Dragon eggshells, however, had a wild, ancient aspect which defied prediction and stability. Snape had long hypothesized that this was ultimately caused by the embryonic stem cells that invariably clung to the shell, for it was possible to "tame" them somewhat with extensive acid washing. Such treatment also diminished their magical effects, however, and was generally deemed uselessly destructive. Snape had read Muggle texts about molecular biology back in Azkaban, and had wondered if dragon stem cells might be washed from the eggs and multiplied via those strange, non-magical techniques. If he were correct, a single line of cloned, identical dragon cells could provide endless opportunity for study. The properties of each particular breed might be identified, not to mention that a single egg would produce enough stem cells for every Potion Master in Britain to have their own supply.
Sighing, Snape shook his head as he ground up yet another bit of shell with his pestle. Such things would never be within his means; as always, he had to make do with what he had available.
He began a new ritual with Pendragon, coming to her every evening with her potion and taking careful notes of the effects and their duration. She had lobbed a brass candlestick at him the first night, having forgotten her relief from the first potion after enduring a painful day of retribution from her scars. He supposed he was fortunate that her wand was resting inconveniently on her desk at that moment, but the candlestick had hurt nonetheless. He'd been forced to tackle her and hold her prone on the stone floor. When she peeped, "Well, I can't help it if that nose of yours is an ideal target!" he knew she had calmed enough to remember his true intent.
By the end of the first week, however, the novelty started wearing off and she even began to accept his arrival at her door. Snape wasn't sure what to make of that--whether it was an effect of the potions, or simply an adjustment to the new routine. The following Tuesday, she spoke to him for the first time in the Great Hall (barking sharply at him not to touch her napkin, but a milestone nonetheless), and he felt certain that his efforts were bearing fruit. Potter had avoided him, which suited Snape immensely, but even the Pest Who Lived noticed her demand at the table and looked dangerously close to admitting his approval.
Snape was stunned that evening to find her standing beside her piano when he arrived for that night's potion, as though she had anticipated him. This was confirmed when, still scowling, she raised her arm in a stiff, grudging welcome. "Good evening, Pendragon," he said, though he normally did not speak until she had taken her potion. He was caught off guard by the strange sensation of connecting to her as a human being without the aid of magic.
He pulled her to his chest in the usual fashion, and when she seemed calm enough, he gave her the tumbler. He'd been cutting back the more stupefying ingredients, with good results; tonight she barely sagged after drinking the potion. Now he would see if they were still potent enough for a good clinical effect...
All scientific thoughts precipitated from his mind as he realized that although he had let her go, he could not back away. She had hooked her arm around his waist, and one foot was twisted behind his calf.
Mother of Merlin, don't let Potter walk in now!
"Pendragon!" he purred, caught up in the pleasant surprise of the moment. "Are you feeling faint, perhaps?" he added in his more customary sneer.
"Pfft!" she sniffed. "What do you think?"
"I don't know what to think." And that is the most truthful statement I have ever uttered. He tentatively returned his hands to her back, a bit unsure of how to touch her without his usual clinical brusqueness.
She wriggled at his touch, settling closer to him. "Well, you seem to be catching on."
"Pen." He barely managed to say that much, having caught his breath and lost it in the same moment. It didn't help that she put her forehead against his chin and gently nuzzled his collar. When he finally managed to draw a breath, it came in a rapid series of staccato gasps. "Pen... what are you doing?" he said, though the question was inane and the answer was clear.
She pulled her head back just far enough to look him in the eye. "Now, now, I'm the one with the altered perceptions, remember? I know it's been a long time, Snape, but if you concentrate, I'm sure you'll recognize it." She brought her hand to rest against his cheek, letting her thumb brush his lips.
Oh, I recognize it, he managed to think, before the delicate sensations stole his breath and his rationality again. For a moment, he said nothing, thought nothing; the entire world vanished except for the points of contact he made with her body. When she dragged her hand across his cheek and studied his lips with her fingers, the world became even smaller. Snape let his mouth fall open; indeed, he could hardly have prevented it by that point.
"Perhaps you are so desperate, then?" she breathed, bringing a fingertip to the innermost edge of his lip. The words stung, but the actions set him on fire. He curbed the insane urge to drive his head down onto her hand and devour it, but couldn't stop himself from just one little taste. And a slightly deeper one when the first produced a flare in her eyes that he couldn't ignore.
"Pendragon," he hissed, leaning closer despite himself, "Morgan le Fay, what are you up to, child?"
She narrowed her eyes in scrutiny, and Snape suddenly felt a lurch of panic somewhere in the middle of his chest. Don't pull away, he thought desperately, even as he cursed himself for wanting her, wanting any of this, so much. But it already seemed that the intimacy was shattered, leaving his life all the more painful for having existed that brief moment.
"I don't know," she finally said with disarming incredulity. "Being an idiot, I suppose."
"Stop." She frowned. "Pen, please. I... I've been extraordinarily unkind to you. I don't understand why... you would..."
"Why I want you?"
Great Goddess, I never thought I'd hear such words again. "Pen." It was more of a moan, merely shaped like a word.
She looked up at him with a little half-smile, leaning against him once more. "Odd, isn't it? But there it is. I suppose I've had to forgive your earlier insult in lieu of how much you've done for me. Though I'm sure your actions have been fueled a bit by guilt. And perhaps mine are fueled by some trite archetype, you know, falling head over heels for one's rescuer."
Her eyes glazed ever so slightly, and a hint of blue scarring shadowed her throat. "But you do desire me, don't you?"
The response from his throat was too primitive to form a word, but it was still an unmistakable answer. Her doubts assured, Pendragon's eyes regained their focus and, more importantly, their heat. Her smile suddenly took on a predatory timbre, and she laced her fingers into his hair.
"Good! That's all settled, then," she whispered, and with an indelicate yank, brought his mouth to hers.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Yellow. Her room was yellow; the walls, the bedding, even the ceiling looked like the inside of a banana. She was draped over him, relaxed and catlike, down to the smugly contented expression on her face. Snape rolled a tuft of her hair between his fingertips just to enjoy the unfamiliar texture.
"I infer that you like yellow, then," said Snape. Strange, he thought, I'm usually not one to find silence disconcerting. That made him smirk; he was also not one to find himself basking in a woman's bedroom.
She wrinkled her nose with a blissful grin. "I find it calming. Harry painted it for me." She paused and sighed. "Poor Harry. You'll stop picking on him, won't you?"
The theme of the evening seemed to be "Extremely Unlikely Events," as Snape thus found himself utterly at a loss for words. "Picking on him," he finally managed.
"Pick, pick, pick," she agreed, emphasizing each word with a little pinch along his collarbone. "You know," she added coyly. "He told me."
Potter had so many potential complaints against him that it was impossible to guess which one he'd brought up. "Did he, now? Perhaps you can tell me, lest I admit to the wrong crime."
She raised her head with an impish grin, then scowled in mock ferocity. "On your knees, Potter," she growled, grinding her hips against his ribs, then laughing. "Shame on you! My debts are no one's but my own."
Her debts. Something very, very bleak and cold swept through him, and despite the fact that she hadn't moved a muscle, her body suddenly felt miles away. "Your payment..."
She grinned again. "Well, you can consider it the first installment, if you like." Her smile faded quickly as she gazed at him. Snape was a master of disguising his emotions, but the circumstances clearly got the better of him this time.
He realized with a start that the potion was due to wear off at any time, and her lucidity would soon vanish. Unfortunately, anything he might have to say at this point would only hasten that process. "I think I should take my leave, Pendragon," he said neutrally. In one brisk motion, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, retrieving his shirt from her nightstand.
She sat up too, and he could see her in the periphery of his vision, shaking her head incomprehendingly. "What... what... Did I say something wrong?" It wasn't just her head--her whole body began to rock back and forth. He knew there was no point in replying; she was already relapsing into hysteria and panic.
"We will talk more tomorrow," he said quietly and calmly as he continued to dress, "when I bring you your next potion." He didn't want to look at her, but he knew she would be distressed if he just walked out the door, even in her current state. When he finally met her gaze, a clinical, rational part of him noted with satisfaction that she was still holding herself together, much more than she could have achieved a week ago. For that, he gave her a stilted smile.
"No, Pen, you've said nothing wrong. But we must speak a bit more the next time you're... coherent. I need to make my intentions more clear." Snape steeled himself and kissed her cheek. "Goodnight, child."
Though her eyes were glazed, she still managed to squeak, "Goodnight, Severus."