The Secret’s in the Sauce
Part One – A Recipe for Disaster
Severus Snape scowled as he hitched the unconscious body further up his shoulder. The last thing he needed on a night like this was to be on this particular doorstep with this particular person slung across his shoulders like a sack of meal. He sighed heavily. He’d been standing here for a few seconds, not really wanting to knock, sure that the wards on the house would go crazy if he stood there long enough. He wasn’t disappointed. After a few moments of indecision and hesitation, he heard movement and stumbling behind the door. Snape quickly shifted the body from his shoulders into a cradle in his arms, hoping that this would give them impression that his lack of knock had come not from fear but from being physically indisposed to do so.
The door swung to, and Snape had to stifle a growl at who was behind it. “Severus!” the ragged, weary voice cried.
Snape growled slightly and brushed past Remus Lupin as he invited himself into Grimmauld Place. “As you might have guessed with your amazing powers of deductive reasoning, Lupin, this is not the moment for casual greetings.”
“Of course, Severus,” Remus responded and flattened himself against the wall and out of the way immediately. He raised a hand to point towards the library on the left. “You should bring her in there. Dumbledore and Minerva are here; we’ve all been so worried.”
Snape let out a gruff grunt of acknowledgment and moved down the hall towards the room Remus had indicated. He growled slightly as he crossed the threshold; the room was peopled with all the least welcome personages in his life, with the possible exception of the girl slung across his arms. The youngest two Weasleys stood in the corner, the bungling Ronald pacing, Ginevra sitting on the floor picking at the carpet nervously; Remus Lupin had just reentered from the door behind him, and moved to stand behind the chair where the Potter boy sat, staring blankly into space and fingering the wand laid across his lap. The only welcome sights were behind the desk in front of the fire where Minerva sat in an uncomfortable-looking high-backed chair conversing with Albus, who sat behind the heavy mahogany desk, gazing at a letter on the blotter in front of him but obviously not really seeing it. Severus dropped the girl unceremoniously but not harshly to the cracked leather couch and backed away as everyone in the room ran to assess her form. He then retreated as quickly as possible to the large curtained windows, scowling out at the rain.
“Is she—?” Harry Potter asked, his voice cracking with strain.
Severus looked over at the boy and couldn't help but grimace at the dark rings beneath his eyes and the determined wringing of his hands. “No,” he responded shortly. “But her current condition is not enviable in the slightest.” When everyone in the room turned to stare at him, he returned his sharp gaze to contemplation of the rain.
“What's wrong with her?” Ron Weasley asked. He was hovering over the couch on which she lay, scouring her face and person with his eyes, trying to discern evidence of something that must be quite hideous indeed, if Snape were to say it wasn't enviable.
“Is she unharmed, Severus?” Dumbledore asked quietly.
Severus turned to regard the aged wizard behind the desk across the room. Very little genuinely ruffled the man, and this seemed to be no exception, but after seventeen years of teaching for him and seven years as his pupil, Severus could see the worry behind Albus Dumbledore's eyes. The girl had been missing for nearly a day and a half, snatched away by Death Eaters after a skirmish on Boxing Day in Diagon Alley. The Order of the Phoenix, he knew, had been turning itself upside down to find the Hogwarts Head Girl.
“Physically, yes,” Severus answered in a tight, clipped voice. “In a manner of speaking. She has not been beaten, injured, raped—" he nearly smiled when everyone in the room except Albus flinched at his bald narrative, “—or subjected to any Unforgivables that I can discern, Headmaster.”
Everyone breathed an audible sighed of relief, but Dumbledore steepled his fingers in front of him and gazed deeply at Severus. “But something has been inflicted upon her?” he asked evenly.
Severus stared around the room. He had no desire whatsoever to divulge the nature of her condition, considering present company. His eyes narrowed as they landed on Potter and the two Weasleys. “Leave,” he said curtly.
As a unit, the three were on their feet and glaring at him.
“Absolutely not! If Hermione’s hurt—”
“—not leaving until you say what’s wrong—”
“—don’t know who you think you are, bossing us about when we've all been so worried—”
Snape merely smirked at the three, who'd all begun talking at once. Waiting them out, Severus drew his long, thick robes closer around him and dredged up his most intimidating scowl. It took a few seconds for the look to sink in, but it had the desired affect. Silence washed over the room.
“I most certainly will not discuss Miss Granger's condition in the existing company. Neither she nor I would be benefited from it, nor do I believe that Miss Granger would wish such a situation to be common knowledge.”
“She's our best friend!” Ronald nearly shouted.
“If something's wrong with her,” Potter continued, but all the quieter for Weasley's outburst, “we ought to know.”
Ginny merely fumed at him, her arms crossed over her chest. Dumbledore regarded the situation calmly.
“Severus,” McGonagall interjected softly, “they are her closest friends, perhaps—”
“Absolutely not,” he responded firmly before Minerva could continue with her plea.
Everyone seemed to turn as one to regard Dumbledore for a final ruling. Dumbledore looked to Severus. After a moment, he nodded shortly. “Mr. Weasley, Miss Weasley,” Dumbledore said, nodding to each one of them in turn. “Mr. Potter, perhaps it would be best, just for now, if you vacated the room so that Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall, Remus and I might discuss Miss Granger's condition.” They stared at him in shock for a moment and then began to protest again as one. He held up his hands and waited for silence. “I have a feeling that her situation is quite delicate, and I would not want to jeopardize Miss Granger's condition until we have ascertained what is best to be done. Trust me that I will inform you immediately if she is in any real danger or if assistance is needed on her behalf.”
Ron's face was crimson with anger, and Ginny scowled fiercely at everyone in turn, but Harry just sighed heavily and walked over to the couch where Hermione lay. After patting her face gently with one hand, he nodded. “Come on, guys,” he said and turned to walk out. The others reluctantly followed. At the door, Harry stopped and shot a hot glare towards Snape. “If you did anything to her and I find out I could have helped, I’ll find any way I can to make you suffer.”
“Mr. Potter!” McGonagall cried, her hands going immediately to her hips.
Snape scoffed loudly.
“Let him go, Minerva,” Lupin said as the stern-faced Gryffindor Head moved to intercept her retreating student. “He’s just scared, that’s all.”
As soon as the door clicked shut behind Harry, the three remaining adults turned to regard Severus Snape staring morosely out the window. His gaze seemed so angry and piercing that the rest of them might have assumed that he was trying to injure either the pane of glass in front of him or the street outside. When Snape made no immediate move to divulge the situation, Dumbledore cleared his throat.
“Severus?” he asked. “Perhaps you could inform us as to Miss Granger's circumstances and why the state of affairs is so objectionable?”
“And tell us why the poor girl is unconscious, if she is unharmed?” Remus said.
Grumbling a bit as he turned away from the window, Snape fought the urge to tug at his cuffs — a nervous gesture since childhood. “She has had a rather unfortunate curse cast upon her that will make proceeding as normal rather difficult. Perhaps even impossible.”
“Well, get on with it, won’t you, Severus?” McGonagall spat out. For all that she sounded biting, her seventeen-year colleague could see that she worried over the girl on the couch. Her eyes kept drifting to and from where Granger had begun to stir just slightly and moan lightly in her sleep.
Snape sighed before starting to pace the room, ramrod straight. He had no idea how he would get out of this. “She was kidnapped, of course, on Boxing Day. Lucius, to be specific, but I don't know that that would shock anyone.” He paused momentarily for the grumbles and nods of assent. “Obviously, the Dark Lord—” McGonagall scoffed loudly, “—did not wish me to take part in the skirmish, so I held back, but I did get summoned later that evening for a Revel.”
He no longer could chance looking anyone in the eye, so strode to the hearth and stared into the fire. “When I arrived at the Revel, Lucius informed me that he had a surprise to show me.” This time it was Snape, himself, who scoffed. “Miss Granger was … given to me. As a ‘gift.’”
McGonagall began stalking the room, making noises in the back of her throat like an angry cat. Remus sighed heavily and dropped into a chair, scrubbing his face with his hands.
Dumbledore sighed. “She wasn’t meant for you originally, was she?”
Snape's head snapped around to face the old wizard, panic clear on his face before he capped it. His voice wasn't quite as smooth as he would have wished. “No,” he said bluntly. “No, she wasn't.”
“Who was she meant for?” Remus asked, no little amount of disgust in his voice.
“Lucius. Considered it quite the lovely little trophy, I’m sure, having the Head Girl and prize Gryffindor to do with as he pleased. And yes, Minerva, I mean that exactly as you believe I mean it,” he said, directing the final comment to the woman who had stopped her pacing to gape at him. “Well, certainly I couldn’t allow her to drop into Lucius’s hands, so when I interrupted him in his intentions, he declared it a wonderful idea to give her to me instead.” Snape's face twisted in rage and disgust.
“So what happened to her?” Remus asked. When Snape's sneer turned to him, he spread his hands in peace and then directed his gesture towards Hermione. “Severus, she’s been missing for two days, and then you show up with her unconscious in your arms and say that she won't be able to continue on with normal life. Obviously, you wouldn’t want those particular details that you've just shared to get back to Hermione, but you still haven’t said what happened to her. Why is she unconscious? If she escaped unharmed, why will it be hard for her to return to normal life?”
“Oh, I don’t think Severus meant that she escaped the situation completely unscathed,” Dumbledore interjected calmly. “He merely said she didn’t suffer physical injury. Isn’t that right, Severus?”
Snape sighed heavily before nodding. “Lucius had intended to … violate her. When I stepped in, he decided that it would not only be much more amusing—” he said this with great scorn, "—and far more humiliating to her in the long run should she be magically compelled instead.”
“So he cast a curse on her?” Remus asked, bewildered.
“Indeed. Ever heard of the Connubialis Curse?” Snape sneered at the blank looks on every face but Dumbledore’s. “I suspected as much. It is a curse of the Dark Lord’s own making—from his earlier days, when that sort of debauchery was still possible for him—so it is naturally only well-known within the ranks of his followers.”
“What does it do?”
Snape couldn’t stop his tongue from skimming throughout his mouth, as if trying to remove a displeasing taste. “Compels the victim to sexual attraction and overwhelming desire for the caster. Naturally, you can understand why this would present rather uncomfortable humiliation for Miss Granger and thorough amusement for a wretch like Lucius Malfoy.”
“But if Lucius cast the curse, how is it that she is your gift?” McGonagall asked.
Snape flinched as if he had struck her, but again seemed to be washing out the inside of his mouth with his tongue. “I protested Lucius’s suggestion of the charm, insisting that I was perfectly capable of seduction without magical aid—”
“How could you even think of seducing that poor child?” McGonagall cried, horrified.
“Oh, please, Minerva,” Snape sneered. “I had no intention of the sort. I had merely hoped to remove her from the situation under the guise of needing privacy. Lucius felt this did not allow him to be magnanimous enough as a host and enlisted a few of his colleagues to attack me and subject me to the Imperius curse.” Snape scowled heavily. “Because they ‘sucker-punched’ me—to borrow a Muggle phrase—it took me a moment to shake off the curse. Too long. Lucius bid me cast the charm on her with my wand. He seemed to have no qualms forcing me to do something he considered in my best interest. ‘Always a spoil-sport for the better fun,’” Snape mocked in an overly flowery voice. “Thus, my magical signature is attached to the curse. She is bound to me. Lucius thought it quite apt, handing me a magically-compelled Gryffindor bed partner with no choice but to submit to my every whim.”
“How generous of him,” Dumbledore said dryly.
“Quite,” Snape responded curtly. “The curse’s symptoms magnify in strength the longer it goes untreated, so naturally I Stunned her so that she would not be compelled to set upon me immediately or at random intervals.”
Lupin gazed at him with such pity that he wanted to slap the man; Minerva looked as if she wanted to vomit or scream. Severus sympathized: he wanted to vomit, scream, send the girl away, kill Lucius … any number of vicious things popped into his mind. Dumbledore sighed again.
“I believe you did right to temporarily save her from herself, Severus.” Dumbledore’s blue eyes were troubled as he leaned back in the desk chair. “I take it that there are no counter-curses?”
“No. The Dark Lord wouldn’t permit the charm to be counteracted. He and his followers would expect the curse to be either completed or denied until such a time that the victim was so helpless from need that they suffered a series of seizures and died twitching. The Dark Lord and his followers used to consider this quite amusing. There is no counter-curse that I know of and only one way to thoroughly dispel the charm. There is a way to stave off the curse, but it is only temporary and highly unacceptable.”
“Well, anything has to be better than letting Hermione run mad with … need,” McGonagall said, horror-struck, “before suffering a heart attack and dying, hasn’t it?”
“I’m not certain of that,” Snape said, but did not continue.
“I’m assuming that the way to ‘dispel’ the curse and release the victim would be to engage in intercourse,” Dumbledore said heavily.
“To put it mildly,” Snape answered. He resumed his pacing around the room, his fury now counterbalancing the embarrassment and discomfort. “And obviously, that option is completely out of the question.”
“I should say so!” Minerva answered.
“So what is the way you mentioned to stave it off? Even if it’s temporary, perhaps something can be done in the interim?”
Severus cleared his throat and looked to Dumbledore. The older wizard raised his eyebrows and gazed at him knowingly but did not venture any explanation. “It is a potion.”
“Well, that’s perfect then!” Lupin said, smiling.
“Hardly,” Severus said, scowling. “It is ridiculously complex—”
“If you can make the Wolfsbane for me—”
“— a combination of Draught of Peace, Amortensia—”
“A love potion?” McGonagall broke in. “How will that help?”
“—and contains a certain ingredient that is … decidedly personal in nature.”
Everyone dropped silent for a moment as they contemplated this. Then with an audible explosion of breath, Lupin began laughing in a loud bark of hilarity. Snape whirled around to face the man, glaring through narrowed eyes. Any lesser man would have quailed under the force of the glower, but this just made Remus laugh harder.
“Oh, no wonder you don’t want to make the potion,” he said between guffaws. “That’d prove somewhat embarrassing, wouldn’t it?”
Snape glared at him, silently fuming, and fingered his wand. Hexing the man wouldn’t solve his problem or the embarrassment, but at this point still seemed like a highly favorable option. “It is out of the question,” he said in a tone that brooked no refusal.
“What does it contain?” McGonagall asked, now scowling at Lupin as he continued to laugh.
Snape rounded on Dumbledore. “There must be something else that can be done.”
Dumbledore opened his mouth to respond, but McGonagall cut him off.
“What does the potion contain that is so objectionable?” When no one answered her, she strode across the room to stand between Lupin and Snape. “What does it contain?” she said firmly, glaring at both men. “As Miss Granger’s Head of House, I feel that I have the right to know what options are open to her.”
Lupin seemed to have gotten a control over his mirth. “I’d stake my life on the fact that this potion that he says will help contains a certain … essence, shall we say, that Severus doesn’t part with very often.”
Snape's eyes were murderous as he drew his wand and trained his aim at the other man.
“And just what is that supposed to—” McGonagall began.
“Severus, put that away,” Dumbledore said.
Realization seemed to have slammed into McGonagall. “You can’t be serious. You don’t mean—?”
Severus stowed his wand back under his sleeve with a swift, angry gesture. “Semen,” he ground out through gritted teeth. “Mine, to be specific.”
“Well,” McGonagall stopped to clear her throat. “It wouldn’t have to be … yours, would it?”
“Don’t be a fool,” he said tersely. “If the curse, for all intents and purposes, came from me, the magical and—” he cleared his throat roughly, “—sexual signature that she is bound to is mine; who else’s could it need?” He rounded again on Dumbledore. “You must know another solution.”
Everyone turned to Dumbledore, realizing as one that he had said so little throughout the course of the discussion that he had nearly blended into the thick desk in front of him. “I appreciate your confidence in my knowledge, Severus, but I know of no other remedies to the problem.”
“You must,” Severus said, and now his voice was nearly pleading. “Dear God, Albus, you’ve got to. I can’t possibly be expected to—”
He sighed heavily. “The complete cure is quite obviously unacceptable. Therefore, it will have to be the potion, Severus. I don’t see any other way.”
“It’s only a temporary solution, Albus,” he said feverishly. “Even if I made the potion, she’d have to be dosed at least once a day. Can you imagine that particular potion having to be administered to the girl every day for the rest of her life?”
Dumbledore rose from the desk and moved to the couch where Hermione, though still unconscious, had begun to twitch in earnest. “She’s suffering, Severus. You must begin soon. Please take her to a quiet place, wake her, and explain the situation to her.”
Snape opened his mouth to protest, but could see no words to aid him. What else could be done? He moved to the couch and bent to pick up her limp body. Once she was hefted into his arms, Snape moved towards the door to Apparate away with her.
“Be gentle, Severus,” Dumbledore said quietly. “She will be confused and scared.”
Snape scowled at him for the innuendo of the first statement, but nodded and strode out the front door, Apparating away with a pop.
“Please!” she cried. “Please don’t hurt me!”
“Incendio,” said a thick, deep voice she recognized. Somewhere across the room, a fire leapt to life. “For heaven’s sake, Granger, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Hermione brought her hands down slowly and gazed around her. The stone walls were completely unfamiliar, but the lack of windows suggested that they were underground. In the far corner of the room, furthest from her, was a long, thick slab table with a cauldron atop it, slowly simmering over a light flame. Every available centimeter of wall space was covered either with shelves of books or cupboards of jarred plants, powders and pickled creatures. Hermione had a jolting suspicion, at first, of where she may be, but as the walls were a dark brown stone rather than light, she realized that it was not a place she recognized. The scowling, hook-nosed man advancing upon her, however, was all too familiar.
“Professor Snape?” she asked, and her voice sound ragged, hoarse. As if she’d been screaming. “What’s going on?”
He drew an uncomfortable-looking ladder-backed chair and set it at the side of the spartan cot from which she was beginning to sit up.
“What do you remember about the past few days?” he asked without preamble.
Hermione stopped to paw through her memories, nearly crumbling into hysterics when she realized there were barely any. “I remember,” she said, fighting not to cry, “stopping into Madam Malkin’s on Boxing Day to have my new dressing gown hemmed. That’s the last thing I can remember.” She bit her lip, but it was no use: tears started to brim from her eyes. She swiped at them, certain that this display would annoy and incite Snape to cruelty, but he seemed to have breathed a small sigh of relief.
“You may as well let them out,” Snape said, a strange expression on his face. His hand disappeared within his robes, then brought out and offered a plain white handkerchief. “What I’m about to explain will only create more.”
She accepted the handkerchief gingerly and clutched it tightly in her hands without bringing it up to her face. “Please, sir; why am I here? What happened?”
Severus didn’t believe he could look at her pinched, worried face and still get through his explanation, so he stood and swiftly began circling the room. For several long minutes, he could not will the words from his mouth, but when they did come, a surprising amount of them tumbled out. He thanked Merlin that there were plenty of other things to look at in the room as he walked and talked.