"No, when she flirts, it's much more terrifying," Rodolphus smirked.

Hermione wrinkled her nose in disgust, looking toward Bellatrix while the woman scowled at her husband and Narcissa tried to hide a laugh behind her hand, attempting to play it off as a cough. She opened her mouth, intent on saying something to further provoke the other witch when it occurred to her that duelling with the evil bitch might be a fine outlet for her fury at Harry and Ginny and the others.

Before she could utter a sound, hisses sounded all over the living room as every present Death Eater clutched his or her Dark Mark in sudden agony.

"Who would dare?" Bellatrix demanded.

"Yaxley," Voldemort said, not clutching his arm, though his hand twitched and his brow furrowed scarily. "He is… His search has proved fruitful. Come, we attend him."

Hermione frowned when she looked toward Snape, her heart in her throat, frowning worriedly and wondering what search Yaxley might've been conducting. Were any of the Order at risk? He met her eyes only long enough to indicate his own mental barriers were sliding up before he nudged her aside and rose to his feet. Rapidly, Voldemort and all of his loyal, marked followers disapparated without discussion of a destination and Hermione's curiosity was piqued, wondering if something in the Dark Mark magic allowed them to pinpoint upon any other marked member and apparate directly to them. No wonder those who attempted to flee their order always failed.

When the resounding cracks of disapprobation faded, only Hermione, Narcissa Malfoy, Fenrir Greyback and two of his wolves remained.

Hermione glanced around, sitting up and frowning.

"Was it something I said?" she asked sarcastically, drawing a grunt from Fenrir and a snigger from one of his offsider wolves, Perkins.

"Well," Narcissa sighed, crossing one leg over the other and sniffing in annoyance. "I suppose that ends another Christmas."

Hermione frowned, looking toward the other woman who seemed to have no intention of leaving despite her words, before glancing towards Fenrir.

"Better go after them," the werewolf nudged Perkins and his other lackey, Maybury.

"On it, boss," Perkins said, heading for the door with Maybury.

He stopped when he reached the doorway, catching a hand on the trim and peering back at Hermione.

"Much obliged, Ma'am," Perkins murmured, holding up the gift she'd given him for Christmas – though it was one of her courtesy guest gifts rather than tailored, given that she'd only met the man today.

"You're very welcome, Mr Perkins," Hermione inclined her head politely.

Maybury, the other wolf, flashed a bit of fang, but he held up his gift and shot her a nod as well.

When only Fenrir and Narcissa remained, he glanced between both witches awkwardly.

"Think I'll go guard the door," he rumbled, stalking out of the room without thanking Hermione for his gift, though when he was out of Narcissa's line of sight, he looked back at Hermione and nodded, shooting her a wink.

"Certainly, one way to clear a room," Hermione commented to the other witch. "Shall we indulge in a pot of tea, Mrs Malfoy?"

Narcissa inclined her head.

"Why don't we take it in the drawing-room?" Hermione offered.

"Lovely," Narcissa replied, rising gracefully to her feet and sweeping through the house to the room in question with Hermione on her heels.

The elves popped into the room they'd vacated, clearing away dirty cups and plates from their afternoon of snacking and drinking, tidying up as though they'd never been, though Hermione noted the elves knew better than to touch the chessboards left mid-play. When they reached the drawing-room, full tea service was already hot and waiting for them and Hermione made a mental note to thank Tupsy later.

She poured the tea for herself and Narcissa while the other woman got comfortable by the fireplace, peering into the flames and not looking terribly interested in talking.

"So," Hermione said eventually, leaving Narcissa to add her own milk and sugar as needed. "Any idea what Yaxley was seeking?"

Narcissa offered her a tight smile.

"I find it best to remain ignorant of the movements the brethren make excepting those that require me to host something, attend something, or participate in something," Narcissa told her primly. "Deniability is a valuable thing, Miss Granger."

Hermione sipped her tea.

"Yes, I suppose it would've been when Lucius was arrested. Did they question you as well? I don't remember reading about it in the papers."

"They question me regularly," Narcissa sighed, leaning back in her chair and looking weary. "Those who know, of course, are in the same boat to some degree. Others… well… there is nothing like the suspicion on the face of a friend, is there?"

Hermione smiled sadly in return.

"I'm afraid I've been on the receiving end of many a suspicious and inquiring gaze recently," she agreed.

"Yes," Narcissa said, smiling politely and leaning forward once more in the manner of girlfriends sharing juicy secrets. "How did the Order take your marrying into the Death Eaters? Though, I suppose, they imagine dear Severus their little spy. Are they angling you to the same recklessness?"

Hermione shook her head, setting down her teacup and picking up a biscuit from the plate of them the kitchens sent up.

"They certainly didn't take it very well," Hermione admitted. "I'm still a student of Hogwarts, you may recall, and Snape is still my teacher."

"It's just as well Lucius bribed his way into remaining on the board of governors or I imagine they'd be giving Severus the sack when this gets out," Narcissa mused.

"Among other things," Hermione muttered darkly. "Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall are undoubtedly horrified. I wasn't there when Severus broke the news to them of our… arrangement. From before the wedding ceremony, of course. Ron told me it wasn't well-received, in any case."

"No, I don't imagine the best and brightest witch of her age is well thought of for bedding a professor. I suppose they'll be calling all of your grades into question."

"They're welcome to try," Hermione rolled her eyes. "If anything, my grades have declined mildly since I started sleeping with Severus, so it's hardly correct to assume I started shagging him for the grades."

"But you're still receiving a pocketful of O's nonetheless," Narcissa said knowingly, and Hermione's cheeks flushed when she realized the other woman's double entendre.

"And after nothing but E's in Snape's class for my coursework, too," Hermione smirked.

Narcissa tinkled a soft laugh.

"Indeed," she inclined her head, taking another sip of her tea.

Hermione washed down her biscuit with more of her own warm beverage and cast around for something else to say.

"You're not frightened in the slightest despite everything, are you, Miss Granger?" Narcissa asked shrewdly after a little while of nothing but the crackling fire filling up the air between them.

"Of course, I am," Hermione disagreed. "I am a muggleborn witch and have spent numerous hours recently in the presence of those who would kill me for the status of my blood if they could."

"Yet, you taunt them at every opportunity," Narcissa pointed out, eyeing her strangely. "Bella will not quickly forget every insult you level at her, you know?"

Hermione snorted.

"Of course she won't," she chuckled. "But I cannot simply hold my tongue when a sycophantic idiot barks and hisses moronic drivel. It's not in my nature. I am, as Snape is so fond of reminding me, insufferable that way."

"In many others too, I'm sure," the other woman said snidely, but Hermione didn't take offence.

"Countless others," she agreed.

"Why?" Narcissa wanted to know.

"Why am I insufferable?" Hermione frowned at her, wondering if it was common for someone to be so rude while looking so poised and polite.

"Why did you take up with Severus in the first place?" Narcissa clarified. "You wouldn't be in this mess if you had never slept with him, you know?"

Hermione sighed.

"Who can say?" she shrugged, unwilling to admit just how it had all come about.

"You were attracted to him, obviously," Narcissa said.

"Isn't everyone?" Hermione challenged, looking the other woman in the eyes and knowing the witch had shagged him too.

A nasty little smile pulled at the corners of Narcissa's mouth for a long moment, obviously suspecting jealousy, while she held Hermione's gaze before she tinkled another laugh.

"Mean little thing, aren't you?" the other woman smiled. "Not everyone, no. Most people find Severus rather insufferable, too, as a matter of fact."

"He is certainly not the life of any party," Hermione grinned.

"No, more of a demon among the cherubs, particularly around your lot, I suppose," Narcissa smiled, eyeing her speculatively. "I suppose it was his darkness that lured you in? So many are seduced by the dark."

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"His darkness had little to do with it," she disagreed. "It was his hands, actually, that first captured my attention. Watching him brew a potion is a sensuous experience."

Narcissa looked surprised for a brief moment.

"I don't recall ever actually watching him brew anything," she admitted thoughtfully. "His hands? Really? Not his voice? Or those eyes?"

"They play their role," Hermione shrugged. "But it was his hands that captured my attention and everything else that lured me in afterwards."

"How strange," Narcissa murmured. "You really are interested in him, aren't you? The Dark Lord imagines he's inflicted a terrible fate upon the two of you, forcing two people to marry whom he believed were simply shagging to ease a little tension. But I think you are actually quite pleased to be married to him, aren't you?"

Hermione frowned, sipping from her teacup again before setting it down and leaning back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other and regarding Narcissa coolly.

"I cannot truthfully say I'm thrilled to be married," Hermione admitted. "I am only seventeen, after all. I have my studies to conclude. The remainder of sixth year and all of seventh… what's more, he is still my teacher. I can hardly flounce into the dungeons and make myself at home without alerting the wider student population to our marital status and thus, bring the board of governors down upon Snape's head."

"I don't imagine that will be an issue for too much longer," Narcissa said, smiling secretively. "And you must've been doing a fine job of sneaking down there already to have been shagging him regularly."

"Regularly would be a stretch," Hermione denied, shaking her head. "Before the holidays and being snatched and everything that's followed, we'd only… engaged one another… a handful of times."

"Indeed?" Narcissa frowned.

"Mmm," Hermione hummed.

"So marriage wasn't on your agenda?" Narcissa confirmed.

Hermione laughed. "In the middle of a war, to my high-school Professor? No, not particularly. Maybe someday, if there'd been no war to fight and a collection of years had been allowed to pass between my graduation and my encountering him somewhere in my twenties and seducing him. A silly fantasy, I expect. But there's nothing for it. We're married now."

"For better or worse," Narcissa agreed.

Hermione eyed her in return, noting her wistful tone.

"I don't suppose this is what you imagined life might've looked like when you took your own vows for better or worse, either, Mrs Malfoy," Hermione said evenly.

Narcissa's face pinched for a moment before her expression smoothed into a self-deprecating smile.

"Not exactly," she admitted. "My husband imprisoned and now a fugitive from the law. My son mixed up with dark men, a death sentence hanging over all our heads should we baulk, falter or fail." Narcissa laughed bitterly and took a large gulp of the remaining tea in her cup. "No, Miss Granger, this isn't at all what I imagined life would look like when Lucius and I took our vows."

"You didn't know he was a dark wizard back then?" Hermione raised her eyebrows.

Narcissa sighed. "We all have a capacity for darkness, my dear. Even you. But no. Not insofar as to be mixed up in murder and mayhem and such violence. When the Dark Lord first rose to power, he was more subtle, less open about the heinous crimes he committed to take power, preaching blood prejudice and a return to the old ways where we magical folk didn't live in fear of being found out by the muggles; didn't dare breed with them for fear of diluting the magic in our bloodlines. You turn up your nose at the idea of such prejudice from Bella and the others, but we with the oldest and purest bloodlines have seen the decline of the others as they fall to interbreeding with muggles, half-bloods and mudbloods. We've seen the heartbreak of numerous families when Squib children are birthed, exposed to our world, but unable to participate in it fully, and usually left to try and figure their own way in the world among the muggles when the most basic of magic is beyond them."

"All the more reason to embrace education for and about both cultures to ensure no one is left floundering in the dark," Hermione argued.

"Perhaps, but it hasn't been that way, and there was a time when magical people didn't have to hide their powers and fear violence. Now, we must practice violence to instil fear in those who might otherwise wipe us out. I've read of the weapons muggles have devised, Miss Granger. They can destroy us just as easily as we do them."

Hermione nodded, recalling what little her mother and father had taught her of guns and other weapons for destruction and violence. Magic really wasn't so much different. A Killing curse or a bullet to the heart would have the same effect, regardless of magical ability or lack thereof.

"And so, your husband and son engage in terrible crimes to further such an agenda that might allow you to… what?" Hermione challenged. "Cast warming spells in the presence of a muggle without fear? Fear and violence inspired in the muggles will not suddenly inspire fascination and intrigue from them. Only kind acts of light magic might do that, and even then, sparingly. Violence only begets violence, Mrs Malfoy."

Narcissa sighed, looking into the flames and obviously seeing no way to argue without furthering Hermione's points rather than her own.

"You do know that Voldemort doesn't intend to simply instil fear in the muggles, don't you?" she asked, frowning at Narcissa. "He means to crush the life out of them and of anyone else who stands in his way. And for what? World domination? Seems like an awful lot of work just for the sake of saying 'I'm the best'."

"I think the Dark Lord's agenda is a little more complex than that, Miss Granger," Narcissa scoffed.

"Do tell," Hermione invited. "What would he possibly seek to accomplish if the time should ever come that he is installed as… what? A god among wizards?"

"I do not imagine myself important enough in his eyes to be given such knowledge," Narcissa capitulated.

Hermione scoffed.

"Sounds like a code for 'I don't know and haven't tried to find out in case it's worse than I think'," Hermione sniffed.

Narcissa scowled at her.

"You really are as unpleasant as Severus, aren't you?"

"Not by half, I'm sure," Hermione laughed, startled. "Snape is cruel. I'm just realistic."


It was late by the time Severus returned to Selwyn Hall – late enough that he'd made the mistake of returning to Spinner's End before recalling that he had a new home now. Miss Granger had left a light on for him outside the front door when he apparated into the snow on the front lawn, and he could see the dim glow of the lights coming from the bedroom he'd come to realize was theirs. Predictably, Greyback was transformed and dozing on the bed he'd made for himself by the front door, the blanket Granger had given him strewn over his enormous lupine form. He cocked an ear when Severus opened the door and strode inside, slamming it behind him.

He cracked an eye open and curled his lips back from his sharp teeth when Severus deliberately stomped the snow from his boots on the floor by the monster's muzzle, a few droplets landing on his nose.

"Is she alone?" Severus asked the wolf moodily, not liking to have the beast in his place of residence and rather thinking it might've been better if he'd stayed at Spinner's End, even if his bonds were tingling with the need to reunite with his wife despite the short time they'd spent apart.

Greyback lowered his hackles and both of his ears swivelled in the direction of the witch upstairs before he nodded.

"Some guard dog," Snape muttered as he walked away, shaking his head. He got growled at, but he didn't turn, intent on finding the shower and then crawling into bed with his wife.

Tomorrow would undoubtedly be another long day with the brethren – the entire holiday would be if Severus knew the Dark Lord at all – and at some point, he would be expected to check back in with Dumbledore. Wouldn't that be a delight? He suspected they were going to have to make another stop off at Grimmauld Place too if Miss Granger hoped to resume the coming term with any friends at all. It wouldn't do her any good to go spending all of her time with Death Eaters, and no matter his hatred of Potter, the boy needed Miss Granger if he was to survive the wretched war long enough to slay the Dark Lord.

They would need to mend fences eventually and while Severus was certain that would be more easily done without his imposing presence, he didn't imagine the witch would brave the fray again so soon if she didn't have to. If he'd learned anything of her over the years it was that when she felt she was right about something and her friends grew angry at her for it, she would not kowtow to their whims just to keep their company. Since early on in her education and her friendship with both Potter and Weasley, she had made a habit of letting herself become estranged from them when they did something to upset her.

It was an admirable trait, all things considered, and were it not for the impending war and the things yet to come for them all, he might've even encouraged her to seek new friends who would treat her better, but it wasn't to be. She'd made friends enough with Potter to become completely entangled in the war, and the petulant brat would need Severus's wife if he hoped to make it out of this in one piece.

She was sitting up in bed with a book open on her lap when he swept into the room and she looked up in surprise to see he'd returned, but she didn't speak. Maybe it was something in the expression on her face. Maybe it was the cold radiating off him in waves from the depravity he'd been forced to witness and the wretchedness he continued to endure. Passing her, Severus went directly to the bathroom and stripped down, stepping under the spray of the shower when the water was hot enough to scald and hoping it might be hot enough to wash away the blood.

He was surprised when she made no move to join him, and he wondered if she was angry or disappointed or disgusted. She had a right to be. He wasn't a good man. She deserved better, even if she was a little minx with a penchant for darkness. She deserved Weasley, come to think of it, and Severus never imagined he would ever think that, but there it was. Before their affair and resultant marriage had come to light, he'd have said the boy was the last thing Miss Granger needed, considering him an arrogant, self-centred, bumbling buffoon, but the lad had stepped up. Sure, he'd threatened Severus when he'd thought Hermione was in danger, but he'd known about the sex long before everyone else had brought it into the light – probably even during the last term while it'd been going on, and he'd acted none the wiser.

Scrubbing his hair and skin quickly, Severus got out as soon as he was clean, in no mood to linger over the shower and the room for all that thinking that it so inconveniently provided. He didn't want to think tonight. He would need to report to Dumbledore tomorrow.

Naked, he crossed the bedroom once more, collecting a pair of boxers from the wardrobe while Miss Granger watched him over the rim of her book. The elves had the room toasty and warm despite the driving snow outside the window and Severus was grateful for it. The warmth might make the witch on the bed a little more willing to let him ravish her into oblivion if they didn't have to chatter their teeth through the act.

"Well?" she asked eventually when he paused long enough to comb his long hair, still scrunching fistfuls of it into the towel to keep it from dripping over his shoulders and down his back.

"No," he shook his head, not looking at her.

"No?" she asked, and he could practically hear her frowning.

"You don't need the nightmares, Miss Granger," he told her seriously, still not turning to face her while he doctored the shallow cuts on his arms and torso from the fight that had ensued.

"That bad, then?" she asked.

"You have no idea," Severus murmured, turning to face her as the last of the gashes closed over under the healing salve he'd applied.

"Is anyone from the Order dead?" she asked, frowning heavily.

"No one you know," he hedged, eyeing the ridiculous pyjamas she favoured and thinking he was going to have to burn them one day when she wasn't looking.

"Who?" she asked.

Severus glared at her.

"Miss Granger, you are embroiled in the dark more than enough, I think," he told her.

"I'm part of the Order," she argued. "I have a right to know. I expect I'll read about it in tomorrow's paper anyway. Why not just tell me? You were obviously wounded in the fight."

She nodded to the marks healing on his skin.

"And the less you know about it the better," he asserted. "You're still a student, Miss Granger, and not a fully inducted member of the Order. Just because by the Dark Lord's Machiavellian design, we are married, does not entitle you to all that I know and all that I do."

She narrowed her eyes on him and Severus suspected he was going to have to do something about this penchant for defiance she'd been fostering. It wouldn't do when they returned to Hogwarts if she glared and talked back and otherwise challenged his authority in the classroom and he wasn't about to stand for in the bedroom, either.

"You disappeared in the middle of the evening with the whole host of those wretched gits to the tune of 'Yaxley found what he was seeking' and you come home covered in blood and cuts and telling me it's too dark and will give me nightmares and I'm just supposed to accept it?" she asked coolly, closing her book and folding her arms over her chest.


She scoffed at him and Severus wondered how she might take to being spanked if she wanted to act like a spoiled child.

"Someone is dead, aren't they?" she confirmed.


"Someone who worked for the Order?"

Severus narrowed his eyes.


"But no one I know? So no one who would've frequented Headquarters while I was there?"


"Someone important to the cause?" she clarified.

"Do you imagine the Dark Lord bothers going after the unimportant ones?" he drawled.

"How bad a blow will this strike to the Order and the overall scheme to defeat that wretch?" Hermione narrowed her eyes.

Severus narrowed his eyes on her.

"That wretch is otherwise known as the Dark Lord, and you will learn to show him more respect," Severus said quietly, well aware that Greyback was downstairs and could probably hear them fighting.

Miss Granger scoffed a second time and Severus scowled at her, taking up his wand and casting numerous silencing charms to keep the wolf from overhearing anymore of their conversation.

"What do you think you're doing?" he hissed.

"Interrogating you," she answered.

"Greyback is still downstairs and listening to every word you say. He will report all he hears to the Dark Lord."

"He's supposed to think that I believe you're a spy for the Order," Hermione reminded him. "And any good Order member would interrogate you all after disappearing like that."

Severus wanted to cross his eyes in frustration at the self-assuredness of her tone. She really was insufferable.

"Miss Granger," he began coldly.

"Madam Snape," she interrupted to correct him, and he thought seriously about hexing her. He was in no mood for her attitude this evening.

"Witch," he snarled.

"Don't 'witch' me," she interrupted again. "I'm not some child to be scolded, or some empty-headed imbecile to be ordered about. Tell me what the hell happened and stop being such an arsehole!"

Severus hexed her.

The Stinging Jinx hit her square in the chest, and she screeched in surprise and pain, her eyes wide and betrayed before anger clouded them.

"How dare you!?" she snarled before she snatched her wand from the bedside table and threw off the covers, flinging a hex in return.

Severus blocked it easily, deflecting the following three as well while he advanced on her before he snatched her wand right out of her hands and tossed it to the far side of the room. She huffed furiously and raised her hand evidently intent on punching him and Severus snarled before tackling her onto the bed.

"Enough!" he hissed into her face, pinning her small frame easily beneath his own. "Just because the Dark Lord wants you alive for the time being does not guarantee your safety, you little idiot! Every word out of your mouth is a reflection upon me and puts us both in danger. While I am here, the Dark Lord must believe wholeheartedly that I am his man. His spy. His faithful servant. Calling him a wretch and demanding to know how the Order will react to the things we Death Eaters do while that mongrel can hear us puts the entire operation at risk and you will not do so again."

"I'm playing my role," she retorted. "Just because you're a Death Eater doesn't mean I am. They know I'm with Harry and the Order. They knew it when they took me, and they knew it when they made you marry me. Anything less than challenging them, calling them fools, pulling apart their demented ideals and demanding to know how the side fighting for what's good and right in the world has been impacted by your barbaric actions would be untrue to my character. Do you imagine they married us thinking that would be enough to have me become a turncoat?"

Severus wanted to shake her until her self-righteousness rattled right out of her brain.

"I imagine they married you to me intending to corrupt you to the darkness, given they made me vow to do so," he snarled.

"Well, it's not working," she retorted. "I'm still opposed to everything they stand for. One little Christmas lunch isn't going to change that."

"You're risking everything, Granger," he growled. "Can't you see that? You felt the effect of the Dark Lord's form of torture for mild backchat. What do you imagine he does to those who betray him?"

"I can't betray someone I've never called friend nor ally," she argued.

"It won't be you he punishes!" he hissed furiously.

"He won't punish you, either. You're supposed to play his devoted spy, so play him. Be him. But don't imagine I'm going to pretend I'm okay with it."

"They think you are," he growled. "They think you know I'm theirs. That's why they're here. They want to make it completely obvious to you that they're my friends. My family. They want you to see that I'm not the Order's spy."

"No one's sworn me to secrecy about it," she said. "Do they want you to lose you tenuous foothold as their spy among the Order?"

"They want to make you uncomfortable."

"They've succeeded nicely."

Severus growled inarticulately in frustration and rolled off her to avoid strangling her. Putting his hands over his face, he tried to keep from seeing the horrible images playing behind his eyes of all that had occurred tonight.

"If you don't mind your tongue, you're going to pay for it, Miss Granger," he told her tiredly.

"With you?" she asked.

Severus thought about telling her 'yes'. He thought about threatening her to behave, but it would do no good. She wasn't just his student or his little fuck-toy anymore. She was his wife. What was more, he had direct orders from the Dark Lord to impregnate her as soon as humanly possible to begin growing the wretched bastard a new meat-suit and he needed her cooperation for that.

"With them," he answered instead. "They will allow for a certain level of rudeness – expect it, even, given your loyalties and my own habit of being a prick - but if you push too hard, they will push back and most of them have no conscience left to speak of. They will do reprehensible things to you. My protection can only carry you so far before I will be punished for your insolence as well."

She huffed.

"You hexed me," she complained.

"You backchatted," he replied, unrepentant.

He grunted when she leaned over and slapped her small palm against his bare chest, the sting biting in the cold night air.

"Who is dead?" she asked again.

"You don't need to know."

"Just tell me."

Severus lifted his hands from his face to glare at her again.

"Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because we're married, I won't still hurt you if you annoy me, Miss Granger," he reminded her quietly.

"That was evident when you hexed me," she retorted snidely. "Tell me so we can fucking move on."

Severus knew he should hold out. Keep it from her. It didn't concern her. She didn't need to know.

Fuck it.

"Yaxley has been tracking a coven of vampires sympathetic to the Order and likely to fight with us in the inevitable battle," Severus conceded quietly.

"Vampires! Professor Dumbledore and Vold…" Severus hissed at her. "The Dark Lord…. Are building individual armies?"

Severus looked over at her across the mattress.

"What did you think the point of recruiting people was?" he frowned at her. "We don't need a bunch of sympathetic ears simply sitting around believing that he's bad news. We need fighters willing to put their lives on the line to stop the brethren in their tracks; to strike blows against the Death Eaters and wage war upon the dark. There will be a battle, Miss Granger, with Potter on one side and the Dark Lord on the other, and all of us so much fodder for the canons, so to speak."

She sobered quickly, her expression growing pale and her eyes growing wide. Severus sat up slowly, looking at her seriously and wondering what she'd imagined would happen to bring it all to a head and a grisly end for one of the two prophecized idiots destined to kill each other.

"But… I thought…"

"You thought what?" he asked, frowning. "That going after the Horcruxes would be enough?"

She bit her lip, looking away from him, obviously ashamed.

"The Dark Lord is one of the most powerful people alive, Miss Granger," Severus reminded her. "Second only to Dumbledore, and the truth of it is that Dumbledore won't live to see the inevitable battle when this all comes to a climax. He's an old man. Powerful, certainly, but not powerful enough to survive this. If he faced the Dark Lord now, I believe he would fall, and in doing so, the world would fall before Potter is ready. We few among the Order are all that stand between Potter and the dark. Albus has been our shield long enough, but even the strongest of shields eventually splinter. Potter must be ready to face and kill the Dark Lord, and soon, or it will all be over."

The young witch swallowed thickly, looking like a child who'd just learned Santa Claus wasn't real.

"What will he do?" she asked quietly.


"Volde… The Dark Lord. What will he do if he wins? What happens to the world if Harry falls?" Hermione asked quietly.

Severus furrowed his brow, reaching carefully to take her chin between his fingers and tipping her head up, forcing her to look at him.

"Chaos," he answered quietly. "In the short term, nothing but chaos. Instil even more fear in those who survive. Death for those who side with Potter and do not surrender – probably even for those who do surrender. Long term? Tyranny. He means to live forever, and he means to rule over all of the wizarding world while he does it. He plans to build an empire. You saw him today when Dolohov spoke of the education system. He would install a new regime that would prioritize the idea that Magic is Might. Dominion over muggles and muggleborns. It would be a world where you conformed, or you died. Dissent would be weeded out, root and stem, and violence would be rampant. Once, before his fall, the Dark Lord meant a non-hostile takeover. He meant to install himself in the way of a politician, guiding our world to his ideals slowly and painlessly. Little changes toward his end would become entrenched in our culture without much dissidence. But now… his ranks are filled with the darkest and meanest amongst us. Those who would challenge him join the Order and those too frightened hide and flee and do nothing. It will be hostile, and it will be bloody. It already is."

She wouldn't hold his eyes, Severus noted idly, and he realized with sudden clarity that for all her cleverness and all her self-righteousness, she hadn't understood. She hadn't seen. She hadn't fathomed that it could really boil over into full-scale war. Even with the battles that she'd already fought, the people they'd already lost, she had thought it would be clean. Destroying a few cursed items while evil men targeted good men and good men put up a brave defence. Didn't she understand that even the good men she knew were all guilty of murder? Didn't she know that Albus and Remus and Kingsley and even Arthur had all killed in the name of the cause? Had she thought, even while the two of them ritually sacrificed Dolores Umbridge, ripping her heart out with their bare hands, that war was avoidable? Had Dumbledore truly managed to shield them so well that this, now, was when it finally all fell upon her like a ton of bricks?

The old man would be pleased if he knew. Smug, even. Severus sighed quietly, determined to drive the point home hard so that there could be no more room for wishful thinking.

"Before this is over, everyone you know will be a killer, Miss Granger," he told her gently, not letting go of her chin, refusing to let her look away. "Most of us already are. Including you."

Severus wondered if the marriage bonds binding them were the only things responsible for the way his heart constricted for her when a single tear spilt down her pale cheek, or if maybe he was going soft.